Panini Girl

My obsessions-Italy and Cooking


April 20, 2020


Italy Revisited-Third Stop Lecce


Lecce had been on my “must visit” list long before it ended up being a hot spot for a lot of other tourists. For one reason or another we didn’t end up actually going there until last spring. Despite knowing of its popularity, I was surprised by how crowded it was.


I was most interested in seeing the Baroque architecture that it’s known for and it didn’t disappoint. Around every corner was another stunning church, one more ornately decorated facade. The weather was superb, especially after the cold and rainy days of the previous three weeks.

Our apartment had a rooftop terrace which was the perfect spot to watch the sunset, sipping on a Primitivo and snacking on local cheese. Our restaurant meals showcased the traditional food of Puglia. My favorite meal was at Alle Due Corti  where we began our meal with a vegetable antipasto that included about seven or eight dishes-one more interesting than the next.  My main was the eggplant meatballs in the photo below.


We walked through the gates of the city towards the university area for pizza at La Succursale, recommended by Katie Parla and it did not disappoint.

Farewell Lecce. We probably need another visit…

April 19, 2020


Calitri Day Trips


About an hour away from Calitri outside the town of Paternopli is Tenuta Fonzone, a family owned winery. We spent an incredible afternoon here tasting their wines accompanied by plate after plate of local specialties.




You need to make a reservation to visit the winery and I urge you to make a stop here if you are ever in the area. The wines were spectacular and unfortunately I haven’t been able to find them back home.

Closer to Calitri is the town of Monteverde located on  top of hill about a half hour away. When looking for a place to visit I saw Monteverde listed on the website I Borghi Pio’ belli d’Italia.  The town is dominated by a Norman castle and we were lucky to get a private tour by a very nice gentleman who was very proud of his town and was a little  reluctant to let us leave for lunch!





outside town2

Another drive we took a few years back is worth mentioning. Having read about a restaurant in Melito Irpino we set off on “the slow road” passing a shepherd (wearing a New York Yankees cap) and his flock. The old town was destroyed in the 1962 earthquake and we found ruins in the middle of nowhere.

The restaurant-Di Pietro-is the most interesting spot in the new center of town (you can read about it here). The lunch was a three hour affair where we were spoiled by Enzo, the owner. It’s definitely worth a return visit.antipasto

We look forward to exploring more of Irpinia and of course sampling a lot more of the local cuisine.

April 18, 2020


Italy Revisited-Next Stop Calitri

calitri from road

After my week in Lucca last spring we spent a few days in Rome and then took the train across the country and south to Calitri (birthplace of my grandparents). You can’t actually take the train there, which we found out on our first visit. We discovered that what we thought were train tickets ended up being for one train and two buses in order to get up to the town. Now we take a train to Foggia where we rent a car which you absolutely need if you want to explore the beautiful countryside.

calitri view

One of the best things about spending time here is the pace of life. This is not a town that most tourists would visit unless they had a family connection. There are no famous sites, but the entire town-both new and old sections-is authentic small town Italy at its best.




other view

Of course I feel at peace in this hill town since my family came from here. A few years ago I was fortunate to spend time with the town’s genealogist researching the records for my grandparents. The door in the photo below is to the home where my grandmother was born.

The food is classic southern Italian. I am addicted to the pastries at the local pasticceria where we always start our day with a cappuccino and and a pastry or two.  Of course then I feel the need to take a few things to go which they wrap up like a little gift.

The pasta of this area is cingul which is similar cavatelli. It’s made with semolina flour and hot water and served with a tomato sauce.  I never tire of eating this dish and have tried it in various restaurants. I’ve recreated it at home, but it’s never quite the same as eating it in Calitri.

The photos of these ruins were taken at the very top of town in an area that has been abandoned since the 1980 earthquake. It was almost haunting to walk up there through what was once a thriving neighborhood. Nature has completely taken over and wildflowers blossom in and out of the buildings.

up in ruins


ruined house

One evening we stood on the patio of a pizzeria outside the centro at sunset and were treated to this view of the town in an almost magical light.


And perhaps one of my absolute favorite pics was taken up on the patio of our rental. We’re looking out over the hills to Basilicata, the neighboring region.


Best case scenario we will be making new memories back here in the fall.

