Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking


May 25, 2016


Eating In San Francisco

It was just a few days, but we managed to squeeze a fair amount of great food. Here are some of the highlights.


Since we hadn’t been to San Francisco for some time I thought it best to read up on what restaurants people were taking about. It wasn’t hard to decide that we would have to visit Tony’s Pizza Napoletana. Located in North Beach there’s a reason that this pizzeria is popular with both locals and tourists. It seems that Tony was the first non-Italian to win the Margherita Pizza championship in Naples and so we knew what we’d be ordering. They only make 73 a day so it’s best to go early. Don’t worry if you are too late for a margherita as there’s an entire menu dedicated to other types of pies cooked in various ovens at various temperatures-New York, California, Roman, Sicilian, Napoletana and more.


The pizza was as good as the hype. The crust was chewy, flavorful and held up to the sauce and cheese. My one piece of advice is to start with an order of the meatballs. They were so tasty that I considered going back just to order them again. They reminded me of my grandmother’s, which is certainly saying something.

Tony’s is also known for having a line out the door so be prepared to wait. We arrived around 12:45 (weekday) and were told it was an hour, but it ended up only  being about 25 minutes. I noticed that by 1:30 you could just walk right in. Whatever time you go, it’s worth the wait.

Other places we visited were Delfina in the Mission District for Italian, where I ordered bucatini with guanciale in a puree of fava beans. It reminded me of a dish you would find in a trattoria in Italy. Next morning found us back on the same block for a visit to my favorite bakery-Tartine-with another line out the door. Everything in the pastry case will entice you, but I can’t seem to get away from their famed “morning bun”-a spiral of croissant dough with a bit of orange and cinnamon, dusted in sugar. I did however take a box of other goodies to go.


Seeing that our hotel was a few blocks from Chinatown we decided to dine there one evening. With advice from our hotel we headed to R & G Lounge, known for it’s Cantonese food.  After a fairly long wait we were directed upstairs to a dining room where we were the only non Chinese patrons.  We were seated at the one two top in a room full of Chinese families seated at banquet tables. Our meal was good, but perhaps we should have consulted with someone at a nearby table as to what they were ordering. Trouble was that everyone was speaking Chinese!

Tony’s Pizza Napoletana 1570 Stockton Street

Delfina 3621 18th Street

Tartine 600 Guerrero Street

R & G Lounge 631 Kearny Street

Next up: The Ferry Building




May 11, 2016


I Cornetti

Whenever I have a failure in the kitchen (which thankfully isn’t a frequent occurrence) I feel the need to get right back in there and prove to myself that I can do it. Usually I remake the dish after analyzing where I went wrong. This wasn’t the case last week when I had a baking  mishap. I had the feeling that there was possibly a mistake in the recipe. After throwing the bars in the trash I set the bar fairly high when I decided to tackle cornetti-the Italian version of a croissant.

Go into just about any bar or pasticceria in Italy in the morning and you will find cornetti in the pastry case. You will probably be standing next to a regular who is eating a cornetto while sipping a caffe or a cappuccino. It’s my go to morning  snack, unless I feel the urge for a budino di riso, but that’s another story.


I’ve wanted to make these for years and after getting my new favorite cookbook-Florentine-by blogger Emiko Davies-I decided to dive in and tackle them. This book is gorgeous-from the quality of the paper to the professional photos which made me seriously homesick for Italy. The recipes are classic ones from the city of Florence and like many Italian dishes, they are simple and do not require a lot of ingredients.

I will not mislead you by saying this is a recipe that comes together quickly. I started the dough on Friday, let it sit overnight and began anew  at 9:00 on Saturday morning. Making the dough is not difficult, but it is time consuming as it requires a  lot of “resting”. I was in for the long haul and not at all discouraged when it wasn’t until 6 pm that I took the finished product from the oven. Not exactly my morning snack but I ate one anyway!


Delicious-just like in Lucca, except I’m in California. I’m not posting the recipe,which is lengthy. I encourage you to buy Emiko’s book. You will love it, especially if you’ve ever been to Florence. At the very least take a look at her blog-Emiko Davies.




