Dec 22, 2020

Be my Guest - Ellen of An Italian Dish

Welcome back to a series that is dear to my heart. Be My Guest showcases like-minded guest bloggers who share intimate moments with the food of the heart, here on Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino. 
Be My Guest
Today I hand over the baton to Ellen. Her Italian food and travel themed blog, An Italian Dish, is a labor of love. In it she shares her love of naturally vegetarian Italian dishes, recipes, travel tales as well as some stories from her genealogy research.

Ellen - Be My Guest

Take it away, Ellen!

The season of gift giving is upon us, and I think back to one of the kindest, most thoughtful life-altering gifts I have ever received. It happened many decades ago, when I was a horribly adolescent 15 year old girl. You know that age, when we spend our junior high years trying to find an identity, flailing about in a sea of confusion. The gift given to me by my Nana altered me on a cellular level and still reverberates in my heart to this day.

Ellen and Nana

Nana was raised in the North End, Boston's Little Italy, where her parents had immigrated from southern Italy during the migration at the turn of the century. Life was full of hardships, so in her mid-twenties, Nana moved out to California. She left her Italian side behind except for her yearly trips back to Boston to see her paesani, her siblings, cousins, and friends.

Nana’s gift--when I was 15, she brought me to the North End where I met dozens of cousins, aunts and uncles I never knew existed. For the first time, I was wrapped in a blanket of Italian love and my Italian identity was born. We attended the Feast of Saint Anthony where I ate zeppole and walked down the streets of my ancestors. 

Now, all these years later, I put this love into my blog, An Italian Dish. It’s a place to share travel stories, recipes and to pay tribute to my family. 

ebook cover

This year, I created an Italian Christmas Cookie ebook called Traditional Italian Holiday Cookies & Tasty Treats. The ebook features classics like biscotti, pasta frolla, Sicilian Fig Cookies, Krumiri, and Mostaccioli that are near and dear to my southern Italian relatives.

To learn more, to receive my ebook or to subscribe, visit here

You can follow Ellen and An Italian Dish on Instagram, or Facebook. vg

Sep 6, 2020

Guest on the Dear Food Podcast

Dear Food is a podcast created by and intended for food lovers. You can imagine how thrilled I was when the creator, veteran Hollywood host and producer Ashley Chaney, asked me to be a guest on the show's maiden voyage!
guest on DEAR FOOD podcats

The claim is, "If food makes you feel happy, comforted, and loved, this show is for you. Whether or not you know how to cook, Dear Food speaks directly to your soul."

When Ashley asked me to be the first episode guest, she made it clear she wanted us to talk about Italian food and droolworthy descriptions of my favorite flavors, but mostly about the importance of how some foods connect to personal history and identity.

"Italian food is not just food. It's eating, sitting down with the family, with friends or loved ones or by yourself and making that moment the most important moment of the day."
You can play the full episode and enjoy all the others on Apple Podcasts to fill up your plate with conversations about the foods that make us feel something; and you'll be transported to kitchens around the world, to hear the stories behind our favorite dishes. Happy listening!

Aug 24, 2020

Live Eggplant Parmigiana Class!

Join my online cooking class!

I've always dreamed of having you over for dinner. Now's my chance to make that dream come true and your chance to travel virtually to Italy, straight to my kitchen in Rome!

Are you following me on Instagram and Facebook? Then you know that in 2015 I co-founded an independent tour company called Casa Mia

Given the current situation, Casa Mia has shifted its attention from in-person food tours and cooking lessons to online experiences. The format however is the same: lessons are held in the comfort of our homes, and recipes are geared for the home cook, like us. 

single portion eggplant parmigiana

We launched our live interactive online cooking lessons when Italy was in lockdown and it's been a huge success. Our classes bring people together, bringt smiles and a taste of Italy to kitchens far and wide. My partners and I cook, bake and whip up our favorite recipes, live via Zoom. These recipes are the ones we know how to make with our eyes closed, the ones we feed our loved ones, the ones that evoke the sweetest memories.

Our lessons are fun and adapt to all kinds of cooks. We even organize private classes if you prefer learning one-on-one, or if you want to host a fun virtual party with friends and family who are far away. We can also arrange special lessons geared for kids!

Some examples? In April, when the Roman countryside gave us its purple bounty, I taught participants how to cook Artichokes 3 ways. the following month I demystified the local pasta classics and shared all my secrets to perfect Carbonara & Amatriciana. With my business partner Gina, I hosted several Wine & Cheese Pairing lessons. I even made Tiramisu in 2 ways; and as the summer season hit, I taught Italian food lovers across many continents my favorite summer staples, like Pomodori al Riso and my mother's Eggplant Parmigiana.

