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January Newsletter 2011

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

A New Year In Italy is colorful fireworks over decorated piazzas, eating lots of lentils, wearing red undies and always ending with a sweet zeppole. Although Italians would rather be inside around the table or snuggled up to a hot choco in un bel caffé, New Year is a feast for all. The game of the season is Tombola. Tombola is really Italian bingo and has locals piled high with their cards as a designated m.c. calls out numbers faster than you can mark them with your little fagioli-beans, and everyone vies for the winnings. Winnings vary and can include Panettone, a leg of Prosciutto, a wedge of Parmigiano or sometimes a stack of Euros. Whatever the prize, a good game of tombola brings everyone out, mingling and socializing in even the smallest cafés. Buona Fortuna!


Table Talk

Buon Anno from Cooking Vacations!

A New Year is with us, with its ice and snow (and what snow!), crowded ski slopes, dreaded new year’s resolutions and of course, the much awaited Befana. Those who love winter sports head for the Alps and the Dolomites for the famous settimana bianca, as the first few days of January are still considered holiday time. But towns and cities are also popular destinations, with visitors flocking to enjoy the festive lights and decorations without the summer crowds, and making the most of the bars and cafés to get out of the cold and enjoy a steaming hot cup of tea or chocolate. But the date that all the children have their eye on is the 6th January.

The feast of the Epiphany, celebrated 6th January as a national holiday in Italy, is one of the most important days in the Italian Christmas calendar (though Santa Claus is fast catching up!). The name Befana comes from the Greek word for Epiphany (epiphaneia), meaning manifestation or appearance, and is the religious festival celebrated 12 days after Christmas – what we would call the twelfth night – the day on which the Three Wise Men arrived at the holy infant’s manger bearing their gifts. Just as children all over the word leave notes to Santa Claus, Italian children spend the days running up to the Epiphany composing letters to the Befana and leaving them stuffed in an old stocking ready for her arrival. Then they leave out a glass of wine and a plate of food for their visitor, and run upstairs to bed, heedful of their parents warning that if the Befana sees them she’ll thump them with her broom. With her fearful appearance – ragged white hair, hunchback, large warty nose, missing teeth and black headscarf, children don’t need much persuading. Years ago, in their stocking children would expect to find nuts, dried figs or an apple, with coal for the naughty children. Nowadays there is always something sweet, but usually more generous presents too.

And while children await the Befana, adults struggle to keep their New Year’s resolutions to eat less and exercise more and decide that one more slap up meal probably won’t hurt after all. So more lasagne, more sweetmeats, and more brindisi with Italian bubbles. Because as everyone knows, the best diets always start tomorrow…

Cooking Vacations’ Program Of The Month

Amalfi Coast Writer’s Workshop With Elizabeth Berg™

Scribing, Chef’s Kitchen & Writer’s Walk ~ June 11 to 17, 2011

Join New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg and Cooking Vacations’ Writer’s workshop for a fabulous week of writing, cooking and eating your way along the Amalfi Coast. The week is limited and we do have space available. This extraordinary Literati Culinary Week is set for June 11 to 17, 2011. Limited space available due to restrictions on group size.

Spend a gorgeous week in sunny Positano with Elizabeth Berg and learn about good writing in this exclusive writing workshop and hands-on cooking classes too. Elizabeth, as you know, loves to cook! Read more here,

Food Notes

There are so many things we could talk about with the passing of the Italian New Year – the various New Year dishes eaten for a question of tradition and good luck – stuffed pig’s trotter served with a mountain of lucky lentils, ‘crespelle’ stuffed with salami and cheese, sweets stuffed full of candied fruit, dried fruit and nuts, and more luxurious ingredients like oysters, caviar and truffle to get the New Year off to an auspicious start. Or the thousands of bottles of Italian bubbly used to make toasts all over the country, prosecco, spumante and Franciacorta as popular as the better known champagne.

