Category Archives: Food

20 Italian Regions, 20 Christmas Desserts

Italian Christmas desserts

It’s well known that every Italian region has its own culinary traditions, and it’s no exception when it comes to Christmas sweets. We picked one dolce di Natale for each region (some regions have more than one). What’s your favorite?

Aosta Valley: Mecoulin. Hailing from the Cogne valley, Mecoulin is similar to panettone and to pandolce from Liguria; it’s a ‘milk bread’ with raisins. His recipe dates back to the Middle Ages, when it was baked in common ovens, making it an occasion for the community to be together while waiting for Christmas.

Trentino-Alto Adige: Zelten. Originating in South Tyrol in the 18th century, Zelten is a spicy sweet bread with dried fruits that has variations depending on the valley where it’s made. The German name ‘zelten’ means ‘sometimes’, to indicate that it was only made a certain time of the year, in this case Christmas.

Piedmont: Tronchetto di Natale. Inspired by the chestnut or oak tree trunk that was blessed and then burned on Christmas Eve, it is a calorie-rich roll made with eggs, flour and mascarpone, topped with chestnut cream and chocolate flakes.

Friuli Venezia Giulia: Gubana. A leavened spiral-shaped sweet dough filled with dried fruits, raisins and amaretto, and dipped in grappa; it originated in the 1400s and the recipe has remained unchanged since.

Veneto: Pandoro. Along with panettone, Pandoro is the most popular Christmas sweet in Italy. It derives from the ‘pan de oro’ created in Verona in the 19th century to celebrate the first Christmas under the Scala dynasty, and was first patented with the name Pandoro in 1894 by Domenico Melegatti, founder of the company by the same name.

Lombardy: Panettone. The most famous Italian Christmas sweet, now exported beyond the boot, originated in Milan in the 9th century; the dough is made with flour, eggs, butter, raisins and candied fruit. Today, there are several versions of it, which may feature chocolate, be orange-flavored, or filled with pistachio cream.

Liguria: Pandolce. Hailing from Genoa, where it originated in the Middle Ages, it’s a sweet bread with raisins, candied fruit, including pumpkin, pine nuts, and pistachios.

Emilia-Romagna: Panspeziale or Certosino. It’s a typical sweet from Bologna, made with almonds, pine nuts, dark chocolate, candied fruits; it originated in the Middle Ages, when it was made by the pharmacists of the time, known as speziali, and later called certosini.

Tuscany: Panforte. The original recipe dates back to the year 1000, when it was prepared by the ‘speziali’ for the noble class, the wealthy and the clergy, because it contained ingredients that were expensive at the time, such as orange, cedar, melon, almonds and spices. It hails, proudly, from Siena.

Marche: Bostrengo. Similar to Tuscan panforte, it contains dried and candied fruit, and cereals like farro, barley and rice. Originally, it was a ‘piatto povero’ (poor dish) of the Christmas period because it was made with leftovers.

Umbria: Panpepato. Sweet and sour at the same time, almost spicy, panpepato is bread stuffed with almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange, cedar, raisins, cocoa, coffee, liqueur, grape must.

Abruzzo: Parrozzo. The ‘pane rozzo’ (rough bread) was prepared for the first time in 1920 by pastry chef Luigi D’Amico from Pescara, inspired by the corn loaves of the peasant tradition; the chef added eggs, almond flour and chocolate. The first person to taste it was apparently poet Gabriele d’Annunzio, who even wrote a poem about it, ‘La canzone del Parrozzo’ (The Parrozzo Song).

Molise: Caragnoli. Caragnoli are helix-shaped pancakes prepared with eggs, flour and oil and then dipped in honey; they originated in the 1500s.

Lazio: Pangiallo. From Imperial Rome to today, this dessert was prepared on the day of the winter solstice as a good omen for the return of long, mild, sunny days. It includes dried and candied fruits and raisins. The yellow color (giallo) is given by the mixture of flour, oil and saffron with which the loaf is brushed before baking it.

Campania: Struffoli. Originally from Naples, struffoli are small dough balls made with flour, sugar, eggs and lard, baked or fried, served with pieces of candied fruit, honey and pieces of sugar. Its origins go back to Magna Grecia, when there was a similar version called loukumades.