The latter was such a success that a waiting list formed, and many other people requested I offer the lesson again.

This is the time: the eggplant, basil and tomatoes are at their peak. Once you sign up you'll receive a confirmation with a link + password to join the live Zoom class, and a shopping list via email a week prior to the lesson.

Sign up here and don't miss the chance to cook, laugh and drink a glass of wine with me on Sunday, September 20th! Aprons on at 3 pm Eastern, it will be evening here in Rome.

I hope to see you!

Jun 1, 2020

Let's cook together! Join our interactive online cooking classes

How long has it been since you last took a cooking class?

I started this blog Aglio Olio e Peperoncino as my virtual kitchen, sharing recipes and travel journals. During these months of lockdown my business partners with Casa Mia Tours and I took that concept one step further and decided to open our actual kitchens, inviting you in to cook with us.

Like many other businesses, our travel planning company immensely suffered the new reality. All of our clients' bookings were canceled overnight. With heavy hearts we had to call off engagements with guides, cooks, drivers and service providers that rely on the work we hire them for, all across Italy.

This new reality however has given us the gift of spending more time in our homes and in our kitchens. At a time when social distancing, fear and adapting to a new normal has shifted our habits and changed our lives, we felt that the next best thing to traveling to Italy was going there virtually, recreating the convivial warmth and flavors typical of the Italian culture.

Our live interactive online cooking lessons create a connection, a warm feeling of closeness across continents, at a time when closeness is not an option.

We offer simple interactive cooking lessons as a way to bring the universal us together. Classes are geared towards home cooks like us, and are open to all.

In this unprecedented moment, we look forward to welcoming you into our kitchens, tying on aprons, and getting to know you virtually, until we can do it in person.

Below is a summary of our June calendar.

A word of advice: book your online live cooking classes fast, because spots are selling like hotcakes.

June lessons, pairings and beyond

  • June 4, 2020 : Roman Classics, by popular demand – Learn to make Gricia & Amatriciana with Carolyn. The simple combination of Pecorino Romano cheese and guanciale – cured pork jowl – form a delicious base for most Eterna City pastas. ONLY A FEW SPOTS LEFT!
  • June 5, 2020 : Italian dolce : Tiramisu 2 ways taught by me – Boost your dessert game by learning two versions of Italy's most popular dessert. This is a fun, easy and safe lesson that's also suitable for the young foodies in the family. ONLY A FEW SPOTS LEFT!
  • June 11, 2020 : Fresh Pasta – Cavatelli al Pesto taught by Carolyn – you'll combine water and flour to make cavatelli, a delicious vehicle for a vibrant, herbaceous pesto. LAST FEW SPOTS LEFT!

  • June 13, 2020 : Cheese & Wine Club – Summer in the Italian South led by me and Gina – During our interactive wine & cheese pairing lesson we taste 3 summer wines (a white, a rosé and a lightly chilled red from southern Italian regions) paired with 3 cheeses made in different styles and with an assortment of milk types
  • June 14, 2020 : Sunday comfort – Neapolitan Ragù aka Sunday gravy taught by Gina – During our 90-minute live interactive cooking lesson, we’ll enjoy a morning coffee while preparing the base of the legendary Neapolitan ragù
  • June 20, 2020 : Fresh Pasta – Lemon Ricotta Tortellini in Brown Butter Sauce taught by Carolyn – Stuffed pastas aren't as intimidating as you may think. At the end of this class you’ll not only have a delectable dinner, but also acquire the knowledge and confidence to create a variety of stuffed pastas. ONLY A FEW SPOTS LEFT!
  • June 23, 2020 : Sicilian specialties – Caponata taught by Gina – quintessential Sicilian salad/stew consisting of fried eggplant, celery, tomato and olives in a sweet and sour sauce. Learn to master densely flavored caponata and discover a number of variations
  • June 26, 2020 : Complete meal recipes – Pomodori al Riso taught by me - Learn to master rice-stuffed tomatoes, a classic Italian complete meal, or piatto unico, made with Arborio rice baked within the hollowed-out plump heirloom tomatoes.

You can find details and book your spaces for our group virtual online cooking classes here

Email us if you'd like to book a private lesson just for your family/friends.

I look forward to seeing you in my kitchen in Rome!

online cooking classes Casa Mia Tours

May 21, 2020

Guest on the Ciao Bella podcast

I was thrilled when my friend Erica Firpo invited me to talk about my passion for cheese on her Ciao Bella podcast. I naturally steered the conversation towards blue cheese.

