Dec 22, 2016

Vote for Casa Mia!

As you may know, in the spring of 2015, I co-launched a new travel website called Casa Mia Italy Food & Wine.

We offer interesting food, wine and cooking experiences and inform our followers with regular updates on our blog.

After coming in "runner up" in the Best New Blog category of the Italy Magazine 2015 Blog Awards, this year Casa Mia has been shortlisted for the Best Travel Blog category!

Needless to say, we couldn't be prouder.

Want to help us win?

Vote for Casa Mia!

Easy, you don't even need to register, just click on the banner below.

PS: You helped Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino win Best Food Blog in the previous edition, so I'm asking you to work your magic again this time.


Dec 13, 2016

Italian torta rustica

Don't call it quiche.

In Italy torta rustica is a seasonal staple and a versatile dish: it can serve as an appetizer, as a side dish, or be the main entree. 

With boundless recipes and fillings, the savory rustic pies of Italy were initially intended as thrifty fridge-cleaners, adding bits of leftover vegetables to a mix of cheese, cured meats and an egg to bind it all together in a flaky shell. 

If you're looking for savory pie baking inspiration, here’s a failsafe recipe for quick and easy vegetarian torta rustica filled with spinach and punchy gorgonzola cheese.

Nov 29, 2016

Stracciata cheese from Molise

Move over burrata, hello stracciata.

Stracciata is a fresh cheese that owes its name to the Italian verb, "stracciare", for 'to tear'. The name reflects the action of tearing the stretched curd into characteristic elongated and rubbery strands. 

Snow-white and rind-less, stracciata cheese is delicate with an intense milky flavor. It is customarily eaten freshly-made, preferably with prosciutto stuffed between two warm slices of bread. This was the typical Molise antipasto served at weddings.

This traditional dairy product is made only in Molise in the towns of Agnone, Capracotta, Carovilli and Vastogirardi, in the province of Isernia.

I learned of the existence of stracciata during filming of ABCheese. My crew and I traveled to Molise and visited the actual birthplace of this original and rare cheese: the Di Nucci creamery.

After WWII, the Di Nucci family relocated from the town of Capracotta – where they owned a cow farm – to the larger town of Agnone where there were better working opportunities to continue the family tradition of cheese-making. 

Stracciata was born to celebrate this important relocation.

No two strands are alike. Every stracciata, hand-made in the family creamery using the same time-honored technique, is obtained by pouring boiling water over the natural-yeast, raw cow milk curds and pulled from a wooden basin. Every strand is therefore different. 

Generations of Di Nuccis have been making stracciata in the same way since that 1955 journey from Capracotta to Agnone.

Caseificio Di Nucci
Agnone, Isernia – Italy

Opening image & portrait ©Di Nucci, all other ©E.Baldwin

Nov 16, 2016

Ethnic meals in Rome, a Renaissance

What a year this has been. I cannot say 2016 was a good one. Personal and world-changing events have given me sleepless nights.

Only two good things happened in 2016: the Cubs won the World Series, a victory which my Chicagoan dad has been waiting for for the last 85 years; and the international Rome dining scene finally started opening its doors to quality.

The majority of the restaurants in Rome serve local cuisine. Many are below average, some are OK, a few are stellar. For a bit. Then, after the nth plate of cacio e pepe my palate starts begging for variety. That's when I shrug in the face of guanciale, and turn all my attention to papadums.

But while in Milan the situation is improving, Rome residents (mostly US expats) sadly grieve the near absence of quality ethnic cuisine. Accustomed to 24-hour available world meals in hometowns New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, stranieri in Rome had it pretty bad. Always the optimists, they wandered the city in search of a decent surrogate. 

Recently, there's been a growth spurt in quality international cuisine. Finally something to celebrate! When I want to digress from amatriciana, here are some of the places I head for.

Nov 9, 2016

Internet craze apple roses

These super easy "apple roses" are all over the internet lately.

Apple roses –

Everyone's making them, my son and I even crafted some at the latest cooking school session we attended together.

Apple roses –

This got me thinking that I absolutely have to get my baking act together. This recipe is a great way for begginners to approach baking.

The thought that organically followed was, "This classic flaky dough wrapped around apple slices "glued" together with apricot jam can be transformed into fun variations."

In addition to the ubiquitous apple rose recipe, I'm adding a few savory suggestions to up your aperitivo game or your children's merenda snacks.