Puglia: Cartellate. Also found in neighboring Calabria and Basilicata, these phyllo doughs of flour, eggs and sugar, served with the addition of vincotto or honey, date back to the 6th century BC. With Christianity, they took on religious significance, as it was said that their shape represented the strips that wrapped Jesus child.

Basilicata: Calzoncelli. Fried ravioli filled with chickpeas cream, chocolate or boiled chestnuts, usually covered with homemade red wine or Aglianico wine. They originated around Potenza and spread throughout the region in the 16th century.

Calabria: Nepitelle. Typical of the provinces of Catanzaro and Crotone, these half-moon shaped sweets are filled with walnuts, dried figs, almonds, Strefa liqueur, cocoa and dark chocolate, or honey, depending on the area where they’re made. The name comes from the Latin nepitedum, which indicates eyelids because nepitelle resemble a closed eye.

Sicily: Buccellati. Originating in Palermo, buccellati are stuffed with dried figs, raisins, almonds, orange peel, pistachios, vanilla, and other ingredients that vary depending on the areas where they’re prepared. Also called cucciddati, they’re considered the evolution of the panificatus, a typical dessert prepared by the Romans.

Sardinia: Sebadas. While they can be found year-round, these fried sweets filled with the local pecorino and covered with the exquisite corbezzolo honey, are typical of Christmas for Sardinians. They originated in the 16th century.

For more Christmas stories, click here.

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Tortellini soup (la cucina di Jeanne Florini)

What you need
3 tablespoons butter, margarine, or olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium celery stalks, chopped (1 cup)
1 medium carrot, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 small onion, chopped (1/4 cup)
8 cups vegetable stock (fatto in casa – homemade – see note!)
2 cups water
2 packages (9 oz each) dried cheese-filled tortellini
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 1 T dried
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to serve

1. Melt butter in 6-quart Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Cover and cook celery, carrot and onion in butter 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, add garlic and cook 2 more minutes.

2. Stir in homemade stock and water. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Stir in tortellini and dried basil (if using) at this time. Cover and simmer 10 minutes – or until tortellini are tender – stir in fresh basil (if using) at this time.

4. Top each serving with cheese.

NOTE: How To Make Vegetable Stock
1 to 2 onions
2 to 3 carrots
3 to 4 celery stalks
4 to 5 sprigs fresh thyme (if use dried – 1 T.)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
8 cups water
Optional Extras: leeks (especially the green parts), fennel, tomatoes, mushrooms, mushroom stems (mushrooms will provide the umami flavor – that is typically found in a meat stock)
1. Heat a few tablespoons olive oil over a medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrot. Cook, covered stirring occasionally until veg are soft (about 10 minutes).
2. 2. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook gently for about an hour or until the stock tastes rich and full. Strain stock and discard vegetable solids.

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Recipe: Panettone Muffins

Contributed by Jeanne Florini for Ciao St. Louis

Panettone Muffins – makes a dozen

These muffins mimic the flavor of Italy’s classic Christmas bread, panettone. They’re flavored with Fiori di Sicilia — “Flowers of Siciliy” — and take less time and effort to make at home.  Pair with a prosecco as a nice gift!

1 1/2 cups diced dried fruit (such as diced apricots, raisins, pineapple cubes, chopped dates, sweetened cranberries)
1/4 cup apple juice, orange juice, rum, or a mixture

Mix the dried fruit and liquid of your choice in a bowl. Cover the bowl, and let the fruit sit overnight. Or speed up the process by heating fruit and liquid in the microwave till very hot, then cooling to lukewarm/room temperature, about 1 hour.

1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia, to taste (can use orange extract)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup milk
2 generous tablespoons coarse white sparkling sugar, for topping


1.  Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease a standard muffin tin.
2.  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream together the butter, vegetable oil, and sugar until smooth.
3.  Add the eggs, beating to combine.
4.  Stir in the Fiori and vanilla.
5.  Mix together baking powder, salt, and flour. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour and making sure everything is thoroughly combined.
6.  Stir in the fruit, with any remaining liquid.
7.  Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared pan, filling the cups quite full. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins generously with the coarse sugar.
8.  Bake the muffins for 18 to 20 minutes, or until they’re a sunny gold color on top, and a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center muffins comes out clean.
9.  Remove them from the oven, and let them cool for a couple of minutes, or until you can handle them. Transfer them to a rack to cool.

