Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking


February 27, 2017


Calitri Bound




It’s been a long time coming, but I can finally say that in just a few months we will be headed to Calitri. Since spending one night there 12 years ago I’ve been longing to return and really get to know the birthplace of my maternal grandparents. Both my grandfather and grandmother emigrated from this small hilltop town located in southern Campania not far from both the borders of Puglia to the east and Basilicata to the south.


At the time of our visit much of the old “borgo” was in the beginning stages of renovation. After the earthquake of 1980 that rocked much of the surrounding area, many of Calitri’s residents left the old town which had been damaged and relocated to a newer buildings across the valley. Twelve years later the centro storico is thriving. Families have moved back into the refurbished homes and foreigners have relocated and made Calitri their home. We are thrilled to be staying in a rental right in this part of town.


Using Calitri as a base we hope to explore many of the surrounding towns visiting restaurants, bakeries, wineries and hopefully a farm or two where cheese is produced. More importantly my dream is locate possible relatives. When we visited in 2005 we stopped into a bakery where the owner and his daughter were behind the counter. They spoke a little English, queried us as to what we were doing in town and when I explained my family came from there they asked for my family name. When I told him that my grandmother was a Maffucci  he exclaimed “Maffucci, I am Maffucci, we are all Maffucci here!” So we will see what we can turn up.

After the unification of Italy, Calitri shared a similar destiny to any other town in the south of Italy: banditry, baronial land command and peasant struggles for the division of land. One can only imagine how hard life was in the early twentieth century when many parents put their children on a ship to travel to a new life in America. My grandmother was a mere thirteen years old (I think) when she left for New York to live with an aunt. We found a monument (pictured above) while walking around town dedicated to the thousands who left Calitri. I’m fairly certain that my grandmother never envisioned that I would make the journey back to her birthplace.

February 17, 2017


Mushroom & Taleggio Pie


I’ve been looking for an opportunity to use this box of puff pastry that I bought at Surfas-the restaurant supply store. Since it was sort of pricey I was hoping that it would be a step above the Pepperidge Farm brand that I usually pick up at the grocery store. I was cleaning up some files on my computer when I came across what looked like would be the perfect recipe to put the pastry to the test.

I made this as an appetizer to serve with a little champagne, but it would make a great light lunch paired with a mixed green salad with a mustardy vinaigrette. You can prepare this right before your guests arrive and then pop it in the oven as you’re pouring drinks. The mushrooms can be sautéed earlier in the day and all you’ll need to do is slice the cheese and assemble the pie.

Speaking of the cheese-do try to get taleggio if you can. Hopefully you have an Italian market nearby and they should carry taleggio. If you haven’t had it before I’m sure you’ll  love it. Taleggio is a semi-soft cheese and at first you will notice its strong aroma, but the flavor is actually quite mild and it’s a great cheese for melting. If you can’t find taleggio, Italian fontina is a good substitute.

As for the pastry-the Dufour brand- was definitely a step up from Pepperidge Farm. It puffed up quite nicely and was wonderfully flaky. I had some taleggio leftover so a few days later I made a another version. I added caramelized onions and assembled it open faced like a crostata-just as good!

Mushroom & Taleggio Cheese Pie

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 sheet puff pastry
Arugula-a good handful
1/2 pound Taleggio, sliced
1 egg, beaten

Heat the butter and olive oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until softened. Reduce the heat, add the garlic and thyme leaves. Season with pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Take off the heat & leave to cool.

Roll out the puff pastry on a floured surface into a rectangular shape. Try to make it as long as you can so that you have enough space to spread the filling quite thinly. Scatter the arugula  over 1 half of the pastry, then top with the mushrooms and sliced Taleggio. Brush the pastry edges with egg and fold the pastry in half over the filling, pressing to seal.

Put on a baking sheet and prick the pastry with a fork.  Set the pie aside to rest while you preheat the oven to 425°F. Brush the the pastry with the egg wash and decorate as you wish. Make a few slashes in the top before putting it in the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes, until golden. Serve hot!

February 12, 2017


Triple Threat Chocolate Cookies


I can’t believe that I’m saying this, but it took me four days to finish one of these cookies. A friend made them, gave me one and being the chocoholic that I am, I took a big bite. After I oohed and aahed and swooned with delight, I realized that one bite was enough and I put the cookie away.  This could be one of the best cookies I’ve ever eaten. It is rich, incredibly chocolatey, a little bit nutty and filled with creamy ganache. After I finished it a few days later I decided that I wanted to bake a batch myself.

The original recipe states that it makes 16 filled cookies. Considering that this cookie is pretty intense, I thought it might be wiser to make them a little bit smaller. The other thing I discovered is that the cookie on its own without the ganache filling is also pretty amazing. Serve with a bowl of vanilla ice cream and wow your guests.

