If you have read my previous post, follow me on social media or have just been snooping around my site, you know I have just returned from a glorious 5-week sojourn to Italy, with much of my time spent in my native region of Calabria, in Southern Italy. Perhaps the biggest perk to traveling back home for me is the cuisine. No doubt we have wonderful USA-made products readily available to us in the States, and by no means am I going hungry when back in Boston, but there’s something so spectacular to food in Italy that words just can’t do it justice, it must be experienced. This is the main reason why I run culinary tours to Italy. While I could have focused on many aspects of Italian travel: art, culture, architecture, food is really the only common denominator we all have in common, I mean, we all have to eat, right?? Why not do so in Italy!
I make no apologies for frequently posting recipes I call “lazy,” hence the name of my business and blog. In the U.S, we live a fast-paced experience. Work, commuting, gym, kids, kids’ homework, housework, errands! Even this native doesn’t have the time to simmer any sauce for hours! And if we’re going to be efficient in the kitchen and save time and energy, we’re going to need top-notch ingredients. After all, a final dish is only as good as what goes into it! That’s why I don’t use “cooking wine,” – what is that anyway? If it’s not good enough to drink, it certainly isn’t going into my dish! And that’s also why earlier this year I was super excited to be introduced to Migliarese products. Produced in Calabria, (I know, what are the chances!), Migliarese offers incredible products, many organic, that make the cooking experience that much tastier, and more efficient.
Some of my go-to products include their extra virgin olive oil (oil from my native region? That’s a no-brainer!), pitted olives (for my chicken and rabbit recipes as well as pizza topping), their savory jams – such as red onion and pepperoncino and their tomato puree. The tomato puree alone is a lifesaver. There isn’t a time where there isn’t tomato sauce either simmering on my stove or already prepared in the fridge.
Imagine my excitement when I was asked if I wanted to tour their facilities this summer! Their factory is only about 30 minutes from my home in Italy, so you bet I jumped at the opportunity! As an avid user of their products in the U.S., products I also promote to my students in my cooking classes, I had high expectations and was hoping they didn’t disappoint. And you bet they didn’t!
After meeting with the owner and learning more about their company, I was taken “behind the scenes” to where the products are made and packaged. I was immediately highly impressed with their standards of production and obvious cleanliness. As someone with self-diagnosed OCD, I was worried I would be disappointed and see conditions that weren’t up to my standards. Thankfully, that didn’t happen at all.
This first place I am shown is one of their storage rooms! For this foodie, it was like seeing gold! I couldn’t yet tell what they were but I knew I wanted one of everything! There they were, all wrapped up and ready for my kitchen, I mean, someone’s kitchen…The jars are all lined up perfectly, protected and sealed. They would be making someone’s cooking experience that much more delicious. When I use their products at home, I wash out the glass jars and reuse them for leftovers. They are just the right size for when I have a bit of leftover sauce.
Next, we move to their herb garden greenhouse. It was here that I learned that they grow all of their own produce. All of it. So every tomato that goes in their sauce, every peach that goes in their jam, olives for their oil and everything else gets grown on premises or nearby premises that they own. In the herb garden, I see seedlings sprouting. The Italian classics like parsley and basil and everywhere, as are the rosemary and other typically used herbs. To top it off, I see a staff member planting herb seedling by hand. Let me repeat, by hand! Would it not be easier, faster, and more efficient if you are using a machine, I ask. I realize that to the owner, doing so probably hasn’t even occurred to him. This gives staff members jobs, and likely a gentler process for the herbs. Forget I even asked!
Next we move to the tomato line. As an avid user of their tomato sauce, I was curious as to see how it’s made. Here again I see staff members preforming lots of tasks by (gloved) hands. Tasks such as peeling the tomatoes and hand-packing them in their glass jars. The staff is laughing and joking around and they look genuinely content for being there. I immediately think of how much time their work has saved me with their products, particularly the tomatoes they’re holding! I touch a jar of the “passata” or tomato sauce. It’s still unlabeled but I recognize it well. The jar is still warm to the touch! “Take one,” says the owner. And like a kid in a candy store, I happily oblige. I know it’s going to be used for dinner that night. I am introduced to the ladies working the line as “an American” but I remind them that I was born just 30 minutes from where we are standing. “Allora sei una di noi!” they say, “So, you’re one of us!”
After another walk in the facility, my tour is coming to an end. I’ve enjoyed this experience very much and it makes me want to use their products even more. Not only because of their quality but I can really tell that the staff enjoys being there, which is really nice to see. They are a family company, started by the grandparents of the current owners and I love supporting businesses such as these. They make the life of a home cook that much easier by providing high-end products that are also affordable for the everyday cook.
I am given a goodie bag of products to take home. Some products I have used in the past, others are new to me. I’m thankful my vacation is just starting out so I will have time to use the products while in Italy. And you bet what wasn’t used made it in my suitcase. I’m thankful for their generosity and hospitality during this tour. It’s not often we get to see how the products we use get made. This “behind-the-scenes” look opened up my eyes and made me thankful that I have products like these to run to in order to make my own cooking experience easier.
Interested in learning a few new recipes using these delectable products? Click here for our Three Cheese Baked Farfalle, here for our Strozzapreti with Artichokes and Tomatoes, or here for everyone’s favorite: Salted Cod & Potatoes. Most importantly, be sure to check out Pasta & Vino’s website, which is where I get my Migliaresi products. I admit buying them here and having them delivered to my door is far easier and cheaper than adding them to my suitcase. Alitalia didn’t take to the weight of my suitcases too kindly, neither did my credit card! Next time, I’m just going to visit Pasta & Vino’s online shop!
