Cellar Tours Blog

Archive for the ‘italian gourmet’ Category

What could be more evocative of the famed Italian Dolce Vita than sipping cocktails under an open summer sky, reveling in the magic of one of the world’s greatest cities – Rome?

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The Italian capital, of course, hardly needs an introduction. This vibrant and historic city is as culturally rich and architecturally stunning as the come. The nightlife scene, after a somewhat slow start, is now one of the best in Italy: bars, restaurants, cafes and pubs to suit all tastes and budgets. In addition, stylish rooftop bars now abound in Rome, glamorous destinations where you can dress to kill and enjoy pre-dinner cocktails.

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The scene is largely dominated by 5-star hotels in Rome, meaning you’re likely to enjoy suitably chic surroundings, a great cocktail list and utterly professional service. Many serve a large selection of wines, and smaller plates; the perfect proposition for oenophiles and those who want to avoid a full blown meal.

The following are some of our favorite roof bars in Bella Roma:

Terrace Bramante bar at Hotel Raphael, Piazza Navona, 00186, Rome

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There is no better way to start an evening than sipping a cocktail at the gorgeous hotel Raphael, overlooking Rome’s famous Piazza Navona. It affords wonderful views of the Vatican, the surrounding colorful rooftops and energy from the square below. The atmosphere in the evening is unbeatable and the wine selection impressive! Hotel Raphael has one of the best cellars in Rome, including some top Champagnes and fine wines from across the globe. There is better food in Rome, but it would be hard to imagine a finer position. Whatever you fancy: morning coffee, a pre-lunch aperitif or an evening cocktail, you’re bound to fall in love with this little slice of heaven in Rome.

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The American bar at Hotel Forum, 25 Via Tor de’ Conti, 00184, Rome.

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Situated at the heart of Rome’s ancient center, the American Bar at the Forum has prime position for admiring the city’s Roman heritage, whilst sipping a glass of Prosecco (or five!) The bar has become a popular place to meet before a night out, for both visitors and locals who come for the amazing 360 degree views of the Imperial Forum and across to the Piazza Venezia, but stay for the cocktails and delicious bar snacks. The rooftop restaurant is also one of the finest in the city, and will happily accommodate both hotel guests and visitors. The atmosphere is tranquil yet vibrant, making this special space the perfect spot for a bit of romance with a loved one. Undoubtedly, one of Rome’s best roof-top bars!

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La Terrazza Rose bar, St. George Hotel, Via Giulia, 62, 00186, Rome

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A sophisticated cut above the rest, La Terrazza Rose has an effortless chic about it. Offering a unique concept unheard of in Rome – at least to our knowledge – the bar is devoted solely to rosé wines and champagnes. The views from this sleek, cream colored space are some of the best in Rome, attracting a well-heeled, chic crowd. They come for the comfortable setting but stay for the incredible selection of rose by the glass. All this pink stuff is bound to work up an appetite, luckily La Terazza rose serves a mouth-watering selection of seafood, the oysters being a particular highlight. With such stunning vistas over the capital in this setting, and superlative rose on tap, it’s not hard to see why La Terazza is rarely anything less than packed.

Terrace at the Hotel Exedra, Piazza della Repubblica, 47 00187 Rome

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Facing the imposing Piazza della Republica in central Rome, lies a gem of a pool bar and restaurant, always full at weekends with revelers enjoying a poolside cocktail. The terrace overlooks the spectacular fountain of the Naiads and the church of Santa Maria degli Agneli – quintessential Rome then! Visitors can use the pool (for a fee) and are welcome to sip a cocktail until 1am or enjoy a lavish dinner overlooking the pool. The Exedra also has one of the best Champagne bars in Rome, Champagnerie Tazio, where you can enjoy a formidable selection of local and international fizz by the glass, including top Champagnes like Dom Perignon and Krug.

Roof Garden Bar, hotel Minerva, Piazza della Minerva, 69, 00186, Rome

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Effortlessly chic, grand and intimate at the same time, the historic and luxury hotel Minerva has one of the most elegant terrace bars in the entire city. The roof garden is a blissful haven away from the chaos and traffic of Rome; the white tuxedo jacketed staff are effortlessly professional and welcoming, offering both guests and visitors a large choice of Champagnes, cocktails and wines by the glass. There is often a pianist playing soothing music, creating a lovely soft ambiance for admiring the wonderful views of the Piazza Venezia and St Peters in the background. A fantastic space for the great and the good to meet, which manages to remain decidedly un-pretentious!

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0-300 Roof Garden at Restaurant All’Oro, Via de Vantaggio, 14 – 00186 Rome

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0-300 degrees wins the award for coolest Rome nightspot. Situated on top of the Michelin starred All’oro restaurant, diners and revellers can enjoy a range of superlative small plates and snacks on a small, delightful terrace, ranging from crudo, raw fish and hams to delicious seafood and meat appetizers cooked on an outside grill. The views, as you’d hope in Rome are amazing; the hot ticket is before sunset, watching the sun disappear behind the Vatican whilst sipping a cocktail. Which incidentally, are some of the best and most inventive in Rome, head chef Riccardo di Giacinto loves the weird and wonderful. We’d go for the croccante all’amarena, a heady concoction of chocolate, crème de lait and cherry.

Champagnerie ai Limoni – Grand Hotel Plaza, Via Del Corso, 126 – 00186, Rome

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A wonderful secluded hideaway hidden deep inside Rome’s touristy historic center, the Champagne terrace of the hotel Grand Plaza offers an irresistible combination of fizz on tap and suitably romantic atmosphere. A small space adorned with citrus trees and flowers gives unrivalled views of the Piazza di Spagna and medieval Rome. The list of cocktails is impressive, but you all know why you really came here – for the fizz! Make the waiters happy by sticking to Italian Franciacorta, or splash out on vintage bubbly from Champagne, but whatever your choice you’re guaranteed a memorable evenings at this little slice of Italian heaven.

Just be aware that opening times are limited and weather permitting: weekends 6pm – midnight.

Enjoy the Roman Summer!!

Insiders Guide to Truffles in Italy

Posted by gen On November - 27 - 2013

Insiders Guide to Truffles in Italy- By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Specialist

Truffles are a gourmet delicacy, one of the most expensive and desired in the world. Foodies  swoon over them, international top chefs search them out and bid for them at auction, and truffles are without a doubt one of the priciest and most precious food stuffs on the planet.


Although truffles are in such high demand and so appreciated, they are still shrouded in mystery for many and so we decided to chat with some of the professional truffle hunters and producers we work with in different regions of Italy, to ask them the numerous questions we get regularly asked by our tartufi loving guests. We spoke to Natale and Giorgio Romagnolo in Piedmont, Cristiano Savini in Tuscany and Saverio and Gabriella Bianconi in Umbria .


Herewith, our FAQ and TRUFFLES 101>

CELLAR TOURS- What are truffles?

Truffles are an underground Ascomycete fungi. They grow symbiotically with specific tree roots, called in Italian  “simbionti” and require unique microclimatic conditions. They have an external part, called the “peridio”, which may have different textures and colors depending on the kind of truffle, and an inner, pulpy part, called the “gleba”.



The word “truffle” has a Latin origin. It comes from the word “tuber” which means “lump”. Over the centuries, it evolved to became “tufer” and all the European terms derive from that: tartufi (Italy), trufa (Spain), truffe (France),  Trüffel (Germany), trufa (Portugal), trufel (Poland), tryffle (Sweden), only to name a few.

CELLAR TOURS- How are truffles created and how do they grow?