April 17, 2020


Italy Revisited-First Stop Lucca


For the past ten years April is the month when I pack my bags and head to Italy for my Panini Girl week in Lucca. This year due to a wedding in California in early May I planned my tour for mid September. Little did I know that our world would be shaken up and now I’m wondering if  I’ll even be traveling to Italy in the fall.



I stumbled upon Lucca on my very first trip to Italy nineteen years ago. J. and I were driving from the Sienna area to Milan  (clueless as to how far this trip really was) and saw a sign for Lucca’s centro storico. It was lunch time, we were hungry and we got off the road, parked, found a restaurant and walked on the wall. What a charming place!


My heart goes out to the Italian people. It’s hard to imagine them not out and about socializing, standing  at the bar for their morning coffee, sitting in a piazza chatting with friends, sharing meals with family members. Of course we aren’t doing these things either, but I’ve always felt that these rituals are much more part of the lives of the Italian people than we Americans.



I’m holding out hope that I will be back in Lucca this September, that I’ll be sitting around the dining table with my group, touring wineries, eating gelato, baking bread, making pasta, visiting Florence and being enchanted by all that makes Italy so spectacular.


April 13, 2020


Torta di Pasqua

torta whole

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything-not quite sure why. I’ve been meaning to post about my love for Italy and I just haven’t gotten around to it. Needless to say Italy is on my mind every single day and baking this for Easter lunch is my tribute to the birthplace of my grandparents.

Making this torta is a tradition in our house and it just doesn’t seem like Easter without it. As a college student my grandmother would pack me a piece to go and I would eat it on the train ride back to school. There are certainly variations on this recipe, some with a lot more cheese and meat than the version that I make. Mine is an approximation of what my grandmother made. Served right out of the oven or at room temperature, this classic southern Italian pie is a family favorite. I’ve even been known to sneak a piece out of the fridge!


Pizza Rustica Alla Napoletana

Pasta Frolla (Crust)
2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 large eggs

Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in bowl of food processor and pulse to mix. Evenly distribute butter over mixture and pulse until very finely powdered, about 10 times. Add eggs and continue to pulse until dough forms ball.
Remove dough and press into disc. Wrap and chill. Dough may be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen. If frozen defrost in refrigerator overnight.

1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
1 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
1/4 pound fresh mozzarella cheese
1/4 pound shredded prosciuitto
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 egg beaten with dash salt (for egg wash)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place ricotta in mixing bowl and stir in eggs, 1 at a time to make a smooth mixture. Stir in pepper, cheeses, prosciutto and parsley.
Butter 9 inch springform pan. Cut off 1/3 of dough and roll into a disc and set aside. Roll remaining dough into large disc (about 14 inches) and ease into prepared pan. Spoon in ricotta mixture and spread evenly. Top with smaller piece of dough and fold down edge (of dough in pan) to seal. Brush with egg wash. Make 4 small slits in top of dough.
Bake on bottom rack set on lowest level for about 45 minutes until filling is set and top is golden. Cool in pan for about 10 minutes before unmolding. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.
Makes about 10 servings.

December 13, 2019

no comments

Hazelnut Shortbread Sticks

It’s taken me a while to get into the spirit of holiday baking. I think I was caught off guard because Thanksgiving was so late in November this year. At any rate I now realize that Christmas is less than two weeks away and I’m finally in the kitchen. I have old favorites that I bake every year, but I like to mix it up and try some new cookies. This is one I’ve made before, but it’s been quite a while. I was lucky that I could even find the recipe. I just remembered that my two favorite ingredients were involved-chocolate and hazelnuts!

Hazelnut Shortbread Sticks

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup finely ground husked toasted hazelnuts (about 2 ounces)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 ounces high-quality milk chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina), chopped

1/3 cup coarsely chopped husked toasted hazelnuts

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl until smooth. Beat in 1/2 cup finely ground hazelnuts and vanilla. Beat in flour mixture until just combined.

Shape dough by tablespoonfuls into 3-inch-long logs. Place on prepared baking sheet, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake cookies until light golden brown around edges, about 20 minutes. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool cookies completely.

