Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking


May 27, 2017


La Tavernaccia Da Bruno


As much as I hope to make the most of my time when I’m in Italy, I really shy away from planning where we’re going to have each and every meal. As you probably have discovered yourself some of the best experiences are those that you just stumble upon.

That being said I wasn’t going to take any chances with our Sunday lunch in Rome. Sunday pranzo (lunch) is a big cultural tradition in Italy. It’s time for families and friends to join together in a restaurant and spend the greater part of the afternoon eating and socializing. On our very first visit to Italy we were in the countryside outside of Arezzo, and were turned away from what looked like a very popular spot for not having reserved a table. Lesson learned.

dining room

Thanks to Katie Parla whose blog and career I’ve been following for some time, I knew exactly where I wanted to spend Sunday lunch-La Tavernaccia da Bruno, located in Trastevere. When I mentioned to the charming host at our inn that we would be dining in Trastevere he frowned, intimating that there were a lot of “touristy” restaurants there. I assured him that we were confident in our selection. Thankfully  we gave our ourselves plenty of time to get there as there’s a huge mercato in the neighborhood on Sunday and our taxi couldn’t get anywhere near the restaurant.


We started our meal with burratina, a small round of smoked burrata cheese served with sun dried tomatoes. I had to pace myself and not devour the entire basket freshly baked bread that was on the table. I saved the bread experience for the bruschetta.


The menu offered half a dozen pastas and about twice as many entrees. Having already read about the trattoria’s specialties I steered J. to the suckling pig cooked in the wood fired oven and served with roasted potatoes, just like grandma used to make. Thankfully J. shared both with me and I was almost sorry that I hadn’t ordered this dish.


While Thursday in Rome is know for gnocchi, Sunday’s specialty is lasagna. Now you may be thinking that I could order lasagna anywhere and that may be true, but La Tavernaccia’s dish was exactly what lasagna should be-melt in your mouth noodles, layered with ragu and the creamiest béchamel. The crispy edge of the noodles added just the right counterpoint to this luscious baked pasta. It’s no wonder this dish sells out early.


Be sure to make a reservation. The trattoria was full within a half hour of opening and it was mostly locals.

La Tavernaccia da Bruno

Via Giovanni da Castel Bolognese, 63 Roma



May 25, 2017


Da Michele-Roma


Some time ago I read about Da Michele-Naple’s famous pizzeria-opening a location in  Rome. I figured that eventually we would actually visit Naples and make our way to Da Michele, but seeing that it was here in Rome we decided that we should seek it out. It turns out that the pizzeria is located two blocks from where we are staying.


It’s in a funny location inside of a children’s museum. We arrived sort of on the early side (8pm) and the place was already filling up. I didn’t really check out the starters, but for pizza there’s really only two choices-margherita and marinara. While we were waiting for our order to arrive the neighboring table got theirs and I was fairly surprised to see how large the pizzas were. They were hanging over the plate! I’m still getting used to the Italian concept of ordering your “own” pizza rather than sharing.

Like the Italians, we dove in with knife and fork. The sauce and the cheese were quite tasty and the crust is good and chewy.  If you can’t make it to Naples this is your chance to try its famous pizza.

Da Michele

Explora Museum
Via Flaminia, 80/82,
00196 Roma


May 23, 2017


Eating Rome Food Tour


Although I’ve spent time in Rome on various trips I’ve never made it to the Testaccio area of the city. A few years back when we were here I looked into taking a food tour, but the schedule didn’t work out for us. This time I planned ahead and booked a tour before arriving in the city.


Eating Italy runs various food tours in the city and this one was exactly what I had hoped it would be. We began with a stop at a bakery-Panificio Passi– where we tried two types of pizza (tomato sauce/no cheese and one with potato). Next stop was the famed Volpetti, a store packed with all sorts of gourmet delights-meat, cheese, prepared foods and here we sampled prosciutto, salami, cheese and balsamics.




We moved on to what was possibly my favorite of the day- Guerinni Pane e Pizza. As you can see in the photo there’s a variety of sliced meats and cheese and other toppings. The workers are constantly bringing out long loaves of pizza bianca which they slice to make panini. You simply go up to the counter and tell them everything you want on your panino, they assemble it, weigh it and you pay.

for panini

Take a look at the man with the a huge smile on his face. He had just gotten his panino and wasn’t shy about letting us know how excited he was to be eating here. I have a feeling he was a regular. We were lucky to try a porchetta and sun dried tomato on pizza bianca. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the men behind the counter assemble the panini.


Next on our itinerary was the Mercato Testaccio which moved to this new location a few years ago. We made a few stops here for tastes, but unfortunately did not have time to tour the entire building. J. and I plan on returning for a more thorough look around.