We need to dust off those biology books we studied at school! Like all fungi, truffles come from spores. In spring, the spores in the soil germinate and produce very thin filaments around the roots of specific trees. At the end of spring/summer, these filaments colonize the plant’s roots and grow special “organs”, called mycorrhiza, which provides the fungus with a relatively constant and direct access to carbohydrates, such as glucose and sucrose, from the plant. In return, the plant gains the benefits of higher absorptive capacity for water and mineral nutrients. In fall/winter, mycorrhizas push the vegetative part the fungus, called mycelium, to grow and this  will become the fruiting body of the fungus, namely the truffle.

As truffles are underground, they cannot spread spores in the air; that’s why they have a distinctive and strong scent. Some animals (pigs, dogs, squirrels, rats, foxes, moles, etc) are attracted by this aroma, they eat the truffle and spore dispersal is guaranteed.

Trees species that “produce” white truffles include poplar, oak, linden, sometimes also hazel. Truffles prefer argillaceous or calcareous soils which are well drained. They require a chilly, humid microclimate, with average temperatures of 6°C/42.8 F.

CELLAR TOURS- Where do you find truffles?

White truffle, the precious Tuber Magnatum Pico,  is not common nor easy to find; the only places in the world where you can find it are: Northern Italy (Piedmont),  Central Italy (Tuscany, Marche, Umbria) and in small areas of Istria and Slovenia. The best, most coveted white truffles are the ones from Alba, Acqualagna and San Miniato.


You can find Black truffles in Europe (Italy,  Spain, France, Greece, Turkey), in Northern Africa, in New Zealand, in Asia and in America.

CELLAR TOURS- How many kinds of truffles are there? At what times during the year can you find truffles?

All over the world, you have several kind of truffles, 63 are the ones classified as Tuber. In Italy, you have about 25 different truffles, but only 9 of them are cataloged as  edible. Each kind of truffle has its own season.

The truffles you can usually find in the market are the following 6, for each one you can see its season (it can change depending on specific region):


Tuber magnatum Pico – precious white truffle – from the middle of September to end of January

Tuber melanosporum Vitt. – precious  black truffle or Norcia black truffle – from the middle of November to the middle of March

Tuber aestivum Vitt.  – Summer black truffle – from the middle of June to the end of August; from beginning of October to the end of November

Tuber borchii Vitt. – “whitish” truffle – from the middle of January to the end of April

Tuber brumale Vitt. – winter black truffle – from middle of December to the end of March

Tuber macrosporum Vitt. – black truffle- from October to December

Usually, you are not allowed to hunt truffles from the end of August to the middle of September.

CELLAR TOURS- What are the differences between the black and white truffle?

The main difference you can see is, of course, how they look. White truffles have a smooth layer, from white to ochre color outside and white- hazelnut color inside. Black truffles have a rough , black or dark brown rind. Inside it is white – hazelnut if it is summer black truffle, black or dark grey if winter black truffle.


But the most important difference is their aroma.  White truffles have a stronger aroma, a wider range of perfumes and a “symphony” of scents: garlic, honey, spices, hay, just to name a few. Black truffles have a less powerful smell and are less complex, more reminiscent of  mushroom, soil, underbrush.

Do not forget that white truffles are less common than black ones and can be found in a very limited area in the world, because they need an extremely specific microclimate and tree roots to grow. That’s why the price is also very different. White truffle can cost up to 7 or 10 times more than the black one.

CELLAR TOURS- Do you use pigs to truffle hunt?

In previous centuries, pigs were used to go truffle hunting, especially female swines, which are particularity attracted to the truffle´s heady scent. They were hard to control though, as being pigs, it was difficult to stop them from gobbling up the precious truffles.


Truffle pigs have now generally been replaced by truffle dogs, as dogs are easier to manage and to train and much more disciplined.

CELLAR TOURS- Which dog breeds are the best ones for truffle hunting?

You don’t really have truffle hunting dog breeds as such, but some feature qualities particularly  suitable for this activity. Pointing breeds –  such as pointer, Italian bracco, Italian spinone, Setter, Cocker Spaniel –  are very good, even moreso if the dog comes from  a crossbreed. Recently, the Lagotto breed and the labrador breed have also proven very popular in Italy.

To be a good truffle hunter, a dog needs an excellent sense of smell, endurance, intelligence, learning ability and adaptability.


CELLAR TOURS-  What do you need to know before buying truffles, especially precious white ones?

The best way to be sure to buy a good truffle is to know the truffle hunter or the truffle trader and to trust his honesty and accuracy, as we can do now, after many years of cooperation with our “truffle partners”! This, of course, is not always possible, so here some guidelines: first of all, try to buy fresh truffles at well known, certified markets, fair and auctions and check the average price on the market for that specific year and kind of truffle you want to buy; then check the truffle with your sight, touch and smell.

Visual examination:

Truffle has to be clean and intact. It is not whole, it could have hangers -on or be ruined by the dog during the hunt. If it has dark spots, it might be rotten. Be sure that holes are not filled with soil and that the color is not altered with corn flour or anything similar.

Physical examination:

If you gently press the truffle, it has to have a good level of consistency. If it is gummy or elastic, it is not fresh.

Nasal examination:

Precious white truffle has a pleasant, agreeable, well balanced aroma. If you smell ammonia, methane or fermented notes, this suggests it is not fresh.


At a restaurant, always ask to see the truffles before they slice them on the food and check them as described above. If price is per gram, ask to check the weight. An average portion is usually 10 grams and costs about 40 euros.

CELLAR TOURS- How do you store truffles? How long can you keep them?

Fresh truffles have to be eaten as soon as possible, especially white ones. You can store them for a limited length of time, wrapping them individually in a humid cloth, putting in a glass jar with airtight closure, at 3-6°C (37.4/42.8 F), like the fridge. If you change the cloth every day you can keep white truffle for about a week and black ones for about 2 weeks.

Generally speaking, the white truffles found in November and December usually last longer than the ones of the beginning of the season (September and October).

Black truffles (usually not the precious Norcia black truffle, but the summer black ones) can be frozen, once sliced, but never  do this with white truffles!

You can also process truffles to preserve them.

You can grind black truffle or slice white truffle and mix it carefully with butter and a pinch of salt. You can use this butter to add a truffle flavor to all your recipes and food and it will last for about a month.

With black truffles (summer and winter ones), you can cut them and whirl them in a blender with extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt, to get a thick sauce, that you can put i glass jar. It lasts about 40 days or you can even freeze it.

You can do pretty much the same with the whitish truffle (Bianchetto, NOT with the Magnum Pico): you slice it, scald in extra virgin olive oil and then put in glass jar, to be sterilized in hot water for about 15 minutes.

The easiest alternative is to buying fresh truffle is to buying preserved truffle or truffled food, but only from professional and trustworthy merchants and transformers and always check the percentage of truffle in each product. Excellent producers are Savini, Bianconi, Boscovivo, Tartuflanghe, which proposes a couple of new and innovative ways to conserve truffles.


CELLAR TOURS- What are the best ways to eat truffles?

The best way to eat the precious white truffle Magnum Pico (and also Bianchetto) is without any doubt to have it fresh – as fresh as possible – and sliced. You can use it on hot dishes, like risotto, hand made egg pasta, fried egg, fondue – or on cold dishes, like tartare or salad of raw Caesar’s mushrooms.

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Norcia black truffle can be used raw (but ground and not sliced) on food or cooked.

Other black truffles express their best if heated, so you should briefly cook them. A great match is with anchovies, in sauce.