Oh Fall! Call it and it's practically here, right? I for one, am really welcoming fall this year. After spending the summer in Italy, with an unrelenting heatwave called "Lucifer," (I'm can't make this stuff up!), I am really eager for some fall weather. How hot was it? Oh, random fires in the middle of the road hot! See image below. Ironically, the one year I am craving an early fall, it feels like mid-summer in Boston today!
There's something so bittersweet about September for me and perhaps you can relate. It feels like New Years in a sense. The chance to start anew, if you will, and make new goals, new plans and take new steps in the direction of your dreams. I think it's the school year schedule that makes it feel so fresh. That's the sweetness part. The "bitter" comes in the realization that Boston winters are brutal, and they're practically around the corner and that my Calabrian vacation is over, so of course, that's sadness in itself. And to add to that, our 2018 Culinary Adventures feel so far away! Alas, yes, fall can be bittersweet to say the least!
That said, I wouldn't change my summers in Calabria for anything. I have been going back (almost) yearly since our move here some 30 years ago and it's as much home as Boston is. So despite the heat, it's a place I will always return to with fondness and eagerness.
The above view is of the sunrise from our home in Italy. I woke up early just about every morning to see it. I'm not sure why, it didn't change from day to day, but every morning it brought me much comfort. It also brought with it triple digit temperatures, so I'm not sure why I was so sentimental in seeing it! One of the things one might look forward to during vacation is the opportunity to sleep in, and I thought I was looking forward to that as well. And while I love sleeping in as much as anyone, like clockwork, (no pun intended), I would wake up in the morning and be greeted by this giant orange ball. A sign that it would be a great beach day indeed!
Keep scrolling below to see a few images of my Calabria 2017 trip.
So besides Calabria, what else have I been up to this summer?? And what does this magazine cover have to do with it??
I've been reading Success Magazine since the 90s now. It's one of the few magazines I actually subscribe to and actually read! Unlike the many others, that end up in my recycling bin barely opened, but I'm too lazy to cancel, Success gets read cover to cover, and each issue is saved for future reading. It's my go-to source for inspiration, business motivation, self-improvement articles and overall guide for great living. It's multi-purpose to say the least. A great resource not just for entrepreneurs such as myself but also ideal for just about anyone who is into self-improvement and betterment, and who shouldn't be?
Imagine my downright shock, amazement, out-of-this-world moment I had when my phone rang and have the other person on the line say they were calling from Success Magazine. "Succ... what?" was my reply! But it's no joke! If you picked up the August 2017 issue, there you see my image!
It's not a huge article, by any stretch of the imagination, just a simple quote on business matters. But what an honor it was for me to flip open my absolute favorite magazine and see my own image! Just one more validation that I am on the right path! And what am I holding? Some anise pizzelle, of course! Get your recipe here!
As exciting as being featured in Success Magazine was, would you believe it wasn't the only place where I saw my name in print this summer? Say what? Last year I submitted an article for publication to another great magazine, Tastes of Italia. It was December 2016, the publisher didn't seem overly interested, said they would keep it on file but that I was free to submit it elsewhere. Time passed, as it always does, and it just sat in my virtual folder on my desktop. I did not submit it elsewhere and figured some day, I would post it here on the blog. It was on Calabria, so a pleasure to write it, but I honestly forgot all about it.
Then while I am in Italy, I get an email: "I'm writing to let you know how much I enjoyed your article on Tastes on Italia, it's made me want to visit this region!" At this point, I'm in Italy. My magazines are stacking up at the post office, my internet connection is spotty and think he must be referring to a blog post or something. I respond with a short but polite email. "Thanks so much, glad you read it!"
Then the second email: "After reading your article on Tastes of Italia, I am considering renting a beach house for next summer in Calabria, can you help me?" What is going on here? (And yes, I can help him and you find a suitable place to vacation in Calabria! Contact me if interested.)
On August 30th, I leave Italy to return to Boston and I get a third email. "I just tried your swordfish recipe from Tastes of Italia, so easy, I love it, thanks for sharing!"
I rush to the post office the next day. I landed at 8pm or would have gone the same day. And there you have it:
On the cover is a story entitled "Craving the flavors of Calabria." Humm, my article was entitled: "Craving Calabria" - can it be?
And sure enough, there it is! Not only it's my article, it's a beautiful 6 page spread, with a mention on the cover and the highlighted story from the editor on the first few pages! I can hardly believe it! It's been beautifully laid out, barely edited and with my email address at the bottom, hence the emails. Having a story in national publication is a proud moment, but having a story on Calabria, a frequently overlooked region in food & travel magazines, makes it that much more special. Be sure to pick up a copy ASAP!
I got an email a few days later from the publisher letting me know that they had published the article and that they did not email me before as things change at the last minute in publishing and they did not want to disappoint me. No disappointment at all on my end! And it really was a nice surprise! How did all this press make me feel? See below! ;)
Success Magazine, Tastes of Italia, I was on a roll! They say good things come threes, right? What was around the corner?
I didn't have to wait long to find out! Here's a hint:
Chicken Soup? Not any chicken soup, Chicken Soup for the Soul, that is!