But in many regions of Italy, January also sees the traditional activity of the killing of the pig, harking back to the time when families were by and large self sufficient, and the slaughter of one of its most prized possessions was indeed cause for celebration. And for many families today, just as in the past, it is an important appointment on the gastronomic calendar. It’s an activity that demands a lot of hands: between the butchering, cleaning up and transformation of meat into sausages, salami etc. the whole extended family is involved. And it’s probably fair to say that there are countless Italian American grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles who look back fondly on the days in which they gathered in the courtyard to give a helping hand on the big day, running errands and carrying impossibly heavy basins of pork meat into the kitchen where the womenfolk worked long hard hours to cook and preserve just about every part of the pig, serving up the least prized (but equally delicious) cuts to be eaten together round a huge table after a hard days work. That way, the head, feet and other lesser cuts (virtually nothing is thrown away!) were enjoyed immediately, with more precious cuts cured and salted to be enjoyed throughout the year. While today most of us live far removed from such customs, it has to be said there is something very natural and life affirming in such simple traditions, something that reaches beyond the mere sphere of food and survival and that touches on family, comradeship and celebrating living and working together. And the truth is, sometimes what looks like progress may in fact be leading further from the truly important things in life. So we hope that every so often this year, you manage to take time out, not to kill a pig necessarily (!), but to celebrate the simple joys of family, friends and abundance.


Lauren’s Lenticchie ~ New Years Eve Lentils –that can be eaten all year long

Number of servings (yield): 4


  • 1 cup of organic lentils
  • 4 cloves of garlic, cleaned and pressed
  • 1 cup of baby carrots sliced in small pieces
  • 1 cup of baby fingerling potatoes sliced in small pieces
  • two handfuls of chopped parsley
  • two stalks of celery sliced into bite-size pieces
  • Salt & Pepper, to taste
  • ¾ pound of ground chopped Sirloin
  • 1 red chili pepper
  • Extra Virgin first-cold pressed olive oil


  • First take a big, preferably ceramic soup pot.
  • Drizzle the bottom of the pot with virgin olive oil until it is coated, slowly start to warm the oil on a very low
  • Heat.
  • Add the garlic and let sauté.
  • Add the chili pepper, salt and parsley.
  • Roll the chopped ground sirloin into tiny teaspoon size meatballs and let them start to roast over at the bottom of the pan.
  • Meanwhile, take a cup of lentils and sift through making sure there are no rocks.
  • Wash thoroughly.
  • Add one liter of water to the pan and toss in the lentils.
  • Add the carrots, celery and potatoes.
  • Let it cook for about 40 to 50 minutes on a very low heat until veggies are cooked.
  • Serve in a soup bowl.
  • Garnish with garlic rubbed Italian toast.
  • Drizzle a little virgin olive oil on the top.


Steamed Lobsters With Tomato And Basil Gelatin

Number of servings (yield): 4


  • 2 live lobsters (approximately 1.7 pounds each)
  • 2 cups loosely packed basil
  • 2/3 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 new onion
  • 4 leaves of unflavored gelatin
  • ½ lemon
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt


  • Soften the gelatin in cold water then dissolve it completely over a double boiler.
  • Reduce the onion to a puree in a food processor; add it to the tomato sauce along with half of the gelatin mixture.
  • Correct for salt, transfer to a mold and refrigerate until firm.
  • Blanch the basil leaves in ½ cup of boiling water.
  • Drain, refresh and puree in a food processor.
  • Add the remaining gelatin, correct for salt, transfer to a mold and refrigerate until firm.
  • Kill the lobsters with a neat slice through the head and steam them immediately for 4 minutes.
  • Remove the meat from the tail and claws and cut into bite-sized sections.

Presentation: Arrange the lobster meat on 4 plates, accompany with cubes of the two types of gelatin and nap with a citronette sauce prepared from an emulsion of extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and salt.