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Recipe: Cioccolata Calda

Cioccolata calda (Hot chocolate)

2 tablespoons of good quality cocoa 1 – 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
8 ounces milk (skim is ok!)


In a saucepan, mix the cocoa, sugar and corn flour together very well. Pour in a little milk and mix well, add more milk, and mix – a little at a time.

Turn on the heat and gently heat until it starts to boil.

Remove from heat, continue stirring – it will be thickened and smooth!

Top with whipped topping if desired!

Microwaving directions:

In a microwave safe bowl (prefer a 4 cup liquid measuring cup).  Mix as described above, and microwave in 30 second increments, stirring each time (watch – do not let boil over!) Contributed by Jeanne Florini for Ciao St. Louis November 26, 2017

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Luigi Veronelli: The Italian Wine Journalist Who Fought for Passion

In New York, a tribute to Veronelli who was infamous for his quotes that drove to the heart of what he cherished most about wine
The legendary Italian journalist Luigi Veronelli was an highly educated man who stood by his principles to protect small winemakers, as well as artisanal products, around Italy; so much so that he was sentenced to prison twice and, in 1977, successfully stopped the national distribution of Coca-Cola in Italy for one day.

These days, it seems like I run into so many people who feel like their life is spinning out of control. Most people in the USA feel that they have to work more hours than their parents and they are earning less (when adjusted for inflation). As I walk down the streets of New York City, it seems that there are more vacant storefronts each week. Small business owners have more and more trouble surviving in this economic environment and soon, NYC will have nothing but banks and major chains lining even the once most neighborhood-y of streets.

Luigi Veronelli

1975 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

A few weeks back, at the impressive Astor Wines & Spiritsstore and education center here in Manhattan, I attended a tribute to honor Luigi Veronelli(1926-2004), who was best-known as an Italian journalist.  He was a self-described anarchist, an ardent activist, philosopher, poet, publisher and provocateaur. Veronelli also starred in a television cooking show and was a defender of artisanal producers of wine, olive oil, and food in general. He fought for the little guy, trying to block the complete takeover of big corporations. So fierce in his convictions that Veronelli was, he was sentenced to prison twice and, in 1977, successfully stopped the national distribution of Coca-Cola in Italy for one day.

Many wine producers from all over Italy came to New York City for this event, just to pay tribute to this man. The famous Emidio Pepe, who showed the world that wine from Abruzzo could age, told his granddaughter Chiara, who was translating for him during this tribute, to not talk about the wine they were presenting in Veronelli’s honor – 1975 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.Instead this legendary producer wanted to talk about Luigi Veronelli, the man. Emidio made no bones about his passionate disagreements with Veronelli, but at least he was speaking to a highly educated, famous voice that never lost sight of the importance of small growers and he fiercely gave them his support.

Emidio Pepe with granddaughter Chiara

Luigi Veronelli was infamous for his quotes that drove to the heart of what he cherished most about wine; Emidio Pepe said that he would repeat one over and over again, “The smaller the estate, the tinier the vineyard, the more perfect the wine; it is all too easy to forget about the small growers, and this is a great injustice.”

A Fight for Passion  

Although many small Italian wineries had their desperate hour and gave up… the long hours and back breaking work, all to make small production high quality wine that no one was appreciating was sometimes too much. It was Luigi Veronelli who inspired many of these winemakers to stay true to their tradition, their vision, and their passion. Veronelli was the acclaimed figure who would not only spend years writing letters to several small producers giving the encouragement that they needed, but he, sometimes placing himself in deep trouble, would speak out for their rights. For example, he encouraged Barolo producers such as Mauro Mascarello to place the vineyard name, such as their ‘Monprivato’, on the top single vineyard’s wine bottle labels. At the event, we were able to taste the 1970 vintage with his daughter Elena, the first vintage of the new single-vineyard, and as many Barolo connoisseurs know, it was one of the stars of the vintage. Mauro sent a barrel sample of this wine to Luigi Veronelli asking for his opinion – many of the producers trusted him with barrel samples – and he confirmed that it was “a champion” and it would live a glorious life. Of course it was controversial to some to place a “Grand Cru” name on a Barolo because it was not officially recognized, but today, it is deemed by many Barolo wine experts to be a top site.

