August 1, 2019

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Panini Girl In Lucca September 2020




I am thrilled to announce my return to Lucca next fall. Come along and be prepared for lots of amazing food, new friends, stunning scenery and lots of laughs. I’m available to help you with your travel plans so get in touch!

Dates: September 19 to 26, 2020

Total Price Per Person: $3400 (private bedroom)

Deposit: $975 is due within seven days of making your reservation. Balance is due 90 days prior to the first day of the trip. Deposit is non-refundable.








The Details:
We will be staying in a beautiful, large apartment in a recently restored 15th century building located in the heart of the historical center of Lucca. It’s just a short walk to the ancient walls surrounding the centro storico-the perfect place for a walk or bike ride with a bird’s eye view of the town. Our week will focus on food and wine of Lucca and the surrounding area. No trip to Tuscany is complete without a visit to Florence, so we will spend a day there exploring, tasting and shopping!










What’s Included:

An afternoon exploring Lucca’s antique fair
Cooking class with participation with local Lucchese chef
Day trip to Florence with a guided tour of the Mercato Centrale food market and specialty food shops in the neighborhood, time for shopping
Day trip to the countryside of the Garfagnana to visit a farm where we’ll join Paolo the town’s baker and we’ll bake our own loaves in his wood fired oven and we’ll be treated to lunch featuring dishes made with farro grown on the farm
Day trip to Montecarlo to visit a winery with tasting and lunch
Gelato tastings
All transportation for day trips out of town
Seven nights’ accommodations in private bedroom
All breakfasts
5 lunches and 6 dinners
Wine with meals
Water, coffee, wine and snacks stocked in the apartment









It is strongly advised that you purchase trip cancellation insurance as cancellation fees apply regardless of reason for cancellation. Check out information at

le sorellele smama

What’s Not Included:
Airfare, transfers from airport to and from Lucca, travel insurance, phone calls, laundry services, alcoholic beverages other than host ordered. Schedule subject to change.


Contact me at with questions or to make a reservation.


July 16, 2019

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Calitri-May 2019



On our first visit to Calitri in 2005 we barely had time to discover the beauty and charm of the town. After taking a train from Rome, a bus from Foggia and then being picked up by a driver when the bus went no further, we arrived for an overnight. We walked from the town’s one hotel over to the borgo, which was a lot quieter than it is now. Much of the area was uninhabited and I was moved knowing that I was walking the lanes where my grandparents once walked. Before leaving the next day on the bus we lunched at Osteria Tre Rose, unaware that this would one day be our favorite restaurant in town.







Since then, we’ve retuned three times, each for a week. We know a lot more about the town than we did then. On the first trip we relied on public transportation and having a car makes all the difference. The surrounding countryside is stunning and we still have a  lot more exploring to do.

The borgo is inhabited by a lot more families than it was on our first visit.  I never of tire roaming up and down through the cobbled passageways, admiring the many colored doors and buildings. This time I was lucky to have the opportunity to climb up above the town to the area that’s been abandoned since the 1980 earthquake. After the quake  many of the families moved out of the borgo to newly constructed buildings. Walking around up there amidst wildflowers growing in and out of the ruins was eerily fascinating and the views of the surrounding area were spectacular.








The weather was unseasonably cold during our stay. There were rainy days too, but it didn’t stop us from enjoying the weekly mercato all’aperto. I recognized some of the vendors from previous visits and couldn’t resist buying a wheel of local pecorino cheese. Needless to say we devoured it during our stay with bread from the panetteria.








We ate at a few different restaurants in town, but as I said before, Tre Rose is our favorite and I could eat there every day and never tire of their cingul’-the pasta I grew up eating at my grandparents’ table.  The other specialty of the town is cannazze which resembles ziti. Peccati di Cola served amazing Neapolitan style pizza. We were lucky to witness a stunning sunset bathing Calitri in a golden light from the patio of the pizzeria.











