Tag Archives: italy

Summer Cocktail idea for you and your friends

Negroni is a great summer drink

La Dolce Vita with a Negroni cocktail recipe: gin, Campari, Vermouth and a twist of Orange peel.

Even if you’ve only been following me for a little while, you know that I love anything Italian and I’ve been very fortunate to travel to many different parts of that magical country.  Although, I must admit that I favor Tuscany for its food and wine. During my visits, I have met some wonderful friends and made the most incredible food memories.

Once, I spent several days with some friends in the tiny town of Savigno, Italy where I learned how to make pasta. To be a true pasta master takes enormous dedication and ‘time on task’ or practice – practice – practice.  There is no shortcut for experience. Maybe it should come as no surprise that I’ve also collected some great recipes and cooking ideas during my travels there. I love all kinds of Italian food, and I absolutely crave Italian wine, cheeses, sauces, and lately – an incredible cocktail drink called a “Negroni.”

I have had several experiences with this mixed drink – all of them in summer – all of them fabulous. The drink itself goes all the way back to the mid-1800s – reportedly a favorite of merchants and naval officers in unusual little places like the island of Menorca, once a significant naval base of the British Royal Navy.

My first memory of it was at a restaurant in Little Italy (New York City) several years ago when a friend asked me what I’d like to drink, and I said, “Surprise me.” I can’t recall the occasion, but I’ve never forgotten the drink. A year or so later, I was at the rooftop restaurant of The Hotel Danieli overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice at sunset and asked for it by the only name I knew. “Negroni, per favore,” I asked. The bartender knew exactly what I wanted!

Most recently, I ran into the recipe on Esquire.com. The Esquire writer added some cute suggestions about the “right way” to drink a Negroni: lounging in a “sun-dappled veranda” while wearing a linen suit (love that scene). I was thinking of one particular summer afternoon on the Piazza Navona in Rome. But, that’s another story for another time…

La dolce vita, indeed!

Making this gem is easier (and by far quicker) to make than it takes to explain (see my video):

1 oz dry gin (I recommend Bombay Sapphire)

1 oz Campari (there’s only one)

1 oz Vermouth (Cinzano Rosso, of course)

It’s so easy when all the ingredients are the identical amount of liquid – you only have to remember 1 oz! Pour all into a cocktail shaker with cracked ice and shake well, like a pro. Use a cocktail strainer (please – you don’t want to pour any of the crushed ice into your drink) as you pour the mix into a stylish high-ball glass with ice (the larger the cube the better). The Italian bartender in Florence used an ice cube that almost filled the glass! Garnish with a twist of orange peel.

Now all that’s left do to is for you to don your white linen suit, lounge in the sun, and sip. Saluti!!

Not Your Usual Pasta Making Class

I’m going to confess something here, (for those that know me it’s not that big of a secret), I absolutely love pasta in all its’ forms.  I will eat it hot, cold, with or without sauce – I’m shameless when it comes to this particular carb.  But, I never actually attempted to make it at home.  I always assumed (we all know what we get when we assume anything) that it was a complicated process even though I’d been assured many times by my chef friends that it was really a very simple one.

So, when I was planning one of my Relationship Recipe events, I tapped an Italian friend, one of my experts who loves to teach people to cook, to give the group a lesson on pasta making.  He was delighted with the prospect and the event was a spectacular success.  We all learned that if we used his technique making pasta was indeed really simple to do – a little messy but simple.  I was inspired.

It naturally followed that I decided to explore pasta making classes during my recent trip to the Emilia Romagna area of Italy. I wanted to see if there was any difference from what Luca had taught us that night and the Nonnas’ (grandmothers’) technique or that of a 1 Star Michelin Chef, all of whom had agreed to teach my girlfriend and I how to make pasta.  Until this trip I hadn’t realized that you could take a class with such special teachers – they were both unbelievable experiences and completely different from each other.

My first class in Italy was with the Nonnas at Trattoria da Amerigo (a 1 Michelin Star restaurant) in the tiny town of Savigno.  It was a morning class and three women greeted us as we walked in – two sisters and a third who looked a bit younger.  One of the sisters “supervised” while the other two women worked with us.

