Friday, December 30, 2011

Cooking Vacations Test Kitchen: Anatra & Pappardelle

Patience! A little patience is the key ingredient in making this delicate Tuscan recipe.  Ingredients are simple, but you will need time to let it slow cook, stirring gently and every now and then over the two days. Taste as you go, you may want to add a little extra red wine in to the pan as it reduces. The best part of this recipe, besides wrapping the big fat noodles around your fork with succulent sweet duck, is the sweet smell it brings to your kitchen for the two days while slow cooking. There will be plenty of sugo for at least two dinners down the road, so make sure you have glass containers with seal tops for storing.  

Buon appetito!

Anatra & Pappardelle
Makes a big pan of sugo (about a gallon or more)
Three servings of 450 grams of pasta each time

1 6-pound farm raised wild range duck (cut in pieces with most of the duck fat cut off)
4 carrots washed, peeled and sliced into small pieces
4 small inner hearts of the celery stalk, washed and sliced into small pieces
1 medium size onion, peeled and slicked into thin small pieces - chopped
2 pinches of sea salt
1 and a half handful of fresh parsley
2 large bottles of homemade sauce (San Marzano tomatoes)
1 cup of red wine

Wash the duck well, and remove all fat.

Start by warming extra virgin, first-cold pressed olive oil in the pan. Add the onions, celery, carrots and pinch of salt.

Cover and slow cook until the mixture becomes soft. Add the two bottles of tomatoes, and slowly add the one cup of wine, stirring slowly and often. Remove the sauce from heat for 3 minutes or so and blend everything with a hand-held mixer. Add the parsley and return the pan and sauce to slow cooking. When the sauce starts to warm, add the duck. Dunk under the tomato sauce and let slow cook on low, low, low...for 8 hours.

You can turn off and go to sleep and start the process again in the morning. As the slow-cooked sauce and duck start to blend, the duck will break down. I chose to leave all the bones in the sauce until serving, they add taste.

After nearly one day and a half of slow cooking, fill a full pot of water with sea salt and bring it to a boil. Boil Pappardelle pasta (450grams) until al dente. Add some sauce in a saute pan, add the duck sauce and then the pasta - flip the sauce into the pasta until well mixed. Serve in a big ceramic pasta bowl, sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve.

And for a little dessert, a chocolate and a limone caprese!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cooking Vacations Test Kitchen Cooks Up Hanukkah Treats

While the rest of Italy is frying up Zeppole and Struffoli, we set our task to recreating a Hanukkah favorite, Sufganiyot in our test kitchen in Positano. Traditionally, Hanukkah recipes are fried in remembrance of the oil in the Temple of Jerusalem that lasted eight days when there was only enough for one.

This recipe is courtesy of Mauro & Tze'ela from our Lucca’s Ancient Flavors & Traditions™ programs, whose specialty in addition to classic Tuscan is Tuscan Kosher cooking.

Makes about 32

1 kg Flour (2.2 lbs)
1/2 cup Sugar
40-50g Fresh Yeast (2 yeast cakes)
1 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
2 Eggs
2 cups Hot Water
Strawberry Jam or Marmalade
Vegetable Oil, for frying
Powdered sugar or granulated sugar, to garnish

Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, adding the yeast as the last ingredient. Knead to mix well and let rise for 20 minutes. Cut off pieces of dough about the size of a mandarin orange and roll each one into a ball. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside to rise until doubled in volume (about 1 hour).

In a deep pot, preheat oil to a very high temperature and fry the sufganiyot until golden - turning halfway to cook evenly on both sides.

Remove and drain excess oil on paper towel. Use an injector or teaspoon to fill the fried sufganiyot with jam or marmalade. Dust with powdered sugar or granulated sugar to garnish and serve warm. Be careful - the warm marmalade can burn your tongue.

Happy Hanukkah and Buon Appetito!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cooking Vacations Tastes Campania's Top Wines For Telethon Weekend

 “I Napoletani hanno un grande cuore-Neapolitans have a grande heart,” said Gianni Maione of BNL, the sponsor bank of Telethon in Italy in the fight against Muscular Distrophy. Over a weekend of Telethon Marathon, the top winemakers of Campania donated their top-prized vintages for an evening of tasting for a cause in Naples at the Grand Vesuvio Hotel.

While upstairs soccer President De Laurentiis prepared for Naples' big game and legendary Italian singer Lucio Dalla prepared for an evening out on the town, expert Sommeliers served up Campania's 21 top-rated wines in the Vesuvio's Sala Scarlatti. Mastroberardino faced off with both the Taurasi Naturalis Historia 2006 boasting old vines that make sure an interestingly complex yet fresh taste, and the Taurasi Radici Riserva 2005, though younger vines, the 30 months in Barrique give this a mature fruit and wonderfully spiced finish. But not only the big guys made it to the table. Also top-rated is Nanni-Cope's Sabbie Di Sopra Il Bosco 2009 with just two and a half hectares of vines and a production about 7,500 bottles, and Montevetrano 2009 with just five hectares and a production of about 30,000 bottles.

Sommeliers, wine-lovers and Telethon-supporters lined up to taste each of the 21 wines, including top Greco di Tufo, known for their mineral-salty finish, rich golden colored Fiano Di Avellino and Marisa Cuomo's best-loved Fiorduva, ranked the number two white wine in Italy. Reds ranged from the interesting Campania IGT, to spiced Aglianico and robust Taurasi.

All the best of Campania's wines and all for a great cause. Salute!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Cooking Vacations Plays Tombola In Positano

With my heart pounding I stare at the number 45 willing it forward. “Chiamalo!” I yell as tradition requires – Call it! 68. The excitement swells in the pit of my stomach as I fear someone else might hear their last missing number, before Peppino calls the only number missing on my lilac-colored Tombola card. 45.

“TOMBOLAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” I yell, as I feel my whole face out to the tips of my ears turning red with exhilaration.

Maurizio takes my card and calls out the numbers one by one to make sure it is 'a true Tombola.'

E' vera,” confirms Peppino over the microphone. As I bubble over with excitement, sighs of disappointment circle the room as hopefuls count how many numbers they were missing- only one? So close. Two? Almost there. Three? Not even a hopeful, bring on the next round!

Every year, December 8 marks the beginning of the Christmas season in Italy and in Positano that means Tombola at the central Bar Mulino Verde. Tombola is Italian BINGO – with winnings starting at Ambo (2 in a row), Terno (3 in a row), Quaterna (4 in a row), Quintina (5 in a row) up to the coveted Tombola (all 15 numbers on the card). Everyone from town, young and old, piles in to play for 1Euro a card and have a chance at winning gift certificates to spend at the bar. Though winnings can get high as the year ends and every usable inch of table, counter, bar, or pastry case is filled with someone keeping track of their numbers, the possibility of winnings is not what brings the whole town out on rainy evenings in December.

I squeeze in next to friends, acquaintances, neighbors, kids that are much bigger (and feistier) than I remember, not to mention a tourist here or there that needs the numbers repeated in English, French, or German and some kind tomboliere is always happy to oblige. All together, all counting and hoping Peppino will call out our lucky numbers.

As Maurizio begins passing out the next round of cards, we demand the cartelle fortunate, lucky cards. Maurizio has the same reply every time : “I always give lucky cards.”

For the full holiday event schedule in Positano including concerts, art & photography exhibits, Open Doors sagras in Positano's neighboorhoods and more, click here.

Or, click here for Cooking Vacations Culinary Tours In Positano.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cooking Vacations Italy Cooking Classes & School
Amalfi Coast Photography Expedition With Massimo Bassano
~Photographing, Exploring Images, Color, People, Food & Landscapes~The Chefs Kitchen~October 2 to 7, 2011. Join us cooking and photographing on The Amalfi Coast!!!
An Italian Cooking Vacations experience celebrating Italian food, Art, and Music in Italy. We are the leaders in culinary tours, hands-on cooking classes, and cultural adventures in Italy

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Elizabeth Berg Writers Studio ~ Positano

Amalfi Coast Writer's Workshop With Elizabeth Berg™

Hope you are enjoying the summer!

Writing to follow up on the Elizabeth Berg Writers Studio in Positano.

Join Cooking Vacations for this exclusive writing and cooking week with New York Times Bestselling Author Elizabeth Berg. 

Amalfi Coast Writer's Workshop With Elizabeth Berg™

There is still a couple of spaces available, if you decide to join us!

Call Lauren at 1.800.916.1152 or email at

Hope you will join us writing & cooking in sunny Italy!



Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Cooking Vacations’ August 2011 News

Agosto, the month in the year where days on the beach end under smoldering sunsets that turn to star studded skies, where a gelato a day is a must, and where outdoor events of every kind spill into piazzas, gardens and outside theatres. In fact, everything in Italy is outside in August! Late nights under the starry summer skies mean San Lorenzo is almost here, - August 10, just another reason to celebrate and wish upon a shooting star.
August was originally called Sextilis in Latin when it fell under the Roman Calendar of Romulus, and it was renamed Augustus after the Roman Emperor Augustus around 8BC.
August brings us 31 glorious days of summer in Italy! It may be sizzling outside, but our kitchen is filled with delicious summer recipes to keep you cool and healthy!
Safe Summer!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Serve an Italian Feast this Summer

A delightful feast fit for a king! This 3 course Italian inspired meal provided by  includes Arancini Di Riso (Rice Balls), Filetto di Manzo All’Aceto Balsamico (Beef Fillet in Balsamic Vinegar), and Gelato Alla Crema (Italian Creamy Ice Cream)! The family will love the richness and flavors of each dish, and everyone will feel transported to Italy, if just for an evening!

Click to read the article and recipes in Tiny Green Mom

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Ubiquitous Grape!

Wine is becoming more accessible and attractive to more consumers.
More Americans are shunning beer for wine, and younger generations enjoy it outside of meals, preferring it instead with snack foods or solo, says new research about the latest in wine trends. In fact, experts say, one-quarter or wine is enjoyed without any food at all. Wine drinkers’ ages may determine how wine is drunk, as older drinkers are more likely to have it with food than younger wine drinkers. Half of the wine that those aged 65 and older is consumed with food, while less than a third of the wine that Millennials drink is enjoyed with meals or snacks, says the study.   
Why the generational differences between wine drinkers?   The results make perfect sense, says Elizabeth Schneider, Certified Sommelier, Certified Specialist of Wine and owner of Wine for Normal People.
While the study says that one-quarter of consumers don’t eat food with wine, that means the majority—three-quarters—do, she notes.  
Also, while less than a third (31 percent) of MIllennials drink wine with food is an “important statistic,” Schneider says, it is tied to their life stage. 
“That age group is probably just beginning to enjoy better food, [and] learning how to cook,” she explains. “The group is upwardly mobile, but maybe isn’t at the place where food has become a big deal for them—that generally comes with the ability to afford meals out or to buy gourmet ingredients to cook.” 
Just as the characteristics of wine change over time, so does how an individual treats it. “Younger people tend to consume alcohol for different reasons than older people, and their behavior changes with age and time,” Schneider says. 
Schneider dispels the notion that drinking wine without food is something unique to the Millennial cohort; as they age, she contends, their habits will more closely resemble those of their Boomer counterparts.  
“I guarantee that as the generation ages, earns more, and grows more savvy in its knowledge of wine and traditions, individuals will consume more food and wine together,” Schneider maintains.  
While there tend to be differences between groups of wine drinkers, it is never good to over generalize, agrees wine tasting expert Melody Guerra, who is sommelier-in-training for Cooking Vacations Italy

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Tastes Of Italia's May Issue, featuring Todd English by Lauren Birmingham

"I came from a family of amazing cooks," says Chef Todd English.  "My great-grandmother, Bettina, who lived to be something like 100 years old, would always make pasta.  Check out Todd English's Red Velvet Cupcakes in

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cooking Vacations featured in Top 20 List Of Best Breaks for Foodies by Trip Base London!