Arrivederci Calitri-until next time…

Osteria Tre Rose-Via Luigi Einaudi, 11 Calitri

Peccati di Cola-Via Gagliano, Calitri

June 30, 2019



town view

Even though we’ve stayed in  Calitri four times we haven’t even begun exploring the many small towns in this area of Irpinia. I looked at a map and then got on the computer to do some research when I came across an article on I Borghi Piu’ Belli d’Italia-the most beautiful towns in Italy and there was Monteverde, about 8 miles from Calitri.









The countryside between the two towns is hilly and Monteverde is located on the top of  a mountain. As we wound our way up to the town the views were stunning-fields of green as far as the eye could see. A pack of about seven barking dogs came out of nowhere and followed us for a while. It was pretty quiet when we got to town and there was the castle looming about everything so we decided to hike up.







another castle

Located at the very top of the town the castle overlooks the valley of the Ofanto and Osento rivers. Construction began in the ninth century and was inhabited by aristocratic families from 1059 to 1932 when the last lord died.







We were happy to poke around the outside of the building when we met two Italian gentlemen who struck up a conversation with us. Turns out they were from Calitri and and after telling them our story it turns out one of them had relatives living in the small town in NY where I grew up and he had actually been there-small world! They called the caretaker who had the keys to the interior of the castle and he drove over to give us a private tour.  He spoke no English and I did my best to keep up and translate for J. The interior is quite rustic, but there were a variety of high tech videos and even a virtual reality experience, which had us sitting on a donkey exploring the countryside!

another view





While walking around town we asked three different people where we should have lunch and they all named the same place- Al Giardino Ristorante. After touring the castello we were happy to follow their advice and stopped in for lunch. The food was simple and representative of the area.  We started wth a salumi platter that included  three local cheeses. I spied pizza fritta on the menu and didn’t hesitate to order it. I took one bite and I was instantly transported to my grandmother’s kitchen. I enjoyed another classic dish from my childhood-ricotta stuffed handmade ravioli while J. had spaghetti with a meat sauce topped with toasted bread crumbs, which is common in the south. It was exactly the lunch we had hoped for.







A few years back we did venture out to Melito Irpino and had an unforgettable three hour lunch at Di Pietro. There isn’t much to the town (as the medieval center was destroyed in the 1962 earthquake), but the experience at this restaurant is certainly worth a detour if you are anywhere in the vicinity.

Al Giardino Ristorante

Via Fontana 4, Monteverde (province of Avellino)

June 24, 2019


Fonzone Winery-Paternopoli

When I started thinking about the time we would spend in southern Italy I decided I should get in touch with my blogging friend Paula at La Bella Sorella. Besides being an amazing cook and incredibly knowledgable about the cuisine of Italy, Paula (along with her husband) is an importer of Italian wine. I knew we needed some advice on this subject as we wanted to visit at least one winery during our stay.

After learning that we would be in Campania for a week Paula suggested that we plan a visit to Tenuta Fozone located outside the town of Paternopoli, about an hour away from Calitri where we would be based. Our American friends who live in Calitri would be joining us and they suggested we give ourselves an hour and a half to get there-“always leave an extra half hour for getting lost” B. advised and she was right. We spent a good half hour looking for the winery while driving up and down hilly lanes amidst fields covered with vines. It was a good kind of lost though!


We were warmly greeted by Amadeo as we pulled into the winery right on time. While we were happily gazing off into the surrounding countryside, Amedeo gave us an introduction to the history of the winery. Founded in 2005 by Lorenzo Fonzone Caccese the winery is located in the heart of Irpinia. The area in the southern Apennines is one of hills, mountains, lakes and rivers-two of them bordering on the estate.

The Fonzone facility is quite modern and much of it is located underground which minimizes the effect on the landscape. The ground floor of the building houses the processing and the storage of the grapes. The grapes are fermented (vinified) in stainless vats and aged in French oak barrels.





We moved upstairs passing through a room where bottles are stored and then continued to the top floor where we enjoyed a tasting of the Fonzone wines along with the  spectacular view of the estate . The winery produces seven types of wine-four whites and three reds.

The whites-Greco di Tufo, Fino di Avellino, Saquoia Irpinia and Irpinia Falanghina-are clean and crisp tasting. My favorite was the Greco di Tufo which is a grape that has been around since Roman times and is deep in color and displays a mineral freshness.