I remember many years ago, I bought my mom her first Chicken Soup for the Soul. As a fan of Jack Canfield (seriously, pick up his books now!), I knew my mom would enjoy the short, inspirational stories found in these books. And I often read them myself, especially during travel, at the airport or on a flight. They make good travel books, for some reason. The stories are "bite size" and as someone who must finish a chapter when I start it, sometimes I just need a quick pick-me-up of the inspirational kind.
A few months back, I went to their website and saw a call for stories on stepping out of your comfort zone. My first thought was, "When have I stepped out of my comfort zone?" I mean, the type of books I read say that growth happens outside the comfort zone and I realized that this business, my culinary tours, this blog, my cooking classes, all I have been doing this past year was way past my comfort zone! So I submitted a short story on starting Lazy Italian Culinary Adventures. This was March 2017. I didn't hear anything either way and much like the story at Tastes of Italia, I moved on. I find that you have to "move on" a lot and fast when starting a business. You can't focus too long on the Nos, you can't sit back and wait, you can't be lazy, despite my business name, and wait for things to come to you. You propose, you submit, you knock on enough doors that if the answer is no, or you don't get any answer, you just move on.
And then I get the phone call. "I've been trying to reach you for weeks, we want to publish your story but don't have your signed permission, did you get our disclosure form, our messages?" Ha? Who are you and where are you calling from?? Clearly, I had received no such calls or emails.
Long story short, signed permission and all, my little nugget of inspiration will be published in an upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone. To be published October 31, 2017. And once again, a publication I look up to, read and enjoy, will now feature yours truly. Oh the things that do happen precisely when you step outside your comfort zone!
So since summer is ending on such a high note, what's next?
I see the above as signs that I am on the right track and I have come back from Italy full-speed ahead!
I am excited for 2018 and where it will take me, most of all, to Italy! There are several private group trips in the works, our Puglia trip for September 2018 is scheduled, and there's one more group trip in the works, more info to come on that. I've received numerous referrals for private trip consultations, have more professional writing up my sleeve and have received inquires about appearing on a number of Podcasts. Not to mention endless cooking classes, both public and private ones!
Lots to do, see, plan and work towards, that's for sure! Turns out, there's nothing lazy about us after all!
Interested in joining us on our adventure, click the contact us button to reach us. I respond to all inquires!
I was recently at an entrepreneurial conference and as is typical of these types of conferences, we all started talking about our businesses. I get really excited about mine, if I do say so myself, and the conversation quickly turned to Italy. Just about everyone at the table I was sitting had been to Italy, which no longer surprises me. Travel is not longer what it used to be. Not something reserved for the elite or privileged, or even for a special occasion, travel now is a way of life, and Italy still remains a top destination.
Florence, Rome and Venice, or the holy travel trinity of Italy, were the top destinations of my companions at the table. A few had even been to each of these locations several times. “What about the South?” I ask inquisitive. Asking questions like this helps plan my business and culinary tours. I was happy to see that a few had been to the Amalfi Coast, but the “south” it seems, stops there. As a native of Calabria, I am more than happy to tell people about the South, and this time, I focused on telling my companions about Puglia. A neighbor of Calabria, Puglia still remains somewhat undiscovered but its beauty, scenery, cuisine and history begs to be discovered. Located in the heel of the boot shaped country, I have a feeling Puglia is headed towards being the next Tuscany.
After our conversation, many were ready to pack a bag! Here is a breakdown of some of Puglia’s top destinations.
Located in the south portion of the region, this is one of Puglia’s largest and most important cities. Lecce is very walkable and has a beautiful historic center, which is ideal because if it’s one thing Lecce is known for, is its Baroque architecture. The outside beauty of the buildings can be seen all throughout the city and it’s typical for them to be decorated with angels, cherubs and gargoyles. Known as the “Florence of the South,” Lecce is growing in visitors, particularly from the UK as it's an easy flight yet still manages to remain relatively unknown and unspoiled. You would be hard pressed in finding a local speaking English or a menu aimed at tourists while visiting Lecce. Filled with churches, 22 of them to be exact, it would also be hard, if not impossible, to take a walk in Lecce and not find a church. And whether you are religious or not, it’s almost beside the point as you are surely to admire the Baroque art. Be sure to visit the Piazza Duomo as that is where you will find the most ornately decorated Baroque buildings. Be sure your camera is charged!
Located on the west coast on the Ionian Sea, the fishing village of Gallipoli means “beautiful city” and it certainly lives up to its name. Divided into two sections, the old and the new, a bridge brings them together, so you will be able to see both sides without any concerns. Fish is king in Gallipoli, so chances are, you will find it on any menu in any restaurant while visiting here. Always order what the locals order and you can’t go wrong. It’s no surprise that beach going is one of Gallipoli’s favorite pastimes, where the water is clear and the sand fine. While you are likely to find a few tourist shops here and there, this is one place where the authenticity is truly felt.
“This is where you’ll find the cutest trulli!” I tell my fellow entrepreneurs at my table at the conference. I soon realize that “trulli” is not an everyday word for most people so I whip out my phone to show them. Located a bit further north than Lecce, Alberobello is becoming a must-visit town for anyone visiting Southern Italy. While the small town is adapting to the new influx of visitors, what is attracting these travelers are the trulli themselves. Small, conical-shaped, and built with local limestone, the small, casual homes are different enough that they draw in a crowd. While there are other “regular” houses in Alberobello, many are made of the same thick stonewalls and painted white. You will now find numerous tourist shops along the main road, Rioni Monti, in which you can buy anything under the sun shaped in a cone!
