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!

Apr 5, 2019

Polarizing foods

controversial comestibles: cilantro

Everyone has their own food aversions, but there are some foods it seems people either love or hate.

There are certain universally loved foods that everyone can agree are delicious. Think pizza and gelato, for instance. Certain others, however, are a bit more polarizing: for example, when it comes to ingredients like gorgonzola or anchovies, some people either love them or detest them.

Food elicits passion, both negative and positive. The foods that most strike aversions are the pungent, stinky, bitter, slimy, or excessively fermented. This love/hate antagonism can divide households and spoil budding relationships.

For coherence's sake I have expressed my own personal disinclination or enthusiasm for the universally polarizing foods listed below.

Continue Reading → Controversial comestibles as appeared on The American Magazine in Italia

Mar 21, 2019

The flavors of Sicily in Rome

To welcome spring, my partners and I are kicking off a series of Sicilian food and wine events hosted in Rome. If you love Sicilian flavors, and you'll be in Rome April 2-3, you should seriously consider attending!

Sicily in Rome events April 2-3
The April 2-3 events were made possible thanks to partnerships with Casa Mia Tours, Chef Linda Sarris, aka The Cheeky Chef, and Sicilian food and wine sponsors. I can't wait to introduce them to you!
Check out the program of events:

Tuesday, April 2, 2019 | Sun, Sea & Soil Aperitivo

Join us for a Sicilian aperitivo at ProLoco Trastevere on Tuesday April 2, 2019 at 6:30 p.m.
Three of the most important ingredients in Sicilian cooking are sun, sea, and soil. Chef Linda Sarris from Palermo will cook up delicious Sicilian appetizers such as freshly made panelle (organic stone-milled chickpea fritters with lemon and fresh mint); fried anchovies and wild field greens; tomasini di russello (savory dough made from ancient grains filled with ricotta, sausage, and wild fennel seeds); Sicilian bruschetta topped with pesto trapanese, caper paté and sun-dried tomatoes. There will also be a tagliere featuring Sicilian cured meats and cheeses, like salame Nero Ibleo, and prized Ragusano cheese. Sicilian wine pairings and Sicilian amaro will be served. Signature cocktails will be available for purchase.
SICILIAN APERITIVO April 2, 2019 ProLoco Trastevere – Via Goffredo Mameli 23 – 6:30 p.m.
Tickets are available for purchase on Eventbrite ~ €25 per person, includes 2 glasses of wine, amaro and appetizer buffet.
Sicily in Rome events April 2-3Sicily in Rome events April 2-3
Sicily in Rome events April 2-3

Wednesday, April 3, 2019 | Sicilian cooking lesson at Casa Mia

Join a Sicilian cooking lesson in Rome on April 3rd, 2019. Aprons on at 6 p.m.

Thanks to the many cultures who have called this island their home, Sicily's layered food history is filled with ingredients and cooking techniques that you don't see in other parts of Italy.

In the kitchen, Chef Linda Sarris will teach guests about the importance of seasonal cooking with high-quality products and share her own simple recipes that you can recreate at home.

Following the lesson, guests will enjoy a dinner together, sipping Sicilian wines.

The four-course menu with wine pairings will feature an antipasto of organic stone-milled chickpea fritters with lemon and parsley; a first course of organic busiate pasta made from semola di grano duro, cauliflower, passolina raisins, toasted breadcrumbs and pine nuts. Our main course will be calamari stuffed with artichokes, capers and mint. No meal is complete without dolce, and no Sicilian meal is complete without hand-made cannoli with ricotta cream and candied orange peel.
Dishes will be paired with natural Sicilian wines, also poured throughout the cooking class.

SICILIAN COOKING LESSON Via Fabio Massimo 107 – Aprons on at 6:00 p.m.

Tickets are available for purchase on Eventbrite ~ €75 per person.

Sicily in Rome events April 2-3Sicily in Rome events April 2-3Sicily in Rome events April 2-3
Our event sponsors are:
Porta del Vento (sicilian wine from Camporeale) | @porta_del_vento_winery

Paesano Authentic (pomegranate amaro, artichoke amaro) | @paesano.authentic

Azienda Agricola Biologica Di Giovanna (organic extra virgin olive oil) | @digiovannawine

Molini del Ponte (chickpea & russello flour, busiate pasta) | @molini_del_ponte_drago
Our event partners are:
ProLoco Trastevere

I hope to see you there!

Feb 27, 2019

Spend a week with me

A few weeks ago I announced that Casa Mia, the food tour company I co-founded in 2015, has crafted week-long food and culture tours.

Casa Mia Tours, the company I co-founded
Availability is limited to the first 15 guests to confirm booking. Spots are selling out fast, so if you want an exclusive opportunity to experience the food, wine and beauty of Rome with me, you should seriously start thinking about reserving your spaces.