The wines were perfectly paired with a variety of foods prepared by the winery’s chef. We sampled local cheese with freshly baked bread and prosciutto, fried baccala, focaccia topped with roasted yellow tomatoes, fried balls similar to arancini but stuffed with a creamy pasta, and a fritter that I think had escarole for its filling.









Just when I thought I couldn’t eat another bite we moved to the dining table where we began the tasting of the reds-Irpinia Aglianico, Irpinia Campi Taurasini and Scorzagalline Taurasi Riserva. Amadeo was the perfect host explaining the properties of the wines to us as we dined on pasta with an herby pesto, a roulade of lamb with a mushroom sauce, a cheese course and finally a plate with a trio of desserts.


As someone who cooks for a living it is quite a treat for me to be on the receiving end of  local specialties prepared by someone with such obvious love of food and talent. I feel the need to apologize to Amadeo as I fear that I made more of a fuss about the food than I did about the wine. Let me tell you that the wine was spectacular and the food only enhanced it’s flavors.  Of course the Riserva was at the top of my list and I doubt that it’s a wine that I can find now that I am home in the states. Hopefully I might be able to locate either of the other two reds. Enjoying them with a bowl of homemade cingulwill have to do until I can make my way back to Irpinia.










Amadeo was assisted in this very special afternoon by the two people in the above photo. Unfortunately I don’t know their names, but the gentleman was ready at all times with a smile on his face to refill our glasses. I had asked for the chef to come out and meet us as I was so impressed by her food-brava!

When I returned home a friend asked me to name my top three experiences while in Italy. Our day at Fonzone was right up there. A very big grazie to Amadeo for spending the day sharing the winery with us and to Paula for arranging our visit.

If you happen to find yourself in the Avellino province of Campania I highly recommend a visit to Fonzone. Be sure to phone ahead and make a reservation.

Take a look in your local wine shop and if you see any Fonzone wines by all means treat yourself to a bottle or two.

Tenuta Fonzone

Località Scorzagalline
83052 Paternopoli (AV)


June 21, 2019


Scenes From A Week In Lucca




Now that I’ve been back from Italy for a few weeks it almost seems like a dream that I was there. Thankfully I have lots of photos and great memories of my time in my home away from home, especially the week of the Panini Girl Tour in Lucca.

May was definitely cooler than normal with a fair amount of drizzle, but there were moments of sun and we didn’t let the inclement weather stop us from any of our adventures.






Our days were varied, but they all began with freshly baked pastries from my favorite neighborhood pastry shop- Pasticceria Dianda accompanied by strong Italian coffee.







We traveled to the mountainous Garfagnana for a hands on lesson on baking bread with the ever charming Paolo.












Off we went with our umbrellas on a very early morning train to Florence for a half day tour of tasting classic Tuscan specialties- cantucci, pecorino, finocchiona salami, lampredotto, ribollita, peposo, and of course Chianti Classico-my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

It’s hard to pick a favorite activity, but a cooking class in the fabulous kitchen of our apartment with the talented and lovely Alessandra along with her assistant Tamara is always near the top of the list. I have to admit that the lesson always includes a lot of laughs and the multi course dinner we created was unforgettable.







And who doesn’t like a day of wine tasting? We traveled out of town into the gentle sloping hills above Lucca to visit Fattoria Fubbiano. The grounds were gorgeous, the views were spectacular and the wines paired with local cheese and salumi was another perfect taste of the region.






Evenings  included more local wine and dinners around the table at local trattorias. A bowl of Lucca’s famous tordelli pasta is a must at least once while you’re in town.


It’s not too soon to start thinking about joining me in Lucca next year in the fall-the dates are set September 19 to 26, 2020. Stayed tuned for the details coming soon.

Contact me at with questions.


