Anyone who really knows me is very aware of my love affair with chocolate. No matter where I am I have to have at least a little piece every day. A bite or two mid afternoon and I’m a happy gal. My passion for chocolate is such that every year I go cold turkey for the six weeks of Lent. It started as a kid in Catholic school and has followed me for years where now I think I do it to prove it to myself that I can indeed put a temporary hold on my obsession.
That being said, as soon as Lent is over I am back to my daily treat. To break my fast J. always indulges me with a box of See’s chocolates which is a staple if you live in southern California. Growing up we had a neighbor with family in Los Angeles so I was introduced to this candy as a youngster. When I’m at home I’m happy to have a pound of See’s around, but once I get to Lucca it’s Caniparoli Cioccolateria for me.
This shop is always one of my first stops when I get to Lucca. I love to buy their chocolates as gifts for friends and clients that join me on my tours, but of course I’m really there to stock up for my addiction. I think I’ve I’ve tasted everything in these photos and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite.
I’m a fool for anything with hazelnuts so white and dark chocolate in the top photo is usually my first purchase. There’s also bark with puffed rice (see above) similar to a Nestles crunch but taken to a whole new level.
Do not hesitate to buy one of their cakes. They come in a variety of sizes, one even small enough to have all by yourself. I am dedicating this post to my two amazing friends Bonnie and Bev who can appreciate how great this shop is. Bev is the creator of the cake shown below-an amazing recreation of the one from La Cioccolateria that we shared on our last night together in Lucca. Thank you B & B for following me to one of my favorite Lucca spots day after day.
Via San Paolino, 96
My love affair with Lucca began four years ago when we spent two weeks outside of town in the borgo of Sant’Andrea di Compito. Just five or six miles outside of the centro, this little hamlet is quite peaceful yet close enough to pop into Lucca for dinner.
It rained almsot every day, but somehow it didn’t seem to matter. Laden with umbrellas we took long walks in the surrounding hills. One morning we were awakened by a thunder storm which knocked out power in the house and we couldn’t have been happier!
There’s not much in Sant’Andrea di Compito-a bakery, which was out of bread by ten every morning and one restaurant. There was a bar, but it was more like a men’s club. I never saw one female anywhere near it. Our favorite spot in the morning was Pasitcceria Sottopoggio just a few minutes away by car. I still crave their cornetti filled with mascarpone and salami.
It’s spring again but I’m not anywhere near Lucca. I’ll just have to make do with my photos and memories until the next time…
It’s been six months since I was last in Italy. Leaving is never easy and not a day goes by that I don’t day dream about being there. As much as I am taken with Lucca and the Garfagnana area, I think a trip south is long overdue.
I’ve been carrying Carla Capalbo’s book-The Food and Wine Guide to Naples and Campania-around with me and have been studying it page by page. She reviews the provinces in this area and each chapter begins with a map to help organize visits to restaurants, wineries, bakeries, cheese producers and more. I envision us setting out each day and heading to a different town in hopes of discovering its culinary treasure.
The easy part of this dream trip was deciding where to base ourselves-Calitri-the birthplace of my grandparents. It’s been nine years since we last visited and that was only a brief overnight on our way the Amalfi coast. This time I hope to connect with relatives and maybe get someone to tutor me in the art of Calitri’s pasta dish-cingul-similar to cavatelli. I’ve made it a few times, but so far have not mastered getting it to the melt in your mouth consistency that my grandmother’s had.
A lot has changed since our last visit. At that time the restoration of the centro storico was just beginning and there was only a handful of people living in this part of town. Now this area is thriving and and it’s here that we will rent an apartment.
If any of you have been to Calitri I would love to hear from you so leave me a message.
As much as I am smitten by Lucca, my heart will always belong to Arezzo. It was in 2008 that I spent a month in this somewhat off the beaten track Tuscan town and fell hard and fast. I was there to study Italian and immerse myself in the language and it turned out to be the perfect place for me to leave English behind. This is a town that’s not overrun with tourists and Italian is what you’ll hear when you’re out and about in town.