Are you a foodie, tripping the planet for delicious recipes, hands-on cooking classes.....Cooking Vacations featured in Top 20 List Of Best Breaks for Foodies by Trip Base London!  Cooking Vacations is the leader in hands-on cooking classes, food tours, and market visits to Italy.  Tie on your aprons and join us in sunny Italy! 
Check out Trip

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Easter Bunny

The Easter Bunny

Everyone loves the Easter Bunny. He is warm, fuzzy and always brings creamy candy and chocolate to the little ones. And although the Easter Bunny is so loved, we question where did the Easter Bunny really come from?

Folklore says, that the Easter Bunny came to America sometime in the 1700’s with the Germans who had
...settled in Pennsylvania. The fabled tale of the Easter Bunny, once called Osterhase, evolved and the tradition of coloring eggs and putting them in Easter baskets spread across the USA.

The Easter Egg
According to Saint Bede the Benedictine Monk, the word Easter came from Eostre, an Anglo Saxon goddess of Spring. In Medieval Europe, eggs were forbidden during Lent. So eggs laid during that time were boiled, and saved to be a mainstay of Easter food, including prized gifts for children. And throughout time, the egg is a symbol of new life and fertility.

Celebrate spring and Easter with our Italian traditions from Cooking Vacations, including Mamma Celeste’s Easter Pastiera, and Mamma Maria’s biscotti.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Boston Marathon Carbo Charge!


CARBO CHARGE for the Boston Marathon this Monday with
with fresh Italian pasta courtesy of Cooking Vacations Italy.

Chef Salvatore Barba from Positano and Lauren Birmingham are busy in the test kitchen gearing up for Monday's Run. Any and all runners need just call for a complimentary delivery from the Boston Test Kitchen. 
Eat healthy pasta with our hand made artisan pasta and organic Cooking Vacations virgin olive oil, and pass the finish line a winner!!! 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Todd English To Nonna's Kitchen

Lauren Piscitelli On Delicious Food Writing

by Taqiyyah Shakirah Dawud
I asked Lauren Birmingham Piscitelli of Cooking Vacations about the food-focused start of her career as a food writer, the special characteristics of food writing, and her favorite food writing adventure.

Q: How did you get your start writing about food?
I grew up in the kitchen with my two Italian grandmothers and mother. Cooking is a big part of the Italian culture, and my grandmothers and mom have kept all those traditions alive. Although we have a big Italian American family, as a young teenager who loved to read, cook, paint and write, I didn’t think about my roots. I lremember choosing fun books to read each summer on the hammock in our yard. We had a very Italian-looking yard and garden laced with grapevines and growing everything an Italian family could want: eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, basil, garlic, pumpkins, oregano, thyme, and sage. We also had cherry, fig, pear, peach and blueberry trees. But it wasn’t until I was older that I realized the importance of my background.
Q: What characteristics make a good book or article about food?
Tell the story of the roots of the food: its etymology, history, and orgin. Tomatoes for example, although icons of Italian culture and food, are not indigenous of Italy; they’re American. Eggplants are Chinese, lemons are Persian, and the list goes on. It’s also fascinating to write about how civilizations travelled with food, intrducing things like fruits and vegetables to other people who would then replant it ad have it flourish based on their climate. The information and knowledge is endless.

Q: How should a food writer prepare to write about a topic? What kinds of things do you regularly do when you’re writing about food?
Learn the source of the type of food or the ingredients of each dish you’re writing about. Find out the season, origin, and best compliment of each food. Then try everything in the kitchen. It’s almost impossible write or learn everything about food from behind a computer. Good food writing requires hands-on experience. All the senses need to be engaged as the writer touches, smells, cooks, and learns.Tasting is an absolute requirement.

Q: Tell us about the best food-writing adventure you’ve had to date.
Interviewing great chefs from Todd English and Franck Cerruti to a humble Nonna in the kitchen has been wonderful; each interview is always a learning experience. Although I am proud and pleased to meet and talk with each of them, my last interview featuring Chef Cerruti and a visit to Monaco was a true adventure. This world class, three-star Michelin-ranked chef is as simple as the country ingredients he cooks with. Look for the interview in the next issue of “Tastes of Italia”, coming to newsstands in June.

Lauren Birmingham Piscitelli is creator and owner of Cooking Vacations. She is a published writer, photographer, and owner of Birmingham Associates Communications, a public relations and marketing agency. She is married to Rino Piscitelli and they live high on the Amalfi Coast in Positano Italy surrounded by lemons, olives, oranges and an ever-blooming vegetable and fruit garden. They are producers of their own first-pressed Virgin olive oil and herbs, and they advocate organic products free of pesticides and the healthy Mediterranean diet.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cooking Vacations Visits Villa Matilde