June 14, 2019






From the rooftop of our trullo we could see the town of Locorotondo off in the distance. After getting lost in Cisternino more than once we figured it was time to find a new town where we could wonder around aimlessly.  Leaving B and B Pietraviva I considered leaving a trail of bread crumbs behind us. I’m only half kidding…



We were thrilled that it happened to be Locorotondo’s market day. I’m fascinated by farmers markets, even if I don’t plan on doing any cooking. Next time we stay in the area for a longer period I will definitely be making use of the kitchen and shopping at the local mercato all’aperto. I wasn’t sure about the produce in the above photo on the right so I asked the vendor if it was a fruit or a vegetable and he happily sliced one open and gave us a taste-it was cucumber!


We did stop at a stand selling olives and made a purchase of a mix of plump green and black. Once again the vendor was ready with a taste which we happily devoured.




Leaving the streets lined with farmers selling their wares the crowds thinned out and we ambled along walkways festively adorned with flowers in this white washed town. I made mental notes of how I would brighten up our backyard with pots filled with colorful plants. It was obvious that the residents of Locorotondo take a lot of pride in the beauty of their town.





As in most towns in Italy there were stunning churches right in the midst of a residential neighborhood. It’s hard for me to walk by without stopping in to check out the art and maybe light a candle.




And yes, we did get lost on the way home and ended up on an incredibly narrow lane where a giant cement truck was blocking the way. We figured we would have to  back up and turn around and wondered how long it would take us to find another route back. Just then the workmen started waving at us to come forward-they moved their truck over as far as they could and we scooted by with about an inch to spare!


June 8, 2019

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B & B Pietraviva-Cisternino

When I first planned our time in Puglia I thought that after our time in Lecce we would spend a few days in Ostuni. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to stay out in a trullo, somewhere in the  countryside. I briefly considered Alberobello, but as much as I wanted to see this town famous for its concentration of trulli, I didn’t relish being in a town full of other tourists. After a brief search on airbnb I discovered Benedetta’s trullo located in the countryside a few miles outside of the town of Cisternino.

Upon exiting the highway our gps directed us onto a road that was no more than a little lane lined with stone walls winding through an ancient olive grove. There wasn’t anyone else around (thankfully as only one small car could fit on this road) and we were fascinated to be surrounded by trees that had been standing for hundreds of years.





Benedetta had supplied us with very detailed directions to find her b & b, but we were eternally led in circles by our gps in the town of Cisterninno. Part of the problem was that a main street was closed due to the installation of lighting for an upcoming festival, the other part being we just had no clue where we were! After almost an hour of riding around she sent her brother to lead us in to their property. The ancient abandoned trullo below was an indication that we were almost there.




All the frustration of being lost slipped away as we rounded the bend in the driveway and pulled in front of our enchanting home for the next few days. I was immediately smitten and regretted that we wouldn’t be here longer.



The interior was just as charming as the exterior (I didn’t take photos so click on the link to the website). In addition to two bedrooms, living room and kitchen there was another dining room a few steps across the courtyard where we were served breakfast each morning.




Perhaps the biggest treat was the rooftop deck with views over the valley in all directions-the perfect spot for curling up with a good book and a must for relaxing with an evening cocktail.








I took a walk on the road leading away from the property and passed fields of poppies studded with abandoned trulli, fruit trees and a few barking dogs which prompted me to turn around and head home.





Benedetta had told us that her brother Giovanni was a passionate cook and so we asked him if he would prepare dinner for us. We were served an antipasto with enough food for a few more diners, but we did our best to make a dent in it-fresh fava beans with sun-dried tomatoes, knots of mozzarella, creamy stracchino cheese, bread, salami, local capocollo, marinated artichokes and our absolute favorite-poplettine di pane-crispy fried balls made with bread, milk egg and cheese. We devoured them! I plan on making these this week.

Our main course was orecchiette, hand made by Giovanni and dressed with fava beans from their garden and cherry tomatoes. Topped with grated cacioricotta cheese the pasta was toothsome, yet light and and very representative of the cuisine of Puglia. Accompanied by a local white wine it was everything we had hoped for. Thank you Giovanni for making our last evening so memorable!







Saying that it was hard to pack up and drive off a little after dawn the next morning was an understatement. I knew right then that we would return and spend a week here and do a lot more exploring in the Valle d’Itria.






B & B Pietraviva

Contrada Figazzano 17, Cisternino