Located just a few miles from the coast, Ostuni is one of the most spectacular towns in Italy. Sometimes called “The White City,” Ostuni is filled with white stonewashed homes that make an ideal backsplash to the countless olive oil trees that line the streets of this picturesque town. Recommended by the city to maintain their white homes pristine, the government offsets the expense by paying for half of the cost. Built without any sort of map, Ostuni can be confusing to walk in and getting lost is not unusual, it’s actually part of the charm. At worst, you’ll find a dead-end street that makes little sense and you realize that you suddenly have to make a U-turn, both whether you are walking or driving! This is the best way to see this city: getting lost. That said, you’re likely to run into stunning sunset views, local shops selling their wines, olive oils and homemade trinkets, many made from the wood of the olive trees.
Polignano a Mare
“Volare, oh,oh… Cantare, oh,oh,oh,oh… Nel blu dipinto di blu….” If you have ever heard this song, even just once, it’s likely that it’s going to take some time to get it out of your head. I remember growing up hearing this song over and over and over again! And if you’re headed to Polignano a Mare, this song is likely going to be playing at some restaurant or bar. Why? The singer, Domenico Modugno was the proud son of Polognano a Mare. And the residents don’t want you to forget that!
But if there were ever a perfect day trip while touring Italy, Polignano a Mare would be it. The white-washed streets (again) and stunning churches (again) make it the ideal setting for a leisurely walk, enjoying a gelato in hand. But if it’s something more adventures you’re after, fear not, this seaside town on the Adriatic coast is known for cliff diving, bringing in daredevils from all over the world to experience jumping off high cliffs and into the crystal waters below. Just about 18 miles from the capital of Bari, Polignano a Mare makes for the ideal location for a day trip from just about anywhere in the surrounding areas.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a trip to Puglia! I want to re-explore this region again before the mass crowds learn about it! I mean, I want to tell the world about the South, but I also don't!
Care to join me, a Southern native? Allow me to lead the way! Be sure to check out our 2018 culinary and culture tour of this incredible region!! We will be going to all of the above stops and many more!
Only on our trips will an apron and bathing suit be required attire! Click here for more info!
In Italy, I have come to believe that you don't need much reason in order to celebrate life! It seems like at least a few times a month, there's a reason to get together, order cake, celebrate! There are also a lot of "Saint" holidays in Italy! St. Francis, St. Antonio, St. Giuseppe and of course, St. Giovanni, or St. John. Celebrated just two weeks after St. Francis, (see previous post), St. Giovanni Battista celebrates St. John the Baptist and while growing up in Italy, my family was no different in celebrating, particularly because my dad's name was Giovanni.
In Christianity, it is believed that Jesus was a follower of John and that John baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. As stated, Italy has many such religious holidays celebrating saints and depending on the location and region, it can be a full celebration with parades, fireworks and processions or it may be more subdued, or as subdued as Italians can do anything!
By far, the biggest cities that celebrate the feast day of St. John include Florence, Genoa and Turin, as St. John is their patron saint. If you’re not familiar with what a patron saint is, they are basically considered to be cities protectors and intercede on the cities’ wellbeing on behalf of God. Just about every small town in Italy has a patron saint, which is celebrated at various times during the year. It’s a comfort for many residents to feel that their own city or town is under divine protection. Many businesses are closed on this day, as well as most public offices. A Mass, fireworks, parades, processions and other traditional festivities take place in these cities and families gather to celebrate their saint. Fireworks are displayed over the Arno River in Florence, so if you find yourself there during this time of year, you will be in for a treat.
In Italy, the relationship between Godfather and Godchild is very strong. What does this have to do with St. Giovanni, you ask? Well, when someone baptizes a baby, they always refer to that relationship as having “Il San Gianni” with them, meaning that like the relationship between St. John and Jesus, they now have an unbreakable bond. Many Godfathers and Godchildren celebrate this day with small tokens of gifts or simply treating each other to an espresso or gelato.
All of the “Giovanni,” “Giovanna” and names deriving from these, celebrate their onomastico on this day. An onomastico is a celebration of one’s “name day.” Quite popular in Italy, it is similar in celebration to one’s birthday, particularly for names such as Giovanni, Antonio, Giuseppe and Francesco/a. I recall growing up celebrating my dad’s onomastico on June 24th and it would always include a cake with a small family gathering.
So if you know a Giovanni/a, wish them “auguri di felice onomastico” – or happy name day! They might wonder what that means, so you will be able to tell them that you’re celebrating their name day, as is tradition in Italy!
Growing up in an Italian household, I heard the phrase “St. Anthony will help you find it!” so many times that they were ingrained in me pretty much from birth! It didn’t matter what the “it” was, whether it was an object of little monetary value or an item more sentimental, my mother always had utmost trust and belief that if we prayed to the Patron Saint of Lost Things, we’d find whatever us kids had misplaced. More often than not, she was right. And I’d be lying if I said I still don't call on him when I misplace my everyday items. If not for St. Anthony, I might never find my car keys!
My mom has always had a close relationship with St. Anthony, also the Patron Saint of Padova (Padua in English), Italy and she has passed that on. We were excited when a few years ago, we were able to visit his own preferred location in Italy.
A few years ago, on a return trip to our native Calabria, my mother, sister and I decided to take a train ride to Padova to visit the shrine that is devoted to St. Anthony. Calabria is as far south as you can get in Italy, with the exception of Sicily. The Veneto area, the region in which Padova is located, is pretty much at the opposite end of Italy. It was August and it was hot. Very, very hot! And why we decided to take the train as oppose to a simple flight it still beyond us! But the adventures train ride did add to the experience.