Internet craze apple roses

Preheat oven to 200° C (390° F)
Cut 2 apples in half and core. Do not peel. As a matter of fact, choose Gala or Red Delicious varieties whose red skin creates a beautiful color contrast with the cream colored pulp.
Slice the apple halves thinly and drop in acidulated water.
Prepare a basic syrup (2 parts sugar and 1 part water) and soften the apple slices in it for 2 minutes.
Dust with 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, toss to coat evenly and allow to cool.
Using a pastry cutter, cut a rectangular sheet of puff pastry into 2-inch strips.
Brush the strips with warmed apricot jam and lay the apple slices on the top half of the strip, slightly overlapping them.
Fold up the bottom half of the strip and starting from one end, roll the strip on itself.
Place each rolled "rose" in buttered ramekins or paper lined muffin molds.
Sprinkle a little brown sugar on the surface of each rose.
Bake in hot oven for approximately 20 minutes.
Dust with confectioner's sugar before serving.

Sweet & savory spin-offs using the puff pastry as a base

  • Use pears instead of apples, and spread white or dark chocolate instead of jam, sprinkle chocolate chips as garnish
  • Use celery slices, spread peanut butter, garnish with coarsely ground peanuts or slivered almonds
  • Strawberries and ricotta
  • Pancetta and smoked cheese
  • Pears and gorgonzola
  • Peaches and nutella
  • Grilled zucchini and goat cheese
  • Salami and stracchino cheese
  • Roast pumpkin and brie
  • Lox and cream cheese garnished with arugula
  • Roast potato and caramelized leek...
I can keep going if you like.

Image © Giorgia Di Sabatino – Elliot Baldwin – 

Nov 5, 2016

48 hours in Sorrento

In the 1800s Sorrento became one of the preferred stops on the Grand Tour. Yet Sorrento has been attracting visitors since ancient times when the Greeks and later the Romans built their plateau settlement on the breathtaking coast just south of Naples. 

Thanks to its romantic views and dramatic cliffs, Sorrento became a magnet for poets, playwrights, composers, painters, writers, historians as well as photographers and filmmakers. Each celebrated the coastal town as the subject of their art, or chose it simply as their vacation place. 

May, June, September and October are the perfect time to visit the Sorrento peninsula. July and August are quite hot, with cliffs exposed to scorching sun for most of the day. This provides for sensational sunsets, but also temperatures that hardly drop in the evening. In summer the heat also contributes to often making the sky a little hazy. None of this happens in early spring and late fall, though. In Autumn the air is crisp and the sky is crystal clear.

Continue Reading ➔ for insider advice on how to make the best of a long, off-season weekend in Sorrento.

Oct 31, 2016

Cooking mushrooms, Italian style

Italy is in full-on mushroom frenzy right now. Porcini, finferli, chiodini, ovoli, prataioli, spugnole… you name it, the majority of local Autumn mushroom varieties are here and we're binging on them at home and when dining out.

The easiest way to cook mushrooms? Trifolati. 

The Italian cooking term means "cooked in olive oil, garlic and parsley" and the adjective only applies to mushrooms, as in "funghi trifolati".

Funghi trifolati is a delicious, light side dish, a classic of seasonal fall cuisine and among Italy's most loved vegetarian dishes.

Continue Reading for the recipe ➔

Oct 25, 2016

Chestnut soup

Autumn has officially become my favorite season.

Porcini mushrooms, antioxidant and smelly brassica, aromatic truffles, plus pumpkin and chestnuts all start making their appearance on market stalls all over in Italy. Cheeses made with summer pasture milk are reaching their 3-month maturation period, which means flavor pangs and rich texture in each bite. Grapes and olives are being harvested, fireplaces are crackling and the air is crisp enough to bury our chins in favorite wolly scarves again.

With crunchy fallen leaves underfoot and a precise seasonal shopping list in mind, I negotiate the trek to my neighborhood market, mentally going over what fall recipes I can finally start making again.
The first thing to catch my eye at Luisa's stall is a crate spilling with plump shiny chestnuts that seem to be popping out of thier thorny urchins.

Chestnuts are a very versatile food that can be eaten in a variety of ways: fire roasted, boiled, oven baked and dried to make flour, plus candied for marron glacé, or made into a creamy spread, or crafted into mont blanc cake.

Thoughts of castagnaccio, necci pancakes, poultry stuffing and other delightful chestnut-based treats danced around in my head. Then I remembered about soup.