If I met Maria Ida in a different circumstance, I would have ventured a guess that she was an art gallery curator or museum docent- with her gray wool cardigan contrasted perfectly with a red scarf and matching gray spike heels.  As we walk though the vineyard, she jokes: “I’m so short, I’m used to hiking in heels.”  I admire as she strolls gracefully over the uneven rocky ground. 
“We are vignaioli,” – people of the vine – she explains.  Her father, a lawyer by trade, planted the vines of Villa Matilde as a hobby, but never thought to make a living that way.  Maria Ida and her brother Salvatore Avallone, despite their father’s warnings, decided to continue his tradition- leaving the wealthy professional circles of the city of Naples, to live and work in the countryside.  “We started with just our passion, and today we have over 40 dedicated employees that help us produce about 880,000 bottles of our wines each year.”  
Across the vineyard she points out the Renaissance villa that is built on ancient Roman foundations. The evidence of the Roman roots of this area is unmistakable, located just a couple of miles from the Lazio border in Campania.  Here, the people have been cultivating grapes and making wine since Roman times- with the ancient Falernum – today’s Falerno Del Massico.
Maria Ida stoops and grabs a handful of dust that drains out of her palm into the wind, to demonstrate the characteristics of the soil.  Thanks to the extinct volcano, the mountains on three sides, and the sea breeze, the soil is perfect for grape growing.  “Here we grow the Aglianico grapes for the prizedCamarato,” she explains. “The vines here were planted by my father 47 years ago.” You can tell the age by the twisted, gnarled shoots coming out of the sandy soil in neat rows that are destined to make the garnet-colored Reserve.
“We may not be the largest or the oldest, but my brother and I make wines that convey our history and the personality of our land.  That is our past and that is what we will carry on.” She gestures with her hands passionately as she talks, her silver bauble bracelets clacking together each time.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Food Trips Along The Amalfi Coast Wine Trails

Our Wine tasting had everyone dancing in the vineyard!

A day out of the kitchen and at the vineyard, of course eating & wine tasting!! Bringing you fresh new food experiences and cooking classes from Italy!  Chef Eva prepared Minestra with wine, Pasta e fagioli -yes with wine, grilled  sausage & rape with wine, aged Pecorino with wine wine, and a table of desserts with sweet wine and great music.  The country lunch in the hills of the Amalfi Coast brought new and old friends together, sharing recipes, tasting wine and keeping our artisan way of Cooking Vacations alive!  Raise your glass and SALUTE!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


For all the parents out there that just can’t decide where to take the 
kids on vacation this year both Florence and Rome have made the top 10 
vacation locations for families in Europe!

Italy is a fantastic place for kids to learn and have fun. With all 
it’s history your kids will have an amazing experience from seeing 
Michealangelo’s David for the first time to clambering over ruins in 
the Forum in Rome. Just remember after every museum or Church you 
visit just buy them a gelato!

Dining out will be easy with pasta and pizza on every menu, and for 
dessert some more gelato (you can’t have too much) the kids will be in 
paradise! They may even learn a few words of Italiano along the way! 
The Italians are all about families so the kids will be welcomed with 
open arms everywhere they go. They will have a priceless opportunity 
to enjoy their encounter with history, art, archittecture and a 
foreign lifestyle!

Italy truly is a a great way to learn, have fun in the sunshine for 
kids and grown ups too!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Apple Flagship Store Boston

Big Apple at the Apple Flagship Store!  I really felt like a big Apple on Friday, March 18 when I cooked up a spring menu and talked about my recipe for success using Apples for writing, I photo-ing, i pads, I phones and more.  An interesting full house listened, watched and tasted samples from the Cooking Vacations' Kitchen.  Grazie Apple! 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cooking With Apples- Ipod, MacBooks, Iphones & Cooking Vacations Italy

Ciao from Cooking Vacations!

Cooking With Apple

For all the foodies in the Boston area, come join Lauren Birmingham Piscitelli Of Cooking Vacations Italy at the Apple flagship store, 815 Boylston Street, Boston, on Friday, March 18 at 6pm and cook with Apple. 

Apple Computer, the world leader in Mac Books, Iphones, Ipads and computer technology pairs up with Lauren to discuss how she expanded her business to international heights using Apple Technology.  An informal cooking demo with tastings from Cooking Vacations kitchen, along with lots of juicy information on new Mac technology to be served!

If you can't make it to Italy, we bring it to you!

We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Italy's Feste Delle Donne & Sweet Mimosa!

Yellow is everywhere today with soft flowers of Mimosa for the feast day.  Ribbons & wrappings celebrating Feste delle Donne with Zeppole, Chiacchiere, Castagnole & Struffoli.  The Bar Mulini, Positano’s best sweetest bar, was bustling today as lines of locals made their way to the pastry counter.  Barister Maurizio piled the pastries high on parton’s platters with golden ribbons of Chiacchire & small mounds of Castognole; for the last sweet bite before Ash Wednesday tomorrow.    

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Amalfi Coast Beautiful In The Rain

Even when the rain drops are coming down, there is a soft blue veil of mist that covers the sea and its beautiful in the rain.  It looks like a Pasquale Volpe watercolor.  A foggy feeling of comfort even though the rain is beats down.  A mist of hazy blue, white and gray hangs over the mountains.  No one is around.  And the kitchen is waiting.  A bowl of Cannellini beans that have been soaking overnight.  Big as the rain drops outside, they are waiting to be tossed in onion and virgin olive oil with a little pink sea salt.  Pasta and beans with fresh parsley is the fix for this lazy rainy day.

Friday, March 4, 2011

DeCecco Pasta Puttanesca For A Cold Rainy Day

March winds and light sprinkles keep a cold winter feeling in the air.  The perfect recipe for a hearty lunch to keep the chills away, Puttanesca.  I started with a big pan and a three dollops of Extra Virgin first-cold-pressed olive oil, two springs of whole garlic over a medium to low heat (watching it while it infuses).  I then add two small chili peppers, pink sea salt and a handful of capers.  Next, I added a handful of small black olives, or olive di Gaeta.  (I will remove the olives for Melody’s portion, she does note eat them), and four alici rolled around a caper (one for each person). Lastly a small bowl of cherry ripe tomatos sliced in half. 