The very long, hot, uncomfortable train ride was all but forgotten once we reached the beautiful, but not very “touristy” city of Padua. There’s a sense of classiness to this city that is somewhat unique. The people are beautifully dressed, the dogs are on leashes, which is not always the case in Southern Italy, and the drivers actually appear respectful of traffic lights, which, again, is not always the case in Southern Italy! Our first stop, and reason for the trip, was a visit to the Chapel of St. Anthony, an immense, brick building, overwhelmingly stunning.
The inside is massive and adorned with art, religious statues and relics of St. Anthony. A sense of calm immediately overtakes you upon entering. I knew being here meant a lot to my mother, particularly since we had lost our father not long prior and needed a restoration in faith. This was a “bucket list” trip for her, so my sister and I were delighted to see how content she was at being there. Folks from all walks of life are drawn to this church by their strong devotion to the Saint, and she was no different.
Whether one is religious or not is almost inconsequential once one takes a view of both the outside and inside of this beautiful chapel. Museum like in nature, the outside was initially built as a small, single construction, but extensive additions and renovations over the centuries reflect Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Byzantine influences. Architecture aficionados and novices alike will appreciate the beauty of the outside. Upon entering, you’ll notice that it’s much like entering a museum. Beautiful frescoes, statues and figurines adorn the inside. Most impressive is the statue of the Madonna and Child, sculpted by Donatello.
Despite being the patron Saint of the city of Padua, St. Anthony was actually from Portugal. Born in 1195, his birth name was Ferdinand and he was born to a well-off family who had high aspirations for him, none of which included a religious calling. Despite his good fortune, he ended up leaving his home at 15 to follow his religious ambitions. At the age of 25, he was ordained a priest, and soon after became a Franciscan friar, changing his name to Anthony.
His goal was to go to Morocco and preach the gospel, but after arriving there, he became severely ill, so decided to return to Portugal. His boat suffered great damage and went off course, and he eventually found himself in Sicily instead. From there, he made his way north to Assisi, and eventually to the city of Forli. One day he was asked to attend an important sermon, but when the friar scheduled to preach did not show up, he was asked to step in his place. This is when his life as a preacher took off, and he traveled all over Italy and beyond to preach. Padua was one of his favorite places to hold his sermons.
When he recognized that he was becoming deathly ill, he asked to be taken to Padova to die, but unfortunately died en route to his beloved city. He died on June 13th, 1231, when he was 36 years old. For his innumerable good deeds and several possible miracles, including a witnessed apparition of the Child Jesus being held in his arms, Anthony was canonized a Saint in 1232.
This trip, dare I say, pilgrimage, was very moving for us all. It’s hard not to be touched when surrounded by such artistic beauty, as well as all the handwritten notes on the walls left behind by pilgrims who wholeheartedly believe their prayers were answered by the Saint. It restored not only my religious faith, but also my faith in humankind. To see this devotion is unlike any other experience one might have in Italy.
I have beautiful memories of how we celebrated June 13th, the feast day of St. Anthony, when we lived in Italy. On this day, bread shops bake many extra bread rolls for the purpose of celebrating the Saint. Rolls are bought and given away to friends, families and neighbors as an offering of thanksgiving for prayers answered by St. Anthony.
So if St. Anthony has come through for your before, being by finding your car keys or other more meaningful miracles, consider doing a good deed on June 13th, perhaps buy someone less fortunate lunch and consider it a thank you to St. Anthony.
Is it June, or is it November? If you live in the Boston area, it’s hard to tell these days. Rain, dreary, cold and downright depressing! We haven’t had much of a spring and I’m afraid we’re going to jump right into summer soon. What ever happened to a nice spring? The only thing keeping me going these days is my upcoming trip to Italy! The thought of summers in Italy has kept me going ever since we moved here from the Bel Paese. Summers in Italy is what made the school year bearable growing up! Especially when we first moved here, and we were still learning English. My dad and I would count down the months, then the weeks, until eventually we were counting in days and hours! The excitement was almost too much to take!
I must say, not much has changed, and I still count down the days to my return trips to Italy! And, if you’re like me and are planning a trip to Italy this summer, chances are, you’re going to be bringing some souvenirs for yourself and close friends. But rather than the standard magnet that says “I "heart" Italy” that is likely made in China, how about a thoughtful gift instead? Yes, you will be spending more, but it will go a lot further in appreciation and will surely make the recipient feel so special! Think quality over quantity!
Much like everything in Italy, souvenirs can be regionally divided. Depending on your destination, I have created here a short list of ideal gifts based on the region you will be visiting. Perhaps it’s the foodie in me, but I must say, food is always an appreciated gift. But don’t limit yourself to food alone; use this guide as a quick reference of must bring back gifts. But if you are planning to bring back food, be sure to check with your airline and the State Department before packing anything, just to make sure you are not bringing back any contraband food items! Nothing hurts more than having your luggage cracked opened at customs and seeing the agents trash your goodies, trust me I know how much it hurts from experience!!
If you’re headed to Venice this summer, brace yourself for the heat and crowds! But besides that, be sure to pick up a small handmade Murano glass statuette or figurine. Murano is a small island off of Venice that produces the real thing. When buying your gift, be sure it has the Artistic Murano Glass trademark to make sure you are getting an authentic item and not a cheap replica aimed at eager tourists!
