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January Newsletter 2012

Winter Recipes & Food News From Cooking Vacations

Warm winter lentil soup, double baked polenta, lemon pound cake and a perfect bottle of Vino Rosso d’Alba, are the recipe for a cold winter night.  As we keep busy in the kitchen at Cooking Vacations with soul warming foods of winter, we are also cooking up a storm of fun foodie events including a major USA food and wine event coming in March, along with the chance to cook family recipes with my Mom, Marie Lucia in New York City, to a one man art show in Ravello with our favorite artist Peter Ruta… keep your aprons on for more cooking news to come!

Buon Appetito!


Table Talk

Buon Anno from Cooking Vacations

We hope 2012 has begun in the best of ways for you. At the beginning of a new year it’s not unusual to spend a little time planning and dreaming about the months to come, the goals you hope to reach, the old friends you’d like to see again and the vacations you’d like to take. But it’s also fun to look back and remember all the wonderful things 2011 year brought. It would appear the sages are right – the more grateful you are for what you have, the more great things seem to come your way! At Cooking Vacations, 2011 brought us many new guests from around the world, even including a Princess and her family! It included food trips to Tuscany, Umbria, Bologna, Rome, Venice, the Amalfi Coast & Capri and with talented chefs and cooks on our team.  It brought time spent with our American and Italian families, some of whom got married, others of whom were blessed with new additions to their family. It gave us a wet blustery spring, but a summer that continued almost until November.

We are looking forward to welcoming new guests to Italy, enjoy the produce from our vegetable garden, discover new hidden areas of Italy and enjoy the foods made together amongst friends and family around the table. We want everyone to eat healthily and sensibly, but without missing out on the many occasions for celebration and that little brindisi, as Italians are so famous for. La gioia di vivere makes Italy – Italy!!

Food Notes

Germaine Stafford, food lover, shares with us our favorite food notes on last year’s best hot picks.  Good food comes in many different guises and a simple country style meal enjoyed with friends can be just as memorable as a visit to a well-loved restaurant. So we thought it would be fun to list some of our favorite food memories of 2011.

One of the highlights was being involved in the preparation of typical pork products at the beginning of the year, deciding what cuts we wanted, and watching the meat being skillfully transformed into prosciutto, salami, sausages, cutlets, lard and pancetta. Now, apart from the joy of having all these products on hand to use throughout the year, the lunch at the farmer’s  was a lesson in simplicity, and how an early morning start and hours spent in a cold barn can work wonders for your appetite. That day we sat down to golden rounds of bread cooked in a wood oven and a few slices of salami spread with a homemade chili jelly followed by generous servings of pasta with ragù. Next we ate fresh fish, meat, ribs and cotiche used to make the ragù, intertwined with paper thin prosciutto and a good glass of Signore Michele’s wine. Simply delicious.

Then in spring came the fresh fava beans and peas from the vegetable garden, both of which we remember for their wonderful intense flavor. A dinner at Il Buco in Sorrento gave us an unforgettable warm almond and lemon soufflé with prosecco sorbet and a wild berry sauce, an evening with friends a stunning carpaccio of local beef served with nothing more than a few shavings of white truffle and a delicate drizzling of extra virgin olive oil, and a gala dinner with two star Chef Gennaro Esposito delighted us with a unique risotto with home-smoked fish, lemon, a hint of hot pepper and flecks of fried seaweed, followed by slow-cooked suckling pig with figs served with apricot sauce. There were countless other occasions where we sat back replete and happy, but these are the tastes that spring to mind.

2012 will hold new tastes, journeys and adventures visiting Italian villages with their gastronomic traditions and food sagras, and of course, lots of laughter with friends and family around the table. May 2012 be a delicious year for you!

Recipes From Our Kitchen


Lentil Winter Soup

By Lauren

Number of servings (yield): 4


  • 1 cup of small size brown organic lentils washed well.
  • ½ cup or a big hearty handful of fresh Italian parsley, chopped. (I personally am generous with the parsley).
  • 1 stalk of celery, sliced and chopped into small pieces
  • 1 cup of mini organic carrots sliced and chopped into small bites
  • 3 sprigs of garlic
  • Sea salt
  • Extra Virgin first-cold pressed olive oil
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, peeled and shaved and chopped into small pieces, equaling about 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons.
  • ½ pound of lean ground Sirloin beef.
  • 1 or 2 small dried chili peppers, optional (to taste).
  • Black ground peppercorns