Zeppole Anacapresi ~ Traditional Fried Dough Ribbons

Courtesy of Chef Maria, Capri

Number of servings (yield): about 20 zeppole


  • 3 ¾ cups 00 Flour
  • 1 lb potatoes
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • 2 eggs
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 2 cakes (50g) natural yeast
  • ¼ cup Milk
  • 1 ½ liters sunflower oil, for frying


  • Boil potatoes until tender (skin on).
  • Drain and peal by hand.
  • Pour the flour onto a work surface and make a well in the middle.
  • Pass potatoes through a ricer onto the flour and mix potatoes with flour, sugar, butter, eggs and lemon & orange zest.
  • In the meantime, dissolve yeast in the milk, then add to the potato mixture.
  • Mix well and should make a fairly solid dough, not too soft.
  • Let rise in a warm place for about half an hour.
  • Roll out into coils and twist into ribbons.
  • Set aside and allow to rise about 45 minutes.
  • Put sunflower oil in a small pot and heat over low heat.
  • Test oil by dropping in a zeppola- it should drop to the bottom, then rise to the top right away.
  • Fry for 3-5 minutes turning until golden-brown.
  • Toss with sugar and serve plain or with pastry cream and cherry- to taste.

With Love From Italy

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

Arte per Regalo. Those visiting Milan before 20th January might like to visit the Circolo Culturale Bertold Brecht where the Arte per Regalo initiative has brought together many Italian artists and artisans creating and selling their art directly to the public, in an attempt to encourage people to give unique, hand crafted objects as gifts to friends and family over the festive period. And the best news? Prices are surprisingly reasonable!

Van Gogh Back to Rome after 22 years. January is the last month for visitors to take in over 70 of Van Gogh’s masterpieces on display at Rome’s Quirinal Stables. On loan from museums and private collections all over the world, this exciting collection provides a unique opportunity to see many of the master’s most popular works displayed together. Also on show will be around 30 works of Gaugin, Cezanne, Pissaro and Millet. Too good to miss.

L’Acqua Alta. This year, like so many other years, has seen the city of Venice struggle under the high tides that submerge the city centre, creating infinite problems for locals and making it impossible to get about without the specially raised walkways and the donning of high rubber boots. Though it might not be to everyone’s taste, those hoping to see and photograph the world famous Piazza San Marco under two feet of water would do well to visit Venice in January!

Italian Feasts And 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!

18th Mostra del Radicchio Rosso Tardivo di Treviso, Zero Branco, Veneto. As most radicchio lovers know, January and February are the best months for enjoying this deep red bitter vegetable, and during January, there are a variety of radicchio sagras to be visited all over the Veneto region. The one held in the town of Zero Branco near Treviso is held on the 7 – 9th and 14 – 16th 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.

Festival Internazionale di Scultura Gelata, Cadipietra, Bolzano. Call us mad (we know it’s cold enough already!), but this fascinating ice sculpture event really appeals to us. From the 9th to the 14 January in the mountain town of Cadipietra near Bolzano, you’ll be able to watch an international team of artists create works of art from blocks of snow and ice while you stand enjoying a hot glass of mulled wine. This year’s theme is ‘Evolution’, so be prepared for some original works!

Fiera del Maiale, Villa Verucchio, Rimini. As we mentioned earlier, January is the month that pork products abound, and this festa held on the 16th January in the medieval town of Villa Verucchio near Rimini is a modern day celebration of the once traditional slaughtering of the household pig. Here you’ll find everything you’d have found a century ago – sausages, pork chops, pork liver, pork skin or ‘cotechini’, ‘ciccioli’ – fried pork fat trimmings (don’t be put off by the description – imagine crispy bacon-ish bites), salami, and even pork head. As well as pork products, you’ll find polenta, chickpea soup, and a variety of other soups with beans, greens, herbs and cauliflower.

Sagra del Polentone, Orvinio, Province of Rieti. Baby it’s cold outside, so fight off the effects of winter weather with this festival celebrating Italy’s deliciously filling polenta. January 23rd sees the 6th edition of this popular festa where guests can fill up on slices of polenta grilled and served with sausages and pork chops. Side dishes include local chicory, and of course, local wine is available to wash everything down. A real treat whatever the weather!

