It’s a cross between a baked pudding, a custard and a pie, or a crustless custard pie, if you will, but whatever you might want to call it, this creamy concoction is delicious, as it is easy to prepare. My mom used to make this pie/pudding on a weekly basis when my sister and I were kids and we lived in Italy. Mostly, she made it because my sister hated milk, and it was a way of getting some milk in her, despite it being in a pie form!
The preparation couldn’t be easier, mix sugar and eggs, add some sifter flour, and the milk, and add to a prepared pie plate and bake. For flavoring, you could use a teaspoon of vanilla, or the zest of one lemon, or even an orange. I like to serve it simply with some whipped cream on the side, and a dusting of powdered sugar. For the one pictured, I added a light sprinkle of cinnamon sugar, which is completely optional. I think it adds a fall flavor to it, but you can skip it if you want, or even add a tiny bit of grated nutmeg, for that fall flavor, again. It’s a kids favorite, but I’ve yet to meet an adult who would turn a slice of this away!
Italian Milk Pie
Yields One 9-inch pie
3 large eggs
2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1¾ cups whole milk
Flavoring (Choose one)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
Is a trip to Italy in the cards for you in 2022? I know it is for a lot of people, especially after a few years on non-travel! And if you’re ready to return to travel, what better place to start than Italy?
As a leader of food and wine tours, I can attest that one main aspect of traveling to Italy is for the food and wine! And their espresso isn’t so bad either! But as in any location, there are a few spots worth skipping, and many more worth your visit.
Espresso is nothing to take lightly in Italy. Every Italian has a favorite spot where they prepare their espresso just right, and going elsewhere would be sacrilege! Let’s start with the first meal of the day and break it down with a list of the best coffee bars to visit for an espresso, cappuccino and breakfast cornetto. We will start with the main cities of Rome, Florence and Venice as these are a few of the most visited cities in Italy, and the likely destination of your future travels. In the future, we will provide you with the best cafes, pastry shops, gelato shops, restaurants and other favorites in other cities such as Verona, Naples, Milan, Palermo and more!
Antico Caffe Greco
86 Via dei Condotti
Located near Piazza di Spagna, on elegant Via dei Condotti, Antico Caffe Greco, or simply Caffe Greco to the locals, is the oldest bar in Rome and the second oldest in all of Italy, second to Caffe Florian in Venice. A historical café established in 1760 and named after its Greek owner, Nicola della Maddalena, this spot was a favorite of the likes of Hans Christian Anderson, Buffolo Bill, Casanova and Mark Twain. The bar also doubles as a museum or art gallery, as the walls are adorned with paintings of its famous clientele. To this day, it remains a favorite spot for writers, politicians and the ‘who’s who’ of Rome.
16 Piazza Benedetto Cairoli
You’ll have to squeeze your way in, and if you’re a speed walker, you might just miss the small entrance, but Roscioli Caffe & Pasticceria is worth the effort it takes to make your way in, and the wait at the bar. Located just a few doors down from its famous restaurant, which you should also try, this relatively new bar, just a few years old, offers one of the best cups in town, and the morning cornetti, or maritozzi, cream filled Roman pastries, are equally as good and some of the best in all of Rome. Sit at the community table to mingle with the locals.
40 Via Degli Uffici del Vicario
Close to the Pantheon, so very centrally located, Giolitti offers not just a delicious cup of espresso, but equally great gelato. In fact, it’s perhaps more popular for its gelato, but the espresso is also worth trip, as are the hot chocolate and morning pastries. Opened in 1890 by dairy farmers Giuseppe and Bernadina Giolitti, the shop offers marble floors, chandeliers and typical fancy café décor. For a small fee, ask to be seated to take in the atmosphere, or enjoy your morning java at the bar.
La Casa del Caffe Tazza d’Oro
84 Via degli Orfani
Known to the locals simply as Tazza d’Oro, this shop offers in-house roasting and blending. While the morning espresso is delicious, and has made the list of many “best coffee in Rome” their specialty, granita al caffe topped with whipped cream, is definitely worth trying, especially after a hot day of sightseeing. Located around the corner from the Pantheon, it is often filled with tourists stopping in either before or after their guided Pantheon tour.