  • Take a copper soup pan if you have one, or any deep soup pan will do. Drizzle the bottom of the pan generously with Extra Virgin, first-cold-pressed olive oil, warm it up and add the garlic. Let it blond. Remove the garlic.
  • Add the celery, carrots, parsley and ginger, sprinkle with a pinch or two of sea salt to taste. Add the chili pepper (optional).
  • Add a splash of water and let simmer / sauté.
  • Take the ground beef and mix in a handful of finely chopped parsley, a pinch of sea salt, a few turns of ground black peppercorns, a few drizzles of olive oil, and mold into small balls, (into the approx size of a big gum ball).
  • When the vegetables on the stovetop are soft add the meatballs and sauté.
  • When the meatballs are halfway cooked, add the lentils and stir, then add a liter and a half of water.
  • Let simmer for 45 minutes or more on slow low heat.
  • While the soup is simmering, take Italian hard crust bread and slice into thin pieces. Toast until golden.
  • Remove from oven and while still warm rub with fresh garlic clove and lighly sprinkle with sea salt and olive oil.
  • When soup is ready, serve in crock style clay bowls with garlic bruschetta on the side and drizzle with a small drop of olive oil.


Polenta Verde Delallo

By Lauren


  • One bunch of organic broccoli rabe
  • Garlic
  • Sea salt
  • One bag of Delallo Polenta
  • 1 or 2 chili peppers
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


  • Using cold water, wash the leaves apart three times and break them up into small pieces.
  • Take a deep copper pan and drizzle generously with olive oil, add garlic sprigs, sea salt, and 1 or 2 small chili pepper(s), and blonde garlic over low slow heat.
  • Add the broccoli to the pan, cover, and sauté.
  • While the broccoli is sautéing, bring 4 ½ cups of water to a rapid boil. Put in a pinch of sea salt to taste.
  • Slowly add the polenta to the boiling water, slowing while stirring. The process takes 3 minutes.
  • At the 3 minute point remove from the stove and stir in 2 to 3 tablespoons of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
  • Take the polenta and spread it out onto a long wide pizza pan that has been lined with baking parchment paper, and sprayed with canola oil. Spread evenly and pop into the oven at 325°F for 20 to 25 minutes until golden.
  • Remove from the oven and slice the polenta into even squares, about 4 inches by 4 inches each.
  • Put back in oven for another couple minutes.
  • Remove, top with broccoli rabe and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve!


Italian Lemon Cake

By My Mom, Marie Lucia

This long loaf lemon cake is a delicious healthy breakfast food and pairs up perfectly with a steamy cappuccino or espresso.


  • 4 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ cups of granulated organic sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 ½ cups of milk
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup of unsalted butter


  • Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray an oblong baking pan with canola nonstick spray or line with parchment paper.
  • Beat eggs and sugar until fluffy.
  • Add the soft butter and mix well.
  • Add the salt, baking powder and sugar.
  • Next add milk and vanilla.
  • Lastly add the flour slowly, mixing well. Batter needs to be creamy.
  • Pour the batter into the baking pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.
  • Test by putting a skewer or long wooden toothpick into the top.

Melody’s Vine Picks

With the winter- our wine picks look to northern Italy as skiers are taking the slopes in Trentino, and visitors are packing their warm clothes to visit northern cities such as Verona and Venice.  Warm up with our winter wine picks from the region of Veneto:

Lentil Winter Soup

Pair with: Venturini Massimino Valpolicella Classico 2010 

An interesting blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes, this dry full-bodied red from Veneto offers aromas of tart cherry and a slightly bitter finish that complements the sweetness of the lentils nicely.

Polenta Verde Delallo

Pair with: Giuseppe Quintarelli Bianco Secco 2010 750ml

Polenta is traditionally a poor-man’s dish, so since you saved on dinner, splurge on the wine with this Garganega-blend dry white wine from one of Veneto’s most renowned makers.

Italian Lemon Cake

Pair with: Fantinel Brut Rose NV 750ml

With the Prosecco grape losing it’s right to the exclusive use of the name, try a Prosecco before our Italian variety takes on the name ‘Glera.’ This Brut Rosé Prosecco has aromas of red berries and cherries, perfect to top off the lemon zest in this delicious and guilt-free dessert.

New Cooking Vacations Programs

Cooking In The Roman Jewish Ghetto™, Kosher Cooking In Rome ~ 4 Day

Join Umberto & Chef Essa for Kosher cooking in Rome at his famous Jewish Ghetto trattoria. Opened by his grandmother, the trattoria features a no-meat menu including cheese, vegetable, pasta and fish specialties. Not to miss are the home-baked desserts from crostata to Babka to delicious middle-eastern influenced baklava. Click here to read more.