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

La Pergola, Rome Cavalieri, Rome

It’s only New Year once a year, so we thought we’d include an extravagant experience as our January restaurant of the month. La Pergola restaurant is situated in the Rome Cavalie

i hotel and is arguably one of Italy’s finest dining establishments. Boasting three Michelin stars and run by Executive Chef Heinz Beck, La Pergola is committed to culinary excellence, sourcing the finest ingredients in Italy and the Mediterranean and treating them with intelligence and sensitivity. Beck’s aim is to ‘transmit emotions through a balance of aromas, flavors and colors’, bringing a touch of innovation and modernity while respecting Italy’s great culinary traditions.

But there is so much more than food to be enjoyed here. The main dining room exudes unique ambiance and style: tables are laid with vermeil plates and cutlery and all around are fine paintings, tapestries, candelabras, antique Imperial furniture and a wonderful collection of hand-blown glass. And then of course there’s the view. The restaurant’s panoramic plate glass windows afford unforgettable views over the Eternal city and on summer evenings, diners can sit outside on the candle-lit terrace and watch Rome shimmer and sparkle as they eat.

And what to say of the menu? Chef Beck’s unique touch is apparent in every dish: grilled scampi with smoked potato purée, fennel and pink grapefruit; scallops with asparagus, radish and vinaigrette of tomato and basil; and medallions of lobster on avocado purée and tomato. First courses might include deep fried zucchini flower with caviar on shellfish and saffron sauce; risotto with oysters and champagne; spaghetti ‘cacio e pepe’ with white shrimps marinated in lime; or consommé of sweet peppers with veal ravioli. Main courses are just as appetizing: duck foie gras with wild strawberry sauce and amaretto gelée; black cod with celery sauce and curry crust; veal marinated in citrus fruit on vegetable ‘minestrone’; and terrine of rabbit with artichokes and beets, followed of course by a cheese selection second to none, the most delicious desserts imaginable. And there should be no problem selecting a wine from the 53,000 bottles in the restaurant’s cellar. Now that’s what we call a New Year to remember…

La Pergola
Rome Cavalieri
Via Alberto Cadlolo, 101
00136 Roma
Tel: +39 06 35091
Web: www.romecavalieri.com

Books Of The Month

Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life, by Frances Mayes.

Frances Mayes offers her readers a deeply personal memoir of her present-day life in Tuscany, encompassing both the changes she has experienced since Under the Tuscan Sun and Bella Tuscany appeared, and sensuous, evocative reflections on the timeless beauty and vivid pleasures of Italian life. Among the themes Mayes explores are how her experience of Tuscany dramatically expanded when she renovated and became a part-time resident of a thirteenth-century house with a stone roof in the mountains above Cortona, how life in the mountains introduced her to a “wilder” side of Tuscany–and with it a lively engagement with Tuscany’s mountain people. Throughout, she reveals the concrete joys of life in her adopted hill town, with particular attention to life in the piazza, the art of Luca Signorelli (Renaissance painter from Cortona), and the pastoral pleasures of feasting from her garden. Moving always toward a deeper engagement, Mayes writes of Tuscan icons that have become for her storehouses of memory, of crucible moments from which bigger ideas emerged, and of the writing life she has enjoyed in the room where Under the Tuscan Sun began.

With more on the pleasures of life at Bramasole, the delights and challenges of living in Italy day-to-day, and favorite recipes, Every Day in Tuscany is a passionate and inviting account of the richness and complexity of Italian life.

Le Cento Migliori Ricette Di Bruschette
, by Alessandra Tarissi De Jacobis & Francesca Gualdi

This dynamic duo takes us into their Italian kitchen and shares recipes for bruschetta, or italian toast. Bruschetta are normally eaten as a snack or antipasto and can be topped with simple extra virgin olive oil & sea salt, butter and anchovies, grilled vegetables, black or green olives, tuna in olive oil, smoked or marinated salmon, any kind of cheese, or salami and so on. The entire book is dedicated to a variety of bruschetta recipes, those toasted over a grill in the garden and topped with basil, to those prepared in front of a fireplace and topped with delicious truffles. Creativity, love and a little bit of fun make the perfect recipe for bruschetta – buon appetito!