Via Roma 1/R
One of Florence’s most recognized names, Caffe Gilli is a staple for locals and visitors alike. As the oldest café in the city, what was once just a pastry shop opened by a Swiss family, it has since evolved into a café, gelateria and restaurant. With a large selection of cocktails, it’s as busy during after work hours as it is during the morning rush. Centrally located in Piazza della Repubblica, you do pay for the convenient location, but the view of locals and tourists alike is worth it. Sit outside, enjoy a Negroni, another specialty of Gilli, and take in all that the city of Renaissance has to offer.
30 R Via dei Neri
A relatively new café, considering some others that have been around for hundreds of years, Ditta Artiginale has been calling Florence home since 2014. A great place to linger over a strong brew, not only is the espresso excellent, but so it the cappuccino. The shop is cozy, welcoming and a favorite of the locals, especially the young crowd willing to give newcomers a chance. Be sure to grab some of their beans to take home on your return trip!
Caffe Concerto Paszkowski
35 Piazza della Repubblica
Declared a national monument in 1991, Caffe Concerto Paszkowski is a staple in Florence. Having recently reopened after substantial renovation to bring it up to code, what was once a brewery, it now offers some of the best coffee in town, along with great pastries, chocolates and cocktails. Not to be missed is also the live piano music. The elegant atmosphere and aura allows for ultimate enjoyment of that coveted breakfast pastry, the cornetto. As it once did in the 1900s, it still remains a popular places for writers to get creative.
Piazza della Signoria
A beloved of locals and visitors alike, Café Rivoire will be celebrating 150 years in 2022. The creation of Enrico Rivoire, a chocolatier from Piedmont, it’s not surprising that in addition to a delectable espresso, you will also find all sorts of chocolate concoctions, including a hot chocolate that will undoubtably be the best you have ever had. With some of the best views in the city, including a replica of Michelangelo’s David, Café Rivoire is a favorite of not only tourists, but also the locals. Be sure to grab a box of chocolates to take back home.
Piazza San Marco
This café needs little introduction, but to visit Venice, and not visit Café Florian would be a real shame. The oldest café in Italy, it almost closed its doors due to COVID. A favorite of Charles Dickens and Lord Byron, or the likes of current stars like Brad Pitt, the marble tables and impeccably dressed waiters make the cost of visiting such a historical location worth it. Outside seating in the summer is plentiful, but indoor seating is limited. While the food may not be the best in town, the coffee and drinks are very good.
2804 Fondamenta dei Ormesini
Sit outside on warm days to enjoy the breeze, or enjoy the comfy table in the inside of this hip café located in the northern section of Venice. The last coffee shops in Venice to have a roasting license, Torrefazione Cannaregiooffers beans that are toasted and ground up in front of you, to result in the most perfect cup of espresso or cappuccino. If you’re staying in Venice for a few days, invest in a membership card for 10 cups of espresso, and a fraction of the price if you were to buy them individually. The artisanal pastries are also worth the calories. Buy a few pounds of beans to bring back home.
Caffe del Doge
Calle dei Cinque, Rialto
Located a few minutes from the Rialto Bridge, in a tiny narrow street, Caffe del Doge was one of the first few roasters in Venice. The location makes it the perfect spot for locals to rest after a few hours spent at the Rialto market. While the roasting component of the business has moved to Padova, the café is located in what was once the roastery. There are tables both inside and out, just remember that if you want to enjoy the full experience of a sit-down coffee, you will pay a bit extra than if you were to enjoy it at the bar. This is true for all cafes on our list. Put this place on your list of places to visit while in Venice, you will not be disappointed.