Stir milk chocolate in top of double boiler over barely simmering water until melted and smooth. Remove from over water. Place 1/3 cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts in small bowl. Dip 1 end of cookie into melted chocolate, then into coarsely chopped hazelnuts. Return to rack. Repeat with remaining cookies. Let stand until chocolate is set, about 1 hour. (Cookies can be made 2 days ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)

Panini Girl In Lucca September 2020  contact me at with questions

October 21, 2019


Polpettine di Pane


I first sampled my new favorite appetizer during our stay at B&B Pietraviva outside of the town of Cisternino in the Valle d’Itria of Puglia. Breakfast is included at this charming trullo and when we heard that it was possible to have dinner prepared for us (at an incredibly fair price) we decided to dine in one evening.



We left the menu up to Giovanni- the son of the owner-who would be our chef for the evening. The only direction we gave him was to keep it simple. And yes, the food was simple, but also plentiful! For starters we sampled various cheeses, capocollo from Martina Franca, fava beans from their property, taralli and the star of the show-polpettine di pane. We couldn’t stop eating these small savory fried balls. They were crispy and cheesy and I wasn’t quite sure what else was in them. I asked Giovanni what they were and he replied “polpettine di pane” which translates to bread meatballs.


The pasta was handmade orecchiette dressed with fave and cherry tomatoes from the garden. Paired with a crisp white wine from the area it was the the perfect representation of the food of Puglia.

Upon our return home I searched for a recipe for the polpettine. I found one that sounded like it might be what we had, but when I made them I found them a little too bready, still tasty, but not as good as Giovanni’s. I sort of put my search on the back burner when I was reading a cookbook (The Southern Italian Farmer’s Table) I’ve had for years when I saw a recipe called Shepherd Style Fried Cheese Fritters. I promptly went to the store, bought some provolone and fried up a batch. They were exactly as I remembered from our dinner at Pietraviva. I’ve since made them twice and although perfect on their own, we love them served with a simple tomato sauce.

Polpettine di Pane

2-1/2 ounces (75g) rustic bread

3 large eggs

7 ounces (200g) mild provolone, grated

3-1/2 ounces (100g) aged pecorino, grated

1-3/4 ounces (50g) Parmigiano Reggiano, grated

Pinch of baking soda

Canola oil for frying

Cut the crust off the bread and discard or reserve for another use. Cut the bread into pieces, put into a food processor and pulse until coarse. Add the eggs, provolone, pecorino, Parmigiano and baking soda and puree until smooth.

Transfer to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely chilled, about 1 hour.

Scoop up a generous teaspoonful of the mixture and shape it into a 1″ ball. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and continue shaping the balls.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (90C).

Heat 1/2 inch canola oil in a large straight sided skillet to 350 degrees. Add the fritters in batches and cook turning occasionally until crisp and brown on all sides. Be sure not to crowd the skillet as this will reduce the temperature of the oil. The balls will cook quickly-about 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to an ovenproof plate lined with paper towels and keep warm in oven while frying the remaining fritters.

Makes: 24

Panini Girl In Lucca September 2020-get in touch at


October 7, 2019


Nutty Crunch Cookies

As you might tell from previous posts I have a thing for hazelnuts.  I found this recipe while once again trying to clean up my ever growing file. When I saw hazelnuts I knew I had to give it a go. There are also almonds involved, but truth be told I couldn’t really taste them in the cookie.  Two sticks seemed like a lot of butter and these cookies are certainly worth it. The finished product is crunchy and buttery and full of hazelnut flavor. I’ve been enjoying them with my morning cappuccino.
Nutty Crunch Cookies
      1 cup blanched hazelnuts
      ½ cup unsalted, roasted almonds
      ½ cup (packed) light brown sugar
      1 teaspoon kosher salt
      ½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
      1½ cups all-purpose flour

      1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces


Preheat oven to 350°. Toast hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.

Combine almonds, brown sugar, salt, and ½ cup hazelnuts in a food processor. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; reserve pod for another use. Pulse until finely ground, then pulse in flour just to combine. Add butter; process until dough just comes together.

Roll dough into 1” balls and place on parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing 2” apart. Flatten cookies to a little less than ½” thick. Coarsely chop remaining ½ cup hazelnuts and press gently into cookies.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until cookies are golden brown, 15–18 minutes. Transfer baking sheets to wire racks and let cookies cool completely.