All pasta dough starts with a “ring” of pasta flour on the work surface.  In Los Angeles my Italian friend added salt to the flour along with the whole eggs, here the Nonnas added only the eggs – no salt.  But, their eggs were very special.  They explained (in Italian through our interpreter) that they use only the eggs from chickens that are specially bred for the color and richness of the yolks.  The yolks were ORANGE – I wasn’t expecting that.  All pasta dough is then kneaded until smooth.  These ladies taught us to roll out the dough to the desired thickness.  I thought that was hard work until they showed us how to shape tortellini – that took a great deal of coordination.  It was more difficult than I thought it would be!

But the lesson was indeed inspiring and I decided to buy some special pasta flour during our visit to Il Mulino del Dottore – a centuries-old stone mill in the area that still operates daily.  I figured I would go home and make my own pasta from real Italian pasta flour!

I knew that we had another pasta making lesson planned with Chef Massimo Spigaroli who received his Michelin star in 2011 – the Executive Chef at Antica Corte Pallavicina where we were staying one night. I was looking forward to seeing what he would do differently from both my Italian friend and the Nonnas in Savigno.

Chef Massimo not only added salt to the flour like my Italian friend but also a drizzle of olive oil which neither of the other two did.  Now I was really confused as to which way was the correct way. But I learned that everyone has their own style and it just depends on how you were taught and how you like your pasta to taste.  Hum, no right way!!

Chef Massimo also used an electric pasta machine to “roll” out his pasta after he had kneaded it.  I imagine this is because he’s used to making pasta for the entire restaurant so volume is important.  What I also learned is that one batch of pasta dough can serve as many purposes as you want – it just depends on how you cut it, shape it, or if you fill it.  The best part, of course, was that we got to eat what we had made for lunch.  Delicious!  I decided to buy some of the pasta flour that they have there as well.

Now I have two different pasta flours, both purchased on my trip. I’m going to plan a night of pasta making with friends and see if we can tell any difference in texture or taste between the two.  I can’t wait.



Travel Planning is Everything Until It’s Not

da Amerigo 1934 - Akasha, Alberto, Helena, and Fran

Different people plan their trips differently.  Some love to just “wing it” and decide what they will do and where they will sleep once they get to a destination. Sometimes they don’t even plan a destination past their original stopping place.  I am definitely not one of those people.

I cannot go away without making sure all of my “ducks are in a row.”  I have to have my flights and any other transportation I might need completely planned and ticketed long before I ever leave home which includes any travel between cities either by train, car, or any other method.  I have to know exactly where I am sleeping each night and what that hotel/B&B/resort looks like and which category of room I have reserved and confirmed.  I do a little research about where I am going so that I don’t miss any “must see” places or restaurants I have to try.  I’m one of those.  And, because I am one of those, I was always what I would call the travel agent in my family; maybe it was a little bit of a control issue – I don’t know.

Savigno Italy Map

Well, this last trip I was able to leave the planning to my girlfriend – Akasha Richmond – who is immensely more meticulous in her research and planning than even I.  We were perfectly matched.  I made sure that we bought all of our tickets and confirmed all of our lodgings. Akasha did enormous research about what was in the area that we were traveling to – in this case Emilia Romagna, Italy – and where we should visit and eat so that we fit in as much as possible in the time we had.

We had one day in Savigno, a small town in the Province of Bologna southwest of the city of Bologna.  Akasha wanted to eat at Trattoria da Amerigo (a one Michelin star restaurant) in Savigno and was researching what else was in the area for us to see.  She found Helena Kyriakides (a Sommelier FISAR and a qualified Balsamic Vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano taster), whose company Yummy Italy, had an amazing reputation for arranging personal visits to various artisanal producers in the area. And we even had time to meet the owner, Alberto Bettini, who was an incredible host.

Helena took us to a small Parmigiano Reggiano maker that makes their cheese by hand and produces only 14 wheels per day.  After taking us on a tour of their facility, watching the process (passed down from generation to generation), getting to taste warm ricotta that was made from the cheese production that we watched that morning, we moved on to a winemaker.  She had organized for us to eat lunch with the winemaker in his home, taste his award-winning wines and enjoy his wife’s cooking.  The winemaker kept complaining that we weren’t drinking enough!!

When he found out that Akasha preferred goat cheese, he decided that we should visit one of his friends who has an organic goat farm and makes goat cheese.  He piled us all into his jeep, and we took off.  We were really glad we were in his Jeep because the goat farm was up a narrow gravel road and it was raining.  Akasha got to see the goats and taste some wonderful goat cheese – completely unplanned!