Perhaps you’re headed to Lake Como this summer. I know, I know, I want to get a glimpse of George too, but in case he’s too busy with his new twins, I can at least shop for some high-quality silk. Seventy percent of Europe’s silk is made in Como, so you know you’re going to find a beautiful scarf for that fashionista friend of yours.
Headed to one of my favorite regions, Emilia Romagna? Here is where you will want to stock up on the foodie gifts for your special friends. Whether it’s a small piece of Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese from Parma or small bottle of Balsamic Vinegar from Modena, a few eatable gifts are a must from this region. They even sell dry tortellini that are incredibly delicious! And yes, you can find these same exact items throughout Italy, but there’s noting like handing a loved one a small bottle of real Balsamic Vinegar of Modena that you bought, well, in Modena!
Headed to Tuscany? While you will find great leather throughout Tuscany, Florence is the place to find high-quality leather shops selling locally made leather goods. Check the label for “Made in Italy” and “Italian Quality” to make sure you are getting an authentic item. Keep in mind that the real thing will have some minimal imperfections and even slight discolorations in any given item, be it a large bag or set of gloves. So don’t look for perfection, as that’s a sign of a chemically-treated item. My favorite leather gift? A journal! I can never have enough of these!
And the vino! How can you go to Tuscany and not bring a loved one a bottle of Chianti, Brunello or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Tuscany also produces the sweet wine, Vin Santo, which ironically, goes very well with their Cantucci di Prato. Cantucci are miniature dry biscuits resembling biscotti, but smaller in size. Tuscans love dipping these in Vin Santo and enjoying them as an after dinner treat. A bottle of Tuscan wine and a bag of Cantucci are sure to go a long way as souvenirs. I know I’d love receiving them!
Or perhaps you are going to Italy’s capital, Rome? Whatever you do, step away from the wobbly-headed gladiator. I know, it’s tempting, in his skirt and all, but don’t do it! Opt instead for an artistically made ceramic coffee mug or small piece of marble engraved with a beautiful saying. Both of these are regionally made and typical of Rome. And if all else fails, buy a small wedge of Pecorino Romano cheese, Rome’s preferred cheese made from sheep’s milk.
Going to Calabria? Did you know that Calabria produces almost a third of the country’s olive oil? How about bringing back a small bottle of oil for those “special occasion” dinner parties? Other food specialties of Calabria include tuna packed in oil, olives, and Guglielmo espresso coffee. And I also love the ceramics in Calabria. I visit a small town by the name of Squillace. Here you will find many pottery shops that love welcoming visitors and will even give you a demonstration of how they create their masterpieces. Now, if you’re going to buy a magnet, this is the place to do it! They make beautiful ones here, relatively inexpensive and light in weight, so easy to pack!
Or perhaps you’re going to the Amalfi Coast? If so, a bottle of Limoncello is a must. Made with lemon peel and alcohol, this after dinner digestive is a must and usually enjoyed after a hefty dinner as it aids with digestion. The Amalfi Coast is also where you will find beautiful handmade pottery, frequently decorated with those beautiful lemon images. A small handmade item such as a sugar bowl or tray will make a great addition to any kitchen.
What should you bring back if you are headed to Sicily? Sicilian wine and cheese would surely make a great gift, I mean, how can you go wrong with that? But are you thinking about something more authentic? How about a piece of Etna? Yes, you read that right. The still active volcano sits between Catania and Messina and is a tourist destination of many folks visiting Sicily. Along the way, you will find souvenir and specialty shops selling trinkets made from lava stones. Whether it’s jewelry, decorative pieces or more practical items such as mugs, there’s no shortage of unique items to bring back, even cosmetics made from the lava!
So don’t get caught buying a cheesy, overpriced gift at the airport. Nothing says “I was having too much fun to think about you while on vacation” than a calendar purchased at the duty-free shop! With just a little bit of forethought and a few extra Euros, you can really make someone’s day with a well-thought-out gift from one of the world’s most beautiful country! And when in doubt, head over to one of the many craft markets held throughout Italy. Here you will find handmade items that are locally made and very unique. Purchasing from these vendors will not only ensure that the gift will be well-received, but you are also supporting a small business owner that counts on your purchases for their livelihood!
But if all else fails, forget shopping, forget souvenirs, and head to the beach instead! I'm sure your friends will understand! ;-)
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Oh Calabria! To know you is to love you! But the problem with that is that not too many people know you! Although perhaps that’s not a problem at all, it just means you remain unspoiled, un-touristy and pristine. At least for now anyways, although I expect that will not be the case for much longer. As a big promoter of tourism to Calabria, I expect to be doing my part in exposing as many people as I can to this wonderful region.
When I tell people that I am a native of Italy, the certain reaction is one of genuine interest and the reply is more often than not that they have always wanted to go there or that they have been there and they find it beautiful. When I give more details and say that I am from Calabria, I usually get nothing in reply; crickets. They don’t know where it is and they’ve certainly never been there. But you should know that there’s more to Italy than the Tuscan Sun or Rome, beautiful though they may be, and I love speaking about Calabria and all its beauty to anyone who wants to listen.
If you were looking at a map of Italy, Calabria is the toe of the boot-shaped country. Picture it giving Sicily a kick. The air is pure; the purest in the country in fact, the food is spicy, the beaches are breathtakingly beautiful, the mountains are equally as stunning, and the people are characters to say the least. The winters are relatively warm, as compared to the North, and snow is rare, unless you are in fact in the mountains. The summers are scorching hot. But all is well though since the beaches are plentiful to cool you off.