500 g (1 lb) fresh chestnuts
2 slices crusty homestyle bread, cubed for croutons
2 celery ribs
1 whole leek
1 carrot
1 white onion
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Score the skins of the chestnuts with a paring knife – this prevents them from exploding during cooking. Place them in a large pot covered with cold water. Any that float to the surface should be discarded.
Cook the chestnuts for approximately 20 minutes from when the water starts to boil. Drain and once cooled off enough to handle, peel them making sure to remove the inner husk too. 
Prepare a light vegetable broth with approximately 1,5 liters (about 6 cups) of water and chopped leek, onion, carrot and celery, boiling for about 20 minutes. I don't add salt at this point but you may be accustomed to seasoning broth earlier than I do.

Add the peeled chestnuts to the broth and cook over medium heat for another 20 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and whir them in a food processor or blender. Should the cream be too thick you can filter the broth and add some of it to dilute the chestnut cream. 
Adjust seasoning.

Place the cubed bread in a single layer on an oven pan drizzled with a thread of olive oil and a sprinkle of your favorite fresh herbs. Grill in the oven for a few minutes, until barely golden. 

Serve the hot chestnut soup with a few croutons, a thread raw olive oil and a few more turns of the pepper mill.

Buon appetito!

Last photo courtesy of

Oct 19, 2016

Where to eat in Ostiense, Garbatella and Portuense

After exploring the eastern suburbs of Rome, let's push further in the working class districts of the eternal city, focusing on lesser known, authentic dining destinations.
Here are my favorite suburban dining destinations in the southern periphery of Rome; Ostiense, Garbatella and Portuense – three very interesting districts of Rome.

Continue Reading ➔

Oct 15, 2016

Where to eat in Centocelle, Quadraro and Torpignattara

Suburbs are considered reservoirs of conformity, but not in Rome. Peripheral, working class and trendsetting, the outlying eastern districts of Centocelle, Quadraro and Torpignattara are setting some of the highest dining standards in town. Here are 18 of my favorite places.

Oct 6, 2016

Mercato Centrale opens in Rome

If you've been reading this blog for some time you'll be aware of my feelings in regards to markets. City microcosms condensed in a modern day agora. With food to boot. What could be better?

The big news is Rome is adding one more item to its slew of city "mercati". The best part is that this won't be just any market.

After the success of Florence's 2014 Mercato Centrale, the doors to a brand new space have opened in Rome, on via Giolitti 36 in the Termini train station. Much like the one in Florence, Mercato Centrale Rome will act as a cultural meeting place with a completely different, modern and forward-thinking identity.

The market is housed in the former railway workers recreation center and cafeteria, brought back to life after a long period of abandonment. The launch of the Mercato Centrale Roma space also hopes to requalify a neighborhood with a negative reputation.

The focal point of the market is the Cappa Mazzoniana, an enormous Portuguese marble chimney hood designed by architect Angiolo Mazzoni in the '30s. Thanks to Mercato Centrale Roma, this impressive masterpiece will finally be returned to the city. 

The 1900-square meter area includes – in addition to the 15 food vendors on the ground floor – also an upstairs restaurant guided by chef Oliver Glowig, a pantry-like grocery store developed by Salvatore De Gennaro, of renowned Vico Equense gourmet deli La Tradizione. On the second floor is also a wine and beer salespoint, and a small coffee shop. On the third floor spaces will be available in the future to host cultural events and seminars. 

The shops and the craftsmen are the true soul of the project Mercato Centrale Roma. 
This is a gourmet destination which – despite being called a "market" – is clearly more set up for on-site eating than strictly for product purchase.
Here are a few images captured during yesterday's press preview opening and lunch.

Each shop has a display area and a kitchen for preparing and cooking the foods express. Visitors can buy and taste the bread, cakes, pizza al taglio and focaccia of Panificio Bonci; meat and select charcuterie of breeder and butcher Robero Liberati; fresh fish of Antica Pescheria Galluzzi dal 1984, tasty pizza pockets filled with Roman cuisine at the Trapizzino module copyrighted by Stefano Callegari and exported overseas by Paul Pansera. 

I also appreciated the crisp fritti fried foods at the Pastella stall, and the fresh hand stretched pastas of Egidio Michelis. Gorgeous artichokes normally sold at Alessandro Conti's market stall in Campo de’ Fiori, and mushrooms picked by Gabriele La Rocca in his Oriolo Romano property are pared, cooked and served with bread.