May 7, 2016


Chicken With Lemon & Herbs




I haven’t had a lot of time to blog recently, but I have been in the kitchen. Yesterday I tried a recipe for chocolate caramel walnut bars which I saw on line. They looked like a blondie topped with chocolate frosting. I couldn’t wait to bite into one and planned on sharing with our neighbors. Even though following the directions to a tee, they were saturated with butter and I wasn’t able to slice them. Into the trash it went. I suppose I could have spooned some into a bowl and topped it with ice cream, but I was too disappointed and didn’t want to be reminded of my baking failure.

On the other hand this chicken dish from our Lucca cooking class is a recipe I will turn to again and again. It’s the perfect do ahead dish and if you have leftovers it’s just as tasty reheated the next day. I prefer chicken thighs, but if you like white meat better go ahead and use breasts. I  usually serve this dish with a small pasta such as orzo or acini di pepe topped with a little bit of the lemony sauce. Buon appetito!

Chicken with Lemon, Olives and Aromatic Herbs

10 bone in chicken thighs, skin removed
3 lemons, rind cut off
5 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh sage, about 20 leaves
Fresh rosemary, 5 large sprigs
Extra-virgin olive oil
White wine, about 3/4 cup
Chicken broth, about 3/4 cup
Black olives-a handful (Italian or Nicoise)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Place chicken thighs in a bowl. Slice lemons into thin slices and add to bowl with chicken pieces and toss together. Let marinate together for about 1/2 hour.

Finely chop rosemary and sage leaves together. Cover bottom of a large saute pan with olive oil over low heat. Add chopped herbs and saute for a few minutes. Add minced garlic and saute until softened. Turn the heat up and add chicken thighs (reserve lemon slices) and brown, about 5 minutes on each side. Add the wine and reduce until it’s almost evaporated. Add chicken broth to the pan, season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to medium low and add lemon slices and olives. Cover pan and cook for about 30-40 minutes.

Uncover and if there’s a lot of liquid left, reduce to thicken sauce.

April 24, 2016


Salmon Chowder


As you may have guessed, I am no longer in Lucca.  I always come home trying to hold on to Italy in any way that I can. I went out for gelato this afternoon made by an Italian who went to some “gelato university” in Italy.  I’ve made pasta, recreated the dishes from our cooking class in Lucca and have savored my cappuccino every morning, even though it is not at all comparable to one from the neighborhood “bar” I frequented every morning. At some point I have to bite the bullet and get back into my everyday life away from Italy.

I’ve had more than a bit of jet lag and a few evenings I didn’t even make dinner. When I did cook I was looking for meals that didn’t require a lot of work, but were none the less delicious. This salmon chowder more than fit the bill. Some time back while going through my big basket of recipes I found this recipe torn out from a magazine. I then realized that it was the same recipe that I had earmarked in the Epicurious Cookbook which is a collection of four star recipes from Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines.

We’ve sort of become addicted to this chowder. You have to believe me when I tell you it comes together very quickly and would be the perfect meal on an evening when you are rushed to get dinner on the table. I always have salmon pieces in the freezer leftover from trimming a filet and they work perfectly in this dish. There’s a bit of smokiness from the bacon, a hint of spice from the pepper flakes and a fresh herbal flavor from the chives. I could eat this seafood stew once a week and never tire of it.

Salmon Chowder

1/2 pound red potatoes
1/2 pound sliced bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
2 cups chopped scallions (from 2 bunches)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn (I use Trader Joes frozen white corn)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic (3 cloves)
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
3 cups whole milk
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 (1 1/2-pound) piece salmon fillet (preferably wild), skin discarded and fish cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Garnish: chopped fresh chives

Cut potatoes into 1/2-inch cubes, then cook in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart heavy saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside.
Cook bacon in a 5-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pot, then cook scallions, corn, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and red-pepper flakes in fat in pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until scallions are tender, about 5 minutes.

Add milk and cream and bring just to a boil. Reduce heat to moderately low, then add potatoes, salmon, bacon, salt, and pepper and cook, gently stirring occasionally, until salmon is just cooked through and begins to break up as you stir, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Discard bay leaf before serving. Top with oyster crackers if you like.

Serves: 4

April 22, 2016


In The Kitchen


These two lovely local Lucchese women were responsible for an evening filled with lots of laughs and a dinner that we won’t soon forget. Our apartment located in Lucca’s centro was the perfect spot for a cooking class. The kitchen is bright and spacious with a great work space large enough for all of us to participate in the preparation of the meal.