Yield: 36 cookies

Panini Girl In Lucca September 2020get in touch at

September 20, 2019


Almond Fingers (Ditti di Mandorle)


almond 2

I spend lots of time trying to hold on to the time I’ve spent in Italy. From day dreaming to doing research on places to  visit to trying to recreate dishes from my travels. It’s an obsession I’m happy to have.

I have more cookbooks than I care to admit and a good portion are on Italian food.  One of my favorites is Dolce Italiano-a book on Italian desserts by the incredibly talented pastry chef Gina Di Palma, who unfortunately passed away much too young in 2016.  Gina’s simple Italian desserts helped make Babbo in Greenwich Village one of Manhattan’s most popular restaurants.

I tend not to buy books by restaurant chefs. So many times they are complicated and require ingredients that are not on hand. Not so with this book. Everything I’ve baked has been delicious and the recipes straightforward. This may be the first book that I may actually bake my way through every recipe.

Almond Fingers

2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup almond flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg, separated

Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups blanched, sliced almonds


In a bowl whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and granulated sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg yolk, followed by the lemon zest and vanilla extract, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat in the dry ingredients on low speed to make a stiff dough. Remove the dough from the bowl, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill until it is firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment (or butter them). Place the almonds in a bowl. In another shallow bowl, lightly beat the egg white with a fork until frothy.

Divide the dough into three equal pieces. Work with 1 piece at a time, keeping the others wrapped and refrigerated. Roll the piece of dough into a narrow log 1/2″ in diameter. Cut the log into cylinders about 1-1/2 ” long. Roll each cylinder into egg white and then into sliced almonds to coat. Place on prepared sheets, spacing them about 1/2″ apart. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake the cookies until they are firm and the almonds are lightly golden brown, 14-16 minutes, rotating the sheets 180 degrees halfway through the baking time. Allow the cookies to cool on sheets for 1-2 minutes, then use a spatula to remove them gently to a wire rack to cool completely. Dust the cookies generously with confectioners sugar.

Store between layers of parchment in airtight container. Yield: about 4 dozen

Panini Girl In Lucca September 2020-contact me at with questions or to reserve a spot

September 14, 2019

1 comment

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies


I was thrilled to see a recipe using two of my favorite ingredients-chocolate and hazelnuts. When I order gelato in Italy this is my go-to combination. I saw this recipe on Elizabeth Minchilli’s blog and had the ingredients on hand, so I didn’t hesitate to try them even though the weather really has been too hot to turn on the oven. Ahh-the sacrifices we make for baking!

I always associate hazelnuts with the Piemonte region of Italy, but when staying in my grandparents’ ancestral home of Calitri I discovered that the surrounding Campania area also grows them. Of course I had to bring a bag home with me! Use a good quality cocoa powder and you’ll have cookie that will transport you back to a pasticceria in Italy.

Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies

  • 1 cup of unsweetened or bittersweet cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2  cup sugar
  • 1 cup hazelnuts
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • pinch salt

Preheat oven to 320°F

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

The hazelnuts should be halved. If your hazelnuts are whole, just stick the point of a knife into the nut at the fat, dimpled, end and the nut should break in half pretty easily. Don’t worry if they aren’t perfect.

Place the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt in a bowl and mix to combine.

Crack the eggs into a small bowl, and beat with a fork.

Add the eggs to the flour mixture and mix. The mixture will be very dry and stiff, don’t worry. Use your hands to finish mixing, adding the nuts at the end.

Using your hands, form irregular, raggedy,  mounds, of about a tablespoon of dough each, and drop on cookie sheet, about 1 inch apart. This dough is very sticky so be prepared to to scrape the dough off your fingers. I wore gloves, but honestly it didn’t help much.

Bake for 20 minutes.

Take out of oven and cool. The cookies will be very hard on the outside, and a bit moist and chewy on the inside.If making ahead, store in an airtight container. They will last for up to a week.


Some of my other hazelnut desserts:

Hazelnut Chocolate Cookies

Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkle Cookies

Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake

Chocolate Hazelnut Squares

Chocolate Hazelnut Bites

Hazelnut Cinnamon Crescents

Chocolate Hazelnut Panna Cotta

And speaking of food and Italy …

Panini Girl In Lucca September 2020-get in touch with questions or to reserve a spot: