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February Newsletter 2011

Fresh Recipes, New Kitchen Ideas, Food News & Fun Things To Do In Sunny Italy

My Little Valentine

I love the story of San Valentino! He was Italian! I love handmade cards shaped in big hearts and organic chocolate sweet made with baker’s hands. I love giving homemade gifts that make eyebrows rise and smiles wide. San Valentino is the saint of love, dates back to 500 AD, and was named after the Christian martyr created by Pope Gelasius. Sadly the sweet little holiday was edited off the Roman Calendar of Saints in 1969, but churchgoers and believers still honored him. It was the great writer Geoffrey Chaucer who put it back on the map when he penned beautiful love stories in his honor! Juno, the Roman godess of marriage, added fire to the flame and immortalize the name of Saint Valentine.

So here high on the Amalfi Coast, in honor of San Valentino, Melody, Giuseppe and I are busy in our Test Kitchen cooking, baking and making Valentine sweets to keep you cozy. Our small sized Capreses, made in a heart shaped form, are topped with pink sugared rose petals. Every sweet tooth wanted a bite so we baked and shipped our piccolo choco cakes to sweethearts Jennifer Lopez, Rod Stewart, Andrea Bocelli, Larry King, and Denzel Washington to name a few.

Menu For Two

Simplicity reigns in Italian cooking and Valentines is no exception. Our San Valentino menu for 2 includes, antipasto Mare e Monti (sea and land) grilled winter pumpkin, wild Porcini, toasted polenta and lemon fused calamaretti (grilled to perfection); Pasta ai Frutti di Mare, Scialatielli pasta cooked in a sweet red tomato sauce tossed with sea-catches of clams and mussels; Todd English’s Branzino (recipe below); and a rich Torta Caprese con Gelato, white or dark flourless cake spiked with choco. And lastly, an espresso-Sambuca along with a choco-hazelnut Baci will have you exchanging love messages in Italiano!

This month Cooking Vacations was chosen as the leader in culinary tours to Italy specializing in KIDS COOKING sharing our thoughts on the healthy Mediterranean diet with Tiny Green Mom. I was interviewed and our recipes and story appear on this helping hand site for Moms, read all about us at http://tinygreenmom.com/2011/01/paccheri-con-le-melanzane-paccheri-pasta-with-eggplant-tomato-sauce/

The International Association of Women Entrepreneurs hosted an in depth interview on Cooking Vacations’ marketing and social media business communications. Read all about us, http://www.iaweo.com/facebook-marketing-strategy/

Cooking With A Contessa
Tastes Of Italia Magazine

Each month I travel, write and photograph for Tastes Of Italia Magazine covering all of Italy’s 20 Regions reporting on interesting food & cooking news, artisan producers, slow food advocators, food purveyors and all good things Italian. Read about The Italian Contessa in this month’s issue.

“I love pasta! I love pasta e cocozza, pasta and pumpkin, pasta e piselli, pasta and peas, and pasta e cavolfiore, pasta and cauliflower, -simple pasta dishes, using the vegetables in season,” says Raimonda. This is Raimonda, she is a Contessa. Her green gray eyes catch the light as she tells about her love for Italian pasta. Read all about it, https://www.cooking-vacations.com/newsclips/tastes-of-italia/

Kids Cooking

From ours Kids Cooking kitchen, Chloe & Siena have contributed their love notes and recipes for fun Cupid recipes for any Valentine festa!

Florence Food, Art & Romance

And if you are looking for the absolute romantic getaway check out:

Florence: Food, Art & Romance™
Cooking With Chef Monica ~ 4 Day

Florence, Medieval City of food, art & romance is laid with ancient cobblestone streets, outdoor cafés spilling on piazzas, and museums home to Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi, Michelangelo’s Davide and Botticelli’s Primavera. Join Chef Monica for a Florentine cooking experience that will have you cooking like a local!

Buon Appetito!

Table Talk

February is the month of extremes: it’s wet and windy, often with unexpectedly warm days that surprise you; it brings the festive extravagance of Carnevale which is immediately followed by Lent, and the respite of winter along with the first seeds of spring and summer. After the snow and ice we’ve had over the last month, most of us are hoping for an early and clement spring, but in the meantime, it’s all winter coats and wooly hats.

