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.



May 5, 2019

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Let The Week Begin!



I’ve spent a wonderful first week on my own in my adopted home of Lucca, wandering down streets I’ve never explored, walking on the wall early mornings before the town has awoken, discovering new shops that have opened since my last visit and last but not least, sampling the food. I enjoy staying in the eastern part of town a bit removed from the hustle and bustle of the popular shops and tourist attractions, but certainly close enough to join in the action.


As much as I can entertain myself when I’m here on my own, I’m thrilled for the arrival of my Panini Girl Tour participants. Many flights and layovers later the group arrived in time for happy hour and despite a bit of jet lag, everyone rallied for our welcome dinner at Trattoria Gigi.


Stay tuned for our fun filled week!


Trattoria Gigi Piazza Carmine, Lucca 





April 27, 2019


Spring In Lucca

After a brief stopover in England I made my way to Italy and arrived in Lucca last night. As the plane landed in Pisa I couldn’t help but have this huge smile on my face. A quick bus ride later and I was in town. My Panini Girl Tour starts next Saturday so I have a week to get acclimated, do some exploring  and just enjoy being in one of my favorite places in Italy.


I’ve arrived in time for the annual flower festival honoring Santa Zita, the patron saint of the the city. Two of the city’s piazzas are filled with flower displays in honor of Santa Zita. Legend has it that while working in the home of a nobleman back in the 1200s, she frequently took some bread to feed the poor. One day she was stopped and asked what she was carrying and when she opened her apron, flowers fell out.




The town is bustling! The anfiteatro where the main exhibition is located is filled with flowering plants, herbs, trees, bushes and hundreds of locals shopping for their gardens. I feel compelled to buy something to have in my apartment. Wish I could say I had a house here with a yard to plant…





As much as I enjoyed perusing the plants the main focus of my day was hitting my food shops. More on that later!


April 23, 2019

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Italian Easter Pie

easter pie

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 served. I’ve written about it in the past, but it is certainly worth sharing again. 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.


pie and salad