Dec 16, 2019

What makes a good Italian coffee bar good?

Given how picky and demanding Italians can be regarding food, furiously sending back a dish if the carbonara has even a hint of heavy cream, it's curious how patient they are when it comes to espresso, sometimes settling for pretty awful brews. Why is that?

Are we Italians just impatient?
Have we gone too long without heavy-duty caffeine, so anything will do?
Do we not want to make a fuss, since a bar is far more public and intimate than a restaurant?
Maybe it's steadfast loyalty to our neighborhood barista—a loyalty that can be deep and wide and sometimes last decades.

Romantic notions aside, no one should ever settle for a bar that fails to cut it, whether because the coffee is mediocre or the morning pastry too dry. A bar holds a crucially important, practical, and cultural role in daily life—in that way at least kin to an American "watering hole." If your local bartender can't mix drinks, there's trouble in Dodge.

But how exactly do you go about rating an Italian bar? What makes a good bar good?

Oct 3, 2019

Italian restauant no-no's

Pet peeves are personal by nature. They make waves at a gut level. Restaurant peeves develop over time and usually stick with you. It pains to report that some Italian restaurants—no matter how fine their food—manage to unhinge diner patience to the point of ruining the experience of guests who don’t know what hit them.

My own patience is limited. To me, a reputation for good food is blunted by an unpleasant atmosphere.

Collected here is a brief list of no-no's that can drive restaurant-lovers away, sometimes for good.

The acchiappino: In tourist-jammed cities (Rome, Florence and Venice) a hawker is often added to the payroll to reel in passers-by. He's known as an acchiappino, a "customer catcher."
You've seen his kind standing outside the entrance waving a menu and flirtatiously trying to lure you in using any means necessary ("Good morning, bonjour, guten tag, hola…pasta-pizza-tiramisu?") Anyplace that needs someone to convince me to enter isn't worth my money. Arrivederci.

Continue reading "Don't you dare" as appeared in The American Magazine in Italia

Sep 2, 2019

Ten (and a half) years of blogging

It's come to my attention recently that I missed the 10 year anniversary of this blog. So much for the resolution to keep it updated with original content and being strict about sticking to a publishing schedule after a 2-year slump!

On January 24, 2009 I published my first post. It's been a decade of huge change and I feel I owe much of that life overhaul to this blog, Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino.

Why I began a blog about Italian food and lifestyle

I started this blog because I felt I owed it to my son. He was going to grow up in a single-parent family with an Italian mom, the least I could do was keep a record of all the great dishes my nonna and my mother made for me (both women raised their daughters as single moms).
After starting, and becoming obsessively consistent with my blog writing, I soon understood that the recipes were a bonus, what readers were most interested in were the personal stories, the intimate reflections, the journal entries.
I was mildly intimidated by the technology and, as I expanded my professional engagements, worried about the time sink. But I felt the urge to write, it was––in a moment of deep professional change––the best therapy I could ask for.

My first post was how a bowl of Minestrone saved my psyche after a demanding rainy Sunday. For the first two years, I blogged twice to three times a week and had a blast. I wrote mostly posts that revolved around the sensorial or emotional allure a certain dish or food gave me, these posts almost always ended with a recipe. Later I slowed down to one blog post per week, then I started linking to blog posts and articles published on other platforms, like The American and Casa Mia. Now I'm down to two posts per month. If any.

From that very first entry, to the present, I have written 470 posts. Some were hugely popular, others nobody read. Some I changed the title to (but still kept the crazy URL), and some I've removed altogether. Overall, the engagement––that initially skyrocketed over the course of only a few months, and that has somewhat endured despite my hiccupping entries––has been mind blowing.

The posts my readers loved the most on Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino were:

If you look at the posts listed above, what's interesting, is how over time page views grew, compared to the number of comments, which intead slowly dwindled. In the past readers not only commented but many wrote long answers that resembled letters, or posts themselves. That's not counting spam comments, often in other languages, and linking to some form of product or service...
This was all happening before there were so many different social media outlets like Facebook where the comments turned into a virtual room where people opened conversations and sometimes actual debates.

Blogging's Changed

Life, new job opportunities, a growing child and a million other reasons account for why I slowed down my blogging, and thus engagement. But I feel I should also take into account the fact that blogging, in itself, has changed.

Now with Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest, it's our job to engage and grow our audience on all platforms, which personally is a big challenge. Podcasts and videos have also replaced the longform written word.

Many bloggers have assistants(often virtual) to help with posting, photography and video, content development, answering emails, newsletter compiling and other chores. But for most food and lifestyle bloggers, it's still a single person hobby.

As for me, my ten (and a half) year-old blog about the Italian food and lifestyle continues to be a place where I love to engage with my readers. Thank you for joining me over the years! I'm grateful you're still here, even though I've not been consistent.

Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino is still my favorite way to communicate with you.

If you feel the same, please leave a comment letting me know what topics you'd like me to write about; what recipes you'd like to see here; and how you feel about blogging and blog-reading ten years after first landing on this site. I'd love to hear from you. Grazie!

Aug 22, 2019

9 delicious chilled dishes for beating the heat

The sun is high on the zenith, days last longer, there's sand in the car. Besides sporting ridiculous amounts of linen and hitting the rooftops for aperitivo, Italians respond to high summer with an array of refreshing cold dishes that bring lots of flavor to the table.

In addition to an endless search for the best scoop of gelato and the perfect slice of watermelon, the Italian summer menu includes creative pasta and rice salads, chilled soups and cold meat dishes, plus a fine assortment of cold vegetarian options featuring ripe summer produce. Here are a few of my cool summer favorites:

Continue Reading "So totally cool" as appeared in the American Magazine in Italia.

May 23, 2019

20 regions, 20 cheeses

President and statesman Charles de Gaulle wondered how it could ever be possible to govern a country––his France––with more cheeses than calendar days. The mystery of Italy's proverbial governance difficulty is thus solved: it must be the cheese's fault. Counting IGT, DOP, PAT and other EU quality appellations, we're looking at approximately 520 varieties of recognized Italian cheeses alone, to which hundreds more should be included if we consider all the so-called "fantasy" cheeses, i.e. those subject to the cheese maker's free interpretation, milk type, technique and aging. Experts maintain that this grand total is close to 4,670.

If schedule and wallet hamper a journey to Italy to taste local food specialties in their various regional birthplaces, you can always travel across the 20 Italian regions on the symbolic cheese pilgrimage route logged below. Note however, that given the vastness of the Italian cheese scene, per-region product inclusion is vastly incomplete. 

Ready to travel through Italy via its representative northern, central and southern cheeses, region by region?
Continue Reading → Italian Cheese: 20 reasons to love cheese in every region as appeared on the Dievole Blog

I also contributed another article on Italian food misconceptions for Dievole, go check it out!