When my month was up it was all I could do to pack my bags and move out of town. My charming landlady drove me to the car rental office and with tears in my eyes, I vowed to return to Arezzo. It took three years, but in 2011 I once again enrolled in Cultura Italiana and started searching for a place to stay.
I had some info about an apartment in the centro that a schoolmate had rented for a year and contacted the owner. As luck would have it, this little gem was available and I moved right in. Tucked away down a quaint lane the apartment actually was hidden behind an ancient stone wall.
Who has garden in the middle of the centro? Well, I did! My kitchen door opened onto this wonderful giardino (garden) and it was all mine-the owners happened to be away during my stay.
Spring in Tuscan means wisteria and I had my own secluded spot complete with a table and chairs. It was the perfect spot to study but I must admit that I probably did more sipping of wine under the wisteria than studying Italian!
Back in October when my good friend Bonnie and I were working our way through Florence’s Mercato Centrale, she spied this cunning little jar of strawberry jelly atop a counter. Set amidst various bottles of balsamics and spreads, there it was.
Whenever she’s in Italy B. has the foresight to do a fair amount of Christmas shopping while I can never seem to think that far into the future. She even said to me “wouldn’t his make a great gift?” and I said yes, admiring the beauty of the jar and its tiny scrolled label. It would take an Italian to sell a fruit spread in such a seductive package.
Imagine my surprise when I opened a box on Christmas morning and there it was-the gelatina di fragole. I now have it sitting on my kitchen counter where I look at it and ponder whether I should open it or not. Of course I will eventually use it, but I know I will hold on to that charming little jar for a long time. Thank you B. for the perfect gift-you know me so well!
I spied this tiny wine bar last year when I was in Lucca. On my own before my tour group got to town, I decided to stop in for a glass of red wine. I was drawn in by the charming entrance and was immediately welcomed by Walter, who is one of the owners (what is the Italian name for Walter?). I was the only patron and so after taking my order he came over to chat and while he does speak some English, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for me to practice my Italian.
The wines here are local and are vino sfuso (What is vino sfuso? Translated word for word: “loose wine”. More properly defined: bulk wine, wine on tap, wine from the cask.) So to clarify, you are getting wine from the tap, rather than a bottle. As in other local spots that have vino sfuso, you can bring your own empty bottle and have them fill it up.
Walter asked if I was hungry and as I’m always hungry when I’m in Italy I said “yes” and he brought me a platter of bruschette which he didn’t charge me for. I enjoyed my snack, the wine and of course the conversation and was happy to have found a nearby spot where I felt welcomed.
Via S.Andrea 14
As much as I love hanging out in Lucca, I was thrilled when Heather from Sapori e Saperi invited me to tag along with her friends on an afternoon excursion to Il Vecchio Mulino for lunch. Located in the town of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana this eatery has been on my “must visit” list for some time.
The osteria is a showcase for the food of the Garfagnana area of Tuscany. Your host, Andrea Bertucci, is passionate about introducing you to the food of the region and you will be treated to samplings of his choice. There’s no need to worry about the fact that you won’t be handed a menu-everything he sends out is delectable.
One word of advice-pace yourself. I barely made it to the end and had no room for dessert. We started with two cold dishes to share-a farro salad with mushrooms and a panzanella. There was a basket filled with bread and focaccia which I found hard to resist. Next up were slices of vegetable tarts and I think my favorite was on that was filled with potato. This was followed with a platter of sliced bread topped with smoked trout and another with “Garfagnana pesto” (a tomato and anchovy spread, I think). If you take a look a the first photo you will see a sign in the window for funghi porcini freschi (fresh porcini mushrooms) and simply roasted they were prefect.
Then came a board with an assortment of local cured meats followed by a variety of cheeses. Oh-I missed a course and I’ll have to rely on Heather to describe it for me. I believe it was a type of “farinata”-this one being a baked vegetable dish. My head was spinning trying to catch what was being said (in Italian) and it’s no secret that there was a fair amount of the conversation that escaped me!
A big thank you to Andrea for doing what you do, to Heather for including me in your day and especially to Nada and Romeo (the talented weavers) for treating me to my experience at Il Vecchio Mulino. Grazie!
By the way, that’s Andrea and Romeo next to the huge mortadella and Heather and Nada seated at the table.