You can play and download the full The ABCs of Italian Cheese episode below:

Apr 26, 2020

Bella Ciao!

April 25th. In Italy this date marks the liberation from Nazi-fascism. Festa della Liberazione is a public holiday, schools and businesses are normally closed and people get the day off. On this day we normally go on a picnic, or take a walk in the park. We snack on the first fava beans of the season, pairing them with sharp aged pecorino romano. We snooze after a few glasses of wine. We each celebrate the recurrence in our own way. One thing that's common on venticinque aprile however, is signing "Bella Ciao!"

bella ciao album cover
"Bella Ciao!" album cover
Younger generations may know the song from La Casa de Papel. People my age and older know it's actually the anthem of anti-fascism.

Italian partisans in the mountains
Partigiani in the mountains, along the Gothic Line

"Bella Ciao!" was originally a protest folk song of the mondine women, protesting against the harsh working conditions in the paddy rice fields of Northern Italy, in the late 19th century. The song was later modified and adopted as the hymn of the anti-fascist resistance by the Italian partisans between 1943 and 1945 during the Italian Resistance against Nazi German forces occupying Italy. The author of the modified lyrics is unknown.

Italian partisan women
Valentino Petrelli / Public domain

It's a song we all know the words to. My friend Laura's mother would sing it to her as a lullaby. I used to hum it to myself when I was racing down the dark corridor in the big house where I grew up.

"Bella Ciao!" is a song about Rememberance and Courage. It's a song of Resistance, of Sacrifice. It's a song that talks about the invader and of death.

A new kind of invader has recently entered our lives. It has broken our courage. It has us locked us into our homes, divided us from family. It has ruined our life. The enemy, silent and faceless, has taken away our jobs, our freedom. It has taken many, too many lives. This year there were no picnics, no naps in the park. We sang "Bella Ciao!" from the window, confined in our homes.

thanks to those who resist
Banner in Bergamo: "Freedom is like air: you realize its value when you're short of it.
Thanks to those that resist. Now and always."

In addition to the difficulty of living in lockdown, I personally am still in shock for having lost someone I knew to the new invader. Matteo was an old love and for the past 17 years a dear, dear friend. He was a romantic, an artist and an epicure. Matteo was handsome, witty, smart, talented, kind and gentle. Anti-fascist to the core, he was dearly loved. He leaves behind one big incredulous and heartbroken family spread across Bari, Sydney, Puerto Rico, New York and Rome. Yet, he died alone in an ICU unit in New Jersey, unconscious. A true partisan fighting in a battle that he lost in only 4 weeks.

It was surreal singing "Bella Ciao!" this year: a song about freedom as prisoners. I opened the window at 3 pm and sang. Shyly, a little choked. Then the somber remembrance of the victims of Nazi-fascism––with every word I uttered––turned into a loud, hoarse scream against the cruel new invader that took the life of so many, including my friend's.

"Bella Ciao!" is the hymn of the partisans who helped liberate Italy from fascism 75 years ago, giving their life for freedom. From now on "Bella Ciao!" has a new, added significance: it's also the anthem of all those that are still fighting against the faceless enemy, and I will continue singing it in remembrance of those victims defeated by the new invader of 2020.

Apr 3, 2020

The New York Times "36 Hours in..." column

It was one of the bad days.

One of the days during lockdown when you can barely get out of bed. Sink full of dirty dishes, laundry piled high in the bin. Those days when not even food picks you up.

I dragged myself to the computer and, like every day, braced myself to read the news.

In browsing The New York Times' Travel section for some escape therapy, I spotted a call for entries.
The paper's popular 36 Hours series was launching their first ever reader-generated itinerary. The first with no actual traveling
Without thinking I filled the fields in the contact form and sent without even doing a spellcheck.

I've always dreamed of having my writing published in The New York Times. The Holy Grail of journalism and reporting.

Lesson number 4,937,583,262,543 that I learned during quarantine: dreams do come true. Even on bad days.

36 Hours in… Wherever You Are ~ a weekend of traveling you can do from home.

Mar 16, 2020

Italy on pause

This is actually happening.

Italy is in lockdown. Zona Protetta, as Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte defined the country: a protected area.

"The country needs the responsibility of each and every one of you, it needs 60 million little big sacrifices. Let's keep a distance today to hug each other more warmly and to run faster together tomorrow. All together we will make it through."

The day after the decree was issues with hashtag #iorestoacasa (I'm staying at home) as national directive for people to stay put and help stop the contagion from increasing, the World Health Organization elevated the outbreak to pandemic.

I have to keep reminding myself, this is actually happening.