The last stop of our day with Helena was to Il Mulino del Dottore (part of the slow food movement in Italy), The Mill of the Doctor, a 17th-century building with a very old flour mill made of four millstones and run by water from the Venola stream nearby.  From the flour that they mill they produce all the products that are sold in their tiny shop as well as at various organic markets in the area– breads, cookies, dried pastas and of course flour.  They were some of the best cookies we had ever tasted!  I bought some pasta flour to use at home, dried pasta and some honey.

Our day with Helena from Yummy Italy made one thing perfectly clear – even when you think you’ve planned for everything you have to be open to the possibility of a slight detour that can take you to a place you never knew existed.  In our case to the wonderful goat farm.  Helena was perfect and our day with her couldn’t have been any better.

By the way, our dinner that night at Trattoria da Amerigo was everything we hoped for and more, and we got a pasta cooking class with the Nonnas (grandmothers) the next morning; courtesy of my friend’s expert planning!

In the photo above (from left to right), you see my girlfriend Akasha Richmond, Alberto Bettini, Helena Kyriakides, and me.

3 Truly Fantastic Italian “Relationship Recipes” from La Festa della Donna

A “Relationship Recipe” is a recipe I’ve developed over my whole life, but especially over the last 20 years as a restaurateur, to create, encourage and strengthen our connections to those around us – Friends, colleagues, family and loved ones, using food shared and time spent around the table. The sharing of food is a very personal and intimate experience. Cooking and eating use almost all of our senses – Sight, smell, touch and taste. When we cook together and eat together, we know that we are part of a community (a family, a group of friends, a couple) and the sharing of that experience reinforces our knowledge that we are important to others and that we love and are loved in return. It feeds our soul in a manner that cannot be done any other way.

For my recent event celebrating La Festa della Donna, one of my cooking specialists, Luca de Matteis, and I worked together to select a few of his recipes that were simple enough for a non-cook to prepare, had opportunities for others to help in the cooking of the dish (being a part of the experience of creating the meal) and were universal in their appeal. Luca and I both wanted to impress on everyone that food does not need to be complicated to be delicious. He and I agree that the simpler and easier something is to prepare the more inclined a person will be to actually cook it and share that experience with others.

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Recipes provided by Luca de Matteis.

Pasta alla Puttanesca (Olive and Capers)


•Spaghetti: 400gr or about 1lb
•Black Pitted Olives (kalamata olives are ok):150gr or about 6oz
•San Marzano Red Tomato sauce: 400gr or about 1lb
•Capers: 2-3 teaspoon
•Italian Parsley (chopped): 2 tablespoons
•Extra Virgin Olive oil: 5 tablespoons
•Salt as needed
•Pepper if preferred
•Garlic: 1 clove
•Anchovies: 3-4 filet


1. In a large sauce pan, saute the garlic until a bit brown (do not burn).
2. Add the anchovies and cook until those melt and add pepper if desired.
3. Add capers, olives, and parsley in this order.
4. Leave each ingredient to sizzle for a few minutes.
5. Add the San Marzano red tomato sauce and let it cook for about 15-20 minutes.
6. In the mean time, boil water in a mid size pot, add the spaghetti and cook as indicated on the package (it shows the number of minutes).
7. Drain pasta and mix it in the sauce pan with the previously prepared olive, capers and tomato sauce.
8. Garnish each plate with a sprinkle of the chopped parsley and fresh black pepper.

Eat while it’s hot!

Serves 4-5 guests


Tagliatelle or Linguine with Panna, Prosciutto, Funghi e Piselli


•Linguine or Tagliatelle (egg pasta preferred): 300gr or about 2/3 lb
•Creme Fraiche: 8oz (panna in italian, if not available replace with heavy cream)
•Prosciutto cotto (ham): 300gr or about 2/3 lb (cut in small cubes)
•Dried Porcini Mushrooms: 40gr or about 1.5 oz ( before cooking, re-hydrate the mushrooms in warm water for 30 min)
•Green Peas: 150 gr or about 6oz (great if frozen)
•Onion: 1 chopped in small pieces
•Butter: 1 tablespoon
•Extra virgin Olive oil: 2 tablespoons
•Parmesan cheese: 1 teaspoon per person or plate
•Chive: 1 teaspoon per person or plate finely chopped


1. In a large sauce pan, melt butter and add olive oil.
2. Add the chopped onion and cook until lightly brown.
3. Drain the revived mushrooms (funghi in Italian) and add to the sauce pan along with prosciutto cotto (ham) and frozen green peas (piselli in italian) straight for the bag.
4. Let it sizzle for 1 or 2 minutes and then add the creme fraiche or heavy cream (panna in italian).
5. Let it cook on low heat for about 10 minutes.
6. In a mid size pot, boil water and add the tagliatelle (or linguine). If egg pasta is used once it raises to the surface remove from the pot with tongues and add straight to the sauce pan, mix it on a low heat. Otherwise, drain pasta and add to sauce pan.
7. Garnish the plate with Parmesan cheese and chopped chive.

