Thursday, December 13, 2012

Celebrate Santa Lucia, December 13, At Cooking Vacations

Celebrates Santa Lucia, December 13, in our kitchen at

In Italy, legend says that Santa Lucia was the most gentlest saint, and was known to bake sweet bread and bring it to the poor who often prayed secretly in the night.  She wore a crown upon her head with candles to lite her way.  This is why she is aften called santa di luce.  She said to be born in Sicily, was humble kind and known for her beautiful eyes. On December 13, Italians celebrate the saint’s day with music, masses, and sweet bread.  Try our delicious Santa Lucia sweet bread,-just out of our oven for you!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Sleigh Ride At Cooking Vacations


Hop on the sleigh as we travel from the North to the South around the boot for an Italian Christmas dinner that will dazzle your table!

Find it all here: 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Vino Novello - Italians give thanks for new wine

Although Thanksgiving isn't officially celebrated in Italy, Italians still give thanks during the month of November for their olio e vino novello, new olive oil and wine production. Vino novello is made using a different fermentation process than that of typical red wine. When harvested, the grapes are transferred uncrushed to a sealed barrel or steel vault. The winemaker then introduces carbon dioxide. With little oxygen and increased presence of CO2, the fermentation process is accelerated. The sugars in the grape are quickly converted into alcohol resulting in a fizzy, fresh, red berry aroma all in less than 20 days!

Produced in most regions, vino novello is most common in Veneto, Trentino, Alto Adige, and Tuscany. The most popular grapes for producing vino novello are Barbera, Dolcetto, Cabernet Savuignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese. 

Officially put on the Italian market November 6, consumers will savor this wine through January. But don't try to add a bottle to you cellar collection: lacking in natural preservatives from the tannins, vino novello won't last. Drink it young and slightly chilled.

The lightweight, bright and more acid forward wine is a perfect pairing for richer holiday meals...and most under $10, they're a great value too!

Giocale Novello Rosso 2012
Terre Di Chieti Abruzzo, Italy
This is a Novello from the south of Italy with 75% Montepulciano. It is very fruity and fairly full-bodied but well-balanced.

Tuscany, Italy
Novello is said to be born in the vineyards of Chianti and this wine stays true to the traditional style, combining the freshness of red berries with the fragrance of peaches.

Veneto, Italy
Blackberry, raspberry, and cherry aromas and flavors.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Honoring the Past on Il Giorno dei Morti

While in the U.S. glowing jack-o-lanterns light the way for children as they scurry from house to house for candy, in Italy the streets are empty. The festivities take place the following days on November 1st, All Saints Day (Ognissanti), and on November 2nd, Day of the Dead (Giorno dei Morti).

Although they fall on different dates, both Halloween and All Saints Day originate from the same Celtic traditions. For the Celts, the new farming year began on November 1st. It marks the transition from the season of life and harvest to winter, when nature sleeps. On the night of October 31, also known as Samahain, spirits were said to walk the earth. Once Christianity took over Pagan cults, the Samahain celebrations were turned into the Christian feast days of November 1st and 2nd. 

In Italy, many pay tribute to the dead with a visit to church and to the cemetery. Families are reunited at the table with meals of seasonal foods of pumpkin, polenta with squash, or gnocchi dei morti, made with squash or sweet potato dressed in butter, cinnamon and grated cheese.

As ancient tradition held that fava beans were a means of communication between the living and the dead, the appearance of these fave dei morti on the 2nd of November should be no great surprise. Other almond based sweets include ossa dei morti or dita dei morti, shaped like bones and teeth! And remember, while the name Il Giorno dei Morti might sound a little macabre, for Italians it's another celebration day!

Le fave dei morti - Beans of the Dead Cookies

Makes about 35 small cookies

100g (1/2 cup) Hazelnuts
150g (3/4 cup) blanched Almonds
350g (1 3/4 cups) Sugar
30g (2 1/2 tbsp) Flour
2 Egg Whites
Pinch either of Anise Seeds or Cinnamon or a little Lemon Zest as preferred

Place all dry ingredients into a food processor and work until ingredients are very finely ground. Slowly add the egg whites and process until mixture comes together. Wrap the mixture in plastic wrap and leave to rest in a cool place for at least two hours. Now you're ready to form the dough into small cookies. Generously flour a work surface and roll out thin sausages of dough, then cut into gnocchi-sized pieces. Cover a cookie sheet with oven parchment, roll the pieces of dough in flour, flattening them ever so slightly, and place on the cookie sheet and leave to rest for a further two hours. When you're ready, bake at 150°C / 300°F for 15 minutes.

