Tag Archives: tuscany

The Light in the Ruins – A Book Review

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This excellent book by the author of Midwives, Chris Bohjalian, delves into life in the beautiful Tuscan countryside during the ravages of World War II. The Rosati’s, a noble family, who lived in a beautiful villa surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, thought their little world was safe from the horrors of the War even though both their sons were in the military fighting for Il Duce. Their oldest son was off in Sicily and their other son was commissioned in Florence as part of the Nazi pillaging of art, but the rest of them were quietly living out the War in their little corner of Heaven. Heaven was about to turn into an inferno, though, when the Nazi’s learned of the secret Etruscan tomb on their property and the possibilty of gathering priceless artifacts to send back to Germany.

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At first, they treated the Rosati’s with respect and reverence. One of the young German officers even fell in love with Cristina, the youngest daughter, and it all seemed like they would live a happily ever after once the War was over. This fairytale abruptly came to an end, though, when Italy surrendered to the Allies. The Germans became desparate and began trashing the countryside and killing anyone suspected of harboring the Partisans.

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Massacres of innocent people, sometimes a whole town, took place and everyone lived in fear. The Rosati’s were no exception: they soon became prisoners in their own home.

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They were forced to give up their home for it to become a barracks for the Nazi’s. They were allowed to remain, though, but all 6 of them were crammed into one room. Their animals were slaughtered to feed the soldiers and their vineyards and olive groves destroyed. Everything they had was gone! And on top of all the physical and economic hardship they indured, their allegiance was questioned by all…were they Nazi sympathizers (after all, their daughter was in love with one) or were they harboring Partisans?

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Fast forward 10 years or so….the War is over and Italy has somewhat repaired itself from the damages. The Rosati’s have left their war-torn estate behind and moved to Rome. The horrors they endured during the War are still raw scars on their hearts that have yet to heal, and probably never will. And now, their family has become the target of a brutal serial killer. Someone is out for revenge, but why? Who? The pretty, young, female investigator assigned to the case has to untangle clues from the past which puts her back in touch with her own secrets and horrors endured during the War. The story takes its twists and turns, but the reader is always caught up and motivated to keep reading wondering how its all going to come together.

Delicious Ricciarelli Cookies

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If you’re anything like me, you may love to cook but not care very much for baking.  I’m not exactly sure why I don’t like baking – maybe it’s the mess, or the rolling out of dough, or the lengthy time involved.  Whatever it is, I don’t do it very often, but at Christmastime, I try to make the effort.  That’s why I was so happy to find this recipe – super easy to make and absolutely DELICIOUS!  Ricciarelli are a very popular cookie in Tuscany and now can be popular at your house as well!  I know they were a hit at mine…in fact, they didn’t last very long at all.   I guess it’s time to make some more for Santa’s plate on Christmas Eve 🙂

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Ricciarelli

3 cups almond meal

1 1/3 cups sugar

1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

1 t. baking powder

2 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks

2 t. almond extract

Zest of an orange

Pinch of salt

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 275.

Combine the almond meal, sugar, 1 cup of the powdered sugar, baking powder, salt, and the orange zest in a bowl. 

Stir in the beaten egg whites and mix all together until it’s all combined (it will be sticky).  Stir in the almond extract.

Using a tablespoon, take a scoopful of dough and form it into an oval ball.  Roll the ball into some powdered sugar and place them on the cookie sheet.  Leave a little bit of spreading room in between cookies.  Press down slightly on the cookies to flatten them just a little.

Place the cookie sheets in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.  The cookies are done when they are slightly crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside.  Cool completely and store them in an airtight container.

These cookies are delicious served with some Asti Spumante or Prosecco!

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

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A few years ago, while visiting Tuscany and Umbria, I had a simple Italian pasta dish featuring Ragu al Cinghiale (wild boar). I remember it being so delicious and very similar to the ragu my mom makes. Pasta with ragu is one of my comfort foods and when the weather begins to chill, it calls to me! In Tuscany and other areas nearby, cooking with wild game is very popuar. There are lots of hunters in these parts, and their delicasies reflect the game that they catch. But I never thought that I, not a hunter, could ever cook with these meats. So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into a nearby organic market, Sprouts, and found ground wild boar meat in the meat department! I immediately picked it up and brought it home to try my luck at making the delicious ragu that I had tasted in Tuscany. But so many questions arose in my head, mostly those  wondering if I had to treat the meat in some way to remove the gaminess. After doing some research online, I decided that I would just go for it and treat it like any other ground meat I’ve used in the past when I’ve made ragu. I’m glad I followed my instincts, because it came out perfectly!

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Ragu al Cinghiale (Wild Boar Ragu)

1 lb. ground wild boar meat
2 to 2 1/2 cups of Marinara Sauce (here’s my homemade recipe)
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
3 stalks finely chopped celery
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms (I found some online here) softened in hot water (save the liquid)
1 Porcini mushroom bouillon cube
1/4 cup red wine
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

Saute the onions and celery in the olive oil until they are starting to brown.  (don’t add too much oil, only enough to coat the bottom of the pan).