Let it simmer on low heat, about 15 minutes until the tomatoes start to cook.  

PASTA.  Boil water and a pinch or two of salt and "butta la pasta".  Today I used DeCecco Spaghetti n 12 intergral, which means whole wheat pasta on the small side.  Boil for 10 minutes, save a little of the pasta water or aqua magico to add to the sauce.  When pasta is cooked "al dente" toss into the sauce pan and saute for a moment or two.  Buon Appetito!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Tuscan Epic

The Soft Rains Of March Lead Us To the Spring's Green Grass In The Tuscan Hills.
The vineyards of Tuscany are home to our new program: The Tuscan Epic!

Join Anna Maria in her family’s historic mansion for a unique cooking experience blending Tuscan and Emilia-Romagna traditions in the village of Marradi. Luxury accommodations accompany delicious cooking, and local wines from Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna complete this colorful palate. Our weekend program gives you a taste of Marradi’s local flavor along with time on your own to enjoy the blend of tranquility and excitement that sets apart the Italian lifestyle, la dolce vita.


Marradi is a riverside village tucked in the Lamone valley near Faenza in Tuscany, though just a short distance from Emilia-Romagna. This rural village nests quietly below cirrus-dusted mountains and has a landscape that has inspired artists and poets for centuries. Perfect for a hidden relaxing holiday yet within a short distance of the cities of Florence, Bologna, the seaside of Rimini and the incredible art of Ravenna.
Excursions take you to Ravenna with its incredible Byzantine churches and towns of Faenza, famous for ceramics, Pomposa with its frescoed Benedictine Abbey, Comacchio, a Venice-like lagoon town split by a network of canals and 17 bridges, Cervia, a seaside resort famous for its salt production, and Ferrara, with its Renaissance Estense castle.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Carnevale & Chiacchiere On The Amalfi Coast

A warm cappuccino and Chiacchiere at a cozy cafe in Amalfi!  There were mounds of Chiacchiere neatly laid in trays a top a baker's shelf, a sure sign that Carnevale is near.   And as the cold wind swept in to this famous little bar with the many locals stopping in for their cafe, the baker's air inside kept me warm.  As I bit into the golden ribbon of lightly fried dough, this traditional sweet that celebrates Carnevale,  I immediately wanted another!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Executive Chef Franco Cerutti Executive Chef At The Hotel Paris Monaco!

Italian Royalty reigns in Monte Carlo as the Chef to the stars, that is Michelin Stars, is wowing guests with his sensational seasonal food! I just returned from a private tour with Chef Franco Cerutti in his Michelin Star Kitchen at the Hotel de Paris and learned about his knowledge, passion and cooking secrets.  Known for his simplicity in the kitchen, Cerutti uses seasonal high quality products and crosses the boarder into Italy to do his shopping.  Daily fresh produce, fish, game, cheese and herbs are just a few items on his shopping list!  Leading an orchestra of 20 Chefs, Cerutti serves up Sea Bass, Calamare, Turbot and game!  From antipasto to dessert Chef Cerutti won my heart and palate! 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Todd English and the Food Hall Plaza Hotel New York

Chef Todd English opened the Food Hall in the Plaza Hotel last year- and New Yorkers are loving it! On a frigid Tuesday evening, the Food Hall was packed with diners elbow-to-elbow and chatting with each other and the chefs.  The bar-style Food Hall puts diners up close with their chefs tending to the red-brick pizza oven, the raw bar and seafood station, the charcuterie and cheese block and more.  The marketplace-food court atmosphere is decorated with swingy marmalades, olive oils, sauces, cheeses and of course, Todd English’s cookbooks, that are available for sale throughout the Hall.  

The menu mixes Raw Bar, Sushi and Mediterranean with classic Italian such as Parmesan and Mushroom Risotto, Butternut Squash Ravioli, Bucatini all’Amatriciana, Pappardelle with Whipped Ricotta and Lobster Tagliatelle with Baby Artichokes. 

We started with one of Todd English’s signatures- a Fig’s-style brick oven pizza, topped with Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, rosemary and dried figs.  As we waited I watched stiff-white-coated chefs walk past with a Zuppa Di Cozze, steamed mussels sprinkled with chilli pepper, and wooden cutting boards with all sorts of cheeses paired with salumi, olives and spiced honeys.  The charred octopus with leeks and almond-red pepper romesco made my Amalfi Coast heart proud- that even on this icy February evening, my 8-legged tapas were tender and not the least bit rubbery.  Meanwhile, my dining partner savored the hand-rolled Gnocchi with traditional veal Bolognese topped with shaved Parmesan.

We ended with two of Isabelle’s Curly Cakes- the Grasshopper with a mint butter cream frosting and the Red Velvet topped with a chilled White Chocolate-Cream Cheese.  Keep an eye out for Taste Of Italia’s April Issue for more on these little delights!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Little Valentine

Choco dipped strawberries sprinkled with sugar, candied slices of Amalfi Coast lemons, crystal chunks of golden ginger. A small little wooden box lined with lace and filled with Valentine sweets. Our Saint of love, San Valentino has an old story going back to the 500 AD. Even though his was abolished at one time, his come back is honored with hearts of all kinds on February 14. Celebrate the day with this simple romantic recipe. Take two bags of organic semi-chocolate, melt in a double boiler, add two cups of organic Chinese crunchy noodles. Stir until absorbed. Spoon out onto parchment paper lined pans the size of a walnut. Set to cool. Spinkle with sugar and serve on a silver platter. Sweet Tastings!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mangiare Bene

February Newsletter

Fresh Recipes, New Kitchen Ideas, Food News & Fun Things To Do In Sunny Italy

My Little Valentine

I love the story of San Valentino! He was Italian! I love handmade cards shaped in big hearts and organic chocolate sweet made with baker’s hands. I love giving homemade gifts that make eyebrows rise and smiles wide. San Valentino is the saint of love, dates back to 500 AD, and was named after the Christian martyr created by Pope Gelasius. Sadly the sweet little holiday was edited off the Roman Calendar of Saints in 1969, but churchgoers and believers still honored him. It was the great writer Geoffrey Chaucer who put it back on the map when he penned beautiful love stories in his honor! Juno, the Roman godess of marriage, added fire to the flame and immortalize the name of Saint Valentine.