Florence: Chef Massimo’s Kitchen™, For The Experienced Cook & Food Lover ~ 4 Day

Step into the professional kitchen of Executive Chef Massimo for hands-on cooking classes in the heart of the Florence and revisit classic traditions with his innovations. Chef Massimo’s cooking classes are perfect for the experienced home-cook who wants a challenge, the seasoned chef who wants to learn something new and the passionate food lover! This rising-star-Chef’s motto is ‘local, seasonal and fresh, while using only high quality products from the region.’ His classes include a full menu with antipasto, pasta, risotto, a main course and dessert. Porcini, tartufi and precious produce of the Tuscan land are used! Click here to read more.

With Love From Italy

If you cannot make it to Italy, we bring Italy to you

Gran Tour – Ricordi in Micromosaici. Those visiting Rome during the next few months might like to visit this small but fascinating exhibition of micro-mosaics at the city’s Museo Mario Praz which charters the most famous views of Italy that were so popular with all those undertaking the Grand Tour during the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Exhibits include a number of items from private collections as well as pictures, plaques, jewels and tobacco boxes from the Museo Napoleonico and the Vatican Museums.


Leonardo: il genio, il mito. It’s always difficult to resist an exhibition on Italy’s greatest genius Leonardo da Vinci, and this one held in Torino’s Scuderia Grande della Reggia di Venaria is no different. Among exhibits is Leonardo’s famous self-portrait along with many of his works dealing with the themes of human anatomy and faces. Definitely one of the most interesting events of the year.


Montalbano. As long as it’s cold and windy out, make the best of it – curl up on the sofa and enjoy watching a few episodes of one of Italy’s best loved TV detectives, Commissario Montalbano. Set in Sicily, the series follows its irascible protagonist, ably personified by Luca Zingaretti, as he solves his latest cases, all of which manage to combine entertaining plot lines, snatches of breathtaking Sicilian countryside, Montalbano’s love of good food and wine and some wonderful comic moments. Feel good TV doesn’t get much better than this.


Italian Feasts & Celebrations

Don’t let the winter weather deter you from visiting some of the fabulous sagras organized during the month of January all over Italy. By the time you’ve finished eating and drinking, you won’t feel the cold at all

19th Mostra del Radicchio Rosso Tardivo di Treviso, Zero Branco, Veneto. Once you’ve tried this deep red bitter-tasting vegetable a few times (radicchio di Treviso is the long-fingered type rather than the tight ball shape), it becomes a firm favorite. During January and February radicchio is at its best, and during January, there are a variety of radicchio sagras to be visited all over the Veneto region. This year he one held in the town of Zero Branco near Treviso is held on the 13th – 15th and  20 – 22nd January, and as well as being able to sample local specialties such as gnocchi, pasta and pizza with radicchio, you’ll also be able to try more unusual offerings such as radicchio grappas, liqueurs and cheeses. Music and dancing make this a great venue for kids, while adults can admire local ceramics and prints specially created for this event.

Sagra delle Braciola. All over the province of Rome during the month of January, you’ll find a series of sagras dedicated to the ‘braciola’.  The sagra of Camerata Nuova is held on the 22nd January and in all the town’s piazzas you’ll find huge open grills full to overflowing with sizzling meat. This festival which originated in memory of the terrible fire that destroyed the old town in 1859, now includes stalls offering lots of delicious local specialities like gnocchi in meat sauce, side dishes, and regional sweets, all washed down with generous helpings of local wine. But save some energy for the games and dancing later in the evening!

Sagra del Maiale.  There’s no getting away from it – January is the month of the pig and all over Italy, villages and towns celebrate pork meat in all its forms with a series of sagras and festivals, many of which date back centuries. From Montagnana near Padova to Campogilliano in the Province of Modena and Fagnano Castello in Cosenza, you can sample all the normal pork products like prosciutto, salami, pancetta, grilled cutlets and sausages but also the humbler parts of the animal like tripe, pig skin, pig’s trotters and the various innards. It might not all be to your taste, but it’s absolutely fascinating to experience. As the Italians say, absolutely nothing from the pig is wasted.

Italy On A Plate

By Germaine Stafford

Germaine continues her roundup of what’s happening in the culinary world in Italy and gives you her chef of the month, book recommendation, and a list of seasonal foods for January.

What’s in Season?

Brussel sprouts
Broccoli rabe

Restaurant Of The Month

Valle Verde, Atripalda

Last January, we decided to start the year with an extravagant experience at a three-star restaurant in Rome as a special way of kicking off 2011, but this year we’ve chosen something quite different – a quiet family trattoria. In 1953, in the small town of Atripalda, Pasqualina De Benedictis and her mother-in-law set up kitchen in their country cottage and hung up the sign ‘Valleverde: Trattoria con Allogio’. Today there are no more rooms for rent but the very same trattoria (with the very same sign) is alive and thriving today. What started as a trattoria and meeting place for locals gradually became popular with passing truck drivers (a sure sign that good food was being offered at reasonable prices), and is now frequented by a comfortable mix of workers, older locals, company executives from the nearby industrial zones, and eager foodies with good food guides stuck under their arm.