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CELLAR TOURS- How much do truffles cost?

Truffles are seasonal products, so their availability, quality and therefore price can vary from year to year, depending on rainfall, temperature and climatic aspects. Also shape and size effect price.

The precious white truffle, the Tuber Pico Magnum, is the most expensive one; this 2013 season, you can find it from 1000 to 3000 euros per kilo (2.2 pounds), depending on the size and region of origin.

Here you can check the average price of the precious white truffle of Alba.

Is there anything else you want to know about truffles? Have we peaked your curiosity? Don´t hesitate to drop us a line!


Photo credits: http://www.tuber.it – Tartufotto Milano –  http://www.tartufibianconi.it – http://www.savinitartufi.it/ – http://www.lacasadeltrifulau.it/ – http://www.tartuflanghe.it

Tuscany in the Fall

Posted by gen On November - 8 - 2013

Tuscany in the Fall- By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Specialist

Tuscany is the ideal destination for a gourmet wine tasting getaway in the autumn! Imagine freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil on bruschetta; exquisite white truffles  shaved over handmade pasta; aromatic porcini mushrooms and roast chestnuts; pumpkin and sage stuffed pasta; ripe figs wrapped in prosciutto;  manicured olive groves and vineyards with flaming red and orange leaves; velvety red wines on a chilly, sunny afternoon, medieval castles and stone villas …. this is Tuscany in the Fall.

There are few places on earth so idyllic and beautiful which tantalize all the senses like La Toscana

Poderi di Luigi Einaudi

We were lucky to attend Buy Tuscany a few weeks ago and visit some of our favorite suppliers to touch base and check the state of the wear and tear. Things were looking great! We are happy to recommend the following hand selected hotels for your next vacation in Tuscany, ones that have worked very well this last season and where you are sure to have a fabulous time- buon viaggio!

Relais Borgo San Felice

Immersed in the sublime Chianti wine country, surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, this Relais & Chateaux is actually an entire small hamlet. It´s got movie set narrow streets, a Romanesque church and medieval buildings which house 46 elegant rooms and suites. Being a historic structure there is no elevator but there are 5 rooms on the ground floor for those who can´t do stairs. After a late breakfast, the perfect relaxed day can start with a visit to the winery onsite, followed by an excellent Tuscan lunch at Poggio Rosso, where 2 Michelin starred chef Francesco Bracali prepares dishes based on local culinary traditions with his hint of personal creativity. Next season they will be offering exciting new cooking classes.

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Castello di Casole

Recently opened after a long and careful restoration by Timbers Resorts, this wonderful huge estate welcomes you with a cypress-lined lane that leads to the elegant main courtyard of the castle that dates back to the year 998. In the main area and building the hotel offers 41 suites, mixing Tuscan and contemporary styles. There are also some villas and farmhouses scattered throughout the extensive estate (available also for sale).
Not far from the hotel, in cooperation with winemaker Paolo Caciorgna, Castello di Casole produces 2 wines: Dodici and ‘C’, both private-label signature wines, which are available only to owners and guests. Very exclusive.


Castel Monastero

Located in one of the most beautiful areas of the Chianti Classico wine region, the hotel is a respectfully restored medieval village. The buildings, distributed in different areas of the estate, are divided into “contrade” and house 74 luxury rooms and suites. While the village is in classic Tuscan style, the rooms have a chic, modern design which retains a warm and intimate atmosphere.  The Gourmet Highlight is celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay´s restaurant, Contrada.


Villa Armena

A stunning late Renaissance villa made with red brick, surrounded by gentle hills (this is quintessential Tuscan countryside), dotted with oak trees, wheat fields and cypresses: this is Villa Armena. Very intimate and cozy, it is owned and run by Edoardo and Elena (together with newborn Leo and bulldog Franco), a sweet and professional couple that really make you feel at home, as if you were old friends. After a day of  tasting Brunello di Montalcino or a visit to the white truffle fair in nearby San Giovanni d’Asso village, this is a great place to relax and enjoy the peace of Tuscan countryside. Dine in at restaurant Sorbo Allegro, where you will be be pampered by chef Carlo Valeri, who recently won the  prestigious Gualtiero Marchesi award. Recommended!!


Borgo Scopeto

Feel like you are a galaxy away from the trials and tribulations of modern life, yet in reality you are onlya short distance from Siena-  Borgo Scopeto is a classic Tuscan “borgo”.  Once home to the famous Sozzini dynasty, it is now a beautifully restored and elegant hotel- a tasteful blend of traditional and contemporary styles. Borgo Scopeto is also an agricultural  estate, producing wine and extra virgin olive oil, that you can sample at their fancy La Tinaia restaurant or directly at the winery, not far from the relais. Dreamy!

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Il Borgo Castello Banfi

If you’ve always dreamed about being a prince or princess  then this is the right place for you! Owned by world famous Banfi winery, it is housed in a real castle in the ethereal Montalcino countryside and offers 14 fantastic rooms and suites furnished and decorated by Federico Forquet, with exclusive accessories. You can dine in the classic Tuscan restaurant in the medieval castle, sampling traditional dishes like pinci (which is called “pici” in the rest of the region of Siena). This is a thick, hand-rolled pasta, that you can learn to make during a fun and interesting cooking class on site.

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Il Falconiere

The ultimate Under the Tuscan Sun experience. Experience true Tuscan living at this welcoming resort, with  touch of bohemia. The warm, affectionate  Baracchi family are great characters. Silvia will spoil your palate at the restaurant and during her enlightening and amusing cooking classes (you can even learn how to make your own cheese!), Riccardo will charm you with tails about falconry and, together with his son Benedetto, will introduce you to his wines. Add a small but complete spa (with wine therapy and olive oil treatments), not to mention the opportunity to meet falcon Lilla … what else could you look for?


We get so many requests for romantic trips, from honeymoons to anniversaries, babymoons to Valentine’s Day trips, so we composed some fun ideas in Italy (is there anywhere more romantic?) for our special guests:
1. For lovers of the romanticism  period and particularly of Lord Byron, what could be better than his suite at Punta Chiappa in Camogli with a private dinner from the tower where he wrote his poems? Sublime views from the special Byron´table…

stella maris Byrons table

2. For Shakespeare romantics, a plush room in gorgeous Verona facing Juliet’s balcony is all you’ve ever asked for…


3. For astronomers and star crossed lovers,  the cabriolet suite in the lovely Franciacorta winemaking countryside is a dream

4. Want to cross paths with movie stars and rock stars, but avoid the paparazzi – we suggest an off the beaten track location like Basilicata where Francis Ford Coppola has opened a fab little palazzo hotel…


5. If Classic is your style, then Venice is your destination and a terrace on the Grand Canal is THE luxury touch to make the experience special and memory making…

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6. For the lucky ones who have already found their prince charming, stay in a real castle in Tuscany!

7. For  lovers of the Dolce Vita,  the jet set atmosphere in Capri with its amazing food and nightlife extravaganza calls…


8. … and finally, for those who are down to earth, but still dreamers  at heart, a private candelit dinner overlooking the sea, in stunning Taormina, Sicily is our suggestion…

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Let us plan the romantic vacation of a lifetime for you, drop us a line!

Sunday at the Farmers Market in Padernello castle

Posted by gen On July - 19 - 2012

Italy´s Gourmet Hamlets…..

By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Wine Tours Specialist

Italy is always full of surprises. You are driving through a relaxing bucolic agricultural corner of the country with only cornfields and cows to be seen, when suddenly in the middle of nowhere, you discover a “village gourmand”.