So here high on the Amalfi Coast, in honor of San Valentino, Melody, Giuseppe and I are busy in our Test Kitchen cooking, baking and making Valentine sweets to keep you cozy. Our small sized Capreses, made in a heart shaped form, are topped with pink sugared rose petals. Every sweet tooth wanted a bite so we baked and shipped our piccolo choco cakes to sweethearts Jennifer Lopez, Rod Stewart, Andrea Bocelli, Larry King, and Denzel Washington to name a few.

Menu For Two

Simplicity reigns in Italian cooking and Valentines is no exception. Our San Valentino menu for 2 includes, antipasto Mare e Monti (sea and land) grilled winter pumpkin, wild Porcini, toasted polenta and lemon fused calamaretti (grilled to perfection); Pasta ai Frutti di Mare, Scialatielli pasta cooked in a sweet red tomato sauce tossed with sea-catches of clams and mussels; Todd English’s Branzino (recipe below); and a rich Torta Caprese con Gelato, white or dark flourless cake spiked with choco. And lastly, an espresso-Sambuca along with a choco-hazelnut Baci will have you exchanging love messages in Italiano!

This month Cooking Vacations was chosen as the leader in culinary tours to Italy specializing in KIDS COOKING sharing our thoughts on the healthy Mediterranean diet with Tiny Green Mom. I was interviewed and our recipes and story appear on this helping hand site for Moms, read all about us at

The International Association of Women Entrepreneurs hosted an in depth interview on Cooking Vacations’ marketing and social media business communications. Read all about us,

Cooking With A Contessa

Tastes Of Italia Magazine

Each month I travel, write and photograph for Tastes Of Italia Magazine covering all of Italy's 20 Regions reporting on interesting food & cooking news, artisan producers, slow food advocators, food purveyors and all good things Italian. Read about The Italian Contessa in this month’s issue.

“I love pasta! I love pasta e cocozza, pasta and pumpkin, pasta e piselli, pasta and peas, and pasta e cavolfiore, pasta and cauliflower, -simple pasta dishes, using the vegetables in season,” says Raimonda. This is Raimonda, she is a Contessa. Her green gray eyes catch the light as she tells about her love for Italian pasta. Read all about it,

Kids Cooking

From ours Kids Cooking kitchen, Chloe & Siena have contributed their love notes and recipes for fun Cupid recipes for any Valentine festa!

Florence Food, Art & Romance

And if you are looking for the absolute romantic getaway check out:

Florence: Food, Art & Romance™

Cooking With Chef Monica ~ 4 Day

Florence, Medieval City of food, art & romance is laid with ancient cobblestone streets, outdoor cafés spilling on piazzas, and museums home to Leonardo's Adoration of the Magi, Michelangelo's Davide and Botticelli's Primavera. Join Chef Monica for a Florentine cooking experience that will have you cooking like a local!

Buon Appetito!


Table Talk

February is the month of extremes: it’s wet and windy, often with unexpectedly warm days that surprise you; it brings the festive extravagance of Carnevale which is immediately followed by Lent, and the respite of winter along with the first seeds of spring and summer. After the snow and ice we’ve had over the last month, most of us are hoping for an early and clement spring, but in the meantime, it’s all winter coats and wooly hats.

But don’t let the cold put you off - there’s still lots to do out and about: a weekend on the slopes (it’s been a great year for skiing so far); a few days spent somewhere in the south of Italy where the sun is easier to find (why is it that while we’re bundled up against the snow it always seems that the beaches of Palermo are full?); and the many food sagras that are held in every corner of the country celebrating local seasonal produce like pork, beans, pumpkin, and the various different types of radicchio. There’s Carnevale of course, with its fabulous displays and processions with paper mache floats that poke fun at politicians and celebrities, and the most romantic day of the year, San Valentino. To celebrate, take the afternoon off to prepare a lovely dinner for two, and chose some of the Italians’ best loved aphrodisiac foods: oysters, shell fish, asparagus and truffles. Some even said that broccoli rabe was an aphrodisiac, but that was more probably a myth created to persuade people to eat it. But it is (apparently!) well known that almonds induce passion in females, vanilla increases lust, fennel is a source of estrogens, garlic and mustard stir desire, honey cures impotence, truffles stimulate and sensitize and of course we all know that chocolate is the food of the gods, so dessert could be anything from a couple of squares of 80% chocolate enjoyed with an aged rum or a silky chocolate fondue, after which it’s up to you!

So wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, we hope you’re having as much fun as we have here in Italy...

