Day Trip-Pisa


After many visits to Italy we finally decided it was time to take a day trip to Pisa. I think we have intentionally avoided it because of the crowds and it just seemed so touristy. Well, yesterday was our day to bite the bullet and see what millions before us (including my dad during WWII) have seen.

One of the reasons we decided to go is because Pisa is a simple 30 minute trip by either train or bus from Lucca, which means you can go for just a few hours if you want. After seeing the tower and the craziness around the Piazza dei Miracoli (area where the tower, baptistry and cathedral are located) we took off for the other side of the Arno River to check out the rest of the centro.


We were pleasantly surprised by Pisa’s downtown area. I have to say that walking up and down the main street we didn’t hear anyone speaking anything but Italian. I have a feeling that most of the day trippers never leave the area around the tower.

il b

One of our objectives in visiting Pisa was to seek out the restaurant owned by the brother of friends of ours from San Diego. The Bucci brothers who own Pappalecco, a gelateria and cafe in Little Italy San Diego, hail from Pisa. Their brother Giovanni stayed behind and opened Il Bistrot, a small restaurant located on a quiet square a quick walk from Pisa’s main street. The restaurant was charming and our simple and flavorful lunch was the perfect ending to our morning in Pisa.

Thank you Giovanni for feeding us and taking the time to come out of the kitchen to chat with two strangers from California.


In The Neighborhood-Lucca



I’m attached to the eastern side of the town. Maybe it’s because it’s where I stayed on my first trip to Lucca or maybe because it feels quieter and more residential. You won’t see store after store with the latest fashions and you also won’t see crowds. This lovely canal is right around the corner from our piazza.

via del fosso

We’re situated at the very top of a building-65 steps up-the perfect work out for all the food we’ve been consuming. You might say I’ve been carbo loading. I can’t help myself. I can barely pass a forno (shop with breads) without stopping in to get a little something. It doesn’t seem to matter that moments earlier I purchased a piece of focaccia.

another view

And here’s the view form one of our rooms-morning and evening.


A Panini Girl tour is in the works for the end of May so be sure to check back for the details. You too could fall for Lucca.



Right off the bat let me say to my good friend MKM, sorry about the picture of the pig. That being said, porchetta is one of my favorite food finds in Italy. It’s a pile of seasoned (fennel, thyme, rosemary) pork that’s salty and crispy tucked into a roll. You’ll find porchetta panini in some food shops, but more often you’ll see it being sold from a food truck at open air markets. I’ll take two please.

Maybe I should start a porchetta truck in San Diego? Might not be “healthy” enough for the fitness crowd there…

Bologna-How Did I Get Here?


We were trying to catch a train to Lecce and somehow ended up in Bologna! Actually, I’m kidding. When we started planning this trip we had intended to go south, but for a variety of reasons we ended up going north instead and what’s not to love about being in Bologna?


Two years ago I stayed at Hotel Porta San Mamolo based on a recommendation from my friend Palma, a Bologna expert. This charming small hotel is tucked away in a quiet residential area near the southern entrance to the city, yet a quick walk up to Piazza Maggiore where the action is.


There’s something to delight the eye at every turn in the common areas of the hotel. The patio is lush with plants and trees and it is a calm oasis after a day of sightseeing. There’s great attention to detail even in small things such as door stops and light fixtures. And don’t forget the resident cat who is just waiting for you to take notice.


The shining star of this hotel is actually the staff. They are there to answer every question, facilitate reservations and make your stay an enjoyable one. Be sure to reserve in advance as this is most definitely a popular spot and Bologna hotels can fill up fast when there’s a convention in town.


I would write more but we are off to do some serious eating-after all this is Bologna-known as La Grassa-the fat one-famous for its food!

Tazza D’Oro-Cappuccino Perfection


Whenever we’re in Rome a visit to Tazza d’Oro is always a must. Years back before I ever set foot in Italy I wasn’t even a coffee drinker. Tea was my morning beverage of choice. That all changed when I experienced a cappuccino in Italy. Gone was the bitter taste that I had always associated with coffee. In its place was something creamy and flavorful and suddenly I was a convert.

Yet I was soon to find out that a cappuccino at home in the states is a far cry from what I’d been drinking in Italy. Even the most humble Italian bar makes a cappuccino that far exceeds Starbucks, Peets or whatever your local chain is. In Italy the coffee and steamed milk are a single element, not a layer of coffee with foam over top. How do they do that? Why can’t I do that? Is it the milk that they use? I’m open to suggestions.

There are two schools of thought here in Rome on coffee perfection-Tazza d’Oro and Sant’Eustachio. Both are located in the vicinity of the Pantheon. Both have their ardent followers and we just happen to fall into the Tazza d’Oro club. Maybe because we went there first but whatever the cause we’re happy when we order due cappuccini and hand over 2.20 euros (for two drinks!) and muscle our way up to the counter. Thank you Tazza d’Oro for never changing.


Tazza d’Oro

Pizza Fritta

pizza fritta

Yes, we’re in Rome but I’m showing a specialty of Naples and the surrounding area. For me pizza fritta is one of my fondest memories from my grandmother’s kitchen. One bite and I was instantly transported to my grandmother frying up dough in oil and simply topping it with tomato sauce and grated cheese.