You are in Padernello: 76 residents, 1 crossroads lined with solid, thick-walled 17th and 18th century buildings, 1 church, a perfectly restored castle with its moat and drawbridge (and a ghost, of course!) and 5 restaurants (you are spoilt for choice)!

The lords of Brescia, the Martinengo family, built the castle in 1450 and lived in it until the 1800’s. There are many legends of the époque of the Martinengos, but the most famous is the legend of “la Dama Bianca”, who is now the ghost of the castle. Born in the late 1400´s, Bianca Maria was the daughter of Count Martinengo of Brescia. She was very beautiful, but delicate, thin and pale (“white as jasmine flowers” they wrote) and she had a sensitive soul, far removed from her family´s schemes and violent plots. She loved to spend her time praying and meditating; she had no interest in the material aspects of life. As day by day she was ever more fragile and sickly, her father sent her to her uncle Bernardino’s castle in the countryside in Padernello, to recuperate. It was November 1479 and Biancamaria was 13; she didn’t survive the summer and she passed away on the 20th of July, 1480, falling in the moat and drowning. Every July since then, Bianca Maria has appeared to the Padernello residents, dressed in a white gown, with a golden book in her hand.

After many years of neglect, the Nymphe foundation brought the castle to its ancient splendour and today it is a pristine, magical place, which offers many interesting activities throughout the year, from guided visits to theatre, from cinema to exhibitions, to medieval fairs and festivals and and of course food and wine tastings.

As soon as we walk in the castle, another surprise: the monthly farmers market is taking place!  It is part of Slow Food´s worldwide network of farmers’ markets, offering access to good, organic and fair food from local area.


Before we sat down to lunch, we visited the different stalls, chatting with the farmers and sampling delicious local foods. I particularly loved the traditional cured meats (coppa with honey, yumm) from Capriolo village, bread with taggiasche olives from Panificio Grazioli from Legnano, buffalo cheese from Manerbio and  sprouts from Marone. And of course casoncelli, I even got the recipe from the grannies making them!

Recipe for Casoncelli alla Bresciana (Casonsèi):

serves 6

for the pasta dough (recipe here) :

300 g white flour type 0
3 eggs
salt and pepper
100 gr butter

for the filling
200 gr of beef
100 gr of fresh pork sausage
1 carrot
1 celery stock,
1/2 onion
clove, nutmeg, bay
50 gr Grana or Parmigiano cheese (grated)
50 gr breadcrumbs
salt, pepper
1 egg
50 gr butter
2 spoons extra virgin olive oil

for the sauce
100 gr butter


Thinly chop the vegetables, veal and sausages; in a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm 50 gr butter, add the vegetables, sauté and cook until brown on all sides. Add the copped meat and let drain. Add the wine, let it evaporate and then add the herbs, salt and pepper. Add some warm water ad let cook for about 1 hr, keeping it well drained. Transfer to a food processor and mince. Transfer to a bowl, add the grated cheese, breadcrumbs, 1 egg, a pinch of salt and pepper and mix by hand.

Prepare the pasta dough; roll out the basic pasta dough and cut it into squares (about 4-5 cm each side). Place teaspoonfuls of the filling in the middle of the squares. Moisten the edges of the dough with a little water, and fold into triangle. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Set aside, cover with a clean cloth, and let rest for 1 hour.
Bring a large pot of water to a low boil. Add salt and the casoncelli, and cook for about 3/4 minutes. Drain well and toss with a sauce of butter and sage, sprinkle with cheese and serve. Enjoy!

Interview with Angelo Di Costanzo – Head Sommelier of the prestigious Capri Palace Hotel & Spa

Cellar Tours meet one of Italy´s brightest sommelier stars in beautiful Capri…

We had the pleasure recently to meet Angelo Di Costanzo in Anacapri on the roof terrace of the gorgeous 5* Capri Palace Hotel & Spa, where he has been the head sommelier since 2009. The hotel hosts also the 2 Michelin starred restaurant L’Olivo.

The youngest of 7 brothers, Angelo was born in Pozzuoli in 1975, he attended hotel school and, after working in several local restaurants, he became a certified AIS sommelier in 2001.

In 2008 he was awarded “Best Sommelier in Campania” and “Silver Pin – Charme Sommelier of Italy”. From 2002 to 2009, he run a great wine shop in Pozzuoli, L’Arcante, which is also the name of his fantastic food and wine blog, L´Arcante.

Sipping a glass of Falanghina dei Campi Flegrei Cruna DeLago, we began our chat:

1) CT- What made you choose wine as your passion? How did you become a sommelier? Why did you choose to stay and work in Campania? What excited you?

ANGELO- After some years of my work, I had the need to grow professionally and wine made me felt immediately so many emotions I decided to improve my knowledge and go deeper in that field. So everything started, studying, visiting wineries, walking in the vineyards. And I still cannot stop! Why did I choose to live and work in Campania? Well, what better experience is there than the opportunity to show your gorgeous region to guests coming from all over the world, staying home?

2) CT- What is unique about Campania in terms of food, wine and scenery? What can you find there that you can’t find in other places?

ANGELO- Campania is a very rich and generous region, still far from being over exploited or discovered. It is unique, with fabulous landscapes, terrific historic sites, welcoming people, amazing wines and gourmet products and a gastronomic tradition with such a huge variety it is very hard to find anywhere else.

3) CT- Which appellations, or general wine producing areas of Campania are your personal favorites and which of the local grape varietals do you enjoy most? Any particular wine you felt in love with?

ANGELO- Campania is the land of “100 local grapes”, an ampelographic treasure you cannot find anywhere else in the world. There are many wines you shouldn’t miss, each micro wine region, from Caserta to Naples, on Amalfi Coast to Irpinia, in Cilento or Sannio, offers its best, fine wines which are becoming more and more requested on the export markets, too.

Think of Falerno del Massico, but also  Amalfi Coast wines or Taurasi, the most important red wine of Southern Italy, made with aglianico, the most widely grown grape in the region. But you can find many other peculiar grapes: ginestra and palagrello for white grapes, piedirosso, casavecchia, marsigliese, tintore to name a few red ones. Unusual names, sometimes difficult to remember, producing very good wines, loved by guests who come to Capri from all over the world

4) CT-  Can you offer our readers any tips for enjoying Campania in terms of wines to look out for, favorite restaurants, etc?

ANGELO- Of course, nobody should miss Capri (!) , where I live and work , and Campi Flegrei, where I come from, plenty of interesting wineries to visit. I would suggest an excursion to Vesuvius, in Terzigno, to visit and have brunch at Villa Dora.Then, a visit to Caserta area, at Terre del Principe, an amazing winery, where you can also enjoy a traditional meal prepared by chef Maurizio Piancastelli.  In Irpinia, a drop in to Mastroberardino is a must, as well as to their wine resort and Morabianca restaurant with chef Francesco Spagnuolo.

Going south, you have to visit Cilento and its enchanting sea, stopping at a family run organic winery Casebianche, where you can also spend the night, Betty e Pasquale Mitrano will take good care of you. Last but not least, the Amalfi and Sorrento coast, where I particularly love Monte di Grazia wine estate in Tramonti, Marisa Cuomo in Furore and Vigne di Raito in Raito, close to Vietri sul Mare.

5) CT- What do you think the pros and cons of visiting Campania are and would you suggest it as a destination for wine lovers?