Triple Threat Chocolate Cookies (from Sunset Magazine)

10 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into chunks
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup plus 2 tbsp. sugar
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
Put chopped chocolates and butter in a metal bowl and set bowl over (not touching) simmering water in a pot. Cook, stirring, until melted, then remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Whisk eggs, sugar, espresso powder, and vanilla into chocolate mixture. In another bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir into chocolate mixture until evenly mixed, then stir in chocolate chips and pecans. Wrap dough airtight and chill until firm enough to hold its shape, 50 to 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, make ganache: Put chopped chocolate and cream in a medium metal bowl and set bowl over (not touching) simmering water in a pot. Cook, stirring, until melted, then let cool. Cover and chill, stirring occasionally, until firm enough to spread, about 1 3/4 hours. If ganache becomes too firm to spread, transfer to a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for a few seconds to soften, stir.

Preheat oven to 350°. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop 2-tbsp. portions of dough onto sheets, spaced about 1 in. apart. Press dough to flatten into even 1/2-in.-thick rounds. Bake until cookies no longer look wet and you can feel a slight crust on top, about 10 minutes (don’t overbake); switch position of baking sheets halfway through. Let cookies cool on sheets on racks.

Generously spread flat sides of half of cookies with ganache and top with remaining cookies. (You may have a little leftover ganache.)

Make ahead: Dough and ganache, up to 2 days, chilled. Filled cookies, up to 2 days, chilled, or 2 months, frozen. Serve at room temperature.

February 2, 2017


Royal Wedding Scones


I thought I had my absolute favorite scone recipe and it’s still right up near the top of my list, but there’s a serious contender for the title-the royal wedding scone-that I found on Food 52. I saw it a while back and hesitated trying it, thinking that it couldn’t come near to my old stand by. I’m not sure why I finally gave in and baked them, but I’m sure glad that I did.

I was skeptical when I first read the recipe seeing that it had a lot less butter than my usual scone and whole lot of cream. I wondered what the texture would be like. I have a thing about most of the scones that you find in coffee shops-for the most part they are heavy and taste like they were made at least a few days before. Well, I shouldn’t have worried. These scones are light, soft, a little bit crispy and packed with blueberries.

By the way, the name-Royal Scones-was penned by the baker who posted this recipe on Food 52. She baked them to share with friends the week of the Royal Wedding.


Royal Wedding Scones
2 1/2 cups (11.25 ounces) all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling on tops of scones
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3/4 cup frozen wild Maine blueberries (I used fresh blueberries)
1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing on tops of scones
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade, place the dry ingredients and pulse to combine. Add the butter, and pulse about 10 or so times. You want to retain some small pieces of butter. Don’t blitz the heck out of it. Transfer the flour mixture to a large mixing bowl. If you’ve got some really large butter lumps, just squish them with the back of a fork.

Gently toss the blueberries into the flour mixture. In a large measuring cup, place the heavy cream, egg and vanilla. Mix well. Pour into flour mixture. With a dinner fork, fold the wet into the dry as you gradually turn the bowl. It’s a folding motion you’re shooting for, not a stirring motion. When dough begins to gather, use a plastic bowl scraper to gently knead the dough into a ball shape. If there is still a lot of loose flour in the bottom of the bowl, drizzle in a bit more cream, like a teaspoon at a time, until the dough comes together.

Transfer the dough ball to a floured board. Gently pat into a 6” or 7″ circle. With a pastry scraper or large chef’s knife, cut into 8 triangles.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place scones on a parchment-lined sheet pan, about 1 inch apart. Brush with cream. Sprinkle tops of scones with sugar. Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes, turning pan halfway through. They are done when a wooden skewer comes out clean. Serve with clotted cream, creme fraiche, and jam if you wish. I thought they were perfect with lemon curd.


January 28, 2017


Come To Italy With Me!


You don’t have to  wait for me to post a trip to Lucca here on my blog. Get a group together with your friends who love Italy and get in touch! Of course I plan on going to Italy every year and I do have a tour scheduled for this spring, but it’s full, with a waiting list. A  guest from an earlier tour put a group together and we are scheduled for our week in Lucca this May. I am available to return to Italy and would love to share Lucca and the Garfagnana with you.


From sightseeing, to cooking, to spending a day on a remote farm, to eating our way through Florence, this will be a week to remember.

Already been to Lucca but would like to join a Panini Girl tour? I am putting together a week based in my other favorite Tuscan town-Arezzo! Those of you who have followed my blog for a while may remember that I’ve spent time there attending language school-Cultura Italiana. I lived in this charming and very untouristy town for a month during my time attending the school. I was a neophyte in living on my own in a place where there was no one speaking English. It turned out to be just what a struggling student of the language needed to gain some confidence. I’ve been back to Arezzo a few times since then and think about it as a town where I would like to live for a year.