What we did see was amazing-piles of fresh fruits and vegetables, vendors selling cheese, pasta, breads, panini, desserts and more. We were treated to bruschetta, fresh mozzarella and my favorite-the suppli (fried rice ball stuffed with sauce, meat and cheese).




This is also where Rome’s pyramid is located.  We were surprised to find out that it predates the Colosseum.


Just when I thought I couldn’t eat one more thing we found our way to the well known restaurant Flavio al Velavevodetto. This eatery had been on my list for this trip so I was happy to see that it was included in the tour.


I didn’t get around to photos until we were just about done and as you can see the cacio  pepe was a hit with the entire group. This was my first time for this dish and it’s amazing that it’s simply cheese and pepper dressing the pasta. Maybe I should give this one a go once I get home.


We also tried amatriciana and carbonara which was devoured before I tried to take a photo.  They are all Roman classics and J. and I both agreed that the cacio pepe was our favorite.


Last but not least was gelato at Giolitti-which has been around 103 years! They have another location near the Pantheon, but the experience here in Testaccio was much more enjoyable as we were the only patrons in the shop. They will however gently try to dissuade you if they think your selections don’t really go well together!


Grazie Chiara for sharing your love of Testaccio and its food with us.

Eating Italy

May 21, 2017


La Fattoria Del Teso

road in

Even though I certainly have sampled plenty of wine from the area surrounding Lucca, I  had never actually visited the wine growing region of Montecarlo, about seven miles outside of town.


It was a clear and sunny and for the first time in days it was warm.  The drive up to the winery was lined with umbrella pines and as pulled around the corner we passed fields of vines bordered with roses.

vineyard view

We were greeted at the door to the winery and led inside by Massimo for our private tour.


The winery produces a variety of reds, a white, and a sparkling wine, but what they are really known for is their Vin Santo, the well known dessert wine of the Tuscan region.

drying rack

We climbed up to the second floor where the grapes for the Vin Santo are dried on racks made of bamboo. The finished product is then stored in barrels and aged, some of it for years.


After touring the building we followed Massimo downstairs to the cellar for our wine tasting. We sampled four wines while nibbling on bruschetta, grilled polenta with toppings, various cheeses, salami, picked vegetables and pappa al pomodoro-a classic Tuscan dish made with tomatoes and stale bread.

white wine

The last course we had was cantucci, Tuscan biscotti served for dipping in their prized Vin Santo.


Unfortunately the wines from Fattoria del Teso don’t make it to the US, but if you’re in Lucca you can find them in the wine shops or in the local grocery store.

Fattoria del Teso

May 19, 2017


Lucca-In The Kitchen


Six years ago when I began my Panini Girl trips to Lucca I met a very talented local woman whose passion is cooking. By day she works for the archdiocese located a few blocks away from our apartment and in her spare time she teaches cooking classes. We are lucky to stay in an amazing apartment with a very large kitchen which is perfect for a class where everyone can get up and participate in the preparation of the meal.


The menu for our class was for a classic Lucchese dinner. We started with bruschetta and since this is Italy and the weather is a little bit warmer than back home, the tomatoes were ripe and full of flavor (they probably came from down south).

Next we moved on to a the heart of the class-a lesson in pasta making. What I loved about this part of the evening was that everyone realized that making fresh pasta is a lot easier than you think. I was thrilled to hear that all the participants planned on making pasta once back home in their kitchens. We made ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach served in a sage butter sauce. So simple and so incredibly flavorful.

ravs 2


I’ve been lucky to have cooked with the very knowledgable Alessandra various times but at this class we made a dish that made we wish that I was already home and in my own kitchen. It was a fennel gratin made with a very thick béchamel with parmesan and nutmeg topped with bread crumbs and I’m telling you I could have eaten this and nothing else for the rest of the evening.



The main course was chicken with lemon and fresh herbs with white wine and olives. This is a perfect dish for entertaining as you can cook the chicken ahead (even a day or two) and reheat it.



We actually started the class with the biscotti making. This was another surprise for the gals in the class as they had no idea that they are not at all difficult to prepare. These were flavored with orange zest and almonds and much to my delight chocolate chunks were added to part of the dough. The best thing about  the biscotti was that we made enough to munch on for the rest of the week.




A big grazie to Alessandra and her sous chef Tamara. This was the Tuscan dinner of our dreams and we were all thrilled to help make it happen.

Stay tuned for the recipes in a future post.