But don’t let the cold put you off – there’s still lots to do out and about: a weekend on the slopes (it’s been a great year for skiing so far); a few days spent somewhere in the south of Italy where the sun is easier to find (why is it that while we’re bundled up against the snow it always seems that the beaches of Palermo are full?); and the many food sagras that are held in every corner of the country celebrating local seasonal produce like pork, beans, pumpkin, and the various different types of radicchio. There’s Carnevale of course, with its fabulous displays and processions with paper mache floats that poke fun at politicians and celebrities, and the most romantic day of the year, San Valentino. To celebrate, take the afternoon off to prepare a lovely dinner for two, and chose some of the Italians’ best loved aphrodisiac foods: oysters, shell fish, asparagus and truffles. Some even said that broccoli rabe was an aphrodisiac, but that was more probably a myth created to persuade people to eat it. But it is (apparently!) well known that almonds induce passion in females, vanilla increases lust, fennel is a source of estrogens, garlic and mustard stir desire, honey cures impotence, truffles stimulate and sensitize and of course we all know that chocolate is the food of the gods, so dessert could be anything from a couple of squares of 80% chocolate enjoyed with an aged rum or a silky chocolate fondue, after which it’s up to you!

So wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, we hope you’re having as much fun as we have here in Italy…

February Food Notes

It may be winter, but there are still some chores to do in the garden. The fruit trees and grape vines need to be pruned, and we also took some vine cuttings to graft onto others that are having less success. The perennial shrubs need tidied up and cut back, and towards the end of the month, perennials can also be divided. Out in the vegetable garden, our produce has survived the cold remarkably well. (Okay, it is under a makeshift greenhouse, but nevertheless…) The Savoy cabbages have come on in leaps and bounds though they need de-snailing every week or so and the first are ready to be chopped and sautéed with a little bacon or pezzente, a word which mens beggar or wretch, but which is in fact a delicious local type of semi-dry sausage which is made from all the left over pieces of pork once the main cuts have been transformed into chops, cutlets, sausages, salami, and capocollo. Left-overs it may be, but as anyone lucky enough to have tried it will tell you, absolutely delicious! The radicchio and fennel will be ready some time this month and the broccoli, cauliflower and artichokes a few weeks after that. Right now, what we have tons of is escarole, broccoli rabe (again best eaten with sausages or pezzente, and fabulous as a pizza topping) and a Neapolitan green called minestra, which tastes something like a cross between broccoli rabe and kale – very good indeed and very healthy. Which means that the kitchen is full of tasty green vegetables, simmering soups and hot savory pies. Maybe February isn’t so bad after all…

Recipes From Our Kitchen

Chef Todd English’s
Plaza Food Hall Whole Roasted Branzino

Number of servings (yield): 2


  • 2 whole Branzino, (12 – 14 oz. ea) scaled and gutted from your fish monger
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 bulb fennel, thinly shaved
  • 1 orange, segmented
  • 3 shallots, sliced
  • 1 lemon, sliced into 3 1/8 inch slices
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp EVOO
  • 6 thyme sprigs


  • Rinse fish thoroughly inside and out under cold, running water.
  • If fish was not thoroughly scaled, remove by running the edge of a spoon along the length of the scaled area, from tail toward head.
  • In a bowl, mix together the garlic, shallots, thyme, fennel, and orange to make fish seasoning
  • Place fish seasoning mixture into the cavity of the fish and season with salt and pepper
  • Place fish on a hot grill and cook for 4 minutes on each side
  • Remove from the grill and place on a fry pan.
  • Top fish with 3 slices of lemon and finish cooking in the oven at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.

 Kids Cooking

Chloe’s Cupid Cupcakes

“Valentine’s Day is a symbol of friendship and love. On Valentine’s Day you show people you love them. Another word for Valentine’s Day is Saint Valentine’s Day. Cupids, doves, roses, and hearts are all symbols of Valentine’s Day. The tradition of Valentine’s Day started around the Seventeenth Century. The rose is the flower of Valentine’s Day. Ciao ciao,…”
Chloe Lucia, 8 years old

Valentine Heart Cupcakes

Number of servings (yield): 6


  • 6 tbsp butter, softened
  • Generous 3/8 cup superfine sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour


  • Mix flour, sugar and butter until smooth.
  • Add vanilla and eggs. Mix until smooth.
  • Place paper cupcake liners into muffin pan.
  • Add mixture to half way in each.
  • Bake for 20 to 25 mintues at 300F.
  • Cover with white confectioner’s sugar.

