Updated: Sep 29, 2018
by Ippolita Douglas Scotti:
Ciao! from my beautiful hometown—Firenze, Italy! My name is Ippolita Douglas Scotti di Vigoleno—a very long, slightly obnoxious name—so please call me, Ippo!
For many years now, I have been friends with Elizabeth Gracen. I call her 'Flapper,' and she calls me 'Hoochie Mamma.' Together we've survived some of life's daunting challenges, and we've learned to laugh through it all, our bond strong and full of joy and mischief!
She's asked me to write this blog for Flapper Press and tell you about my life, my love of cooking, culture, and Italy's amazing history. So, here we go! Andiamo!
I was born on a windy night in Florence, shortly after New Year's Eve. My father, no doubt a little tipsy from the holiday celebration, declared I would be named after 'Ippolita,' the infamous queen of the Amazons.
I am a Contessa, but don't picture me as a bored, noble lady, nibbling caviar and sipping champagne—although I love both! Though I am descended from a long line of eccentric aristocrats, I am a modern-day Contessa. I have a noble title inherited from my ancestors, but I do not live a life of privilege. My kingdom is not a castle; it is my kitchen—full of exotic spices, well-worn pans, fresh flowers, magic, music, love, and happiness. This is where I reign supreme and take great joy in finding magic in normal, daily routines.
My beautiful apartment is a 15th century palace in the center of Florence, where I live with the man of my dreams and three cats. We are close to Brunelleschi’s Duomo and the Academia de Arte—where gorgeous ‘David’ stands in his marble glory. Every day, my eyes gaze on magnificent architecture as I stroll under the Uffizi arches and walk the historical ‘Viuzze’ (tiny streets) of Florence. The best homemade ice cream is made but a few doors down in the Gelateria Vivoli (established in 1930), and I shop for fresh veggies and tasty, rare cheese and hot bread in the historical San Lorenzo market around the corner.
I’m truly Italian, but I’m a mix of various ancient cultures: Tuscan, Sicilian, Northern Italian, and I have a few drops of Arab and Greek blood. The noble title and my last name come from the Scottish Highlands, where my family’s story is more than a thousand years old.
I belong, on my father’s side, to the Clan Douglas, and one of my ancestors fought for the independence of Scotland with Robert the Bruce and good-old William Wallace. In the chronicles of history, you’ll find James Lord Douglas saying to The Bruce: “Forever my king, this knight to follow, brave heart."
Douglas came to Northern Italy and established the Vigoleno castle, where he was made a Count. There, he became a templar and an alchemic healer.
I thank Sir James Douglas that I was born in one of the most wonderful places on this planet. Unfortunately, many years later, in 1908, another Douglas lost the Vigoleno castle playing a game of ‘Baccarat Chemin de Fer.’ For him, I have a few spicy Italian words that are not fit to print in a cooking blog!
I’ve learned the art of cooking and the love of hosting from my family. My mother is a wonderful authentic Florentine cook who can organize a banquet in less than an hour (including an elegant table setting). As a little girl I watched her and loved to help out in our kitchen. I remember when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said, quite sincerely, “A gourmet!”
My grandmother, Maria Francesca, was a noble Sicilian lady—a true one-of-a-kind. She was funny and full of positive energy, my ‘bright star.’ She loved to cook her fantastic ‘manicaretti’ (delicious food) for a house full of hungry people, and she taught me many of her secret recipes. She always told me, “Sicilian cooking is a ritual. Dishes take time. Every gesture is ancient, pondered, and almost religious. Even the simple act of filling an 'arancini' or garnishing a 'cassata' with colorful candied fruit takes on a mystical quality.”
I’m lucky enough to own her villa, the Villa Douglas, on Vulcano Island, where the Malvasia dessert wine and the caper berries are divine. The sun and the earth of Sicily give food and wine an incredible genuine taste, and I adore spending my summers there. I'll talk more about Vulcano in a later post.
I’ve also spent quite a bit of time far away from home. I visited India (where their beautiful way of cooking is sacred like in Italy), Thailand, Laos, China, Morocco, Tunisia, Seychelles, Australia, USA, Mexico, Yemen, and all around Europe. Travel inspires me. Every place I go, I steal culinary secrets and never hesitate to grab authentic ingredients and native spices. I’ve experimented with my travel recipes, combining them with classic Italian techniques. It makes for one-of-a-kind dishes that are instantly unique and memorable. I enjoy these exotic tastes, but I will always return to my love of the Italian way of cooking. You see, Florence is, and will always be, my home. Tuscany has instilled, deep in my bones, adoration for Italian wine, soups, and ‘bistecca!’
In my life, I’ve had many grand adventures. I’ve been a writer, a musician, an actress, and an antiques dealer—but at heart, I am a cook! Only when I see my reflected image in the bottom of a frying pan do I see the real me.
When I cook, I always improvise. Part of this stems from the fact that my home is very open. I never know who or how many will show up to my dinner table each night! I insist on privacy as I cook and go into a sort of trance in the kitchen—like some alchemic wizard. I experiment with fresh ingredients and with whatever I have on hand. Sometimes I try to follow recipes from cookbooks, but it never fails that my hand adds a pinch of this and a pinch of that to make it my own. Only when my apron is completely stained and all my guests are enjoying themselves around the table will I finally relax and pour a glass of good Chianti and revel in their company.
This blog is my personal culinary diary. Some of the recipes are traditional, and some are my own creation. Others are variations on dishes I’ve tasted during my travels. The recipes are divided into seasons because I always cook with seasonal fruits and vegetables. I always try to shop in the farmer’s markets whenever I can and recommend you do the same. There, you will always find the freshest products, and you’ll be doing your part in preserving our glorious planet and its people.
I believe in using everything available and hate to waste food! In this blog, you will find many ways to turn your leftovers into tasty, original recipes. For instance: stale bread is a precious ingredient for a lot of traditional savory Tuscan soups. You can also crumble it over other beautiful dishes, or you can share it with the birds.
I want to share my cooking and life experiences with you and let you in on the little secrets that turn a normal recipe into a magical meal. I also want you to understand what real, traditional Italian food is—the food we Italians eat everyday in our homes, in every region of my great country.
Most of all, I’d love for you to fall in love with good food and the relaxing, fun, easy experience of cooking, creating, and personalizing your own dishes. There is such joy in hosting and in the daily ritual of cooking for those you love . . . where every bite should be like a kiss of love.
Love your cooking as you would love the people who will eat it. Love is the key . . . always.
And now it's for our first recipe. Something warm and comforting for the cold nights.
Risotto ai Funghi
(Risotto with Mushrooms)
There are a lot of risotto recipes in Italy. They all come from the north, they are all good, but this is my favorite. I always keep a handful of dried porcini mushrooms and a little vase of parsley in my kitchen. This is a perfect recipe for last-minute guests. You can also sauté the leftovers the day after. It was served in this way to the Royal family and important guests during the shows at La Scala Theatre in Milan. Delicioso!
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
4 cups stock broth
1 cup dried or fresh mushrooms, chopped
1 shallot, minced
4 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
Brown shallot in butter. Stir in rice and mushrooms. Gradually add one cup of the broth. Stir and cook for 15 minutes. Add another cup of broth and stir until evaporated. Keep adding broth, one cup at a time, until rice is ready—around 20 minutes. Add chopped parsley and serve.