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December Newsletter 2011

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

December is here and that means mistletoe, Christmas markets, merry carols and delicious food and wine of the season. This month we share our family cookbook filled with recipes for Piccole Dolcezze, little sweet treats. Homemade sweets make the best gifts! So tie on your apron, turn on the carols, open a bottle of Rapozzo da Maiano and head to the kitchen to get baking batches of Biscotti Cioccolato e Strega, Biscotti Di Agrumi & Struffoli!

We are also celebrating the feature story on Cooking Vacations in National Geographic China and Elle Magazine China.

On News stands now Tastes Of Italia, “All Roads Lead To Rome,” by me, and read about Chef Eugenio and ancient Rome Cooking with recipes too!

Cooking Vacations has upgraded our website and cooking programs are being added for 2012. Please update any older bookmarks because new links have replaced all the old ones, https://www.cooking-vacations.com/italian-programs/

And please stay tuned this month to WRKO on December 19, as Cooking Vacations brings the kitchen to the Howie Carr Show in Boston from 3pm to 7pm. Howie loves Italian! We will be sharing recipes, table talk;
and giving away a Cooking Vacations kitchen basket filled with our Extra Virgin First Cold Pressed olive oil, spices & pasta. Listen to win.

Buon Natale, Happy Christmas and Happy Holidays!


Table Talk

Positano in December. After such a mild November, it’s difficult to think that December is well and truly here and Christmas just a few weeks away. The recent sunny weather has tricked us into forgetting that winter is at the door, and, at least during the day, we’ve been outside without jackets, working away in the garden raking up leaves and watering the winter veggies. But it’s in the flower garden that things have taken a strange turn. The tulips have already sprouted and are 15 inches tall, daffodils are hot on their heels and there are already crocus sprouts breaking through the earth around the plum trees. The columbines have popped up, unfurling their gorgeous leaves, and new growth of sedum is visible among the fallen leaves. Even the calla lilies have spouted. Meanwhile the roses and fuchsia are still in flower, making it look more like spring than fall.

Of course, this wonderful weather has meant good news for the tourist industry and many areas in the south have enjoyed an unusually long season. Those lucky enough to have had a vacation during November were blessed with blue skies, still seas and outdoor lunches. Divine. And as with every December, there are so many wonderful things to do, whichever region you decide to visit. From the Alps and the Dolomites to the mild wintry climate of Campania and Sicily, in December, every region works its special festive magic, delighting visitors with its Christmas markets, local food festivals and age-old traditions. Towns and villages are decorated with lights, garlands and wreaths and, especially in the south, beautiful handcrafted nativity scenes are set up in corners of churches, along the roadsides and in the piazzas.

But December is also a month to take stock. As the year draws to a close, it’s time to look back and reflect on what the latest 12 months brought with them, and this year held some great surprises for Cooking Vacations. As well as a host of mentions in the international press, we were delighted to host a cooking and writing program here in Positano with the delightful New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Berg, who charmed and inspired students with her insight and grace. Elizabeth returns to Positano, October 6 to 11, 2012 for the Writers’ Studio. All in all, the delicious high point of a hard working year! We hope your year has been just as enjoyable, and wish you all the very best for the upcoming festive season.

Recipes Of The Month

Biscotti Cioccolato e Strega

From Lauren’s test kitchen

Number of servings (yield): 40 biscotti

Preparation time: 40 minute(s)


  • 225 grams of dark chocolate
  • 100 grams of flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 65 grams of sugar
  • 48 grams of butter
  • 2 spoons Strega
  • ½ teaspoon of baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • half zest of a lemon, optional
  • Confectioner’s sugar


  • Start with a double boiler and melt the chocolate with the butter and Strega.
  • With a whisk, work the eggs and sugar until mixture is thick and fluffy.
  • Stir in the chocolate and butter.
  • Add a little zest of an organic non-waxed lemon.

Add the flour, baking powder and salt and stir with a spatula until dough is smooth.
  • Let the mixture cool for one hour.