Tribute to Luigi Veronelli at Astor Wines & Spirits

When I thought I had already been taken away by the idealism of a man who walked the walk, Giuseppe Mazzocolin, owner of Fattoria di Fèlsina, entered the stage with his 1985 “Grand Cru” Fontalloro wine – a wine that Luigi Veronelli deemed to be the first “Grand Cru” of Castelnuovo Berardenga in Chianti Classico. He first started to describe the wine after being prompted to do so, but then his passion took over and he started to say with great intensity, “I am free if you are free… It’s you and me… this is the personal relation… that is why it is possible to smell the wine… the wines of Veronelli were about the personalities involved!”

After this tribute, I left beaming with joy as electric currents of hope crackled up my spine. But before I left, I wanted to say goodbye to a New York City colleague; we talked about how remarkable it was that, at one time, a journalist could encourage the smaller producers to believe in their work, and most importantly, inspire his audience to invest in keeping artisanal products alive in Italy. My colleague said, “We think we have no control over what is going on in the world, but we do; we control it by what we buy and how we spend our money.” It was a powerful reminder that it is not over for the little guys, and we can still actively fight the extinction of small independent shops and artisanal wines.

Cathrine’s Recommendations

Astor Wines & Spirits in Manhattan, New York City, has bought Luigi Veronelli’s wine cellar that included the wines from all the producers that he supported, such as some of the ones I mentioned. I thank them for inviting me as a guest journalist to participate in tasting wines from his cellar, with vintages that ranged from 1993 to 1964; these wines were living proof of one of Veronelli’s greatest beliefs – one honors a great wine by aging it.

Also, we were given a copy of Camminare La Terra, a book about Luigi Veronelli, which is written in English as well as Italian.

Everyday Drinking Wine (less than $15)

2015 Livio Felluga, Pinot Grigio, Colli Orientali del Friuli, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy ($17): 100% Pinot Grigio. Okay, first of all, I know that everyday drinking wines are supposed to be less than $15, but I have to recommend this producer’s Pinot Grigio at $17 for everyday drinking because all of us need to up our Pinot Grigio game. One of Veronelli’s favorites, Livio Felluga produces Pinot Grigio with flavor, sense of place and it is an explosion of what this variety is capable of… nectarine, white peach with hints of almonds and with an overall vitality. During this tribute, I tried their 1986 ‘Terre Alte’ and it had evolved beautifully through the years.

Special Occasion Wine (from $15 to $50)

2015 Braida, Barbera d’Asti, “Montebruna”, Piedmont (Piemonte), Italy ($27): 100% Barbera. Another favorite of Veronelli, this winery is spearheaded by Giacomo Bologna, a man who showcased the great potential of the Barbera variety. This should be added as a special occasion and an everyday wine since it delivers so much bang for your buck. This wine has generous flavors of black cherry and a lovely softness on the palate, with ripe fruit that balances out the high acidity. It is a juicy wine that pairs well with pasta and pizza, but also has enough concentration to drink on its own. During the tribute, we tasted Braida’s 1989 ‘Bricco dell’Uccellone’ which was the wine that changed the perception of the Barbera variety. It still had lots of vitality and pristine fruit, with dried oregano and crumbly rock adding complexity.

Fantasy Wine (over $50)

1970 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato

The following three wines were all tasted at the tribute for Luigi Veronelli.

1985 Fattoria di Fèlsina, Fontalloro, Tuscany (Toscana), Italy (over $200): 100% Sangiovese. The first “Grand Cru” of Castelnuovo Berardenga in Chianti Classico. Structured tannins that allow one to chew on the old world charm of tea leaves and tar with dried red cherries and wild flowers floating in the background. This wine would be heavenly paired with Bistecca Fiorentina (Tuscan-style T-bone steak).