February Food Notes

It may be winter, but there are still some chores to do in the garden. The fruit trees and grape vines need to be pruned, and we also took some vine cuttings to graft onto others that are having less success. The perennial shrubs need tidied up and cut back, and towards the end of the month, perennials can also be divided. Out in the vegetable garden, our produce has survived the cold remarkably well. (Okay, it is under a makeshift greenhouse, but nevertheless...) The Savoy cabbages have come on in leaps and bounds though they need de-snailing every week or so and the first are ready to be chopped and sautéed with a little bacon or pezzente, a word which mens beggar or wretch, but which is in fact a delicious local type of semi-dry sausage which is made from all the left over pieces of pork once the main cuts have been transformed into chops, cutlets, sausages, salami, and capocollo. Left-overs it may be, but as anyone lucky enough to have tried it will tell you, absolutely delicious! The radicchio and fennel will be ready some time this month and the broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes a few weeks after that. Right now, what we have tons of is escarole, broccoli rabe (again best eaten with sausages or pezzente, and fabulous as a pizza topping) and a Neapolitan green called minestra, which tastes something like a cross between broccoli rabe and kale - very good indeed and very healthy. Which means that the kitchen is full of tasty green vegetables, simmering soups and hot savory pies. Maybe February isn’t so bad after all...

Recipes From Our Kitchen

Chef Todd English’s

Plaza Food Hall Whole Roasted Branzino

Serves 2

2 whole Branzino, (12 - 14 oz. ea) scaled and gutted from your fish monger

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 bulb fennel, thinly shaved

1 orange, segmented

3 shallots, sliced

1 lemon, sliced into 3 1/8 inch slices

salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp EVOO

6 thyme sprigs


1. Rinse fish thoroughly inside and out under cold, running water.

2. If fish was not thoroughly scaled, remove by running the edge of a spoon along the length of the scaled area, from tail toward head.

3. In a bowl, mix together the garlic, shallots, thyme, fennel, and orange to make fish seasoning

4. Place fish seasoning mixture into the cavity of the fish and season with salt and pepper

5. Place fish on a hot grill and cook for 4 minutes on each side

6. Remove from the grill and place on a fry pan. Top fish with 3 slices of lemon and finish cooking in the oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.

Kids Cooking

Chloe’s Cupid Cupcakes

“Valentine's Day is a symbol of friendship and love. On Valentine's Day you show people you love them. Another word for Valentine's Day is Saint Valentine's Day. Cupids, doves, roses, and hearts are all symbols of Valentine's Day. The tradition of Valentine's Day started around the Seventeenth Century. The rose is the flower of Valentine's Day. Ciao ciao,…”

Chloe Lucia, 8 years old

Valentine Heart Cupcakes

Makes 6 cupcakes

6 tbsp butter, softened

Generous 3/8 cup superfine sugar

½ tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs, lightly beaten

½ cup all-purpose flour

Mix flour, sugar and butter until smooth. Add vanilla and eggs. Mix until smooth. Place paper cupcake liners into muffin pan. Add mixture to half way in each. Bake for 20 to 25 mintues at 300F. Cover with white confectioner’s sugar.

Siena’s Choco Recipe

“Valentine’s Day is a very fun holiday. It’s fun bec/ we have Valentine parties. Valentine’s aren’t about how pretty they look, they’re about giving. People should make Valentine’s a great holiday by giving other people chocolate goodies and pretzels too. How about chocolate covered pretzels? Take some long pretzels, dip them in melted chocolate, or use chocolate molds. These are really yummy!”

Love, Siena, 5 years old

Chocolate Dipped Pretzels

Take 20 to 30 long Paul Newman pretzels

In a double boiler melt down one bag of Wholefoods dark choco chips.

Dip each pretzel into the melted choco. Place on parchment paper to cool. Sprinkle with pink sprinkles and place in the fridge.

With Love From Italy

If you cannot make it to Italy, we bring Italy to you~

Venice Carnival, 19/20 Feb - 26th Feb - 8 March

Those who have never experienced a day wandering around this beautiful city during Carnival have missed one of Italy’s most suggestive spectacles. Get there early, and enjoy a day spent wandering around the main piazzas and tiny alleyways rubbing shoulders with 18th-century wigged gentlemen and corseted, masked beauties. And even if you don’t dress up yourself, there are plenty of street artists around to paint kids’ faces and make them feel part of the action.

The Food Hall Plaza by Todd English

The Plaza Food Hall by Todd English is a European-inspired specialty Food Hall – and the first of its kind to open within a New York City hotel – offering the finest fresh, prepared and gourmet foods set in a stylish and convenient atmosphere. Visitors will also be able to purchase fresh flowers, a range of international specialty foods such as olives and olive oils, vinegars, spices, gourmet coffee, tea and cocoa, jams and sauces, as well as cookware and home goods. The open kitchens throughout the space will also allow for interactive events such as cooking demonstrations and wine classes.

The Unification of Italy, Sorrento, until 21 March.

The town’s Teatro Tasso just off the main square has been given over to an exhibition examining the Unification of Italy through cinema, theater, music and art. Along with historical notes, this makes for an interesting way to learn more about how modern Italy became a single nation.

Affordable Art Fair, until 6th Feb

Visitors to Milan this February might think about taking in the Affordable Art Fair at the city’s Superstudio Più, where over 60 galleries from all over the world present pieces of original art by living artists, all of which cost between 100 and 5,000 Euros. All in the hope of persuading people that creating your own collection of original art needn't cost an arm and a leg.

Giovanni Allevi, Rome 19 Feb

An unmissable event, with pianist and composer Giovanni Allevi performing pieces from his latest album entitled Alien. This particular tour debuted in Los Angeles and has already hit Japan, but fans back home are ready to welcome Allevi back to Italy with open arms. Also available on CD.

Italian Feasts And Celebrations

Carnevale isn’t the only event to celebrate in February: all over Italy you’ll find a whole selection of festas and sagras that will make your mouth water.

Fiera del Cioccolato Artigianale. Florence, 4 - 13 Feb

This year the city of Florence is offering visitors an extra special treat over the Carnival period - a huge artisan chocolate fair. Not only will you find many of Italy’s most gifted cioccolatieri and their delicious wares - everything from steaming mugs of hot chocolate to delicately wrapped cracknels and bonbons, but there will also be demonstrations and lessons on the preparation of chocolate, explaining the transformation of the humble cocoa bean into the final product. And traditional flag throwers, masked processions and photographic exhibitions means there is plenty to do between one mouthful of goodies and the next.