We started the class preparing the dessert-cantuccini-what we usually call biscotti. I’ve made biscotti many times using a Kitchen Aid mixer, but this time we did it all by hand. We used a classic Tuscan recipe with almonds and orange zest and couldn’t wait for the end of the meal to sample our work.

Next up was making fresh pasta for ravioli. Since I’ve made a fair amount of pasta over the years I initially stepped aside to let everyone else take a turn. Eventually I joined in and before you knew it we had stuffed enough ravioli to feed at least a dozen people. Filled with spinach and ricotta and simply dressed with butter and sage this is a dish that would wow your guests.

While the pasta dough was resting we made a classic bruschetta topped with luscious ripe tomatoes from Sicily. It’s not a difficult dish to prepare, but you have to use the best ingredients- vine ripened tomatoes (this is not an appetizer you make in winter),  extra-virgin olive oil and a dense country bread, preferably a few days old.




Our  main course was a herb and lemon chicken with olives served with sautéed peppers cooked in a tomato basil sauce. Both of these dishes would be great for entertaining as they can be prepared ahead of time and reheated.

We said good bye to our teachers and sat down to dinner accompanied by two Tuscan wines. We savored each and every bite and were thrilled to have enough  leftovers for another meal later in the week. The evening ended with the cantuccini dipped in Vin Santo, a sweet wine Tuscan dessert wine.

Thank you to Tamara and Giustina for teaching us the ins and outs of these classic Italian recipes. I have a feeling everyone will be recreating this menu back at home.



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April 18, 2016


Il Mercato All’Aperto


Why does all the produce look so much better in Italy? One of the reasons that I always rent an apartment is so that I can actually get into the kitchen and take advantage of what the mercato all’aperto (outdoor market) has to offer.


There was a sign on this pile of carciofi advertising them 15 for 5 euros! The vendor tried to entice me with this bargain as I passed by and I replied that I couldn’t possibly use that many. A well dressed older gentleman standing nearby spoke up and something to the effect that he could help me out and I just smiled back and kept on walking. I wonder what he really said?

le verdure

Lucca’s market takes place every Wednesday and Saturday morning. We decided to take a day trip to nearby Pistoia for their market day, also on Wednesday. If you visit this town be sure to seek out the Piazza della Sala which is a lovely small square lined with all types of food shops-forno (breads), pasticceria (pastries), macelleria (butcher), fromaggeria  (cheese shop) and fruttivendolo (produce).

piazza della sala

And even though it’s not tomato season at home, we did get to sample luscious ripe ones from Sicily.


April 15, 2016


Taste Florence


If you stay in Tuscany at some point you will most certainly make your way to Florence. The city is brimming with history, museums and churches but what did our day focus on-food! We boarded an early train from Lucca and met Tina, our amazing guide from Taste Florenceon a small street not far from the train station. We had been forewarned to bring our appetite and boy was that good advice.

Our meeting spot was La Norcineria, a traditional shop selling meat, sausages and salumi. Our first “taste” was two different types of prosciutto-Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto Toscano. They were both just melt in your mouth tender and left us wanting more, but there was a big day ahead of us so off we went.




Next up was possibly our favorite-Il Forno-a bakery run for years by a brother and sister team. The sister came out to greet us and how adorable is she standing next to our guide?



We sampled a few things from this forno but the hands down favorite were the cocoli-fried pizza dough that had been halved and stuffed with tomato and mozzarella. The dough was still warm and the mozzarella melting-I am definitely making these once I get home-want to come over?







We moved on to the famous Mercato Centrale, Florence’s indoor food market. The bottom floor is filled with butchers, fishmongers, pasta makers, fruit and vegetable vendors and more. We stopped for a bite at Nerbone and then had time to explore the second floor of the market which has been transformed into an upscale “food court”- will have to dine here next time.

I almost forgot that we also visited a pasticceria where we had puff pastry  with pastry cream warm from the oven.


Off we went to one of the city’s premier enotecas where we were treated to a wine tasting paired with cheese and salumi and ended with a comparison of balsamics.



At this point you’re probably thinking “what’s left”? The final stop of the day took us to Vestri. This family run company located just outside of Arezzo’s centro has been making chocolate since 1960. We ended our foodie day with a variety of chocolates and finally gelato-caramel and pistachio for me. We said good bye to our guide and after some shopping headed back to Lucca, which seemed like a sleepy little town after the hustle and bustle of Florence.

A  big grazie to Tina and the team at Taste Florence for making this a day to remember!


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