Join week-long food tours in Rome - spend 7 days with me

In partnership with Pranzo Tours––a tour operator with extensive experience in Italy travel planning––we're offering customized 7-day Rome tours whose focus is the food, wine and culture of the Eternal City.

Join week-long food tours in Rome - artichokes are in season in May
Join week-long food tours in Rome - there will be carbonara

During our week-long tours, you could have the unique opportunity to explore the Eternal City from a food and wine perspective in the company of trusted locals (including myself), spending a week dotted by delicious food, wine and cooking activities.

All planned out for you. All you have to do is sit back, sip and enjoy.

Days will be full of different activities, with plenty of tasting, drinking, cooking, learning Italian, eating and laughing. There will also be downtime to head off on your own to explore the city.

Join week-long food tours in Rome - tasting gelato, of course

Yes, there will be gelato.

Join week-long food tours in Rome - there will be lots of cheese!

Every detail has been carefully planned to give travelers the most authentic and delicious experience possible. First, is the timing. Our week-long culinary tours are scheduled in early May and late September, when Rome is less crowded, figs and artichokes are in season, and airfare is affordable.

Join week-long food tours in Rome - there will be vino
Join week-long food tours in Rome - let's finally meet!

Accommodations have been secured at a historic 4-star hotel in the center of Rome. The price for the week-long food and culture tour includes all accommodations, ground transportation, meals and ingredients for cooking classes, wines during meals, tours, and tastings, and city taxes.

No hidden costs. Only enjoyment. And lots of food.

Join week-long food tours in Rome - we visit a winery

Tour Highlights

  • Welcome dinner at Rome's best pizzeria
  • Farmer's market tour & cooking class with lunch
  • Winery visit & wine tasting day trip
  • Full-day cheese pilgrimage
  • Guided olive oil tasting
  • Breakfast at Rome's best pastry shop
  • Exploring the local cocktail and amaro scene
  • Testaccio market tour
  • Cacio e pepe, amatriciana & carbonara extravaganza
  • Lots of espresso, wine, gelato and more...
Join week-long food tours in Rome - there will be pizza

May is right around the corner, so reserve your spots before they sell out!

Join week-long food tours in Rome - learn about maritozzo

To learn details and pricing for our customized seven-day culinary adventures––which include guided excursions, authentic cooking classes, shared intimate dinners and opportunities for individual exploration––CLICK HERE.
I look forward to meeting you in Rome.

Feb 19, 2019

The foods I most hated as a child

I loathed anchovies as a child

Funny how all the foods I used to hate as a kid are now my favorites, and the ones I owe most of my livelihood to. Let me explain. I don't sell food, nor am I in the restaurant business; but I do make a living by writing about and starring in TV entertainment featuring many of the foods I most detested as a child. Coincidental?
If it's true that our palate evolves every seven years, it all makes sense.

I detested blue cheese as a child

Continue reading From reviled to revered as appeared on The American Magazine in Italia

Jan 11, 2019

Bespoke food & culture itinearies in Italy

Want to experience the culture, art and cuisine of Italy on a customized itinerary that my business partners and I can design for you?

Casa Mia Tours can plan a full multi-day itinerary that includes tours, cooking classes, boat excursions, wine tastings, plus concierge services like hotel and restaurant reservations, and any other element you may need, so you don't have to worry. Leave all the legwork to us. 

Carbonara - Week-long tours in Rome

Every experience we include in our itineraries has been personally selected to provide an authentic and immersive experience. 

Antipasto time - Week-long tours in Rome

Sample tour highlights
  • Welcome dinner at a local restaurant, representative of the area's cuisine
  • Farmer's market tour & cooking class with lunch
  • Winery visit & wine tasting day trip
  • Cheese pilgrimage with lunch
  • Art, history and culture immersion
  • Guided olive oil tasting
  • Exploring the local cocktail, aperitivo and amaro scene
  • Boat excursion around the islands
  • Hiking, biking or truffle hunting
  • Lots of espresso, wine, gelato and more...
Schedules always includes opportunities for quiet enjoyment and individual exploration.

Gelato & more - Week-long tours in Rome

We pride in offering only true and authentic experiences to our guests. Our commitment to responsible travel and food education is of paramount importance to us. The meaningful and responsible travel practices we encourage support local artisans, farmers, and small businesses, nurturing the local economy and preserving cultural traditions.

Pantheon - Week-long tours in Rome

In order to suggest ideas and solutions for you based on your travel style, budget and desired experiences, we recommend setting up a clarity session via Zoom to get to know each other and understand your needs and expectations. Email us to start planning your next trip to Italy!