May 18, 2017


Florence For Foodies


How can you go to Italy and not be food focused? I have to admit that I might be a little more obsessed than most with all things food related, but what’s wrong with that? One of the perks of staying in Lucca is that Florence is just a train (or bus) ride away. We caught an early train and headed to the La Norcineria (pictured above) to start our tour with Taste Florence. This shop specializes in meat, sausages and salumi (cured meats) and we began the day tasting two different types of prosciutto-one from Parma and then other made in Tuscany. I preferred the meat from Parma although the other one was  also wonderful, just a bit saltier.

pasta guy

As you can see we saw pasta being made and sampled ravioli with two different sauces. This was in the Mercato Centrale, a food lover’s slice of heaven. You could spend hours in this place and if you’re lucky enough to be staying in an apartment could do all your food shopping here.



Over the course of our time together we sampled a good variety of food and it was all tasty, but my favorite bite of the day came from Nerbone, which is located downstairs in the Mercato. Nerbone has been around since 1872 and has been serving cucina povera to the hungry workers of the neighborhood since then. Now in addition to the locals, you’ll be elbowing tourists trying to make your way to the front of the line. This eatery is famous for their panino bollito (boiled beef sandwich with two toppings). On past visits I always ordered the porchetta panino, but the panino bollito has won my heart. The salsa verde and spicy red sauce are the perfect toppings for the tender beef which is served on a crusty roll.


Make sure that if you do visit the Mercato you make time to go upstairs to the “food hall” which hosts an amazing array of eateries- from pizza to panini to pasta, hamburgers, salads, sushi and fried foods along with a small version of Eataly. Be prepared to wait in long lines if you go at lunch time.


Another favorite spot on the tour was the Forno which showcases a variety of baked goods, most of them savory. Here we were treated to cocoli which is fried dough that is sprinkled with salt and stuffed with tomato and mozzarella. Okay, this probably ties with the beef panino for best bite if the day.



Just when we thought we couldn’t eat one more thing we stopped in the lovely Enoteca Alessi.  Located not too far from the Duomo we tasted balsamics in addition to trying a variety of local wines paired with bruschetta, cheese and salami.

sun dried


The perfect ending for our tour was of course something sweet at Vestri CioccolateriaIn addition to their chocolates they are known for gelato and I savored every bite of my cup with nocciola (hazelnut) and caramel. They also have lovely packaged chocolates which would make a nice gift for someone back home.



If you want to get a real feel for the food of Florence this is a great way to spend a few hours. Be sure to bring your appetite! Thanks to Toni and the team at Taste Florence for creating a fun filled day.

Taste Florence

May 17, 2017


On The Farm


If I were to ask the participants of my Panini Girl tour which was the favorite day of our week together I have a feeling that they would say our trip up into the Garfagnana, the mountainous region north east of town. Besides being incredibly scenic, it’s a bit like stepping back in time. This was my third visit to Cerasa, the farm at the very top of a very windy road and I felt the same excitement upon arrival as I did the first time.

the farm

I discovered this little piece of paradise some years back when I was researching cheesemakers in the Lucca area. Lucky for me I stumbled upon Erica who runs Sapori e Saperi, a company specializing in small group tours connecting you with food artisans from the area. Your day with Erica is most certainly one you will remember forever. She is incredibly knowledgable about this region and its traditions and you will definitely feel that you have had a very unique experience.


I have a thing for cheese and am fascinated as to how it is made. The white horned sheep pictured below is a breed that has been reintroduced to the area and they supply the milk for the pecorino cheese that is produced on the farm. The sheep get milked daily and that means that for part of the year Gemma makes cheese every day!


I won’t go into the whole process, but we witnessed milk being turned into pecorino. Here you see Gemma stirring the curds in a large cauldron which has been used for who knows how many years.

with cheese 2

I was amazed that she puts her hands into this nearly scalding milk to pull out the cheese!


It’s then pressed into molds and set aside in their cave to age.

with cheese

After the pecorino was done Gemma went on to make ricotta with the whey and we were lucky to be able to taste it as soon as it was finished. By the way ricotta is not actually cheese, but a by product of making cheese.


Although the cheesemaking was an incredible event, the lunch we were served was nothing short of amazing. We were seated in their dining room along with a group of workers who were building a fence to keep out the wolves. These men provided the entertainment for us (even though we had no idea what they were talking about) and as they were leaving one of them came back in and serenaded us with O Sole Mio!

dining room


We were treated to salumi  (salami and proscuitto) made right there on the farm and crispy pickled vegetables that we all plan on recreating at home. Next was homemade pasta with a meat sauce, followed by roast beef with “to die for” roasted potatoes and a salad of radicchio. Of course we also sampled some of their aged pecorino. By this time we were stuffed, but not too full for the freshly made ricotta topped with a wild blueberry sauce.


Thank you to Erica, Gemma and Ombretta for creating a day chock full of wonderful memories.

Sapori e Saperi

Some day I hope to sign up for Erica’s course on cheesemaking!