The perception abroad, given the media coverage––both domestic and foreign––is of Italy's deserted streets and monuments, hoards of people fleeing home from Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto aka "red zones" where the contagion and casualties are higher, and general hysteria at the supermarket.

It's a lot more than that.

Being here and living this surreal situation feels more like the country is on pause.

We are living in one of those strange nightmares. The ones where time is prolonged and everything feels unknown, like a heavy burden. Trying to run away from the monster with lead in your legs.

What exactly is a lockdown? And why are we in it?

What: Lockdown means the entire Italian population is asked to stay home and only leave the house for absolutely necessary errands like buying food, going to the pharmacy and taking a short walk with our kids and pets. Italy is essentially shut down at least until April 3.
We don't congregate, we keep 3-ft social distancing and we wash our hands much more than usual.

Why: We are closed off from the outer world so that we don't infect others and put countless people at risk, and by the same token we potentially avoid contracting the virus from others who may be infected. That's because coronavirus is sneaky, its symptoms appear after a 2 to 14 day incubation period.

A monumental effort. But necessary.
I feel proud that I'm doing this for our elders, our community and our country.

We can no longer go to the bar for espresso (or a grappa, or both). It was tough enough grabbing a coffee while maintaining the 3-ft distance between barista and other customers, given our average personal space is much smaller than the rest of the world's. Now I miss my cornetto like it's crack.

Buses are still running, but the few I see driving by are always empty. We can no longer visit museums, watch a match at the football stadium, attend a concert. We can't hug our aging relatives. We can't go to the gym. We can no longer do impromptu pizza night with friends. We'll hold off on going to the cinema, theater, ballet, getting manicures, haircuts. You'll just have to accept my grey roots showing.

No more day trips to the lake or the countryside. In order to leave our region of residence, we have to carry a signed self-certified declaration stating the reason for the transfer. Work and emergencies are permitted, trespassers without the signed form (or a not good enough reason) outside of their region/province will be fined up to €290.

Don't think martial law. Just strictly applied rules.

The general feeling is of melancholy. A strange new sadness.

So many questions are flooding our minds.

Will my family and I stay healthy?
Will cancellations continue to pour into our mailboxes?
Will I have to homeschool my teenage son who in June is supposed to take a major final written and spoken exam to advance to high school?

We're so used to multitasking and going about our busy daily routine that all this "spare time" is also, quite frankly, driving us a little nuts. But we Italians are also creative, resourceful and never forget our sense of humor.

Lack of work and restricted activities are obviously causing everyone trouble. The travel industry is on its knees. People's livelihood is at risk.

My heart goes out to Venice, my beloved Venice. After the acqua alta in October, now this.
Forza Venezia, we can do this!

As soon as the quarantine lifts, and when it will be safe to travel again, I personally will go to Venice and support its artisans, guides, gondoliers, restaurateurs, bartenders, hotel managers and the general population with my presence, my money, my love. I will do the same with my friends in Bologna, Parma, and other gravely affected areas.

This suspended time will furthermore allow us to do all the things we had previously put on the back burner in the name of fast-pace stakhanovism.

Little sister and I will teach our 82 year old mother (who lives 2 blocks away) to use Skype and Facetime, so we can do video-calls.
I'll make it a habit to check in with family and friends more regularly.
I'll have more time for writing.
I can polish off the book pitch.
Get free pet therapy with our new puppy.
I'll beat my son at scopa.
He will defeat me at Monopoly, as per usual.
I'll finally have the time to read, work out, and do nothing––rare commodities for self employed entrepreneurs…

We will beat this.
We'll find solidarity, our sense of compassion and community––all at a distance.
We'll wash our hands for 60 seconds humming the alphabet or "Tanti Auguri a Te" twice.
We'll try not to touch our face.
We'll stay at a safe distance from others.
And we will make it through this moment.

We will resume complaining about traffic and crowds.

There is a silver lining to all this (because I always try to see the glass half full).
The air smells amazing. Smog levels have dropped. In the early morning when I take the dog out for his first walk, the dawn smells of flowers and springtime. Reminds me of when I was 17.
This is not going to last forever.
We reach out more and talk to each other on the phone/FaceTime instead of messaging.
Banding together as a community and following the rules feels empowering.
It will be fun to declutter
There will be time to learn a new language... Russian is high on my list.
We Italians, so famous for our love of sharing food, have made no visible effort to raid shelves and panic buy. We've left enough for everyone.

If across the web you've been seeing photos of handwritten sticky-notes and rainbows on banners hanging outside windows, you may be wondering what Andrà tutto bene means.
Literally: "Everything will go well."