ANGELO- Pros are so many they are hard to list, Campania is absolutely a destination a wine lover cannot miss, to get and breath over 2000 of grape growing and wine making history. You can easily say that grape and wine were born here, thanks to the Greeks. I cannot see any cons, but I would like to give a true advice, especially to guests arriving from far away for the first time: put yourselves in good hands, as Cellar Tours, to organize the trip, the winery visits, the restaurants, sightseeing. This region offers a lot, but you need to know well the people, the wineries, the locations, not to waste your time.

6) CT- If you had to pick one favorite place in Campania, it would be…..

ANGELO- …. a very hard question! Every area has something special: in Campi Flegrei and Ager Falernus you find smoking soils and thousands years old wine anecdotes, in Irpinia amazing wineries, in Amalfi Coast and on the islands one of a kind landscapes, with vineyards suspended between sky and sea, in Cilento it is simply heaven … every one can find his own cup of tea.

7) CT- Your dream dinner paired with wines would be …

ANGELO- I am very proud to work here at Capri Palace and I would definitely recommend it for a gourmet highlight. Apart from Capri, I had several dinner extravaganzas: in Vico Equense at Torre del Saracino with Gennaro Esposito, but also at Taverna del Capitano in Marina del Cantone, to name just a couple. Should I pick one only, anyway, I would choose Don Alfonso 1890 and the lovely Jaccarino family, in Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi, for its outstanding cuisine, the impeccable service, great sommelier Maurizio Cerio: a real dream!

Interested in a luxurious, gourmet food and wine vacation in Capri and the south of Italy? We organize wine tastings with Angelo in Capri and he can  also show our guests intimate small vineyards on the island, contact us for more info.

Ten Best Pasta Dishes Ever

Posted by gen On December - 18 - 2011

Ten Best Pasta Dishes

by Nancy O’Neill

Just the thought of pasta makes the mouth water! There are so many sizes, varieties and sauces that it truly is difficult to choose just 10. It would seem that the widely held belief that Marco Polo brought pasta back to Italy from China is more myth than fact as there was a mention of pasta in a document in 1250 forty-five years before Polo returned from his adventures.

It would seem the dry variety of pasta as we know it today, originated in the Middle East and was imported into Sicily during the Arab invasions. In fact there are references to pasta in Muslim texts as far back as 1,000ad. On the other hand fresh pasta has been linked to Greece and was probably imported into Italy in a similar fashion. One of the most popular dry pastas is from Gragnano near Naples. During the 1500s this town was considered to be the home of durum wheat pasta and in the 1750s the city’s administration reorganized the urban layout benefit the drying of maccheroni!

So what is the difference between dry pasta “pasta secca” and fresh pasta “pasta all’uovo”? Well the ingredients for a start. Most dry pastas come from the south of Italy and do not usually contain egg which would perish quite easily in such a hot climate; it’s basic ingredients are ground semolina flour and water which is mix into a paste and pushed through molds of different shapes. It is then left to dry at low temperatures over a few days until all the moisture has evaporated.

Fresh pasta which was traditionally more common in the north and central regions, can be made with different types of flour although the most common is the “00” high gluten flour. Eggs are added to the mixture to create a more malleable, bread-like dough which suits more delicate sauces.

One is not better than the other, although locals who are loyal to their regional variety might disagree, it just depends on the sauces you are going to use or the textures you would like to experience. So, let’s have a look at some of the most popular pasta dishes and how they were developed.

1. Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma is a typical dish from the Sicilian city of Catania incorporating traditional Mediterranean produce namely eggplant/aubergine. The name was inspired by Nino Martoglio, a Sicilian poet and writer who compared it to Bellini’s masterpiece “Norma” upon tasting the sumptuous dish for the first time.

As with most of the Italian pasta greats, there are very few ingredients, however what makes every Italian pasta dish so tasty is the quality of the produce and the marriage with the right variety of pasta resulting in taste bud-tingling flavors. For this recipe you will need eggplant, ripe flavorsome tomatoes, salted ricotta, garlic, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper. Remember to add salt to the eggplant and allow it to “drain” before cooking to release some of the bitter juices.  Cheap, tasty, easy to make and perfect for vegetarians this delicious but simple dish is a winning crowd pleaser every time.

Best Pasta Dishes

2. Bucatini all’Amatriciana

This most famous of Roman dishes was so named after originating in the town of Amatrice in the Lazio region. The original recipe was called Gricia (which is still prepared in central Italy) was not tomato based as tomatoes had not been introduced into Italy at that stage.  The recipe as we know it today became very popular in Rome during the 19th century as economic contacts between Rome and Amatrice became stronger.

Ingredients of the classic version vary slightly as the recipes developed depending on the availability of local produce. Guanciale (cheek bacon) is usually used as are tomatoes. Onions have always been included any time I have eaten Amatriciana but do not seem to be favoured in the surrounds of Amatrice. Lashings of black pepper or chilli pepper and pecorino Romano (from Amatrice if you can get it!) are standard also. The pasta choice is usually spaghetti or bucatini (slightly thicker spaghetti). Fresh pasta is not advised for this dish.

This peppery pasta will warm you through after an exhausting day of sight-seeing in the capital and to my mind is the perfect introduction to Roman cuisine.

Best Pasta

3. Tagliatelle al Ragù alla Bolognese/Lasagna

Spaghetti Bolognaise is probably the most popular pasta dish outside Italy. However in Bologna, Ragù alla Bolognese is always served with egg tagliatelle which are better for holding the heavy meat sauce. Dating back to at least the 1400s, Bolognaise was originally tomato-less and even today should taste more of meat than tomato sauce. There have been so many variations on this beloved dish that in 1982 the Bolognese delegation of Accademia Italiana della Cucina deemed it necessary to issue the “correct” classic Ragù recipe.

Ingredients: 300 g beef (thin beef skirt is preferable), 150 g pancetta, 50 g celery, 50 g carrot, 50 g onion (notice no garlic), 5 spoons tomato sauce or 20 g triple tomato puree, Half cup of dry white or red wine, 1 cup (250 mL) whole milk, Salt and pepper to taste (notice no herbs). However even the Bolognesi will add sausage, rabbit, chicken or porcini mushrooms to add another dimension. The key to a good Ragù is to cook it slowly for quite a long time; seven or eight hours cooking time is common to bring all the flavors together.

Ragù alla Bolognese is also the basis for Lasagna another well-known and well-loved dish worldwide. In Bologna it is usually made with green lasagne sheets a pasta which incorporates cooked spinach.  There are many theories as to the origins of the dish although the most likely seems to be that a similar dish existed in ancient Greece which was later transferred to the Romans. The ancient Greek word “Lasagnum” refers to a dish or bowl hence the name as we know it today.  The wonderful thing about Lasagna is its versatility. It is delicious with a Ragù as mentioned above but for the veggies amongst us, it is equally tasty with roasted vegetables, wild mushroom or cheese sauce. Recently I had the fortune to taste an artichoke version cooked by my Neopolitan friend’s mother which I have to say has been my favourite so far. I dream of that Lasagna! If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend it.

Best Pasta

4. Spaghetti/Rigatoni alla Carbonara

There are many hypotheses for the origins of this well-loved dish. The simplicity of the ingredients could mean that it was an easy dish to make for the charcoal makers “Carbonari” who spent long periods of time in the woods during the year. However the fact that we do not see reference to this dish in Italian cookbooks until after the second World War could demonstrate that it was invented by Roman trattorias to keep the American troops happy using ingredients (eggs and bacon) which was standard issue for the US soldiers.