1975 Emidio Pepe, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy (over $200): 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Emidio Pepe, a living legend, said that Veronelli’s support was crucial during the 1970s and 1980s since that is when most journalists were championing modern wines with new cellar technologies that many small producers like himself could not afford at the time. This wine, my birth year, seemed so uplifting with its captivating aromas of ginger and fresh brambly berries… it may seem odd to place both of those notes together, but this wine was uniquely delicious and had a fierce quality of being “alive,” if that makes sense.

1970 Giuseppe Mascarello, Barolo, “Monprivato”, Piedmont (Piemonte), Italy (over $200): 100% Nebbiolo from the single vineyard “Grand Cru” Monprivato in the Castiglione Falletto village. This wine had just the right amount of grip… not too much, not too little… with worn leather, cigar box and scorched earth aromas that were balanced by a sweet mid-palate of stewed cherries… it had an intense energy that gave it a breathtaking finish.

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Christmas sweets: Struffoli Napoletani.

In Italy they do not just eat Panettone or Pandoro, down south one traditional sweet dish is Struffoli

Struffoli is a Neapolitan dish made of deep fried balls of dough about the size of marbles. Crunchy on the outside and light inside, struffoli are mixed with honey and other sweet ingredients. There are many different ways to dress them, but the traditional way is to mix them in honey with diavulilli (nonpareils sprinkles), cinnamon, and bits of orange rind. In Calabria, they are also known as scalilli. They are often served at Christmas and are sometimes served warm.


1 ¾ cups of Flour
3 Eggs
Zest of 1 Orange
Zest of 1 Lemon
1 Tbsp of Sugar
Small Pinch of Salt
1 Tbsp of Limoncello or Orange Juice
1 cup of Honey
Vegetable Oil for frying




1) In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients (dough will be very sticky) dump dough onto a floured surface and form into a ball (add more flour as you pull it together so it’s no longer sticky.

2) Sprinkle a little flour in a small bowl and set the dough in it. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest on the counter for 30 minutes.

3) In a large pot or a deep fryer, add enough oil to get up to about 3 inches. Heat over medium high heat until the oil is about 370 degrees when tested with a thermometer.

4) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with flour, set aside, also line another baking sheet with paper towels and set aside.

5) Once the dough has rested, place it on a floured surface and cut into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a thin rope shape and cut ¼ inch pieces. Roll each piece into a round ball and place them on the parchment paper lined baking sheet.

6) Fry the struffoli carefully in the hot oil making sure to constantly turn them around as they fry for even cooking, once they are deep golden brown, remove onto the paper towel lined baking sheet.

6) Heat the honey in a small pot until slightly runny, add it to a big bowl and add in the cooked struffoli, toss them well for a few minutes or until they are well covered in the honey. Sprinkle over some sprinkles and let them sit for a while before serving.


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ITA, the returns on promoting authentic food

Interview with Marco Saladini, new director of the Italian Trade Agency in Chicago

New promotions with major US retailers, a new video to explain the crucial factors behind the success of Italian food, and a closer monitoring of the effective results of the government-backed promotional activities in the sector are the key priorities for Marco Saladini, the new director of the ITA-Italian Trade Agency in Chicago. We will look into the campaigns with the US retailers, but also into a lot of other actionsSaladini told at the PLMA show, the most important trade event for the private label industry that took place in Chicago on November 13-14. Italy was the largest international presence at the show, where the food and beverage presence has boomed over the years.


We have signed agreements with a number of retailers in order to enhance their promotional campaigns and make their assortment of products wider and biggerSaladini said. We have measured the return on the investment that in these campaigns that are run by the retailers but also sponsored by us, and it’s a factor of 15 to 1, meaning that if we invest 1 euro, the increase in sales is 15 euros. This is quite substantial as far as we understand, said the new director of the agency in Chicago, which among the several activities to promote the Made in Italy manufacturing oversees relations with the large supermarket chains.


