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

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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

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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

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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:

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


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’s hard to believe, but one of them had relatives living in the 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 Fonzone 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)