Be sure you make extra! It is said that between the nights of November 1st and 2nd, the deceased relatives return to the places they did when alive. It is common in some parts of Italy to leave out an extra plate at the dinner table. Buon Appetito!

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Celebrating the Italian olive picking & pressing season

Olio Nuovo, new oil!  Ooooh, just the sound of these two little words brings music to my ears!  Today in our garden, Salvatore and our olive oil pickers are busy reaping the harvest.  Large green nets are spread under trees like catch nets under a circus trapeze...tied to branches, fences and whatever they can hold on to, while sun tanned farmers with worn leather-like hands pick vigorously by hand.  With a small hand-held rake, the farmers gently sweep off the olives from the branches, being careful not to bruise them.  They fall to the net and then are wrapped up, bagged and carried to the frantoio, the press. 


The olive fruits, that were only small pearl sized in May, have now grown full size and are ready for pressing.  And all in a days work!  Yes, the picking, cold pressing happens quite fast so the olives don't lose their fresh flavor!   

Poured into glass green bottles to keep it away from light, the Olio Nuovo  is made with Leccino, Curatora, Frantonoio & Coratina olives.  These varieties give an excellent, high quality and low acidity of 0.25%;  which qualifies it to be extra virgin.  Our olives are grown on a small olive oil orchard, tenderly cared for by our farmers and picked just at the right time.  Grassy and with a hint of almond give this olive oil a clean taste.  Celebrate the season with Olio Nuovo, drizzled on bruschetta, risotto, pasta, fish or meat!  A good olive oil not only tastes good, it is imperative in the healthy Mediterranean diet.

Check out our lemon olive oil, made with Amalfi Coast lemons, and hot red chili pepper too at Marketplace Page.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

DIY: Drying Italian Herbs & Spices

Our chefs know just how important it is to have fresh herbs and spices on hand to bring out the best in their seasonal foods. Now with summer over our shoulder and the gifts from the garden winding down, we're in full preparation for the winter months ahead. In Positano we're busy keeping the flavors of summer by naturally drying our organic garden herbs and chili peppers!

We naturally grow high quality basil (basilico), parsely (prezzemolo) marjoram (maggiorano), oregano (origano), rosemary (rosmarino), sage (salvia), thyme (timo) red chili peppers (peperoncini) which can all be dried either by air or oven.

Air-drying: Choose a dark, airy place. Attics and sheds are ideal, but a dark breezy room will work fine. Tie the stems of the chili peppers or a loose bunch of cut herbs with twine or thick string. Hang the branches upside down by the string. After a few weeks the leaves should be completely dry, rub them off the stems and store in clean, glass jars away from direct light.

Another alternative is to pick off the leaves and leave them to dry on clean, dry racks allowing air to circulate. Drying on racks is best for large-leaved herbs such as sweet basil or bay leaves.

Oven drying: Start by setting oven on low heat, 150° F or lower. On a metal rack or screen, layer fresh herbs and leave in oven for 20 - 30 minutes or until dry.

When herbs are crisp, remove the leaves from the stems and crumble them into clean, glass jars.

Or leave the harvest to us, and visit our Marketplace page, where a full line of spices and olive oils are available. The natural herbs and spices are simple to use, healthy, and compliment any pasta, sauce, soup, toasted bread, fish or meat recipe.

You still have time to sign-up and win Cooking Vacations Italian Kitchen basket giveaway that includes a complete Italian market filled with the perfecto foods for your home kitchen!!!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Truffles - The Diamond Of The Kitchen

Precious truffles, coming in two varieties white, tartufi bianchi and the black, tartufi nero, are those ever so delicious tubers that improves any humble meal. The white truffle, the higher priced tuber, boast a bigger pungent flavor and scent. While black truffles are relatively subtle and earthy.                                   
As we come into the season from October to March, the highly prized tubers are hunted down by dogs in Italy and pigs in France. Growing predominately in Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Abruzzo and in Piedmont, truffle experts say, the best and biggest are said to rest in the countryside near Alba, not  far from Turin. They grow near the roots of trees in forests, and are only detected by the trained nose of the truffle dog and guidance of his master, the trifulau or truffle hunter.
Truffles 6Truffles are almost always eaten raw, sliced very finely with a slicer or mandolin over risotto, cheese, or most egg dishes like a frittata. If you can get a black truffle, try lightly sautéing with a few slices in unsalted butter on very low heat for 2-3 minutes, then add tagliolini or tagarin into the pan and toss with Parmesan cheese.