ITA Chicago is exploring new campaigns with current partnering supermarket chains such as Meijer, Schnucks, Mariano’s, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Hy-Vee, HEB USA and Mexico, and Wakefern, and will continue to scout and contact retailers to increase the possibility of collaboration agreements to boost food product sales. The activitiesof the agency include “incoming” missions to major Italian trade shows with selected buyers, but also a one-by-one advice to manufacturers on marketing and promotional efforts that can enhance their presence abroad. In Chicago, ITA also presented for the first time in the United States a new promotional video, called The Fifth Element, which highlights the decisive factors behind the success of the Italian products worldwide. We launch initiatives with the retailers, we do agreements with independent distributors, we promote companies one by oneSaladini said. I believe our efforts are not going to cease in the next few years, but we have to increase efforts in this area that we consider crucial for the Italian economy, the director said.

Watch the full interview here:

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Finally: The Secret To How Italians Are So Healthy (And Happy!)

by Liz Moody MBG Sr. Food Editor

Photo: @valentinahortus

Valentina Solfrini is an award-winning recipe developer and writer.  She grew up in the Italian countryside before moving to New York City to study design, where she quickly found her health reacting to the new city in a less-than-ideal way. As she says, “When you grow up in the countryside, you get privileges that you do not realize are privileges until you actually leave the countryside.” Upon returning to her Italian roots, she began feeling vibrant and well again and in her new cookbook, Naturally Vegetarian: Recipes and Stories from My Italian Family Farm, she shares some of the fresh, healthy Italian food that she nourishes herself with daily.  “With Italian cooking, it’s easy to fall into the pasta/lasagne/prosciutto stereotype,” she says. “But while it is nice to sit out in an osteria with a bowl of spaghetti and a glass of wine every now and then, most meals in Italy are homecooked and include tasty vegetables.” We reached out to Valentina to learn a few more Italian secrets to vitality and happiness that anyone can slip into their daily lives, no matter their location.

1. Eat hyper-local.

Photo: @valentinahortus

“Italy has an incredible variety of indigenous produce and grains, which vary a lot by region and which we are in the process of rediscovering. These local varieties are often sold in their whole-grain version and usually contain little gluten,” Valentia says. “Italy also has over 15,000 different kinds of indigenous produce—think: over 350 different kinds of grape varieties alone. This kind of variety gives life to many recipes involving vegetables, especially in middle and southern Italy.”

2. Seasonal food is king.

“Italy still has a strong feeling for seasonality, especially given the frequency of weekly markets and farmers markets selling organic and local produce at great prices,” Valentina explains. “When something is out of season it usually comes from abroad, and I (and many other Italians) prefer not to buy it. What’s the need when we have so much to choose from? Seasonality also determines Italian rituals: There is no way Italians will make grape focaccia in months that are not August or September, or pumpkin risotto when pumpkin is out of season.”

3. Don’t make mealtime stressful.

“The Italian attitude to stop and enjoy meals is a big part of our healthy eating credo,” says Valentina. “On Italian islands or rural areas, some of which can only be reached by boat, local produce will always be the top (and sometimes only) choice, and junk food is more difficult to come by.”

4. Mediterranean food is the healthiest.

“In spite of the huge differences between northern and southern Italy, most people in the country eat some version of the Mediterranean diet, which is said to be one of the healthiest in the world,” Valentina says. “Its abundance of healthy fats and total lack of processed foods is credited with one of the lowest incidences of cardiovascular diseases.”

5. Put extra-virgin olive oil on EVERYTHING.

Photo: @valentinahortus

“The best-known element of the Mediterranean diet is extra-virgin olive oil,” says Valentina. “In central and southern Italy, it is a real staple, and we go through bottles and bottles of it. In my household, no other kind of oil has ever been used. It can be used for low-heat stir-frying, dressing pretty much anything, or even for baking and sweets (it pairs especially well with chocolate and citrus). There are many varieties of olives throughout the country and each kind produces a different oil, which can be made out of a blend of varieties or from a single variety. When unheated, unfiltered, and freshly pressed, extra-virgin olive oil is at its best: It has an insane amount of antioxidants, vitamin E, and healthy monounsaturated fat. Great olive oil should cause your mouth to tingle because of all the antioxidants, to the point of feeling like very mild chili and should be murky and emerald green. EVOO is a real blessing from nature and, once you try it in its purest state on a piece of sourdough, or raw vegetables (or anything else, really), you will know what I am talking about.”