Arezzo is located  about 50 miles southeast of Florence, not too far from the border with Umbria. Our travels will take us out of town to the countryside south of Arezzo. If we’re lucky we may be in town for Arezzo’s monthly Antique Fair which is the largest of its kind in Italy. You never know what treasure you might find to squeeze into your suitcase…

Let’s do Italy together!  You can reach me at


January 23, 2017


Italian Street Food


Earlier last year I had the opportunity to do some recipe testing for Paola from one of my favorite blogs-Italy On My Mind. I had success with both of the recipes I tested and looked forward to the publication of her book. I was enamored with the lemon ricotta gelato and the ease of putting together this eggless ice cream. The other recipe that I tried is known as cassone verde-a flat bread filled with greens and and fried in a skillet. The recipes were well written, easy to follow and accompanied by gorgeous photos.

I was immediately taken with the premise of the book-recipes from Italy’s bars and hidden laneways. If you’ve been to Italy, you know what I’m talking about when I say that you are assaulted (in a wonderful way)  with an amazing array of food “to go” at every turn. I only wish that I had been along with Paola as she traveled around the country eating and collecting recipes for her book.

I am a bit fan of meatballs having grown up with an Italian grandmother who made a pot of “gravy” with sausage, meatballs and braciole every Sunday. Over the years it’s been hard to find a meatball that can measure up to hers, but I’m always hopeful. When I saw this appetizer of fried meatballs, I knew that I had to give them a shot. The other reason I was drawn to them is that the recipe comes from a restaurant in Venice that had been recommended to me, but I never it made to-La Vedova near the Ca’ D’Oro vaporetto stop. Anyway, these are the perfect snack to serve with cocktails. They are crunchy with a hint of garlic and parmesan-you’ll love them! Oh-and be sure to get the cookbook too.

Polpettine di Bar

1 medium potato

1 oz. crustless bread

1/2 cup milk

9 oz. ground beef

2 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley

1 egg

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1-1/4 oz.  grated parmesan

Peanut or sunflower oil for shallow frying

Plain all-purpose flour

1 egg lightly beaten with a splash of milk

Homemade, fresh breadcrumbs if possible (or use plain unseasoned crumbs)


Place the whole potato in a saucepan of cold water, cover and bring to a boil. Cook until tender. Drain, peel and mash or put through a ricer. Set aside to cool.

Soak the bread in the milk for 5 minutes, then drain and squeeze the bread to remove the excess liquid. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add the potato and the remaining ingredients, except the oil, to the large  bowl. Combine the ingredients with a large wooden spoon or your hands until the mixture comes together.

Roll the mixture into  small balls, about 20.

To crumb the meatballs, fill three separate bowls with the flour, the egg mixture and the breadcrumbs. Dredge the meatballs one at a time in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Set aside on a plate.

Heat about 1/2″ oil in a large , heavy saucepan over medium heat. Fry the meatballs in batches for about 3 minutes, turning until they are evenly cooked and deep brown.

Drain on paper towels and serve warm, scattered with extra sea salt flakes.





January 8, 2017

1 comment



I realize that empanadas are not at all Southwestern (more Latin American), but I thought that it would be nice to have a little hand pie before our posole dinner last week. Various countries have their own version (think Cornish pasties or Italian  panzerotti) and you can certainly put your own spin on this recipe.  There are endless possibilities for fillings. I wanted mine to be vegetarian, but I could have added chorizo or chicken or spiced ground beef to these rather than mushrooms.

The empanadas can be served warm or at room temperature and although it’s not traditional, we enjoyed them with a little bit of salsa. I think that next time I’ll use this same buttery dough with an Italian type filling-maybe with ricotta, tomato and sausage. I’ll keep you posted!


Mushroom and Potato Empanadas

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg
1/3 cup ice water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.
Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.)
Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.


8 oz. crimini mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup crumbled Panela cheese
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/2 pound yellow-fleshed potato such as Yukon Gold (1 large)
Empanada dough
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Add onions to saucepan and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and very soft, about 15 minutes. Add mushrooms, garlic, red bell pepper, salt, and oregano and cook, stirring frequently, until peppers are very soft, about 15 minutes.

Peel potato and cut into 1/2-inch pieces, then stir into onion mixture and cook over moderately low heat, covered, stirring frequently, until potatoes are just barely tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool filling to room temperature, remove bay leaf and add crumbled cheese.
Form and bake empanadas:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces and form each into a disk. Keeping remaining pieces covered, roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 5-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick).
Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling onto center and fold dough in half, enclosing filling. Press edges together to seal, then crimp decoratively with your fingers or tines of a fork. Transfer empanada to a baking sheet. Make 11 more empanadas in same manner, arranging on 2 baking sheets.
Lightly brush empanadas with some of egg wash and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer empanadas to a rack to cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.