 Siena’s Choco Recipe

“Valentine’s Day is a very fun holiday. It’s fun bec/ we have Valentine parties. Valentine’s aren’t about how pretty they look, they’re about giving. People should make Valentine’s a great holiday by giving other people chocolate goodies and pretzels too. How about chocolate covered pretzels? Take some long pretzels, dip them in melted chocolate, or use chocolate molds. These are really yummy!”
Love, Siena, 5 years old

Chocolate Dipped Pretzels


  • 20 to 30 long Paul Newman pretzels
  • One bag of Wholefoods dark choco chips


  • Take 20 to 30 long Paul Newman pretzels
  • In a double boiler melt down one bag of Wholefoods dark choco chips.
  • Dip each pretzel into the melted choco.
  • Place on parchment paper to cool.
  • Sprinkle with pink sprinkles and place in the fridge.


With Love From Italy

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

Venice Carnival, 19/20 Feb – 26th Feb – 8 March
Those who have never experienced a day wandering around this beautiful city during Carnival have missed one of Italy’s most suggestive spectacles. Get there early, and enjoy a day spent wandering around the main piazzas and tiny alleyways rubbing shoulders with 18th-century wigged gentlemen and corseted, masked beauties. And even if you don’t dress up yourself, there are plenty of street artists around to paint kids’ faces and make them feel part of the action.

The Food Hall Plaza by Todd English
The Plaza Food Hall by Todd English is a European-inspired specialty Food Hall – and the first of its kind to open within a New York City hotel – offering the finest fresh, prepared and gourmet foods set in a stylish and convenient atmosphere. Visitors will also be able to purchase fresh flowers, a range of international specialty foods such as olives and olive oils, vinegars, spices, gourmet coffee, tea and cocoa, jams and sauces, as well as cookware and home goods. The open kitchens throughout the space will also allow for interactive events such as cooking demonstrations and wine classes.

The Unification of Italy, Sorrento, until 21 March.
The town’s Teatro Tasso just off the main square has been given over to an exhibition examining the Unification of Italy through cinema, theater, music and art. Along with historical notes, this makes for an interesting way to learn more about how modern Italy became a single nation.

Affordable Art Fair, until 6th Feb
Visitors to Milan this February might think about taking in the Affordable Art Fair at the city’s Superstudio Più, where over 60 galleries from all over the world present pieces of original art by living artists, all of which cost between 100 and 5,000 Euros. All in the hope of persuading people that creating your own collection of original art needn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Giovanni Allevi, Rome 19 Feb
An unmissable event, with pianist and composer Giovanni Allevi performing pieces from his latest album entitled Alien. This particular tour debuted in Los Angeles and has already hit Japan, but fans back home are ready to welcome Allevi back to Italy with open arms. Also available on CD.

Italian Feasts And Celebrations

Carnevale isn’t the only event to celebrate in February: all over Italy you’ll find a whole selection of festas and sagras that will make your mouth water.

Fiera del Cioccolato Artigianale. Florence, 4 – 13 Feb
This year the city of Florence is offering visitors an extra special treat over the Carnival period – a huge artisan chocolate fair. Not only will you find many of Italy’s most gifted cioccolatieri and their delicious wares – everything from steaming mugs of hot chocolate to delicately wrapped cracknels and bonbons, but there will also be demonstrations and lessons on the preparation of chocolate, explaining the transformation of the humble cocoa bean into the final product. And traditional flag throwers, masked processions and photographic exhibitions means there is plenty to do between one mouthful of goodies and the next.

22nd Sagra dei Biligocc, Casale di Albino, Province of Bergamo: 6 Feb
A wonderfully old fashioned sagra, here you’ll be treated to one of the area’s best loved products, chestnuts, which you can sample smoked, boiled and roasted as well as transformed into a range of products (including dried chestnuts and chestnut flour) that you can pick up to enjoy at home. This sagra boasts the participation of the local Slow Food convivium, so you’ll also be able to sample a whole range of delicious specialties prepared by local artisans, before enjoying concerts featuring traditional dancing and singing.

Mostra mercato del tartufo nero pregiato di Campoli Appennino, Campoli Appennino (FR): 12 – 13 and 19th – 20th Feb
Lovers of the delicious black truffle should head to the town of Campoli Appennino (under an hour from Rome)

here they’ll be able to buy black truffles directly from over 80 dealers coming from 15 different Regions of Italy, and sample a myriad of delicious truffle based dishes. Enjoy the traditional truffle dog competition, folk groups, flag throwers, Medieval processions and visit local restaurants boasting yet more truffle offerings.