I had a hard time staying away from the Steiner chocolates from Massa Carrara and drooled over the raw milk cheeses from Piemonte and Sardinia paired with pane carasau, chickpea farinata, necci and testaroli from Lunigiana sold at the MCR branch of Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi with partner Antonio Menconi (formerly co-owner at Dall'Antò). Cremilla is the all-natural gelateria, which churns and serves 18 different natural gelato flavors made with no artificial additives and 100% organic farmed Italian milk.

Some of Florence's shops will also have a Rome branch at Mercato Centrale Roma, for example Luciano Savini's truffles, Marcella Bianchi's vegan-vegetarian cuisine, as well as Chianina burgers by Enrico Lagorio. Carmelo Pannocchietti showcases sweet and savory Sicilian specialties, while Romualdo Rizzuti bakes very good pizza pies in two wood-stoked brick ovens.

Under the imposing Cappa Mazzoniana, at the heart of Mercato Centrale Roma, is a beer station and a coffee bar, brewing single origin and blends of potent espresso. One particular blend was developed exclusively by local Rome roaster Franco Mondi of MondiCaffè for Mercato Centrale Roma, and there's talk of filter coffee extraction adding on to the java offer.

Access to the market is from Via Giolitti 36 and from inside the station for travelers passing through.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post for Mercato Centrale Roma. I have been compensated but all opinions remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.

For more info, go ahead and scan the Facebook Messenger bot below

Sep 26, 2016

His favorite lunch

And so it begins.

My ten year old boy did not hold my hand this morning on our way to school. The dramatic Italian mamma in me is shattered. The pragmatic, forward thinking American half is trying to be all cool about it.

It's an automatism. His hand reaches for mine when we walk side by side, no matter the context. It's always been that way ever since he could walk.


Initially it was support to compensate wobbly toddler legs. Then it was the comfort of protection. Crossing the street. During a long walk on the beach. On the way back from the grocery store. A thing that moms and kids do. At age four holding my hand made him feel safe; at age six his cold fingers spelled that inexplicable knot at the mouth of the stomach that comes with attending grade school. At age nine he held my hand because he was proud to be walking with me. He sometimes even clasps his little sweaty palm to mine while chasing Pokémon.
This morning I let my hand dangle next to his, like I always do.
And nothing happened.
I reached for it and felt no reciprocity. I felt discomfort. There was a touch of embarrassment.
I let it go and chuckled.

"Have we grown out of this now?", I asked. He slanted a sheepish smile and looked away.

The rest of the walk to school was silent. I, oddly heartbroken, aware that the end of something was happening right there and then. He, apologetic. Something quietly tearing inside him? Holding hands for us, I want to make this perfectly clear, is A. Big. Deal. A nonchalant given, yet still a big deal.

I noticed him peering over his shoulder a few times during the walk. Maybe a little girl he likes was walking behind us, or maybe the courtyard bully, and in either case he didn't want to be seen holding his mother's hand. I don't know. I did not turn to look. He's very reserved and hardly ever speaks of his feelings.

I understand now that this is where the slow and painful detatchment begins. It starts with your little boy no longer holding your hand in a routine situation. Coming to terms with it takes lucidity. And stronger coffee than I had this morning.

We climbed the stairs of the school building and he routinely walked in front of me and held the door open for me at the top. As we traversed the large empty atrium, rubber shoes squeaking on the marble floor, I felt his hand slip quickly into mine. A split second. A squeeze and it was gone. His way of saying, 'I feel your pain Mom, but it's time I grow up.'

At the bottom of the large staircase, where I always stop to kiss him good-bye I leaned in for our morning peck. He offered his cheek.
"I'll see you at one", and I watched him lug his big blue backpack filled with bricks and anvils and waved, as always.

At one, when I pick him up, we won't talk about this. I won't say what I'd like to, which is, 'My hand will always be there.'
At home I'll have his favorite lunch ready, risotto and creamed spinach.
Will he notice? Will he say something? Am I exaggerating?

I don't know. We'll see.

Parenting is a mysterious learning experience. You understand things in the strangest circumstances. I just learned my almost-eleven-year-old only child is growing up, and – like growing up kids do – there is no forewarning, it just happens, period. Deal with it, Mom.

The things I took for granted – like holding your kid's hand – are no longer a given.
Better go get that risotto going, or it'll never be ready by one o'clock.


Aug 30, 2016

Italian beverages you probably never heard of

As late summer heat continues pummeling the boot-shaped peninsula, Italians run to their fridges to grab their favorite beverages.

Forget Coke.

Many of these drinks are vintage classics, others postwar staples. None are universally known or widely sold beyond Italy.

