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

1 comment

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


May 28, 2019


Wine Tasting Fattoria Fubbiano

san gennaro

It was a cool and cloudy day, but that did not stop us from heading out of Lucca to do a little wine tasting at Fattoria Fubbiano.

Located near the town of San Gennaro, the winery is a bit off the main road, reached by skinny lanes winding around and around. Despite the drizzle the scenery was spectacular-fields of vines and groves of olive trees.





We were warmly greeted by the lovely Chiara (sorry no photo…) who gave us a detailed introduction to the property and to the winery. The grounds were spectacular with amazing views of the Tuscan countryside and we all agreed that it would be the perfect spot for a wedding. All of the processing takes place in a very modern underground facility.






The main building used to be the owners’ home and it was built in the seventeenth century. It is a magnificent example of the architecture of Lucca at the time, which is still very well preserved.





In addition to the wines the estate also produces olive oil. Below is a photo of the ancient wheel used for pressing the olives. Today the olives are taken to a facility using the latest technology for the production of olive oil.




We headed inside to the tasting room where we first sampled olive oil in small blue glasses. Chiara instructed us to cup the glass in our hand in order to warm the olive. Next we took a little sniff and then tasted. The oil was grassy and peppery and I would have purchased some to take home, but it was too early in my trip to be carrying a bottle around with me. If you are in Lucca and see Fubbiano oil for sale by all means get a bottle. Next up was the real purpose of our day-to try the wines! We tasted a few whites and a rose while nibbling on bruschetta with tomatoes.



Moving on to the reds we were served crusty Tuscan bread, pecorino cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto and salami as we progressed from the Colline Lucchese Rosso to the Supertuscan- I Pampini . I enjoyed each of the wines, but of course the Supertuscan was my favorite.




If you happen to be staying in the Lucca area do not hesitate to contact Maria at MLF Tuscan Tours to organize an outing for you. Last year she planned a day at Fattoria del Teso near the town of Montecarlo for us. She knows the area well and can arrange a day to suit your needs. Thanks Maria for suggesting Fattoria Fubbiano-we thoroughly enjoyed our day there.





May 27, 2019


Eating Florence Food Tour


Not that we weren’t getting enough to eat in Lucca, but a vacation in Tuscany just doesn’t seem to be complete with a day in Florence. Of course you could spend weeks on end exploring this amazing city, but unfortunately we didn’t have that much time. History, art, architecture at every turn, but as you might have expected we were there for the food. You could certainly amble around on your own, but why not get the real scoop from an insider and taste your way around town with a pro.

As a few of the group had already taken a food tour of Florence on a previous Panini Girl In Lucca trip I decided it was time to discover the Oltrarno-the less touristy neighborhood on the other side of the Arno river. We spent almost four hours with Omar from Eating Europe food tours and were treated to a variety of foods that were not only Tuscan, but also typically Florentine.


Our first stop was a bar where we learned a bit about the coffee culture of Italy while we sipped a macchiatone (a larger version of a macchiato-espresso with a splash of milk.)  We sampled a typical Tuscan breakfast pastry-a budino di riso, which just happens to be my absolute favorite. Italians don’t usually spend much time over their caffe and neither did we as there were more tastes on the way.





Next was a food kiosk that is known for its lampredotto which is very Florentine.   Lampredotto is the fourth and final stomach of a cow, generally slow-cooked with tomato, onion, parsley, and celery until it has the texture of tender roast beef. I knew that some of the group might be reticent to try this, but no one backed away from tasting the tiny roll filled with the organ meat that was topped with a garlicky green sauce. Did I love it-not really but I was glad I finally had tried it!



My favorite stop on the tour was the family run pasticceria where we lucky to get a private demonstration from the baker on making cantucci-the cookie that you probably know as biscotti. The gentleman in the above photo started in his family’s shop when he was thirteen and has been working there for the past seventy years-yes he’s 83!


He was charming and we were delighted to sample three different flavors. The pastry cases in the front of the shop were stocked with diminutive pastries that were surely tempting us, but we had other foods to sample and so we said our good byes to Roberto and headed off.






A short walk away was a tiny shop selling cheese and salumi. Here we were treated to finocchiona salami (fennel spiced), a local pecorino cheese and of course Parmigiano Reggiano. Our guide was a friend of the owner and there was even a photo of him on the wall as a teenager!

Even though it was still morning we didn’t shy away from indulging in some Tuscan wine at a small enoteca which was paired with the saltless Tuscan bread drizzled with a grassy olive oil. I was starting to get full!





Hard to believe but there was more food to come and so Omar led us to a trattoria hidden on a back street for a little bit of lunch. We were served two Florentine specialties-ribollita and peposo. Ribollita is actually a soup (vegetables including cavolo nero and cannellini beans and thickened with bread) although you might not realize that from looking at the picture below on the left. I’ve had it before, but this is certainly the heartiest version I’ve ever sampled and it was amazing. Peposo is a peppery beef stew cooked in red wine. It was melt in your mouth tender and perfect with a potato puree.