Eat while it’s hot!

Expert tip for boiling water: When cooking pasta, make sure to bring water to a boil, then add salt before adding any pasta. Usually a couple of tablespoons of fine salt is sufficient. Based on the sauce you are preparing, modify quantity of salt. If the sauce is already salty do not add any salt to the boiling water. This is a great reason to always taste your sauce while cooking it!


Serves 4-5 guests


Sanguinaccio (Chocolate Dessert Cream)


•Cocoa power (100% cocoa, good quality e.g. Valrhona): 100gr or about 3.5 oz
•All purpose flour: 50 gr or about 1.75 oz
•Cane Sugar: 200 gr or 7 oz
•Whole milk: 400 ml or 14 fl. oz.
•Dark chocolate pieces: 50gr or about 1.75oz
•Cinnamon powder: a couple of pinches
•Vanilla extract: 2 teaspoons
•Orange peel of one orange


1. In a mid size pot, mix cocoa powder, flour and sugar.
2. Bring to a uniform dry mix with no clumps. Add whole milk (room temp) and turn on the stove to medium heat.
3. Cook for about 20 minutes and use a wooden spoon to stir continuously, until the mix thickens.
4. When lifting the spoon up, the cream should fall like thick syrup (it will harden slightly when cold).
5. Add cinnamon and vanilla extract for about 1 minute and turn off the stove.
6. Turn off the burner add the dark chocolate pieces (it will melt immediately), keep stirring during this step.
7. Poor into espresso cups. Depending on the portion, you can fill up to 10 cups.
8. Sprinkle an orange peel on each cup and serve with lady fingers cookies or your favourite cookie.
9. No need to refrigerate. Great at room temperature.

Expert tip: If the mix appears to be too thick or not fluid enough, add a little bit of extra milk while still hot, stir throughout.
Serves 6-10 guests

Getting Organized with Travel Hacks

I love to travel. The joke in my family has always been that I will have my bags packed before you can finish saying to me “Why don’t we go to … ?” I have two requirements — it must include an overnight stay and where ever it is they HAVE to cook amazing food, and now it’s happening again!

I am packed for my trip to Emilia-Romagna, a region famous for its food, wine, and ceramics. I’m excited to taste wonderful cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano in particular), balsamic vinegar, and pastas — not to mention meats and salumi! It just doesn’t get better than this.

I always run through my go-to travel hacks — tips that I’ve used for years — that way I don’t forget very many things. I always carry the important stuff in my carry-on bag. If my luggage is lost, I’m good for a couple of days. This includes all meds and vitamins, makeup, underwear (my mother always insisted I carry this on), itinerary (I use Trip-It) and my tickets, chargers, iPad, Kindle, laptop. You know, the essentials.

I hate when I can’t see my bag coming down the carousel in the airport, so I’ve done a couple of things to make it very visible. Most luggage these days is black — I bought brown. I also bought heavy duty plastic covers for the bags that I check. I never see that on anyone else’s bag. If you have black luggage don’t despair — just put a bright luggage tag on it, or tie a bright ribbon to the handle. Some people put a colorful elastic strap around theirs. Anything that will help with visibility is a good thing.

A really good trick I use while I’m doing the dreaded work of actually packing is that I put everything (well foldable things and small items and shoes) into bags. This’ll help with finding things in my suitcase as well as not losing stuff in the black hole that is a crammed suitcase. I save all the dust bags that come with my new shoes and purses and use these to put all kinds of things into. If you don’t have them, you can just use Ziploc bags of all sizes. I keep “like” things together — i.e., all my chargers and plugs are in one bag.

I take vitamins daily. There is no way I want to drag a bunch of bottles with me when all I really need is ten days worth of pills – the bottles take up a LOT of space that could be used for stuff I buy during the trip! I found mini Ziploc bags (but my friends use sandwich bags) and put a daily supply in each little bag and then put all the little bags into one larger Ziploc. That way I don’t lose any of them, and I don’t forget either.

Remember — make it easy to find things and make it easy to use them. Every little timesaver is a big help!