22nd Sagra dei Biligocc, Casale di Albino, Province of Bergamo: 6 Feb

A wonderfully old fashioned sagra, here you’ll be treated to one of the area’s best loved products, chestnuts, which you can sample smoked, boiled and roasted as well as transformed into a range of products (including dried chestnuts and chestnut flour) that you can pick up to enjoy at home. This sagra boasts the participation of the local Slow Food convivium, so you’ll also be able to sample a whole range of delicious specialties prepared by local artisans, before enjoying concerts featuring traditional dancing and singing.

Mostra mercato del tartufo nero pregiato di Campoli Appennino, Campoli Appennino (FR): 12 - 13 and 19th - 20th Feb

Lovers of the delicious black truffle should head to the town of Campoli Appennino (under an hour from Rome) where they’ll be able to buy black truffles directly from over 80 dealers coming from 15 different Regions of Italy, and sample a myriad of delicious truffle based dishes. Enjoy the traditional truffle dog competition, folk groups, flag throwers, Medieval processions and visit local restaurants boasting yet more truffle offerings.

Fritoe, Golosità e Prodotti Tipici, Montagnana, (PD)

In the town of Montagnana in the Province of Padova, on the 20th February, those of you with a sweet tooth will be in your element. This delicious food fest celebrates all the various Venetian Carnival sweets and desserts, from deep fried sugar dipped frittole and chiacchiere to cream filled choux and miniature doughnuts. Lots of other produce will also be on sale and there are various face painting activities for kids and an antique fair and music for adults.

Italy On A Plate

Germaine continues her roundup of what's happening in the culinary world in Italy and gives you her chef of the month, book recommendation, and a list of seasonal foods for February.

What's in Season?





Sea Bream


Swiss chard




Brussel sprouts



Broccoli rabe










Restaurant Of The Month

Bir & Fud, Rome.

Few visitors to Italy are familiar with the country’s artisan beer scene, so this month we visit a fabulous pizzeria located in Rome’s vibrant Trastevere district, close to the river, where instead of wine, there are an incredible 14 beers on draft, four hand pumped English style, and a further 250 different beers in bottles. And they’re all Italian! And what do you want to accompany your specially chosen artisan beer? A really good pizza of course.

Bir & Fud opened in 2007, but is already a firm favorite with locals and visitors alike thanks to the painstaking efforts taken by the owners to provide nothing but top quality food and beer in comfortable surroundings, and it now rates among the city’s top pizzerias. But of course, that doesn’t happen just by accident. At Bir & Fud, only best quality stone milled organic flours and specially sourced starter yeasts are used to prepare the pizza dough, which is then left to prove for at least 24 hours. (This ensures that fermentation takes place before the pizza is cooked, not once you’ve eaten it!) The same goes for pizza toppings: whether you opt for a ‘mare d’inverno’ which is a white focaccia with marinated baccalà, Taggiasche olives, and cherry tomatoes, or a ‘trifolata’ with mushrooms, sautéed eggplant, fresh buffalo mozzarella and shavings of Parmesan cheese, all ingredients are carefully sourced and selected. And part of the fun here is allowing knowledgeable staff to help you choose the best beer to accompany your choice of pizza.

There are plenty of other dishes to choose from in the menu, and all of them are good. But our favorite way to enjoy this great little eatery is to fill up on their traditional Roman starters like croquettes, supplì (rice balls), fried pumpkin, fried polenta or a little pumpkin risotto, then opt for one of the pizzas and an Italian beer.

Bir & Fud

Via Benedetta, 23

(Trastevere) Rome

Tel: (+39) 06 589 4016

Book Of The Month

Stir, Mixing It Up In The Italian Tradition

By Barbara Lynch

She may be an Irish girl raised in South Boston, but according to many of her biggest fans, professional chef Barbara Lynch cooks like an Italian nonna. Discovering her natural culinary talent in high school home economics classes, Lynch fueled her passion by reading books like Waverly Root’s ‘The Food of Italy’ and books by her culinary heroes Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, Joel Robuchon and Gualtiero Marchese, and eventually took trips to France and Italy to absorb the local gastronomic scene and hone her culinary skills. Now, after many years of creating and cooking in her own restaurants, Lynch shares many of her own kitchen secrets in her first cook book ‘Stir’.

Remembering how starved she was for inspiration while still an aspiring chef, Lynch has taken care to include in ‘Stir’ the type of pointers and advice she knows will be useful to anyone who tries out her recipes: tips on the importance of using only the best ingredients, gaining a better knowledge of your own cooking tools and on seasoning food properly. Lynch’s appreciation of good food encompasses everything from simply sliced ripe tomatoes with best extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of fleur de sel to more elaborate preparations such as prune stuffed gnocchi with foie gras sauce and this is reflected in her recipes. Many, as she says, are embarrassingly simple: the gorgonzola fondue; pommes frittes; mixed greens with fresh herbs; and spiced walnuts. Others are a little more challenging, but promise unforgettable combinations of flavors: Maine crab, lemon and zucchini blossom risotto; green bean and seared shrimp salad with spicy curry vinaigrette; fontina and mushroom stuffed crespelle with brown sage butter sauce; and seared steaks with cheese sauce and roasted onions. Desserts cover everything from creamy vanilla bread pudding and yoghurt panna cotta to homemade apple butter tart and winter citrus with cumin meringue and whipped creme fraiche. So whether you’re looking for a quick weeknight dinner or a special dish to entertain friends, ‘Stir’ provides the perfect inspiration.

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