Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking


May 23, 2018


Falling For Ferrara



Have you been to Ferrara?  Some years ago I had planned on taking a day trip from Bologna (only about a half hour by train) and I just never made it. I’ve been thinking about it ever since we made a stop back in 2008 at a lovely agriturismo set in the countryside outside of the town (you can read about it here and here).


I planned four days for Ferrara at the end of our recent trip and I would have been happy to stay longer, a lot longer. As soon as we got settled in our apartment we set out to explore the town. Being a glorious sunny Saturday afternoon the main piazza was bustling, as were most of the streets in the auto free zone. After doing  some shopping for supplies in the local market we realized it was happy hour and time for a cocktail. The streets were lined with cafes crowded with locals enjoying the lovely spring weather and we were lucky to find a seat.



Ferrara reminded me a lot of Bologna, only a smaller, less touristy version. The only English we heard spoken in our time there was the charming young couple we happened to sit next to our first afternoon. They were with the US military and living right in town and were happy to share some of their favorite spots.








Ferrara’s cuisine is very similar to that of Bologna with handmade tortellini and cappellacci featured on just about every menu. Stuffed with squash, or meat they are incredibly light and are typically served in the classic bolognese meat sauce or with cream or butter and sage. Tortellini in brodo (floating in a rich chicken broth) is another classic dish which I wish I had sampled-there’s always next time…

Screen Shot 2018-05-21 at 7.47.26 AM

men on bikes

The town is perfectly flat and the locals bike everywhere. We saw children, elderly men and women, moms and dads with babies and even the woman delivering the mail on bikes. I loved this group of gentlemen having their morning meet up on their bicycles!












We spent our days wandering the streets and were charmed by Via delle Volte shown in the above photos. It’s one of Europe’s largest preserved medieval areas. We toured the castle built by the ruling Etse family in the late 1300s complete with a moat.  The lower level held the dungeons where two young royals were imprisoned for their love affair and were later beheaded. After stooping and almost crawling into the cells I decided it would have been better to be sentenced to death rather than live for any amount of time in these dark and damp holes.


our street

The neighborhood we stayed in was a few short blocks from the pedestrian zone with the main piazza, the duomo and the castle. It was charming and quiet and we discovered wonderful small food shops right in the neighborhood. We ate some of the best gelato of  our trip right down the street at La Romanadefinitely worth a stop if you visit Ferrara.




Our apartment was perfect-nicely appointed, with a kitchen stocked with a variety of treats for us and a brick lined patio with greenery surrounding the space-the perfect spot to enjoy an evening glass of local wine.

Similar to Lucca Ferrara does have a wall surrounding most of the town.  It’s not quite the same as Lucca’s very wide paved walkway, but you can stroll on a dirt lined pathway and down below is a beautiful park.

We’re going back to Ferrara as soon as we can and I think I can see a Panini Girl tour here in the not too distant future-stay tuned…










































































May 14, 2018


Lovely Lucca


We stumbled upon Lucca quite by accident seventeen years ago. Driving from Sienna to Milan at the end of our vacation we saw a sign saying “Lucca Centro Storico” and decided to stop there for lunch. Little did I know that this would be the start of a love affair with this lovely Tuscan town.



It took seven years for me to get back to Lucca. I was attending language school in Arezzo for a month and decided I needed a weekend getaway. While researching towns  on the train line from Arezzo I remembered our lunch in Lucca and the walk on the wall. So off to Lucca I went.



















Over the next few years we visited various towns across Italy, but my thoughts kept returning to Lucca.  I wanted to share my love for the town and Panini Girl Tours in Lucca was born. Since 2011 I’ve been returning and exploring the town with old and new friends introducing them to my favorite foods and finds.




















I love to start the day with a walk on the wall that surrounds the town. If you’re an early riser you can pretty much have the town to yourself. It’s the perfect time to wander through the streets taking time to snap a photo or two. Of course I have a special pasticceria that I frequent and before heading back to the apartment I stop in for a cappuccino and my favorite pastry-a budino di riso- a creamy rice filling encased in a buttery crust. What’s your favorite? I’ll bring one home for you!


back of cathedral

















At one point there were a hundred churches in town. Many are still standing, although most aren’t open on a regular basis. If you happen to walk by and see the door open, by all means go inside. You’ll be treated to incredible art no matter which church you visit. I’m happy to enter, take a seat and cherish the serenity while thinking about all the people who worshipped there over the years.

la cena

This year was no exception. Mornings began with pastries, cappuccinos and strolling on the wall. Lucca is filled with amazing small shops and we all certainly took advantage of  what they had to offer, especially the locally crafted leather goods. A day trip to Florence is always on the agenda, but at the end of the day we were all happy to return to Lucca! Our evenings were filled with food and wine and lots of laughs around the table.