Calabria is a must visit region for anyone that likes to sunbathe and people watch by seaside or swim in the salty ocean. While Calabria is relatively unknown to the rest of the world, other Italians flock by the thousands during the summer months. Surrounded by the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas, Calabria’s beaches are some of the cleanest in the country. My family, and many others in Calabria refer to their region as “Calabrifornia” – a reference to the beautiful waters and climate resembling that of California. Some of the most beautiful beaches can be found in the cities of Tropea, Pizzo, Copanello and Soverato. A rental umbrella is a must and the best investment you might make for the season. I prefer the beach during the early morning hours, before the crowds flock down like they’ve never tasted seawater before. The sun is light on the skin, the water is already warm, and you can get a whiff of the morning espresso, cappuccino and famous cornetti alla crema (cream-filled croissant-like brioche) baking just steps away at the café on the beach. See image below. Yum!
The gastronomy in Calabria is as lively and vibrant as its seas. Because of its vicinity to the ocean, seafood is quite popular in Calabria, particularly sardines, swordfish and salted cod, known in Italy as baccala. Produce grows easily under the southern sun and tomatoes, zucchini and their blossoms, eggplants and sweet red onions, particularly from the town of Tropea, are plentiful. Sheep and cows roam freely in the lush green landscapes and as such, soft cheeses, such as ricotta is plentiful and incredibly delicious. Rare is a day when Calabrians don’t eat pasta, which in the south is mostly made with just flour and water and it is not egg-based, as in Northern Italy. Meat served usually includes pork and lamb. And then there’s ‘Nduja. Have you ever heard of spreadable pork? Well, as strange as it sounds, ‘Nduja is just that; spicy hot and not for the faint of heart. At first sight it just looks like a salami stick, but the inside is much softer and is spreadable and a perfect accompaniment to sharp cheeses, a tomato salad made with sweet red onions and a slice or two of crusty homemade bread. Washing it all down with a glass or two of homemade wine doesn’t hurt.
I have spoken to many people this past year who, after hearing about it from a native, want to travel there. I tell them how wonderful and unspoiled it really is. While the main cities in Italy, especially the “Holy Trinity” of the main sites of Florence, Rome and Venice remain on everyone’s must see list, and if you have not been there, I highly encourage that you visit, Calabria and the entire South are by far the most authentic Italian locations to visit. Tourism is low, allowing for ease of getting around, and the locals are very hospitable to visitors. And while in the main cities, you will have to carefully select your restaurants as to avoid the ones that cater to tourists (thus, the food is not as good because, frankly, they think your palates aren’t as refined!), in the South, you will never find a touristy restaurant, and you’re pretty much guaranteed a delicious meal, even if you stop by the side of the road.
I’m getting ready to head back to Calabria very shortly. And though I usually head back for vacation and to bake under the sun, this year, I’m combining business with pleasure. I will be organizing a culinary tour of Calabria in September 2018, so on my upcoming trip, I will be scouting new locations, interviewing possible vendors to work with and hitting wineries and cheese shops for possible stops on our tour. The tour promises to be as authentic as Italian travels can possibly be. The food will be delicious and the olive oil and wine likely to be the best you have ever had. But don’t forget your swimsuit, chances are, we’ll be hitting the beach at least once during our trip.
If you are interested in this trip, be sure to contact us ASAP, this one is sure to sell out! Use the contact us link to be added to the waitlist for September 2018.
It was, yet again, another dreary day in Boston today. Though we’re winding down on April, it doesn’t much feel like it around here. I debated staying home to finish a presentation I am giving on Friday, but decided that Friday is still a ways away and that I would have plenty of time to finish. And so, rain and chilly air and all, off I went to a few of my favorite stores around my area. To the mall, you ask? Nope, not at all, I headed to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Wilsons Farm in Lexington, MA. I wasn’t really in the need for anything. In fact, I had just done my big grocery shopping for the week. I go to these stores not for “needs” really, but because they are a great way of spending an afternoon, especially a boring one, picking up a few items that the main grocery stores do not carry.
One of those items are frozen artichoke hearts from Trader Joe’s. There aren’t enough words to describe just how much I love this item. They are absolutely amazing! I’ve been buying them for years and last year, they stopped carrying them! Imagine my disappointment, anger even, when this happened! I add them to soups, I coat them in egg, parmiggiano cheese and breadcrumbs and bake them, I stir-fry them with sausages and I make them in frittata. Lucky for me, about six months ago, they reappeared in the freezer isle! I wonder if my calls and emails had anything to do with that! ;-)
I bought six bags today and went home eager to cook one bag. I was debating just how to prepare them today. Perhaps it was the boring weather but I was feeling a little inventive and decided to cook them in diced tomatoes. Truth be told, I’ve never cooked them this way but have been wanting to for a bit. I wasn’t sure what pasta to use then remembered that I had a special kind that I had been saving for a special recipe. The strozzapreti I used are imported from Calabria, my native region and they are a bit hard to find in the store. In fact, these come from the online shop Pasta & Vino. “Strozzapreti” means to choke priests! They somewhat resemble cavatelli pasta. Where does the name come from, you ask? There are several stories but one is that gluttonous priests devoured this pasta so quickly, due to its deliciousness that they, well, chocked! I’m not sure how true that is but they were very good! Unlike typical dry pasta, they very much taste like freshly made pasta. Their flavor is a lot more delicate and tantalizing than your everyday dry pasta.