Form the dough into small size balls the size of a walnut, roll in the confectioners sugar, space apart on a baking sheet.
  • Bake at 180 degrees F for about 20 minutes until biscuits are cooked.


Biscotti Di Agrumi ~ Citrus Biscuits

From Mamma Marie Lucia’s family recipe book


  • 2 1/2 to 3 cups flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon rum extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange extract
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds

Sugar topping for biscuits

  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons of water
  • Make a syrup like paste


  • Sugar topping for biscuits
  • Preheat the oven to 375° F.
  • In a large bowl beat the eggs well.
  • Add the sugar, oil, milk, and the rest of the ingredients except the flour.
  • Mix thoroughly.
  • Add the flour slowly, mixing until dough is workable.
  • On a well-greased cookie sheet form long logs about 1-1/2” wide.
  • Top biscuits with sugar syrup.
  • Bake until golden brown.


Struffoli ~ Christmas Fried Dough In Honey

From Mamma Marie Lucia’s family recipe book


  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 pound butter
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 vanilla beans
  • 2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 gallon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound honey
  • 1 small jar candy sprinkles


  • Break the eggs and whisk.
  • Put eggs through a strainer to make sure they are mixed properly.
  • Add sugar to eggs and mix immediately to prevent sugar from burning eggs.
  • Bring butter to room temperature.
  • Flake butter into the flour.
  • Split vanilla beans and scrape out the seeds and add them to the sugar/egg mixture.
  • Put mixture into a mixer and mix (using dough hook) and slowly add the flour.
  • Let dough rest in a cool dry place.
  • Roll out the dough into small quantities.
  • Cut dough into 1/2-inch strips and cut 1/2-inch pieces from the strips.
  • Place the 1/2-inch squares onto a baking pan.
  • Put vegetable oil into a large pot and bring to 350 degrees F.
  • Fry small quantities of the dough squares in the oil and when golden brown, place onto a baking pan lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil.
  • When all dough is fried, let cool to room temperature.
  • In a saucepan, heat the honey (not to a boil) and add small quantities of the fried dough to the pan.
  • Stir lightly with a large slotted spoon.
  • Remove from saucepan and place onto a serving plate and sprinkle with candy sprinkles.

Featured Cooking Program

Romancing In The Vineyard~For Couples

Romancing In The Vineyard at the Villa Ortaglia. Stay at a romantic villa in the heart of Tuscany. Learn to cooking under the wing of Chef Maura while husband Terenzio pairs great Tuscan wine with each cooking class. This new cooking program is specially designed for couples who are eager to discover the art, countryside and cuisine of Italy. Read more at, https://www.cooking-vacations.com/tour/romancing-in-the-vineyard-for-couples

Food Notes

By Germaine Stafford

When I was little, one of my favorite ‘games’ was having my mother pretend to be the owner of candy shop. I insisted she make the sweets herself, and (if the planets were aligned and gods were good), she’d agree and spend the day conjuring up peppermint creams, buttery fudge, chocolate Florentines, tiny coconut macaroons and chocolate crispies. Now, of course the thought of all that delicious candy was enough to make me swoon, but the best part, the very best part, was that she would lay it all out on the kitchen counter, each sweet in its own tiny fluted paper case looking perfectly irresistible, then declare her candy shop open. She’d make us greet her as if we really were entering a sweet shop, have us choose which candies we wanted and make us hand over invisible coins for our purchases. Then she’d place our sweets in a cone of brown paper and twist it closed as if she’d been serving children candies her whole life long. We’d say our goodbyes, and we kids would escape out the back door and into the garden to enjoy our goodies, convinced we were the luckiest creatures alive. And we were. It’s easy to forget how much joy the simple things in life can bring. In an age where kids have more than they’ve ever had, wouldn’t it be great to create a different kind of memory? This is a great time of year to create new family traditions, rituals that children (and not only!) will remember for years to come. Time spent in the kitchen preparing special gifts for family and friends is great fun and absolutely fitting with the spirit of Christmas. Delight loved ones with prettily packaged boxes of roccocò, and trays lined temptingly with struffoli, ricciarelli and mustaccioli. And even if you don’t have time to whip up these wonderful Italian dolci, a little careful wrapping will transform a hunk of aged Parmesan, bottles of limoncello and scented olive oils into gorgeous gifts that would be welcome in any home. But the important thing is to pause, take a deep breath, and enjoy the act of creating and giving. That’s the true magic of Christmas.
Buon Natale…