Fritoe, Golosità e Prodotti Tipici, Montagnana, (PD)
In the town of Montagnana in the Province of Padova, on the 20th February, those of you with a sweet tooth will be in your element. This delicious food fest celebrates all the various Venetian Carnival sweets and desserts, from deep fried sugar dipped frittole and chiacchiere to cream filled choux and miniature doughnuts. Lots of other produce will also be on sale and there are various face painting activities for kids and an antique fair and music for adults.

Italy On A Plate

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 February.

What’s in Season?

Sea Bream
Swiss chard
Brussel sprouts
Broccoli rabe

Restaurant Of The Month

Bir & Fud, Rome.

Few visitors to Italy are familiar with the country’s artisan beer scene, so this month we visit a fabulous pizzeria located in Rome’s vibrant Trastevere district, close to the river, where instead of wine, there are an incredible 14 beers on draft, four hand pumped English style, and a further 250 different beers in bottles. And they’re all Italian! And what do you want to accompany your specially chosen artisan beer? A really good pizza of course.

Bir & Fud opened in 2007, but is already a firm favorite with locals and visitors alike thanks to the painstaking efforts taken by the owners to provide nothing but top quality food and beer in comfortable surroundings, and it now rates among the city’s top pizzerias. But of course, that doesn’t happen just by accident. At Bir & Fud, only best quality stone milled organic flours and specially sourced starter yeasts are used to prepare the pizza dough, which is then left to prove for at least 24 hours. (This ensures that fermentation takes place before the pizza is cooked, not once you’ve eaten it!) The same goes for pizza toppings: whether you opt for a ‘mare d’inverno’ which is a white focaccia with marinated baccalà, Taggiasche olives, and cherry tomatoes, or a ‘trifolata’ with mushrooms, sautéed eggplant, fresh buffalo mozzarella and shavings of Parmesan cheese, all ingredients are carefully sourced and selected. And part of the fun here is allowing knowledgeable staff to help you choose the best beer to accompany your choice of pizza.

There are plenty of other dishes to choose from in the menu, and all of them are good. But our favorite way to enjoy this great little eatery is to fill up on their traditional Roman starters like croquettes, supplì (rice balls), fried pumpkin, fried polenta or a little pumpkin risotto, then opt for one of the pizzas and an Italian beer.

Bir & Fud
Via Benedetta, 23
(Trastevere) Rome
Tel: (+39) 06 589 4016

Book Of The Month

Stir, Mixing It Up In The Italian Tradition
By Barbara Lynch

She may be an Irish girl raised in South Boston, but according to many of her biggest fans, professional chef Barbara Lynch cooks like an Italian nonna. Discovering her natural culinary talent in high school home economics classes, Lynch fueled her passion by reading books like Waverly Root’s ‘The Food of Italy’ and books by her culinary heroes Alain Ducasse, Daniel Boulud, Joel Robuchon and Gualtiero Marchese, and eventually took trips to France and Italy to absorb the local gastronomic scene and hone her culinary skills. Now, after many years of creating and cooking in her own restaurants, Lynch shares many of her own kitchen secrets in her first cook book ‘Stir’.

Remembering how starved she was for inspiration while still an aspiring chef, Lynch has taken care to include in ‘Stir’ the type of pointers and advice she knows will be useful to anyone who tries out her recipes: tips on the importance of using only the best ingredients, gaining a better knowledge of your own cooking tools and on seasoning food properly. Lynch’s appreciation of good food encompasses everything from simply sliced ripe tomatoes with best extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of fleur de sel to more elaborate preparations such as prune stuffed gnocchi with foie gras sauce and this is reflected in her recipes. Many, as she says, are embarrassingly simple: the gorgonzola fondue; pommes frittes; mixed greens with fresh herbs; and spiced walnuts. Others are a little more challenging, but promise unforgettable combinations of flavors: Maine crab, lemon and zucchini blossom risotto; green bean and seared shrimp salad with spicy curry vinaigrette; fontina and mushroom stuffed crespelle with brown sage butter sauce; and seared steaks with cheese sauce and roasted onions. Desserts cover everything from creamy vanilla bread pudding and yoghurt panna cotta to homemade apple butter tart and winter citrus with cumin meringue and whipped creme fraiche. So whether you’re looking for a quick weeknight dinner or a special dish to entertain friends, ‘Stir’ provides the perfect inspiration.