I made the sauce using diced tomatoes and one small can of ground tomatoes. I also used imported olive oil, from Calabria, of course! The sauce takes about 25 minutes to cook and the strozzapreti take just two extra minutes than regular pasta, so about 12 minutes, so halfway through the sauce cooking, you can add the pasta to the boiling water. You can purchase the strazzapreti, oil and other delicious products here. Pasta & Vino is a great resource for authentic Italian ingredients that are hard or impossible to find in the grocery stores. Many of their items are imported from Calabria, so that excites me even more!
Strozzapreti with Artichokes and Tomatoes
3 Tablespoons Migliaresi Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Small Onion, Chopped
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
3 Sprigs of Parsley, Finely Chopped
1 Teaspoon salt
1 14.5 oz Can Diced Tomatoes
1 8 oz Can Crushed Tomato Sauce
1 12 oz Bag Frozen Artichoke Hearts
½ pound Astorino Strozzapreti pasta
If Rome has the carbonara, and Bologna has the fettuccine in Bolognase sauce, than Puglia’s dish to fame is Orecchietti with Sausages and Broccoli Rabe! Puglia is a region in Southern Italy and being a Southerner myself, its cuisine is certainly something I enjoy eating and preparing. I recall growing up in Calabria and being surrounded by wonderful produce. My father was a produce merchant, so we certainly never lacked for great produce around the house. Summertime favorites growing up were zucchini and their delicate blossoms, eggplants and of course, tomatoes! If you have never had a freshly plucked tomato in August in Calabria, well, I will go so far as to say that you’ve never had a really delicious tomato! They are just amazing simply sliced with salt and olive oil. A fresh mozzarella next to them always helps too! ;-)
One vegetable that is versatile and found year-round is broccoli and also broccoli rabe, or rapini. I really enjoy both and one of my favorite ways of preparing the rabe is in this typical Pugliese dish. The Pugliese are known for their orecchiette shaped pasta. Orecchiette means little ears, although I think they look like small caps more than little ears! It’s very typical to walk in the streets of Bari and find local women making these fresh and selling them right on the streets. If you happen to find yourself there, I highly recommend buying a kilo or two, you will not be disappointed.
This is my version of how to make this classic dish. Everyone has his or her own way but I have found I rather like my version, if I do say so myself! Many do not use the onion that I add, but I really like it and find that it adds lots of flavor, so I use it. Add garlic too, if you wish, although I do not in this dish. This dish serves about 4 people.
Orecchietti with Sausages & Broccoli Rabe
2 bunches broccoli rabe, trimmed, and washed
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
1 small onion, chopped
1 – 2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
4 pre-cooked sausages of your choice (pork, chicken, hot, sweet)
1/2 pound orecchietti pasta
Is it really the end of March and we have yet to celebrate Easter? It’s incredibly late this year, and, as I love Easter, perhaps more so than Christmas, I am really itching for it to get here! Facebook recently reminded me that last year, I made this delicious Easter bread. It made me yearn for the holiday even more. Easter resembles all that is good in the world, doesn’t it? Spring weather, renewal, and new hope. The birds chirping, tulips blooming and we’re all filled with a new sense of optimism and assurance.
I grew up eating this bread (or cuzzupa in Calabrian dialect) every Easter. It would actually start a week or two before the holiday and my mother would either make it or buy it at the local pasticcerie. Sometimes she would make it glazed, sometimes just with a sprinkle of sugar on top, either way, my sister and I would devour it for breakfast and afternoon merenda, or after school snack. As if this yummy bread wasn’t enough by itself, my sister and I would spread Nutella on top. Yup, talk about making a good thing great! I am very ashamed to admit it, that practice has not stopped in my adulthood. Yes, I still smear it with Nutella! Although I no longer eat it for weeks leading up to Easter, but rather just for a few days around the holiday. And if time permits, I have been known to make it for Palm Sunday too. #golosa
This bread is not overly sweet, if you don’t add the icing and the Nutella, that is! It tastes a bit like brioche and challah bread. It goes great by itself, or simply toasted with some butter and / or jam. Topped with cinnamon sugar is also a great combo. Last year, I made it twice, for Palm Sunday then again for Easter. You’ll see the two results below. I am torn about whether I like the colors on the eggs. I think this year, I will skip coloring them and use just white. No matter how I try, the color always bleeds into the bread, which makes it look so artificial and a bit messy. Or perhaps I’ll make two, one with colored eggs and one with white, so I can best decide which I prefer. It’s a dirty job, research really, but someone has go to do it!
Tip: You do not need to boil the eggs first, they will bake in the oven, just be careful not to crack them. Also, the eggs are mostly for decoration only. You can eat them the same day you bake the bread, but once you leave the bread out a few hours, the eggs do spoil. So either leave the eggs on the bread and trash them as you eat the bread, or remove them and put them in the fridge. Since the eggs are really what ads to the appeal of the bead, I just leave them there and trash the eggs when the bread is finished.
Cuzzupa Calabrese (aka: Italian Easter Bread)
2 ¼ teaspoons rapid rise yeast
1 ¼ cups scalded milk, cooled
pinch of salt
5 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup sugar
3 ½ cups flour (the flour is approximate, you may need to go up to 4 to 4 1/2 cups)
1 egg, slightly beaten
3 uncooked dyed or undyed eggs
Icing – Optional
1 to 1 ½ cups of confectionary sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 – 4 tablespoons of milk
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