Even culinary experts cannot agree on the origins so we will probably never know for sure. This not the only debate attached to this most delicious dish! What type of bacon should be used? Should you use the whole egg or just the yokes? Do you add cream? What cheese do you put on top? Most chefs would agree that you must not allow the eggs to overcook as the consistency should be creamy and not scrambled. Classic ingredients would be pancetta or guanciale (cheek) bacon, eggs, black pepper and cheese (pecorino Romano or parmesan). Onions or garlic is usually used too. Add the spaghetti or rigatoni to the bacon which has been cooked in a pan. Turn off the heat and mix in the raw egg allowing the heat to cook the eggs slightly. At the last moment grind a generous helping of black pepper on top and sprinkle with an abundance of cheese. Simply delicious!

Best Pasta Dishes

5. Ragù Napoletano

Most Italian pasta sauces are ingenious in their simplicity however this cannot be said for Ragù Napoletano. This rich, meaty sauce takes hours to cook and many Neopolitan women cook it overnight getting up regularly to stir it if they want to achieve the desired result. The meat for the sauce is pig ribs/pig roast, guanciale, prosciutto and bacon (in large chunks). Triple tomato concentrate, red wine, onions, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper are also included. It would take more than one paragraph to explain the complete recipe (and probably some type of degree!). However it is extremely important to brown the meat well, cook it ultra-slowly and add the tomato concentrate a little at a time to achieve a rich burgundy red sauce.

Pasta types could be Paccheri (shorter rigatoni tubes) or Strozzapreti, a twisted type of gnocchi whose name literally translates as “Priest-stranglers” after a greedy 18th century priest almost choked to death on them! Top the final dish with a cheese like a mature Caciocavallo Sorrentino to cope with the rich depth of flavor.

Main differences between this Ragù and the Bolognese version are the type of meat used, the size of the chunks and the type of pasta used. Moreover there is no milk in the Neapolitan recipe and an abundance of tomato compared to its northern cousin. Finally the whole pieces of stewed meat from the Neapolitan Ragù are often used as a main course to follow the pasta starter. Two dishes for the price of one (with a lot more work than two dishes involved!). A lot of sweat and dedication is needed but the end result is well worth it! Better still, go to Naples and have one of the experts make it for you!

Best Pasta

6. Orecchiette ai Cime di Rapa

Orechiette (little ears) are a home-made pasta most commonly found in Puglia, a region in Southern Italy. The name indicates the shape of the pasta, small, domed, white disks with one smooth side and one rough to hold the sauce. Unlike other fresh pastas, eggs are not usually included in its preparation.  If you drive though Puglia during springtime it is not uncommon to see groups of women, young and old, sitting outside around tables diligently pressing each individual piece of dough into an Orecchietta with their right thumbs and gossiping about the latest happenings in the neighborhood.

This type of pasta probably originated in Provence where a similar pasta is made and then introduced into southern Italy by the Anjous, a French dynasty which dominated Puglia during the 1200s. Nowadays the typical sauce to accompany these delicious “little ears” is made with “Cime di Rapa” a bitter leafy green known as Rapini in English. If you can’t find Rapini, broccoli is a good substitute. Ingredients are rapini (or broccoli), garlic, anchovies, olive oil, Pecorino and toasted breadcrumbs.

Best Pasta Ever

7. Pesto alla Genovese

There are many types of pesto in Italy depending on the region you visit and the produce available locally. However the pesto we all know and love is alla Genovese (from Genoa). The prime ingredient for this type of pesto is of course basil which seems to grow very favourably in the Ligurian climate. The name originates from the verb Pestare which means to grind (as in pestle and mortar).

As with most pasta sauces in Italy variations on the same theme differ from family to family. The most common classic recipe is now basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic and cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano). Some recipes include other types of nuts. There are two types of pasta associated with Pesto alla Genovese; the fresh Trofie which are a twisted type of gnocchi made with white flour or Trenette which is slightly thinner than Linguine. Nowadays it is quite common to add potatoes and French beans to the recipe especially when using  Trenette which I have to say I find particularly delicious!

Pasta Sauces Best Ever

8. Vermicelli alla Puttanesca

Due to the name, Puttanesca, many believe this sauce has some type of connection to prostitutes as “Puttana” means just that in Italian. However the name came about one evening in the early 1950s on the island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples. Architect Sandro Petti was entertaining a group of friends when they asked him to rustle up something to eat as they were absolutely starving. However he told them he didn’t have much left in the kitchen and they would have to go somewhere else to get something to eat. It was very late in the evening and almost impossible to find anywhere open at that time. One of his friends exclaimed ‘Don’t worry Sandro, just make us a “puttanata qualsiasi”’, which roughly translated means a slightly more vulgar version of “any old thing”. Sandro duly threw together a sauce consisting of the very limited ingredients in his larder i.e.  a few tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic, olive oil and some oregano. The recipe today usually includes some anchovies, chilli and parsley.

After the success of the dish that evening, Petti added it to the list of starters on his menu calling it Puttanesca as Puttanata seemed a bit vulgar. The key to this dish is to make a basic Marinara sauce and then add the other ingredients. Tomato should only colour but not dominate the sauce allowing all the other flavours to come through. As is true for Italian cuisine in general, less is more.

Best pasta dishes

9. Ravioli di Ricotta e Spinaci al Burro e Salvia

Merchants in Venice and Tuscany are credited with the earliest mentions of ravioli as far back as the 14th century. Ravioli were even known to the 14th century English population, appearing in an Anglo-Norman vellum manuscript.
There is a multitude of ravioli options on offer (cheese, mushroom, meat) without including their cousins, tortelloni, tortellini etc… One of my absolute favourites is Ravioli di Ricotta e Spinaci al Burro e Salvia. The key to this dish in my opinion is the consistency of the fresh pasta, neither too firm or too sloppy and a generous amount of Parmigiano Reggiano heaped on top just before serving.

The ravioli are stuffed with ricotta, spinach, some Parmigiano Reggiano, an egg, salt and pepper. While the sauce is made by melting about 40g of unsalted butter in a pan taking care not to burn or split. Add 8-12 sage leaves and allow to infuse for a few minutes on a very low heat. The perfect result is if the sage crisps slightly adding texture to the overall dish. Toss the ravioli in the sauce and grind some black pepper on top. Take off the heat, serve and spoon on lots of Parmigiano. Delicate, subtle and mouth-wateringly good!

Best Pasta

10. Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino

Considered to traditionally come from the Abruzzo region, this cheap and cheerful dish is now popular the length and breadth of the boot. As there are very few ingredients (garlic, olive oil, chilli, parsley and spaghetti) it is usually the first dish young Italians learn to make. It is also the dish that will most often be offered to you “facciamo due spaghetti” if you end up back at an Italian friend’s house after a night on the beer!

The sauce is made by sautéing minced or pressed garlic in olive oil (about 5 tbsp) on a low heat to avoid burning. Add dry or fresh chilli to give it a good kick and add the cooked spaghetti to the pan once the oil has absorbed all the flavours and toss well. Mix in chopped flat leaf parsley, serve and grate  Pecorino or parmesan cheese over the top or some toasted breadcrumbs which is common in the southern regions. Simply scrumptious!

Best Pasta

CASA ARTUSI- Trip Report, Emilia Romagna Food and Wine Site Inspection

by Nancy O’Neill

Casa Artusi was set up to celebrate the life and work of the man considered to be The Father of Italian Cuisine, Pellegrino Artusi, born in 1820 to a relatively wealthy family in Forlimpopli. Seeing as the Artusi family were merchants and grocers, they fled to Florence (the heart of trade at that time) in 1851 to escape the terror and violence inflicted upon them by a notorious bandit of the area. In Florence he continued to develop his career in trade however his attentions were more and more focused on his true passions; writing and gastronomy. Living in such a cosmopolitan city, Artusi was exposed to cultures and cuisines from all over Italy and indeed all over Europe.