Tips for handling
  • Fresh truffles need to be cleaned with a soft brush, never was with water!
  • Its best to consume them with a few day of being unearthed. They can be stored in the fridge in a small jar with eggs. The eggs take on the flavor of the truffles and later made into a light truffle souffle that keeps the wonderful earth flavor.
  • Truffles can be stored immersed in oil and frozen up to 3 months in a sealed, air-tight bag
Join our own truffle hunger, Alberto as he takes you through the forests near Bologna for an unforgettable truffle hunting adventure and cooking vacation!! 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cooking into Autumn Flavors

Autumn is almost here and we have marked our calendars for the beautiful olive oil making season. And although the sleepy winters dim the lights and the sea waves roll on the shores in solitude, we are preparing for the next cycle - planting, turning the land and picking the fruits that will get us through winter. Join our kitchen and break some bread with us as we welcome the new season.

Try this creamy pumpkin-leek soup to get you in the autumn spirit!

Zucca Saltata ~ Slow Cooked Savory Pumpkin

2 lb Pumpkin, pealed and chopped into cubes
Garlic, chopped finely
Olive oil
Fresh red chili pepper
Fresh parsley, rinsed, dried and chopped

In a large non-stick pan, add olive oil, chopped garlic (be generous), and heat until the garlic is blond.  It will become almost creamy, but do not to brown it too much.  Remove from the heat a moment and add chili pepper and parsley, so the pan doesn’t flame up.  Put back onto the heat and add the zucca.  Stir or flip the zucca in the pan for about 5 minutes, then cover loosely and allow to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. 

Cook for about 20-30 minutes, testing to see when it is cooked by pressing your spoon on a cube of zucca.  It is done when the zucca gives when you press it.  When your zucca  is tender, spoon into a serving bowl and sprinkle with a bit of fresh parsley.  Serve hot. 

You can serve this edible pumpkin as a side dish or you can boil pasta and use it as a sauce.  Toss your cooked pasta into a pan with the sauce and cook together for a moment.  Serve your pasta with zucca with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Venetians Celebrate the Historic Regatta!

As August comes to an end and beachgoers drift back to the cities, the citizens of Venice will have one more occasion to celebrate. Every year on the first Sunday of September, the canals of Venice come alive for the Regata Storica or Historic Regatta. An evening procession of bright, 16th century-style gondolas descend down the Grand Canal lead by gondoliers in baroque-style garb. It is a trip back in time commemorating the welcome given to Caterina Cornaro, wife of the King of Cyprus, in 1489 after she renounced her throne in favor of her native Venice.

Following the procession are four gondola races. The most anticipated is the Campioni su Gonolini race, where teams representing various neighborhoods fly down the Grand Canal in small gondolas. The first to pass the finish line marked by the Machina or floating stage, wins. Like the Palio of Siena locals cheer from the banks and balconies, the energy is contagious exciting locals and tourists alike.

The fun isn’t just in the water but throughout the city; street-entertainers, musicians, and food vendors fill the squares. Try this typical seafood dish of Venice, a wonderful way to enjoy the long weekend.

Seafood Ravioli with Eggplant and Zucchini Sauce
Courtesy of Chef Maria's Venice
Serves 6
Fresh pasta:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 whole eggs
2 tbsp water

2 tbsp unsalted butter
10 oz. mixed seafood, cleaned and diced (flounder, mussels, fresh cod, prawns, etc.)
1 shallot, finely sliced
1 1/4 cup dry white wine
Handful parsley, chopped
3/4 cup soft ricotta cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tbsp butter
1 eggplant, finely diced
2 zucchini, finely diced
1 sprig thyme
1/2 cup fresh cream
salt and pepper, to taste

To prepare the pasta, place the flour on a clean work surface into a mound. Form a small hole in the middle, add the eggs and water mixing with a fork while incorporating the flour little by little. If it is too dry, add some additional water. When the dough is dry enough, knead it with your hands until you have a smooth and elastic ball of dough. Wrap it in a transparent film.  Set aside to rest, about 30 min. 