Until the next time we all have a week full of incredible memories of our time in Lucca.  I’m already planning next May’s trip and looking forward to discovering more of the town and the countryside.

another view

Get in touch at with questions. I’ll be posting information about the tour soon. Panini Girl Food Tours





































































May 3, 2018


I Left My Heart In Calitri


It’s hard to describe this magical corner of Italy in words. Yes, it holds a special place in my heart since both my grandparents emigrated from here, but there’s more to it than that.

more poopies

Calitri is definitely off the beaten track and there’s no train service here so you either have to take a bus (which we did on our first visit thirteen years ago) or rent a car. You could certainly stay there without a car as all you really need in the way of shops is within walking distance, but then you would miss out on driving through the spectacular countryside, most often on roads where you might only pass one or two other vehicles.



There’s the ancient castello (castle), which I’ve yet to visit-it’s only open limited hours on the weekend and for some reason every time I try to go, it’s closed. Definitely next year!

The town is known as “the Positano of the South” for its brightly colored homes which seem neatly stacked one over the other. There are walkways and stairs winding down from the top (where we stayed) to the very bottom and let me tell you it’s a hike to go all the way back up.


out of town view

I could wander around for hours admiring the doors (check out some photos here) in every color and size. It’s easy to get lost, but as long as you keep going in the same direction you’ll eventually get to where you’re going. One piece of advice-don’t head down to a restaurant located at the very bottom (when you’re starving) unless you’re sure it’s open…

red doors

The views are amazing, especially from the top of town-green rolling hills as far as the eye can see and an ancient volcano (Mt. Vulture) off in the  distance. How I loved waking up to this vista every single morning.

window view


from balcony

In 1980 an earthquake struck this part of the Campania region and although Calitri was affected, it was not nearly as severe as in other towns in the area. Much of the borgo did experience some structural damage and at the time many residents took the opportunity to move to the newer housing that was built just outside the older section. There is restoration ongoing in the borgo and it seems that there are variety of houses for sale. It’s tempting to consider buying a small place that we could call our own.


town view

What is it that we love about Calitri? Well at this time of year there are virtually no tourists and I’m not sure that there are ever very many travelers that venture here.  It’s a real slice of life in an Italian village. Mornings start with a coffee and a pastry. At any time of day you’ll see small groups of older gentlemen sitting on benches or standing outside a bar discussing who knows what! You go to the market for your vegetables, another for chicken and yet another for meat. Shops close up in the middle of the day and reopen around 4. Sunday lunches are family affairs and if you want to dine in a restaurant you must have a reservation. And did I mention how quiet it is here…


And let’s not forget one the highlights of the week-the evening passeggiata where they even close down the main street and everyone is out strolling and chatting. I have to admit that we sort of stuck out as we weren’t dressed entirely in black, but I’m fairly certain that they already knew we were stranieri (foreigners).

from below

Arrivederci Calitri, we’ll be back.

April 24, 2018


With The Locals-The Art Of Cingul’


I don’t really have much of a bucket list probably because being anywhere in Italy is always at the top. I’m happiest when I’m here and when I’m not, I’m dreaming about when I’ll come back. Anyone who really knows me knows that my other great passion is food and cooking so yesterday I combined my two loves-I learned to make cingul’the pasta native to Calitri-the birthplace of my grandparents.



When I knew we would be spending time here this spring I enlisted the help of B.( an American who moved to Calitri and just happens to be our neighbor here) to help me find m a class to learn the art of cingul’.  B. knew two local women who were happy to help out and they volunteered to give up their morning to give us a hands on class. Lina was the teacher while her friend Titti acted as translator and I was happy to say that I understand most of what was being said!


We started with making the dough which is just two ingredients-semolina flour and hot water-no eggs involved in this pasta. I did attempt this once at home but now realize that I used the wrong flour and didn’t knead nearly long enough-this dough needs fifteen minutes of serious kneading. No wonder mine were a bit too heavy.


Lina was quite patient with us and if I thought kneading the dough was difficult, it was nothing compared to the actual forming of the cingul‘. There’s certainly an art to this and I now have a new found respect for my grandmother whipping up batch after batch of this delectable pasta. I have no doubt with some practice I will be able to properly form the dough, but let’s just say that the ones in the photo below were Lina’s, not mine.