Add the ground wild boar meat and brown it thoroughly all the while breaking up the larger chunks.

Add the red wine and cook for about 1 minute.

Add the marinara sauce and chopped, softened porcini mushrooms.  Stir and combine well.  Add the bouillon cube and some salt and pepper.

Reduce the heat and cover.  Simmer and cook for a couple of hours, making sure that the sauce doesn’t burn.  If needed, add a little of the porcini soaking water to keep it moist.

Serve with your favorite pasta (I like it with egg fettucine).  If you don’t use all the sauce and you want to keep it for future uses, it freezes perfectly.

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Dried porcini mushrooms

Dried porcini mushrooms

Porcini mushroom bouillon cubes

Porcini mushroom bouillon cubes

A Summer in Tuscany – a book review

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Elizabeth Adler has done it once more with her fun summer reading book, A Summer in Tuscany! Even though her stories are pretty predictable and the plot isn’t too complicated, this doesn’t detract one bit from their enjoyment! She is a master of portraying the scenery and “feeling” of the locations in which her books take place. She romanticizes the locations, but having been to many of them, she seems to be reading my inner thoughts and how they make me feel inside when I am there. She has the words that I don’t have to describe the locations – not only physically but emotionally.

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A Summer in Tuscany follows the story of awkward Gemma Jericho, an emergency room physician from New York City and her journey to the small Tuscan town of Bella Piacere with her mother (Nonna) and her daughter after they find out that Nonna has become the heiress to the Villa Bella Piacere. Nonna had left the town when she was 13 but arrives back to find that many of her childhood friends still live there and remember her with great affection. Their meanderings into the town and the surrounding countryside are so typical of life in those tiny little towns.

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Gemma meets handsome and rich Ben Rafael and sparks fly between them – both good and bad! At first, they are enemies because of the Villa Bella Piacere due to a “slight” question of ownership! Ben had bought the villa by a lawyer claiming to be the old Count’s lawyer after heirs could not be found, meanwhile Nonna was told the villa was left to her family by the Count himself. The quest to find the real will leads them all over Tuscany and Rome…and eventually to love between Gemma and Ben! Their travels also take them to the gorgeous cliff town of Positano where we are treated to beautiful visual sights through Elizabeth Adler’s words!

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The book actually had me laughing out loud at Gemma’s clumsiness because we’ve all been there with her trips and falls and running into walls when trying to be “cool”! This book is truly fun through and through and I would highly recommend it for a read that touches you inside with the warmth that is Italy.

So many places to see, but so little time…

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This coming September, we are taking a trip back to Italy.  Originally, we were planning on making a stop in Deruta to pick up some more pottery for my shop, Tesoro.   As much as I want to do this, I realized that it would make our trip so much more duty-oriented rather than just about taking time and being at leisure.  So, I think I’ve made the decision that I will skip Deruta this time, thus giving us more time to explore Italy’s backroads.

This past weekend, we actually sat down and tried to find some places and things to do that fit into our path of travel.  I think we’ve come up with some unique and fun things to do.  I would love it if anyone reading this blog had anything to add to our ideas – whether you’ve experienced them or have any other tips!  Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Since we are travelling to and from Zurich, Switzerland, we have decided to incorporate a teeny bit of Switzerland into our itinerary.  The first thing we are planning to do is to take the William Tell Express, a scenic train ride from Luzern to Locarno.  The William Tell Express goes to Lugano as well, but we chose Locarno because it is on Lago Maggiore and the starting off point for our next adventure.

From Locarno, we are planning on taking the train ride through the Cento Valli.  Another scenic train ride through the valleys in the Piedmont region west of Lago Maggiore.  I have heard lots of favorable reviews of this excurion.  It can be combined with a boat ride along the western shore of the lake from Arona back to Locarno.  Even though I have been to lots of places along the shores of Lago Maggiore, I have never experienced anything north of Stresa.  So this sounds extremely appealing to me!  Exploring the lake of my roots has always been a dream of mine, and this will be a start to fulfilling that dream!

After visiting family and friends on Lago Maggiore, we plan on making a road trip to the Cinque Terra via Piedmont.  Stopping in Piedmont and exploring some of this area’s wineries and charming little towns is hopefully a possibility.  Visiting the Cinque Terre will be another new experience for me.  I have always wanted to see these enchanted towns set along the Ligurian coastline but never before had the opportunity.  We are excited to visit in September – hopefully the throngs of tourists which frequent these places will be gone and we can have the place to ourselves?  (am I being too hopeful?).  Irregardless, the tourist crowds have to be better than in the height of summer!

From Liguria, it’s on to Cecina in Tuscany to visit more family!  A trip along the coast is in the plan.  Being from California, travelling along the coast is always so scenic and beautiful.  I’m sure this Italian coast will not disappoint! 

Alas, at this point, our trip will be  almost over so we will have to take the Autostrada back up to Lago Maggiore, and then back to Zurich.  But….some quick stops along the way are a very strong possibility. 

Now I am starting to get excited!!!