Inside, tables are simple, basic even, but the house red (an Aglianico made by Pasqualina’s nephew Sabino who’s also an oenologist), sets the tone for what’s about to arrive. After a few words with your waiter, he nods politely at your questions as to what’s on the menu and runs off a number of the house specialties, ending with the words ‘Non Vi preoccupate’ – don’t worry. Without giving you time to tell him what you want, he heads back to the kitchen and for a scary (but wonderfully giddy) moment you realize he intends to bring you a taste of everything he mentioned. You consider calling him back but decide to let him do it his way.

You don’t regret it. First he appears with some slices of stale bread covered with freshly cooked beans and drizzled with olive oil made from small olive ravece (if you’ve never tasted it, try it immediately – it will change your ideas on olive oil for good), and sprinkled with oregano. Then it’s chickpea soup closely followed by scarole e fagioli, then as an afterthought, a dish of rice with beans. After which he has the good sense to leave you alone for half an hour before reappearing with a plate of homemade pasta with baby tomatoes and pecorino. All of these dishes are eye opening in their simplicity and strength of flavor. Nothing is added that might overcome the essence of the main ingredient be it beans, chickpeas or tomatoes. Cheese, chili, basil, oregano are all added but as a compliment and never so much that it interferes with the principal flavor of the dish.

The secondo is coniglio al cacciatore and a divinely good ragù. (Here the utter wickedness of the ragu’ must be extolled – an unctuous sea of deep red tomato sauce with its cargo of rolled stuffed shoulder of beef, local sausage, pork ribs and a melt-in-your-mouth roll of cotica stuffed with pecorino cheese and parsley, which, incidentally, might just be the most delicious thing you’ll taste this year…) And having got this far it would be a pity not to try the individual melting chocolate cakes or the pear and ricotta tart or the rich dark caprese. All washed down with a good passita from the island of Liapri, that magnifies that warm glow you feel spreading from your head right down to your toes.

Valleverde (Zi’ Pasqualina)
Via Pianodardine, 112
83042 Atripalda, (AV)
Tel: 0825-626115
Website: www.ziapasqualina.it

Book Of The Month

Made In Italy

By David Rocco

There are no two ways about it: there are simply some books that as soon as you open them convey a feeling of authenticity, elicit admiration, and yes, let’s admit it, a touch of envy. Rocco’s Made in Italy is one such book. Following the author on his journey around Il Bel Paese it’s difficult not to wish that we could do the same: travel from Northern Italy and Florence to the Amalfi Coast and Sicily, stopping off to meet or make friends and sample local specialties. Rocco makes no secret of the fact that what really interests him is the simple peasant cooking that is at the basis of all regional Italian cuisine. That’s not to say he never makes any changes to dishes he recreates, but you’ll find few intricate or complicated procedures or exotic ingredients, only straightforward recipes that reflect the true spirit of Italian cooking.

Chapters include Aperitivi, Antipasti, Pizze, Primi, Secondi and Dolci, and as well as providing recipes, each takes you through the rituals and customs that accompany much of the food, from the post-office aperitivo with colleagues or friends to a Caponata Napoletana enjoyed on a day at the beach with the kids. These musings and anecdotes remind us of what an integral part of life food is in Italy and that combining family, healthy eating and entertainment doesn’t have to be difficult. How about a pizza party for example, where you can try out the many versions given in the book: onion and chili; apple and Gorgonzola; sausage and Scamorza; potato and rosemary; or even pizza with grapes and pine nuts. Get children to help roll up the polpette of their choice – eggplant, zucchini, tuna or meatballs, or help stuff some involtini. There are lots of casual eats that could be taken on a picnic or simply eaten as a snack – ham and Scamorza calzone, cous cous panzanella, grilled focaccia sandwich, gattò di patate. For casual lunches and dinners there are ideas such as chicken and radicchio salad, roasted sausages, potatoes, peppers and onions, shrimp and lemon risotto, or one of the various pesto recipes included – with almonds, olives, dried tomatoes or lemon and parsley. The butternut squash and mussel soup, beef tenderloin and veal with fresh herbs would all make great dinner party dishes and there are countless desserts just begging to be made, among which, drunken peaches, lemon puffs and lazy man’s tiramisu. All in all, a book that makes you want to head to the kitchen and get busy.