Here's a little Italian beverage companion to have handy when offered Italian mystery drinks, as published on The American Magazine in Italia.

Continue Reading ➔

Jul 30, 2016

Pollo alla Cacciatora

I've been verbal in regards to misconceptions about Italian food and how foreigners mutilate Italian food names. I've written a lot about how some dishes change over time and evolve into new recipes after crossing oceans. The usual suspects being fettuccine Alfredo, spaghetti with meatballs, chicken or veal parm, shrimp scampi... One that seldom is mentioned in the list of Italian-American dishes is chicken cacciatore.

What Americans call chicken cacciatore is a broiler bird cooked in a spicy tomato sauce with mushrooms and herbs. In Italian, pollo alla cacciatora is a completely different dish. And when I say different, I mean made in a baffling amount of different ways.

With the premise that Italian cuisine is regional,  a characteristic of which is applying twists on many of its dishes, modifying them according to what part of the boot-shaped peninsula they're being cooked in, let me say that there is no correct cacciatora recipe. Each region, each village, even families in the same tenement building cook different versions of a dish. Same can be said for pollo alla cacciatora, which changes enormously according to where it's made.

For example, the people of Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany make their cacciatora with tomato sauce and varying amounts of herbs. Marche, Abruzzo and Umbria cooks omit the tomato element and prepare theirs with garlic and purple olives. In other parts of Italy this recipe is made by not sectioning the chicken in breasts, drumsticks, wings etc, rather by deboning and chopping the meat into small chunks and slow cooking it with in a supple wine, herb garlic and anchovy stew.

Whatever the recipe, the name alla cacciatora – in the hunter's style – denotes a humble, rustic preparation, that requires little skill, lots of patience and good quality ingredients.

I personally grew up eating the "in bianco" version (no tomato) that's traditionally made in Rome. Here is the recipe I learned from my mother and which I like to make for Sunday lunch.

5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 whole free range chicken, eviscerated
Sprigs of fresh rosemary
Bunch of fresh sage
1 tbsp all-purpose or rice flour
1 glass of white wine + more for stewing
1/2 glass of white vinegar
Salt and black pepper

Burn away any remaining feathers and fuzz by scorching the bird over a live flame on the stove. Wash the bird, pat dry and section into 6 or 8 parts. I leave the skin on, but you may choose to remove it.

Heat the oil and garlic in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. The garlic should not burn.

Place the chicken parts in the pot, season with salt and pepper and crank up the heat to brown evenly. Add the rosemary and sage, browning the meat for a few more minutes to sear evenly.

Sprinkle the flour, stir and then splash* the vinegar and wine to deglaze the pot.

*The verb, "sfumare" is a great Italian cooking term. In order to add flavor, cooks add a liquid of some sort (broth, wine, liqueur) in the initial phases of cooking to the heated pot. This operation releases steam, and triggers otherwise trapped flavor compounds. Another reason for doing this is to deglaze the pot. The sugars normally released by cooking meat caramelize on the bottom of the pot. They are precious sugars!
Splashing wine and vinegar will melt the sticky flavor bomb contained in the caramelized poultry sugars and do magic to your dish.

Once deglazed, stir the chicken parts to coat with the drippings. Add more wine, enough to drown by half the chicken parts.

Adjust seasoning, reduce the heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook for 20-25 minutes. Should the chicken lose moisture during this time, add 1/2 glass of warm water. The bird is done if when piercing the thigh juices run clear.

Serve immediately after uncorking the vino.

Buon appetito!

Images courtesy of AIFB

Jul 26, 2016

And then there was cheese

I think an apology is in order.

I update this blog irregularly.

The occasional posts I have been publishing are for the most part links to other sites to which I have contributed my writing.

It's not that I've been lazy, though.

Designing, developing and leading food, wine and cooking adventures in Rome, Florence, Sicily Naples & Amalfi for Casa Mia Italy Food & Wine, the company I co-founded, has definitely kept me busy.

And then there was cheese.

Another reason for not being consistent with blogging is that I've been all over Italy filming a cheese show called ABCheese. I wrote a few posts on this topic and an article for my column on The American. The show airs on Italian cable TV, with plans to hopefully sell internationally soon. I will keep you posted when that happens.

In the meantime, if you're interested in learning what the show is about, and watch me make silly faces when I taste amazing Italian cheese, you can click on the link to enjoy episode 1 of season 1 (uploaded in Italian with no subtitles).

Buona visione!