Can I go back to Italy now?

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our country hotel in Assisi

I just got back from Italy and I want to go back right now.

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Piazza Navona, Roma

Happens every time. It is never enough. Perhaps even living there is never enough (it wasn’t when I DID live there!).

What is it about that country? Okay, I’m second generation Italian-American. So there’s that this-feels-like-home phenomenon. But STILL. The small groups that I lead there are Americans from different descents, and they, TOO, want to stay for extended periods of time.

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my group with the proprietors of our Assisi hotel

Italy is the charming country. It’s the beauty. The food…

ravioli w crispy pancetta

Siena lunch: ravioli w crispy pancetta

…the People…

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Every Italian is thrilled with fresh porcini season…here at Mastro Donato In Testaccio, Roma

…the differences between regions. Differences between cities, towns. The food…

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pizza at Mercato Centrale in Firenze

…Striking mountains. Lush hills…

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hills in Tuscany

…Stunning coastlines. Coffee…

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Siena breakfast

…History. Monuments. Art…

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Venus by Botticelli at Uffizi Galleries in Firenze

…Fountains…

…Food…

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Bistecca Fiorentina in Firenze

…Philosophy of life.

And it’s shaped like a boot. What other country is clever enough to be shaped like something so recognizable?

On this recent trip, my group and I tasted the food of Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio. We dove particularly deep into Firenze, Roma, and Chianti country. I brought back many new recipes from these experiences, and am inspired to recreate many more.

One of my favorites is below. We visited a small winery in the Chianti Classico region, where they served us lunch. The star of the menu was pasta cooked in Chianti wine. Delicious! And so simple. See the recipe below and do try it. Enjoy! Ciao for now…

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pasta cooked in Chianti for our wine-tasting at Brogioni Maurizio Montefioralle

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Maurizio, the producer, telling us about the process of wine-making

Pasta Cooked in Chianti Wine (serves 2-3)

1/2 cup chopped pancetta (or bacon)

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 lb. cut pasta, such as fusilli or farfalle

3/4 cup Chianti wine or favorite dry red wine

1/4 cup grated parmigiano or pecorino or combination

4-5 fresh sage leaves, diced, stems discarded

salt & pepper to taste

Place a pasta pot of water on the heat. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, place the olive oil and chopped pancetta in a small frying pan. Cook until pancetta cooks through and browns a bit. Reserve in pan.

When water has boiled, salt water well, add pasta and cook until almost done, just before al dente or to al dente (softness of your cooked pasta is up to you, but Italians don’t like it too soft…pasta will cook some more in the wine).

Start heating wine while pasta is boiling. Pour wine into a sauté pan with at least 2-inch sides. Bring wine to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt to wine. When pasta is al dente, scoop out with a strainer and add pasta to the wine. Let it cook in wine at a lively simmer, stirring, for about 2 minutes until wine is mostly or all absorbed. Take off the heat, or transfer pasta to a bowl.

Season with salt and pepper. Pour in pancetta with its oil. Sprinkle and stir in cheese. Sprinkle and stir in diced sage leaves. Stir to combine. Serve.

Italian Cooking Party cookbook!

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It was a while in the making but it’s finally here! My new cookbook.

Italian Cooking Party

A Little Bit of Italy at Home

“Italian Cooking Party” captures the spirit and excitement of my Nashville Italian cooking parties. Over 100 authentic Italian recipes to cook at home and inspire your own Italian cooking parties.

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With hints on how to stock your Italian kitchen, recipes for each course of the Italian table, scrumptious menus, how to linger at the table Italian-style, plus taking it on the road to Italy.

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I’ve been leading Italian cooking parties in Nashville since 2009 to an enthusiastic circle of cooking enthusiasts. The intimate parties inspire Italian culture in the kitchen and at the table.

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That authentic Italian touch fills the book with my recipes and tips for everyone to bring a little bit of Italy home: Italian Cooking Party

Alimentum Books

178 pages

$30

Click here for more info.

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Spaghetti. With Shrimp. In just a few minutes.

Shrimp Pasta

Shrimp Pasta

Okay, I used linguine. But you get the idea. When I was in my twenties in my first NY apartment (studio, 4 floor walk-up) I used to soothe myself from the barrage of NY (a barrage I loved) with sautéed shrimp and angel hair pasta mixed with butter. It sealed up the insanity and made me feel whole again.

That was a long time ago (yet very crystal clear).  But these days I don’t stray too far from that brand of comfort food. Still with the shrimp. Still with the pasta. But minus the butter (olive oil instead). And a couple of added goodies.

Here goes:

First off, I cut the shrimp in half lengthwise it makes a nice shape when cooked and gives you more shrimp to the mouthful. Figure about 1 pound of shrimp to almost a pound of pasta (two-thirds?).

Shrimp

Shrimp

Then I heat some olive oil in a large sauté pan. When hot I sauté the shrimp until opaque, then take them out.

Shrimp on pan

Shrimp in pan

Now add some diced onion and minced garlic to the pan. Let them cook and soften (add some more olive oil if needed). Then add diced up fresh tomato and diced up lemon — including the peel…gives you a nice surprise bite of lemon. Let that sauté till hot.

Onions, Garlic, Tomato, Lemon

Onions, Garlic, Tomato, Lemon

Add about a half-cup of dry white wine…

Add wine

Add wine

Let wine evaporate by half and let the mixture sauté nicely while you start boiling the pasta…

pasta water

pasta water

And making the breadcrumbs. I heat a little oil in a small sauté pan, add about a cup of panko crumbs, season with salt & pepper, and sauté until breadcrumbs brown to deep golden.

browning the breadcrumbs

browning the breadcrumbs

Add the shrimp back to the pan w the onion-garlic-tomato-lemon mixture just as the pasta is almost done. Drain pasta, reserve some cooking liquid, add pasta to pan with shrimp. Toss to coat and to let pasta absorb some of the tasty juices. Add some pasta water if too dry and another drizzle of olive oil. Season to your liking with salt & pepper and a little hot pepper. Add a good dusting of breadcrumbs.

Shrimp w Lingiune

Shrimp w Linguine

I promise you the cares of your day will melt away. This is especially fun eating quietly while watching a favorite, also comforting, TV show. Not the news. A comforting TV show. That makes you giggle. Or draws you into the story and characters. An old movie is perfect. Preferable something from the 1930’s or 40′ or 50’s or early 60’s.

See that? It can be easy to feel good.