6. Ignore imported foods to inspire creativity.

“For a long time, I thought the lack of exotic foods like coconut water or mangos was a big minus for Italy, but now I realize that it is not: It is really easy to overeat even “healthy” food, or food that is labeled as healthy, when given the availability,” Valentina explains. “Having less imported food teaches you to make the best of what you have and realize what you actually need and what you don’t. Italians still have a thing for getting in the kitchen and get a little more creative with flavors, even if they just end up assembling a salad.”

7. Use every part of fruits and vegetables.

Photo: @valentinahortus

“I love to buy vegetables that I can use even the scraps of: I sauté beet tops in garlic and olive oil; use fennel, carrot, and celery tops to make a tasty pesto; and I roast pumpkin peels so they get crisp and chip-like,” says Valentina. “This way, I get 100 percent of my money’s worth. I only buy dairy products if I can get them from a local farmer. My only exception to my 100 percent local rule is avocados: I usually buy one once every week or every other week, so I couldn’t be happier that now I can find avocados from Sicily!”

8. Stick to a few great staples.

“Italy’s food staples have always been rather healthful,” Valentina says. “Extra-virgin olive oil is used the most and is present in every cupboard, especially in the countryside, where many people still buy local stone-pressed olive oil. Seaside areas have the advantage of getting lots of local fish, mostly mackerel and sardines, which are high in healthy fats. And, obviously, an incredible variety of vegetables, which are included in many preparations, whether fresh, preserved, pickled, cooked, or raw. Legumes are another important staple throughout the country, and recipes of legume stews and soups with vegetables are many.”

9. Use tons of herbs in EVERYTHING.

Photo: @valentinahortus

“Italian cuisine uses an array of fresh herbs: Balconies and gardens are full of parsley, walls are lined with rosemary and sage, and the Ligurian and Tirrenian rivieras abound with the most fragrant basil. And then there’s thyme, marjoram, oregano…all used on a daily basis,” says Valentina. “Herbs are incredibly loaded with a vast array of vitamins, minerals, and health-promoting nutrients, but are most of all helpful in flavoring foods without using too much salt, sauces, or artificial flavorings. I love to add lots of chopped herbs (or, even better, torn) to bring all my recipes up a notch.”

10. Eat at the table, not on the couch.

According to a chef Valentina knows, “‘every Italian meal is a chance for exchange and for building relationships.’ It is very true, and I have always eaten at the table and nowhere else. Taking our time when sitting at the table, whether in a restaurant or for a dinner with family and friends, is important to the process of enjoying your meal and relaxing. Sure, life is fast and crazy, but learning to take a few minutes to actually sit for a meal is, in my opinion, a huge part of healthy eating. Eating slower also aids digestion and makes you feel full eating less food.”

Want more healthy eating secrets? Check out Sarah’s Melbourne secrets, or these French secrets from writer Elizabeth Bard.

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Italian Vegetable Lentil Soup


2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced carrots (3 medium)
1 1/2 cups diced yellow onions (1 medium)
1 1/2 Tbsp minced garlic (4 cloves)
4 (14.5 oz) cans vegetable broth
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 1/4 cups dried brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups diced zucchini (1 medium)
2 cups packed chopped kale or spinach
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)



  • Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots and onions and saute 2 minutes then add garlic and saute 2 minutes longer. Pour in vegetable broth and tomatoes. Add in lentils, basil, oregano, thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in zucchini and kale and simmer 10 minutes longer. Stir in lemon juice and add up to 1 cup of water to thin as needed (as the soup rests the lentils soak up more of the broth). Serve warm with parmesan cheese if desired.
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A worldwide celebration of Italian cuisine

Laura Egan

Just over two weeks from now, the world will come together to celebrate Italian cuisine in all its glory.

Running from November 20 to 27, the Week of Italian Cuisine in the World (Settimana della cucina italiana nel mondo), will celebrate its second edition in the utmost style.