Casa Artusi

He started to collect recipes from Northern and Central regions while travelling for work all of which were tested by his own cooks Francesco Ruffilli and Maria (Marietta) Sabatini and in 1891 he published “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well” a collection of recipes and a cookery handbook. The book was a great success and became a traditional wedding present for the bride of Italian families. Subsequently,  women from all over the country started to send Artusi recipes which their families had been using for generations resulting in the 14 updated versions being published until he died in 1911.

Casa Artusi Culinary Tours in Emilia Romagna Italy
Marietta worked alongside him throughout his later life and to honour her dedication there is now an organisation called The Mariette Association in Italy which was set up to research, collect and log all types of information about Italian cuisine especially that of the Emilia Romagna region. You can even contact them with your own family’s heritage of Italian recipes. At the cookery school Mariettas are called in to help during the pasta and bread making classes only.

However, Casa Artusi is not only a cookery school. This modern, state of the art building located in what was once an old convent, also houses a library, a museum, a restaurant and a wine cellar/shop the latter run by Jamila Khaled, the resident sommelier. On show in the museum there is a beautiful collection of gastronomy based literature both modern and old plus a vast range of Artusi’s writings shown off in glass display cases.

Casa Artusi Culinary Tours in Emilia Romagna Italy

The cookery school offers a variety of different private and group courses for all levels from beginners to professionals. The light, airy kitchen is decked out with 20 individual cooking stations with plenty of room to move about. While I was there I had the opportunity to part-take in a Piadina making class. Piadina is a delicious flat bread traditionally found and eaten in Romagna. With my “Marietta” Adele at my side talking me through each step I was able to make my very own Piadine in less than 15 minutes. The recipe is a simple, white flour dough which unlike most other Italian breads is not left to rise but cooked straight away on a flat non-stick pan like a pancake. Traditionally specially designed terracotta dishes were used to make Piadine which we also tried during the demonstration however I have it on good authority (from “Marietta” Adele) that the Piadina tastes better from the non-stick pan as it doesn’t dry out so much.

Casa Artusi

After our hands-on class we tucked into our own fare along with some delicious cold-cuts, preserved vegetables, cheeses and conserves. Of particular interest were two types of “Savor”, conserves/jams one made with Autumn forest fruits the other with pumpkin and both wonderfully tasty combined on top of the Piadina with Lo Squaquarone, a local fresh cheese similar to Ricotta but more like yoghurt in consistency.  Also on the menu were Pesche Nettarine di Romagna IGP; a local variety nectarine which is this particular recipe was picked while still extremely unripe and green (think slightly larger than an olive) then cooked and preserved in water, vinegar and sugar. Unusual and a little bit strange but exquisite on the palate. All this sumptuous food washed down with light, fruity Sangiovese red wine made for a very satisfactory pay-off after all our hard work slaving over the stove!

An interesting addition to our gourmet culinary tours in Italy.

Contact details:
Casa Artusi
Susy Patrito Silva (Director)
Tel: 0039 (0)543 743 138
Cell: 0039 347 789 2462
[email protected]

Piadina recipe: (makes 4 or 5)

piadina recipe

500g white flour
20g salt
70/80g soft lard
8/10g baking powder
Tepid water and kneed well until it forms into a soft, pliable dough.
Roll out 4 or 5 portions to the size a small dinner plate, cook on a non-stick pan (prick dough with a fork) until slightly brown on either side.

piadina recipe

More info on our offerings in Emilia Romagna

Bologna Wine Tours

Balsamic Vinegar Tours

Grand Gourmet Tour

Eating responsibly and deliciously at Trattoria La Madia in Northern Italy

By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Specialist

Eating responsibly and deliciously in Italy

Imagine a tiny village set amid the Italian hills, 650 meters above sea level, hidden off the beaten track, but only minutes from Lake Iseo and the Franciacorta wine region.

Eating responsibly and deliciously in Italy

Imagine a cozy place, where hosts Michele and Silvia warmly welcome you like a long lost friend, taking the time to explain to you their food, cuisine and general philosophy about life. Here you are not rushed, and you completely understand the true meaning of conviviality.

Eating responsibly and deliciously in Italy

Imagine a wine list with a wide choice of local wines, carefully selected by Silvia from small wine producers. The wines are mostly only found in Italy and are offered at amazing prices.

Eating responsibly and deliciously in ItalyEating responsibly and deliciously in Italy

Imagine an impressive cheese selection, from the area, but also from the rest of Italy and France. Michele knows each producer personally (you will find all their details on the menu). He tastes and picks each cheese as he knows well that each one is different and standardization has nothing to do with farmers production.

Eating responsibly and deliciously in Italy

Eating responsibly and deliciously in Italy

Imagine a delicious, never banal, local and traditional cuisine, from lakes, mountains and the planes, which have rescued lost and forgotten flavours. A cuisine where you can really taste the terroir, its peculiarities and singularities with a hint of modernization and personalitation.

Malfatti with Bagoss Cheese

Malfatti with Bagoss Cheese

Grilled Pigeon with Polenta

Grilled Pigeon with Polenta

Freshwater Fish Fritto Misto

Freshwater Fish Fritto Misto

Imagine a restaurant where the industrialization of food (homogeneous, un-seasonal, repeatable) is blessedly absent here and all ingredients come from small farmers, where ZeroMiles food is a reality, where you have producers details of all ingredients on the menu if you want to go and buy directly, or simply know what you are eating. A restaurant which serves only meat from free ranged animals, who had a decent life.

Stop imaging as this place exists! Trattoria La Madia, near Brescia in Northern Italy, is a haven for foodies with a conscience.

La Madia

And you, do you think eating is an agricultural act?

Do you think your food choices impact on agriculture, on how it is sustainable and ecological?

Do you eat responsibly?

Do you think at yourself as a consumer or a co-producer?

Check out this interesting piece on Eco Literacy by Wendell Berry and we would love to hear your opinion on this topic.

Memorable Dishes of 2010in France, Spain, Italy, and Ireland

It’s become an annual tradition: we look back at the last year and consider what the best meals of the year were.  Last year we focused on Italy, and this year we are doing it across the board.

As we travel throughout the five countries where we offer our gourmet tours (France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and France) throughout the year, between the whole team we get to try literally hundreds of restaurants throughout the year. These range from hole- in- the wall – family restaurants to gastro pubs to Michelin starred high end eateries.

We have selected some of our favorite dishes (as you can see we tended to favor simple preparations and top quality ingredients over complicated dishes)  this past year with links to where we were lucky enough to taste them.

May 2011 be a terrific year for all our readers, may you eat and drink very well!