4589 Campo San Luca
Every Venetian favorite spot for coffee and pastry, Marchini Time is located in Campo San Luca, and a busy retail area between the Rialto and St. Mark’s Square, making it a hot spot for local workers, as well as visiting tourists to visit and grab an espresso. There are no tables to sit, and it does get very crowded, so gingerly and politely make your way in, order what you want at the cashier, pay, and bring that receipt to the counter to claim your purchase
The window display outside Caffe Gilli in Florence.
Outside Caffe Florian in Venice
Figs are my favorite Italian summer fruit, and I get my fill of them when traveling to Italy. Growing up in Calabria, we had several fig trees of various kinds, and we were lucky that they often produced more fruit than we could keep up with. What is a frugal Italian to do when there’s more fruit than we can enjoy, even after sharing with friends and neighbors? But conserve it, of course! Fig jam was always prepared at the end of the summer, when the trees were still bursting with fruit, but by that point, we were tired of eating them! By fall, when baking season rolled around, we’d often bake fruit filled cookies or tarts with those precious jars of preserves.
This one is one of my favorites to prepare this time of year. Rare is a Thanksgiving or Christmas where a fig jam crostata isn’t on the table. It’s an all-around, never disappoints dessert. It’s perfect for after dinner, with an espresso or glass of Vin Santo, it goes great with afternoon tea as a pick-me-up, and yes, I’ve enjoyed a slice or two for breakfast with my morning coffee. Especially during the holiday season, it seems more forgiving to have sweets for breakfast.
Fig Jam Crostata
11 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cups sugar
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks (separated)
2½ all-purpose cups flour (plus extra for dusting)
Zest of 1 orange or 1 lemon
2 teaspoons baking powder
1-2 tablespoons milk (use only if needed, see note below)
1 14 - 15 oz jar (optional: 3 additional tablespoons fig jam) (see note below.)
Note #1: If the dough is dry, add 1-2 tablespoons of milk. Amount will depend on the softness of butter, and if the eggs you are using are on the smaller side. You may not need any milk at all to have a formed and cohesive dough.)
Note #2: Note: I prefer a thicker layer of jam, so I generally use one full 14 oz jar, plus a few additional tablespoons from a second jar. If you only have one jar of jam, you can use just that, and the filling will be a bit thinner.
Mix soft butter with sugar.
Add whole egg plus 1 egg yolk.
All the ingredients have been added. Note that the dough looks rather crumbly. Use your hands and the dough will come together. Add 1 – 2 tablespoons milk if the dough is too dry.
The dough after working it with my hands about 1 minute. I did not need any milk today.
2/3 of the dough has been pressed in the pan and docked with a fork
Spread a layer of jam evenly on top.
Topped with the strips of remaining dough.
Brushed with the egg wash. Ready for the oven!
Just out of the oven!
Used in sweet and savory dishes, or eaten straight as is, it seems ricotta is everyone’s favorite cheese! I am a bit of a ricotta snob, I must confess. I grew up in Calabria, and despite my travels all over Italy, I have never found better tasting ricotta than the one I enjoy in Calabria. To say nothing compares is an understatement. When it comes to eating it as is, you’re going to want the fresh kind. I do occasionally buy the packaged kind, but I only use that for cooking and baking, and not to eat as is. If I want to enjoy a nice bagel or panino with great ricotta, and I am not in Italy, I make my own. The process is easy, albeit time consuming, but much of that time is spent waiting for the milk to heat up, then again to cool off at just the right temperature. Other than that, it’s relatively easy!
Many recipes you will find on the internet will call for acid of some kind, usually lemon juice or white vinegar. I myself don’t like the flavor of either in my ricotta, and despite using the least amount possible to curdle the milk, that lemon or white vinegar can always be tasted. Use instead rennet, which will give you not only a perfect ricotta in consistency, but also in flavor. Be sure to use vegetable if you want to make ricotta that is truly vegetarian.
In addition to the ingredients listed below, you will need a few pieces of special equipment: a kitchen thermometer is a must. Also needed are draining baskets, and a skimmer.
Fresh Homemade Ricotta
Yield: About 1.5 to 2 lbs of fresh ricotta
1 gallon whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon liquid vegetable or animal rennet
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