You can see from the photo at the top that we made quite a few cingul‘, but I’ve yet to cook them. We popped ours into the freezer for tomorrow’s supper. The photo of the finished product is from our favorite restaurant in town-Tre Rose. I can only hope that the ones we made are as good as these were. I was instantly transported right back to Sunday lunch at my grandmother’s table.


April 23, 2018




In Rome there’s two types of pizza-thin crusted which we ate our first night at Nuovo Mondo and then pizza al taglio which you can find all over the city. Pizza al taglio is baked in large sheet pans and comes with a variety of toppings. Literally al taglio means “by the cut”. The case is stocked with pizzas with a variety of toppings and you tell them (or point) which you would like, how much you would like and they will slice you off a piece with a scissor type implement.

There’s pizza al taglio and there’s pizza al taglio. Enter Gabriele Bonci creator of Pizzeria Bonci. This is the pizza al taglio that dreams are made of. It’s a bit more expensive than anywhere else in the city, but there’s something about Bonci’s dough that makes it well worth the price.


We fought our way to the counter (be sure to take a number), picked our pizzas and went to a stand up table outside to enjoy them. There’s just something about the crust that kicks this pizza up a notch. It’s a bit chewy, crusty on the bottom, yet not at all heavy.  As usual we chose a margherita and a pizza bianca (no sauce) with potatoes.  All I can say is that this pizza was worth the effort we made to get to this pizzeria behind the Vatican.


Via della Meloria, 43
00136 Rome

If you happen to live in the San Diego area make your way to Na’Pizza where you’ll find a pretty good version of Rome’s pizza al taglio.




April 21, 2018



Just when you think there’s nothing new to be had in the way of Italian food you meet the trapizzino. We had planned on trying this creation last year, but never got around to it. This time I had it on our “must eat” list and we only made two mistakes-going on our last evening in town and only ordering two trapizzini.

The first Trapizzino location to open was in northern Rome and the second in Testaccio, the neighborhood where we stayed. Now there are a variety of shops around Rome and other parts of Italy, as well as one in NYC.


The concept behind this is pizza meets tramazzino (a triangular shaped sandwich you find all over Italy). Unlike a calzone where the stuffing is baked inside the dough, the trapizzino’s dough is baked separately, sliced open and stuffed with the filling of your choice. It’s sort of the Italian version of a pita. There are about seven or eight fillings available and you can see them in containers on the counter. There are the very traditional Roman dishes such as tripe in tomato sauce or braised oxtail, chicken and peppers, eggplant parmesan and my favorite-polpette al sugo-meatballs in tomato sauce.

The only other thing on the menu are suppli and I mistakenly didn’t order one. I love the way the food is served-check out the metal stand where these triangular delights are placed.  The dough is not at all heavy and there’s plenty of stuffing. Yes, I did have the meatball served in a good amount of sauce. These aren’t very big and next time I would probably order more than one. Had we had another day in Rome I’m sure we would have eaten there again!

Should you be In Florence there’s a location in the Mercato Centrale.

Testaccio: Via Giovanni Branca, 88
Ponte Milvio: Piazzale Ponte Milvio, 13

April 17, 2018


Pizzeria Nuovo Mondo


What to do on our first night in Rome after a very long travel day of trains, planes and automobiles? Why-pizza, of course! Last year while in town we spent a morning eating our way through the Testaccio area of the city with the Eating Rome walking tour. It was our first time venturing into this part of the city and we were immediately enamored with this untouristy neighborhood located across the river from the better known Trastevere. Right then we agreed that we would make this our home base on our next visit to Rome.



Testaccio is known for its food and there’s no shortage of places to eat. I had originally planned on heading to the well known Da Remo, but changed my mind to Pizzeria Nuovo Mondo after reading about it on Natalie’s blog, An American In Rome. Seeing that we were tired and starving  I was hoping that we might be seated quickly and we were.



There are pasta and other dishes on the menu, but pizza is the focus here. I have a soft spot for suppli-the fried rice ball similar to Sicily’s arancini- and this was the perfect starter. We are pretty much traditionalists when it comes to pizza, especially on the first visit to a pizzeria and ordered a margherita and a funghi. The pizza was thin and crispy with just the right amount of toppings. Initially I thought I would never finish the whole pie, but before I knew it my plate was empty.



Looking at these photos I think next time I would order a pizza with zucchini blossoms or maybe what looks like spinach and sausage in the first picture. And here’s the man who makes it all happen-Nuovo Mondo’s pizzaiolo.


Pizzeria Nuovo Mondo
Via Amerigo Vespucci, 15
Rome, Italy