1. Seafood platter, with delicious lobster and oysters, at Aherne’s in Youghal – county Cork, Ireland

Memorable Dishes 2010

2. Frog legs at Maison Lameloise in Burgundy

Memorable Dishes 2010

3. Pizzoccheri at Locanda Altavilla in Valtellina

Memorable Dishes 2010

4. Amazing Irish breakfast with wild smoked salmon and carragheen pudding at The Mill in Dunfanaghy – county Donegal

Memorable Dishes

5. Scallops at Le Coquillage of Chateau Richeaux and informal tasting of oysters (creuses and plates) in Cancale

Memorable Eating 2010


6. Pan fried eel and salad with shallot vinaigrette at 2 Michelin starred restaurant at Domaine des Hauts de Loire in the Loire Valley

Memorable Dishes 2010

7. Spring specialty with wild asparagus at La Subida in Friuli

Memorable Dishes 2010

8. Strawberry millefeuille at Venissa (owned by top Prosecco producer Bisol) in Venice




9. Grilled Rodaballo (Turbot ) at Elkano in Getaria, Spanish Basque Country

Memorable Dishes 2010

10.  Sole with Fennel, Bergamot and Med Flavors at Celler de Can Roca in Catalunya, Spain

Memorable Dishes 2010

Off the beaten track in Sicily: Strada del Vino dei Castelli Nisseni

By Simona Piccinelli, Italy Wine Tours Specialist

I was invited this autumn to visit the “wine roads” (Strada del Vino) of Castelli Nisseni recently in southeastern Sicily, and couldn’t refuse. Sicily is one of  my favorite places in Italy, if not in Europe. On this trip I discovered some great wine estates, restaurants, and landscapes. Some highlights included the Falconara Charming House & Resort (overlooking a Norman fortress, unique and luxurious), colorful markets with Sicily’s tantalizing bright fruits on display, the view up towards the Mazzarino castle, the Feudo Principi di Butera wine estate which is in easy distance of other fascinating sights in Sicily like the ancient Roman mosaics of Piazza Armerina and the town of Caltagirone (famed for its beautiful pottery) and as always when in Sicily, great food! We will be incorporating some of the places I visited into our luxury wine tours in Sicily.

Off the beaten track in Sicily: Strada del Vino dei Castelli Nisseni

See the best of Western Sicily’s wine country here and a terrific romantic food and wine tour of Eastern Sicily here.  And enjoy this photo report of my recent trip.

Hope to see you in Sicily!

Mazzarino O Cannuni - Mazzarino Castle

Mazzarino O Cannuni - Mazzarino Castle

Street market Strata a' Foglia in Caltanissetta

Street market Strata a' Foglia in Caltanissetta

Fichi d'India- Rossi ed aranci

"Fichi d'India"- Prickly Pears

And here the Fichi d'India are cooked at Rsitorante Duomo in Caltanissetta

And here the Fichi d'India are prepared at Ristorante Il Duomo in Caltanissetta

Feudo Principi di Butera wine estate

Feudo Principi di Butera wine estate

Hand making "Torrone" in artisan Torrone producer in Caltanissetta

Hand making "Torrone" in artisan Torrone producer in Caltanissetta

Hand made lace in Mazarino

Hand made lace in Mazzarino

Delicious local cheeses made by the Marco Farchica dairy

Delicious local cheeses made by the Marco Farchica dairy

The Mayor of Mazzarino welcoming us

The Mayor of Mazzarino welcoming us

Falconara resort

Falconara resort overlooking the castle and the sea, with tropical flora

Lovely rooms at the Falconara resort

Lovely rooms at the Falconara resort

Vine at the Laguveri estate in a Nature Reserve

Vine at the Laguveri estate in a Nature Reserve

Mr Alessi showing us traditional ricotta cheese containers, made with bamboo and called "cavagnedda"

Mr Alessi showing us traditional ricotta cheese containers, made with bamboo and called "cavagnedda"

Market traders

Market traders

81 year old Mr Salvatore Siciliano showing us the traditional way to make a broom, with a kind of straw called locally as "giammarra"

81 year old Mr Salvatore Siciliano showing us the traditional way to make a broom, with a kind of straw called locally as “giammarra”

2011 Michelin Stars for Italy Presented in Milan Today

Posted by gen On November - 24 - 2010

The results are out for Italy´s Michelin stars, presented today in Milan at the Principe di Savoia hotel.

Michelin Stars Italy 2011


New Three Stars- none, same as this year. These are:

Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence

La Pergola dell’Hilton in Rome

Al Sorriso in Soriso

Da Vittorio in Brusaporto

Dal Pescatore in Canneto sull’Oglio

Le Calandre in Rubano

Michelin Stars ItalyNew Two Stars:

Jasmin  in Chiusa

Bracali in Massa Marittima

So the current list of restaurants in Italy that have 2 stars for 2011 are:

Antica Corona Reale da Renzo in Cervere

Duomo in Alba

Miramonti l’altro in Concesio

Sadler in Milan

Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia in Milan

Cracco in Milan

Il Ristorante Trussardi alla Scala in Milan

Villa Crespi in Lake Orta

Combal Zero in Rivoli, Torino province

Piccolo Lago in Verbania

La Peca in Lonigno

Met in Venice

Perbellini in Isola Rizza (Verona)

Il Desco in Verona

Trenkerstube in Tirolo (Südtirol)

St Hubertus in Badia

Jasmin in Chiusa

Osteria Francescana in Modena

San Domenico in Imola

La Frasca in Cervia

Rigoletto in Reggiolo

Il Pellicano in Porto Ercole

Da Caino in Montemerano

Da Bracali in Massa Marittima

Il Pagliaccio in Roma

Il Mosaico dell’Hotel Manzi in Ischia

Don Alfonso in Sant’Agata dei due Golfi

Taverna del Capitano on Amalfi Coast

Quattro Passi in Nerano

Torre del Saracino in Vico Equense

Rossellinis at Palazzo Sasso, in Taormina

Il Duomo in Ragusa Ibla

La Madia in Licata

Combal Zero

Restaurants awarded their first star:

Locanda del Pilone in Alba

Villa d’Amelia in Benevello

Osteria del Borgo in Borgosesia

L’Olivo in Capri

La Capanna di Eraclio in Codigoro

Le Petit Restaurant in Cogne

La Casa degli Spiriti in Cosermano

Il Papavero in Eboli

Bistrot in Forte dei Marmi

Pier Bussetti al Castello di Govone in Govone

Al Castello di Alessandro Boglione in Grinzane Cavour

Villa Maiella in Guardiagrele

La Cassolette in La Salle

Strada Facendo in Modena

Il Baluardo in Mondovi

La Locanda di Piero in Montecchio Precalcino

La Cantinella in Naples

The Cook in Nervi

Bye Bye Blues in Palermo (Mondello)

La Locanda del Notaio in Pellio Intelvi (Lake Como)

Il Postale in Perugia

Antica Corte Pallavicina in Polesine Parmense

All’Oro in Rome

Giuda Ballerino in Rome

Il Convivio Troiani in Rome

Il Povero Diavolo in Torriana

Locanda Margon in Trento

Enoteca Henri in Viarregio

Enoteca La Torre in Viterbo

Al Capriolo in Vodo Cadore

And the bad news:

Restaurants that went from 2 to one star:

Arquade in San Pietro In Cariano

And from 1 to no star:

La Siriola in Alta Badia

Cà Daffan  in Arzignano (closed)

Pinocchio in Borgomanero

MI LEAR in Briosco

Sole in Castel Maggiore

La Lucanda in Cavenago di Brianza

Il Gelso di San Martino in Cazzago San Martino

Lido Lido in Cesenatico (closed)

Il Postale in Città di Castello (closed)

La Cantinetta in Felino

Maso franch in Giovo

Al Bersagliere in Goito (closed)

La Mora in Lucca (closed)

Hosteria Giusti in Modena


Gallura in Olbia

La Strega in Palagianello

Da Alceo in Pesaro

Baby in Rome


Cà Vegia in Salice Terme (closed)

Mamma Rosa (closed) in San Polo d’Enza

A Spurcacciun in Savona

Al Caval in Torri del Benaco