With Love From Italy

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

La Casa degli Italiani
Another exhibition in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Unification, this time examining the historical and political evolution of the Italian state. Held in Il Quirinale in Rome, La Casa degli Italiani takes a closer look at the challenges and problems met and overcome by the various Heads of State from the Unification to the present day, and, among many other things, will offer a unique opportunity to see some of the Quirinale’s wonderful books, paintings and works of art. Open through March 2012.

Nurturing Body & Spirit
This fascinating exhibition at the Archeological Museum in Milan, open until the end of December, investigates the symbolic significance of food in the Ancient World. While it’s true that man needs to eat to survive, the choice of food and the way in which it is eaten has a strong symbolic meaning in all cultures. From the role of bread to that of wine, from eating alone to eating in groups, you’ll be surprised at how much and how little things have changed over the centuries.

Pick Up A Prosecco
Instead of splashing out on Champagne to celebrate the festive season, why not treat yourself to some of Italy’s best bubblies? From the more affordable Prosecco made in the Veneto and Friuli regions to the elegant Franciacorta from the Franciacorta area in Lombardy, Italian sparkling wines have now overtaken champagne in the bubblies stake.

Anyone lucky enough to visit the renowned Alajmo family’s In.gredienti store in Rubano near Padova will be spoiled for choice as to what to take away with them, be it for themselves or as a gift for a loved one. Choose between cheeses, vegetables, meat, fish, salumi, wines, beers, coffee, oil, pasta, rice, conserves, chocolate and even Massimiliano’s special ‘essenze’ spays, as well as specially commissioned tableware and glasses. A real Aladdin’s cave of goodies for foodies.

Italian Feasts & Celebrations

December is an especially magic month for visiting some of Italy’s many sagras, and festivals taking in some of the most beautiful Christmas markets you could hope to find. Here are a few of the best.

Festa dell Torrone: San Marco dei Cavoti

Province of Benevento, 7th – 18th December In Southern Italy, Christmas means torrone (nougat), and the home of torrone is Benevento. This delicious festival makes a fun family outing on the run up to Christmas, with plenty of sweets for the kids and a huge array of local specialties on offer for the adults. Apart from the area’s famous torrone, sample local cheeses, salumi, oil, honey, taralli and mulled wine, and enjoy music and cabaret spectacles.

Verde Pisa: Palazzo dei Congressi

Pisa, Tuscany, 8th – 11th December We just love the sound of this Christmas market with a difference, organized to encourage the giving of ‘green’ gifts during the festive season. From plants, flowers and gardening ideas to gifts encouraging arts, crafts and creativity, you’re sure to find the perfect gifts for everyone. There is even a technology sector for more modern green ideas.

Mercatino di Natale ‘Stella Cometa’

Torino, Piemonte, 8th – 11th December The colors, perfumes and favors of this Christmas market make it truly magical and a wander round the many pretty stalls is the perfect opportunity to pick up some presents for friends and family, or even a few decorations for the home. The colored lights and the appearance of the Stella Cometa, the comet, will enchant children and grown-ups alike as they nibble on local specialties and enjoy the background Christmas music. Kids can even hand their letter over to Father Christmas who will take a sleigh ride round town distributing candies and smiles all around.

Mercatino di Natale di Bressanone

Bressanone, South Tyrol, 26th November – 6th January At this Christmas market, all the stalls are set up in the town’s Piazza Duomo, and it’s here that people come to try out traditional regional Christmas goodies washed down with a warming glass of vino cotto or mulled wine. Not only will visitors be able to pick up some of the area’s beautiful hand-carved wooden objects, but they can also take an organized tour of the Cathedral and Cloisters, attend one of the many musical concerts or enjoy a trip round the town in a horse-drawn carriage.