We’re staying briefly in the vicinity of the train station since we’re heading out tomorrow. It’s not an area I would rush to, but if you find the need to be located near the station, definitely consider staying at The Beehive, a small eco-friendly hotel with both dorm-like and private rooms. Run by an American couple, it’s clean, comfortable and very affordable. Last night while searching for a restaurant I saw a pizzeria-Meid in Nepols-serving food from Naples.

Located just a few blocks from the hotel, Meid in Nepols was a definitely a good choice. We were pleased with our meal, but for me the pizza fritta was by far the star of the evening. It was hot and crispy, not the least bit oily and with the exception of the basil leaf it was exactly the pizza fritta of my childhood. Normally I would pick this up and eat it in hand but I was trying to blend in with the locals and use a fork. Shortly after this photo was taken I abandoned the fork and just went for it!

Tomato Soup With Basil


Let me say this right up front-this is not diet food, but it’s really delectable and an end of summer treat. I just realized that I better hurry up and post this as even here in southern California there’s a little nip in the air and the glorious summer tomatoes will soon be a thing of the past.

This soup is just the right combination of ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, a hint of clove and crispy croutons. Don’t even think of trying to figure out how many calories are involved!

Tomato Soup with Basil

10 ripe tomatoes
6 slices day old country bread sliced 1/4″ thick, crusts removed
2 garlic cloves
1 mild onion, peeled and cut in half
10 basil leaves, shredded
1/2 bay leaf
3 whole cloves
2 cups heavy cream
Salt & pepper
2 tablespoons butter

Peel tomatoes by marking an x with a knife on the bottom of each tomato and drop into boiling water until the skin splits. Remove and place in a bowl of ice water. Slip off skins and discard. Seed 3 of the tomatoes and cut into a small dice. Slice the other tomatoes into large chunks, place them in a food processor and puree. Pour puree into a strainer set over a bowl and set aside.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut one of the garlic cloves in half and rub the bread slices with the garlic. Cut the slices into 1/4″ cubes and place on a baking sheet and put in oven for about 10-12 minutes, until crisp.

Pour the pureed tomato into a saucepan. Add the cloves, onion, bay leaf, and one garlic clove. Bring to a boil and and let cook over medium heat, uncovered for about 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf, garlic, onion and cloves.

Add the cream to the tomato liquid and bring this to a boil, whisking. Salt and pepper the soup, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the butter. Place the soup in the food processor and process to emulsify. Pour it back into the pan, add the diced tomato , shredded basil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Ladle into shallow bowls or cups and top with croutons. Serves 6.

Tomato Onion Tart

You can tell that summer is winding down when butternut and acorn squash start showing up on the tables at the farmers’ market. I am craving autumn and the cooking that comes along with cooler weather and yet I can never seem to be able to let go of fresh tomatoes. Happily there are still plenty of tomatoes piled next to the fall squashes and I plan on eating them day after day until they are gone.

Maybe if you live in NYC you have visited Once Upon A Tart. I love their cookbook and wish they had a shop in my neighborhood. The inspiration for this tart came from their book and the crust recipe is theirs. The semolina gives it just the right amount of crunch. I’m glad I have another crust tucked away in the freezer.


Savory Crust (from Once Upon A Tart) Makes enough for 2-9″ crusts

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons semolina flour
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks or 6 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
3 tablespoons cold solid vegetable shortening
a glass of ice water

Put flours and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and pulse to combine.

Add the butter and shortening and pulse several time until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some butter chunks still visible.

Remove the blade from the food processor and dump the dough into a large bowl. Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of ice water evenly over the dough, then use your hands or a wooden spoon to bring the dough together to form a ball. The dough should be just past crumbly, but holding together. Add more water as needed, a tablespoon at a time, if necessary to get the dough to come together.

Cut the dough in half, shape each half into a disk, and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness, fit it into your tart pan, and trim the edges. Chill 30 minutes. Prick the bottom of the tart with the tines of a fork, line the tart with parchment or foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans.

Place the tart shell on the center rack of the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and weights from the pan and return the tart crust to the oven. Bake another 5-10 minutes for a par-baked shell (crust is golden brown and no doughy areas remain), or bake for 10-20 minutes for fully-baked tart shell (golden brown all over). Cool on a wire rack.





3 large tomatoes, sliced
2 large onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 eggs
1/4 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium low heat. Add sliced onions, season with salt, pepper and thyme and saute until onions are soft and slightly caramelized, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Place the tomato slices in a colander and place in sink. Let the tomatoes sit for 15 minutes to drain off liquid. Spread the cooled onions over the bottom of the tart shell. I used a rectangular tart pan but the recipe works in a 9″ round pan too.

Lay the tomato slices in overlapping rows (or concentric circles if using round pan) over the onions. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Mix eggs and cream together, season with salt and pepper and pour over tomatoes.

Place the tart in the oven and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until custard is set. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack. Allow the tart to cool slightly and then remove from ring and place on a serving dish. Serve warm or at room temperature.




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