The seven-day event is promoted by the Italian government, and myriad organisations and businesses involved in Italian culture, cuisine and agriculture participate by holding various related activities across the globe.

Last year, 1,395 events took place across 108 nations, and the initiative was considered a great step forward in the promotion of Italian culinary traditions and products sourced or made in the Belpaese.

Following the success of the first edition, this year is set to skyrocket even higher, with events including conferences, tastings, thematic dinners, exhibitions on culinary themes and technical and scientific workshops to unfold in over 100 nations.

In Australia, the Italian Consulate in Perth is proud to present four events in the spirit of the week.

The first will take place on November 4, at WA Opera’s closing night performance of Donizetti’s classic, Lucia di Lammermoor.

Guests are invited to enjoy an evening of opera and gourmet canapés at His Majesty’s Theatre, and the pre-show cocktail function includes an exclusive meet and greet with leading tenor Aldo di Toro, who performs the role of Edgardo.

The festivities are set to continue in the west, with the World of Food Festival to be held at Government House Gardens on November 19.

During this annual event, various communities from around Perth come together to celebrate the obvious: food.

Italy will have its own stall, featuring the flavours and scents of the Belpaese through delectable wood-fired pizza and refreshing gelato.

A few days later, on November 23, South Fremantle restaurant L’Antica will host a pizza-making and wine-tasting night.

By invitation only, this event aims to celebrate pizza napoletana and the art of Neapolitan pizza-making.

Guests will also have the chance to taste Italian wine and learn the importance of its classifications (IGT, DOC or DOCG quality).

Perth’s celebrations will conclude on November 26, with the ‘Foods from Pompeii’ seminar to be held at the WA Maritime Museum.

Dr Moya Smith, curator for ‘Escape from Pompeii: The Untold Roman Rescue’, will discuss what we know of ancient foods from the exhibition currently on show at the museum, as well as ancient sources, including Pliny the Elder’s Natural History.

Dr Smith will include some age-old recipes for the more adventurous to try at home.

Meanwhile in South Australia, the Consulate of Italy in Adelaide will present a program of events throughout the week.

The festivities will begin on November 20, with the Opening Gala Dinner to be held at Osteria Oggi.

The dinner will feature an official five-course chef selection showcasing Italian ingredients.

The following day, Campbelltown’s Mercato will host a pizza al tagliocooking demonstration, followed by an exclusive pizza lunch deal (this event will also be repeated on November 23).

That night, Italian restaurant Ruby Red Flamingo will house the Paste d’Italia event, organised by the Dante Alighieri Society of SA.

On November 22, the Marche Club will run a cooking demonstration, featuring classic dishes from the region.

That same evening, Bottega Rotolo in Goodwood will hold a mouth-watering cheese and wine class.

On November 23, Rusco and Brusco will host an Italian aperitivo night organised by Com.It.Es.

The celebrations will carry on at Bene Aged Care on November 24, with a lesson on ‘Food and Togetherness’ by Professor John Coveney from Flinders University.

The week will end with a wine masterclass at The Hilton Adelaide on November 25.

The masterclass will be presented by Italian sommelier Alessandro Ragazzo and Italian oenologist Michele Guglielmi.

Many specials and deals will also run in various Italian restaurants and eateries across Adelaide throughout the week.

Events will also unfold across other Australian states, including NSW, where Italian sommelier Piero Fonseca will lead a wine masterclass hosted by the Italian Cultural Institute in Sydney.

The evening of November 23 will be dedicated to the wines of three Italian regions: Friuli, Marche and Calabria, in order to cover the north, centre and south of the peninsula.

During the event, participants will be able to sample some of the most celebrated wines of these regions.

The Institute will also organise a cooking class by Italian chef Gabriele Taddeucci at Casa Barilla, to be held on November 21.

Mr Taddeucci will offer an overview of the most typical products of the Italian gastronomic tradition, such as its cheeses and preserved meats , as well as the different types of wheats used all over the peninsula and their uses.

With all of this and more to do, there’s something for everyone to enjoy as we join together to celebrate Italian cuisine!

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Saint Louis

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