As you might imagine there was one more stop on our tour-a little dessert at a artisanal gelateria. This one was named one of the top thirty gelaterias in the country. I have a hard time straying from my go to flavors-nocciola e pistachio-hazelnut and pistachio- and I was not disappointed.



Thanks to Omar and Eating Europe for a fun food filled day in Florence! It’s not too early to think about joining next year’s Panini Girl tour…

May 15, 2019


In The Kitchen-Lucca Cooking Class


Eight 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.





We began the class by making the dessert first since it needed time to chill-panna cotta with a fresh strawberry sauce. From there we moved on to our starter which was fried pizza dough that we ate topped with salumi. I grew up eating pizza fritta, but we always topped ours with a marinara sauce and a little pecorino romano cheese. There is something incredibly satisfying about the combination of the warm dough and the salty and somewhat fatty salumi. Oh-don’t let me forget to mention the creamy stracchino cheese.





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 preparing fresh pasta is a lot easier than you think. After we each took a turn at mixing the dough Alessandra demonstrated the traditional method of rolling pasta using a matterello (rolling pin) that had belonged to her grandmother. She made it look easy, but she also knew that it would be best if we used the traditional hand cranked pasta machine to roll out our dough.



Last year when I stayed in Lucca with a group of friends I had Alessandra and her side kick Tamara cater a dinner for us. She served us what was probably one of the best baked pasta dishes I had ever eaten-tordellata.  I had never heard of it and she explained that it’s based on the ingredients in tordelli-the traditional stuffed ravioli of Lucca. When I had planned the menu for the cooking class with Alessandra she suggested making this with the group.

Since we had a limited amount of time for our class (not enough time for a baked dish) we would  prepare the tordellata two ways-one which we would eat that evening where the pasta was tossed with the ingredients-spinach, parmigiano, ricotta, nutmeg and a meat ragu. The other would be the baked version for the following evening where we added a béchamel sauce to the other ingredients.




Hard to believe but we weren’t yet finished with the class. Next was our main course which was a pork loin roast with an onion sauce that was prepared on top of the stove (sorry no photos).  The onions were slow cooked and rendered to a sauce that was both sweet and creamy. The peppers I’ve prepared at home many times-a saute of tri- colored peppers and shallots cooked in a tomato basil sauce with a little touch of fresh mint .

As much as we thought we would never be able to move on to eating dessert, we did. The panna cotta  was the perfect finale-rich, silky smooth and yet light. Not only were all the courses classic and representative of the cuisine of Lucca, but they were not at all difficult to prepare.

Thank you to Alessandra and Tamara for teaching, feeding and entertaining us!

And as a side note, the baked tordellata that we ate the next night was worth the wait…




May 13, 2019


With The Baker

the view

Want to have a day filled with amazing scenery, lots of laughs, fabulous food and learn to bake the traditional bread of the Garfagnana? All you need to do is join in on a Panini Girl In Lucca tour and you too can experience what we did on this sunny Monday in the mountains outside of Lucca. Up and around we went passing tiny towns clinging to hillsides, snow capped mountains off in the distance. Our destination was the borgo of Petrognola where we would spend the day with Paolo, the town’s baker.

Paolo  (with our guide Francesca translating) gave us a good introduction to exactly what he does on his farm.  His mother was the local bread maker and he has carried on the tradition after her passing. Paolo introduced us to the various types of flours and the basic ingredients that go into his bread and we were thrilled to know that we would each be making our own loaf.

We each went up to his work station and took turns ricing hot potatoes into the flour mixture and then gave it a go trying to incorporate the water into the dry ingredients.

Next came the kneading, which is no easy feat for the seven loaves we were  making, but nothing compared to the two hundred loaves Paolo usually makes on the weekend (with the help of a mixer) for the neighboring towns.

We each formed our own loaf with a little guidance from Paolo and set them to rise while we adjourned to his dining room for a mid morning snack. We sampled locally cured meats and cheese with freshly baked bread along with piping hot pasta fritta (fried dough). What a delight to break open one of the pastry balls and stuff the prosciutto and cheese inside!


Paolo added wood to the oven which was already hot as he had already baked bread earlier in the morning before our arrival.



Once the loaves were risen Paolo cleaned out the oven and in went the bread. Before they went into the oven each loaf was marked with our initial so that we knew exactly who had made each loaf. Truth be told they all looked just about the same!


One hour until the finished product so we took time to tour the farm where Paolo grows farro which was used in the bread and the pasta fritta. Below is the charming Francesca showing us the farro.


When our loaves came out of the oven it was time for lunch prepared by Daniela, Paolo’s wife.  First course was farrotto, a creamy risotto like dish made with farro and leeks. I’ll definitely be preparing this once I’m home with farro grown on the farm. Next was comfort in a bowl-polenta with a tomato sugo with pork and sausage-the perfect dish for an unseasonably cold spring day. It was pretty hard to choose a favorite! We ended with a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with wild blueberries


We each left with a big loaf of bread under our arms and smiles on our faces. A big thank you to Paolo, Daniela and Francesca for making this day so special and to Erica from Sapori e Saperi who arranged this outing for our group.