To prepare the filling, in a saucepan heat the butter over medium heat and add the seafood and the shallot, cook until translucent. Add the wine and cook letting the alcohol evaporate. Sprinkle parsley over the mixture and turn the heat off and let cool. Combine the sauce with the ricotta cheese and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Stretch the pasta with a wooden or an electric roller into long rectangles, about 2 mm. thick. Using a pastry cutter, cut the pasta in squares, place dots of filling on one side of the pasta close to the edge, then take the opposite end and fold it over, gently pressing down on the seams sealing each square. Let rest.

To prepare the sauce, warm the butter in a medium-size skillet, add the eggplant, the zucchini and the thyme. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour half of the vegetables in a bowl with the cream and mix until incorporated.  Set aside.

Fill a large pot of water with a drizzle of olive oil and bring to a boil then salt the water.

Add the pasta and cook it until tender but firm, drain in a colander.  Place the cream sauce at the bottom of each plate, add a serving of ravioli and top with the remaining sauteed vegetables.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

From August to November, So Many Chances to Be a Part of the Harvest!

While most of Italy is still savoring the last beach days of summer, the grapes in the valleys and mountains are hard at work. Grapes are grown throughout Italy from the volcanic slopes in Sicily to the cool limestone of northern Alto Adige. With such variations in microclimates and soil profiles, the ripening time of grapes also differ. Now in late-August, native white grape varieties such as Pignoletto grown in central Emilia-Romagna are ready for the picking. While in the north the Nebbiolo di'Alba needs another few weeks before heading to the press.

With every harvest there are also festivals. Most take place in October, the peak of the season, but if you happen to be in Tuscany from September 6 to 11th stop by the 42nd annual Chianti Classico festival in Greve. The week hosts a variety of events including tastings from the region's best producers.
Can't make it over until November? Not a problem, in South Tyrol from November 10-12 you'll be able to sample Italian-Austrian influenced food and wine at the Merano Wine Festival. From strudel and knodel to fresh pasta and biscotti all served with a glass of wine of course!

Don't miss out; with such a long season there's many opportunities to be a part of the action! From north to south, whether one to six days, Cooking Vacations has plenty of wine tours to satisfy the palate. Make your wine harvest vacation dreams come true!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Ferragosto, to Everyone from Cooking Vacations!

Ferragosto! Non si tocca! ~ Ferragosto! Don't touch it!

Ferragosto is THE Summer holiday in Italy and it's a day that is sacredly observed from the florist to the butcher.

Originally a holiday for Emperor Augustus, along with most of the month, Feriae Augusti commemorated the gods and the hard work of the harvest season. August 15 also holds a special meaning in the Catholic Church, reserved to honor the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. Often times the date even coincides with the Perseid meteor shower.

With so many reasons to celebrate there area also many ways. Each town has its own events such as a parade, concert, or firework show. Many Italians chose to leave the city all together to enjoy a big family meal al fresco in the countryside or spend a day sunbathing on the beach.

While not everyone is lucky to be off Ferragosto most can take a little time to raise a glass to the last weeks of summer and perhaps catch a glimpse of a lucky shooting star.

Try those peak-of-the-summer peaches in this perfectly peachy sweet in honor of Ferragosto!

Semifreddo Alla Pesca E Menta ~ Peach & Mint Semifreddo

3 Eggs
1 cup Sugar
1 1/4 cups Mascarpone Cheese
2 1/2 cups  Whipped Cream, soft peaks
2 large Peaches, peeled and remove pit
10 Mint leaves
1/2 cup Vodka (optional)

Separate egg whites from the yolks. Reserve egg whites for later use. Whip the yolks with 1/3 cup of sugar. When creamy and light in color, add the mascarpone and beat for 10 seconds or until combined.

With a food processor puree the peaches with the mint leaves and vodka until smooth.

Add peach and mint puree to the mascarpone mixture, then fold in the whipped cream carefully so to not deflate.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites with the remaining sugar (2/3 cup) until stiff peaks. Add this to the mascarpone mixture, folding in gently so to not deflate.

Place in molds and chill in the freezer for a least 1 day. Unmold when ready to serve and drizzle with honey and garnish with a sliced peach.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gelato for Lunch?

Sure, why not? Italians do it all the time! Gelato is the perfect cool treat to break the heat. Under the scorching midday sun it's very acceptable in Italy to trade in your fork for a spoon. It's not uncommon for Italians to have 2 sometimes 3 gelatos in a day. In the evening the ritual passegiata or stroll with a cono in hand is a must. Families, couples, and friends come together in the evening to just wonder up and down the main street on their way to the gelateria. Gelato and summer go hand in hand and with less fat and calories of regular ice cream you don't have to feel bad about that second...or third scoop!

Gelato is regularly eaten in a cone or cup but it's also found its way in other delicious treats. The simple espresso is revamped with a dollop of gelato called an affogato. In Sicily, take a bite into your gelato with a warm brioche typically eaten in the morning. Adds a whole new meaning to the breakfast sandwich!

Try making your own gelato treats with our recipe below or stop by our kitchens and we can teach you how La Dolce Vita, Dessert & Pastry Making in Positano. Call us today to learn more!

Gelato Alla Crema ~ Italian Creamy Ice Cream  

Serves 12

3 cups Milk
1 1/4 cup Sugar
1 Vanilla Bean
1 1/4 cup Heavy Cream
8 egg yolks

Blend eggs with sugar. In a pot, bring the milk, vanilla bean and heavy cream to a boil.  Add in the egg-sugar mixture and cook on the stove on a very low flame.  (Temperature of this mixture should not exceed 205 F or else the eggs will scramble). Place in ice cream machine.

Note:  This is the basic recipe for “gelato”.  The “flavor” of the ice cream is determined by what ingredient you add to the milk-cream mixture.  For instance, vanilla bean, chocolate, coffee, tiramisu should all be added when you bring the milk and heavy cream to a boil in order to get that particular flavor. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer Zucchini with Pasta

If your farmer's market or garden is anything like ours - zucchini are everywhere! At the farmer's market they're piled high at every stand and in our gardens a new batch is coming in before we've had a chance to eat the first. Oh the stresses of summer!

One of our favorite ways to enjoy zucchini is Pasta with Zucchini, a Positano classic. It's a simple Mediterranean dish and you can always add your own twist, perhaps with a few quartered cherry tomatoes. For a more complete meal add some whole shrimp. Serve with a chilled bottle of Falanghina - compliments this dish perfectly on a warm summer evening.

Pasta e Zucchine ~ Pasta with Zucchini
Serves 4-6

4 zucchini, sliced into disks
Peanut (or olive) oil for frying
½ stick butter
Grated Parmesan cheese
Basil, ripped by hand 
Pasta, spaghetti or penne

Cut off ends of zucchini and slice into thin disks.  Heat a large pan with oil.  Test the oil with a piece of zucchini; it should rise to the top immediately when dropped in.  Add the zucchini until it covers the bottom of the pan and fry until golden on both sides (about 5 minutes). Drain on a paper towel and fry the rest of the zucchini in batches.  

The zucchini can be fried even the day before.  Then as you are boiling your pasta, prepare the final steps of the sauce.  In a frying pan, add butter and zucchini and heat.  Add several spoonfuls of grated Parmesan and rip basil leaves into zucchini mixture. 

Add cooked pasta to the zucchini and toss together for a minute over the heat before serving.  Serve sprinkled with additional Parmesan cheese and a basil leaf garnish. 

Email us anytime for more zucchini recipes...we've got plenty!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Music is in the Air in Ravello

Summer in Italy often means friends and family at the spiaggia with plates of pasta and fresh grilled fish,-Italian style barbecues-, Sunday afternoons with grilled spiedini, and of course, musica nella piazza, -live music in the square.  

Whether in a café or an amphitheater, la musica Italiana, Italian music, comes alive as its surrounded by the beauty of nature and a starry night overhead in Italy. Now imagine a stage suspended on the cliffs of the beloved Amalfi coastline with the waves of the Tyrrhenian Sea as a background.  This is is the stage for the Ravello Music Festival at the Villa Rufolo.

From piano, to violin, to orchestras sometimes with 100 musicians hitting the high notes of Mozart, Verdi & Wagner, music lovers from around the globe come to for this festical held in Ravello.  The concert series, which showcases musicians from all over the world, is held in the the 13th century, Villa (and in the ancient village of Scala). Rufol0s' gardens are the inspirational setting for the world class series of open air concerts performed by both Italian and international musicians. The Ravello Summer Concert series began in 1953 in honor of Richard Wagner, and plays on all summer long.  For concerts and dates, visit  

At Cooking Vacations we can satisfy both your love of food and music with programs like Ravello~Music in the Kitchen with Chef Raffaele One-day and Five-day vacations.
Call us at 1.800.916.1152 to learn more about our cooking and music programs,- or any others!