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 December.

What’s in Season?

Sea Bass
Red cabbage
Cavolo Nero & Kale

Restaurant Of The Month

Ristorante Paoli, Florence.

Imagine you’ve spent the day searching for perfect gifts in the many artisan boutiques in the festive streets of Florence. Perhaps you’ve splashed out on some handmade leather-bound books with marbled Florentine paper, some perfumed soap from the antique Officina Profumo Santa Maria Novella or even some artisan gold jewelry for someone special. In other words, you’ve shopped till you dropped and are in serious need of sustenance. We have just the place for you.

Paoli is a pretty trattoria hidden down a narrow street in Florence’s historic center, and makes an ideal lunchtime haven for weary tourists. From outside it looks like a regular trattoria, but once inside, you’re sure to love the high vaulted ceilings and frescoed walls that reveal its past as a monastery. Here the welcome is warm, (waiters smart in their waistcoats and full length black aprons), and, given the quality of the service, the convenient location and the great food, don’t be surprised if tables soon fill up, the room quickly becoming animated with the laughter and chatter of tourists and locals alike.

You’re in the very heart of Florence, so, although you might find Caprese salads and suchlike on the menu, make sure you order the delicious Florentine specialties that Paoli is so famous for. And don’t expect plates of fancy food and garnishes either – just authentic local cuisine served as you’d serve it at home. We don’t get to Florence as much as we’d like, but when we manage, we head here for the great soups – the ribbolita is the best we’ve had anywhere, the trippa all fiorentina – so good it’ll convert even the most timid tripe tasters, and the wonderful Florentine steaks. If you have the chance, don’t miss out on their carpaccio of Chianina beef, and any seasonal pasta dishes recommended by the waiters (trust your waiters – they can point you to some real gems). Very often for example, you’ll find some wonderful white truffle pastas during truffle season and black summer truffles earlier in the year. Order a simple but good quality Chianti to accompany your meal, and try, just try, to save enough space for something from the dessert trolley. Booking recommended.

Ristorante Paoli
Via dei Tavolini, 12R
Tel: (+39) 055 216215

Book Of The Month

Dolci, Italy’s Sweets

By Francine Segan

This is the type of book that will soon have you heading for the kitchen determined to spend the run up to Christmas preparing a range of sweet Italian treats to offer friends and family over the festive season or even fancy up and give as gifts? As everyone knows, an afternoon spent creating fragrant goodies at the kitchen table is the perfect way to get yourself in the mood for upcoming festivities, better still if you have a glass of something good to hand.

In her book ‘Dolci’, food historian and James Beard finalist Francine Segan takes us on a virtual tour of Italy where she gleaned her recipes from housewives, grandmothers, pastry chefs and even food bloggers. Cookies, cakes, pastries, desserts and ices – they’re all here, some old favorites with a twist, and some unusual ideas that will almost certainly be new. Recipes come from all the different regions of Italy, meaning that as well as mouthwatering Caprese cakes and babàs from Campania, you’ll find Tuscan biscotti, cornmeal cookies from Venice and Sicilian sweet meat turnovers.

We especially liked the sound of the drunken panna cotta, the chocolate eggplants, a specialty from the Amalfi Coast, honey and black pepper biscotti, the radicchio and almond carrot cake and a sweet spinach pie hailing from Tuscany. But there are also old favorites like Sicilian sesame cookies, chocolate salami, traditional tiramisù, wonderful ricotta stuffed cannoli and good old amaretti. And who could say no to her a mocha hazelnut tart or a luscious lemon olive oil cake?

As everyone knows, the best way to enjoy these delicious dolci is with an after-dinner drink, and the book’s last chapter includes a series of easy recipes for liqueurs such as chocolate, coffee, walnut and limoncello, as well as some great ideas for fancying up coffee. Christmas comes but once a year, so do yourself a favor and treat yourself to some fabulous Italian dolci.