Insalata Purtuall’


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Insalata di arancia e finocchio-orange and fennel salad always brings back memories of my grade 1 lunchroom. My delicious lunches included home made crusty bread stuffed with melanzane and roasted peppers, prosciutto, capicollo or cotoletto di vitello, frittata, pizza or ‘chocolate sandwiches’ made with Nutella. Papà would often make me Insalata Purtuall’, with oranges cut crosswise in rounds, fennel and black olives, drizzled with olive oil and a bit of salt.  A true flavour explosion for 6 year old me.  I did not know why everyone at school thought my lunches were so weird.  The ‘Anglo’ kids made fun of them, and even the teachers eyed my food suspiciously.  Today all of these foods are available and trendy, so who is laughing now?  Ha! I do not remember being too bothered by the teasing.  I actually felt sorry for my classmates.  Their lunches were gross, usually consisting of ‘plastic’ cheese on bright white squishy bread that was sliced like cake! Poveretti. I will have to write more about my early gastronomic experiences in another post….

A while back, Frank from Memorie di Angelina wrote about orange and fennel salad, and I commented that we called it ‘Portugal’ salad, but did not know why. I asked Papà why we called it ‘Insalata Purtuall’. Purtuall’ is dialetto for Portogallo which is Portugal in italiano. His answer surprised me. He said it was not a Portuguese salad, but purtuall’ is what the orange were called. Hmmm.  Soon after this, I was at a writers’ conference and one of the presenters displayed a map showing the word for orange across Europe in various languages. Aha! I saw that the Greek word for orange is ‘portokali’. This was getting interesting!

Arancia amara, bitter orange, was known to the Romans. Sweet oranges were only introduced to Europe and the Mediterranean in the 14th century. Portuguese ships were the first to circumnavigate Africa and brought sweet oranges back from the Far East. In many countries, oranges were named after Portugal-the country that they seemed to be coming from! In Greek oranges are portokali, in North Africa and most Middle East countries burtuqall, in Iran purtuqol, in Turkey portakal and in Hungary and Romania portokal. In most of Western Europe, the Mediterranean and Britain, the word for orange comes from ‘narangas’, Sanskrit for orange tree. For example, in italiano arancia, in spanish naranja, portuguese laranja, and of course english orange. There are a few places in Italia where the dialetto still uses the ‘portuguese’ term. In Campania, Puglia, Basilicata and Abruzzo, purtuallo or portajalli, in Sicilian partualli (or aranciù), and in Piemonte portugaj. In modern Greek, bitter oranges are called ‘nerantzi’ while sweet oranges are called ‘portokali’. Who knew that the yummy salad I used to bring for lunch in elementary school reflects thousands of years of history, trade voyages and etymology between East and West!

A ‘recipe’ is not really needed for Insalata Purtuall’. Just peel a few oranges and remove as much of the pith as possible, then slice them crosswise and lay them on a plate. Cut half a fennel bulb and slice in either small or larger pieces. Add ‘un filo d’olio’, a drizzle of olive oil and salt, then a few black olives and garnish with fennel fronds. I sometimes like to throw in some pomegranate seeds or rucola. It is hard to mess up this healthy, refreshing winter insalata! I recently found out that Insalata Purtuall’ was served at my parents’ wedding in Orsara di Puglia in the 1960’s, so now it tastes even better!

Buon appetito, Cristina

Tortelloni di Ricotta in a Snowstorm


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It snowed again last night.  Shoveling snow and picking ice cubes off of my poor olive tree is not my idea of a relaxing Sunday morning.  Yesterday, facebook sent me one of those ‘your memories from one year ago’ messages with this black and white photo.  It snowed a LOT last year, and this particular Saturday night, I was bloccato dalla neve -snowed in.  I decided this was a good time to do my recipe testing for Julia Busuttil Nishimura’s cookbook Ostro.  Ostro is also the name of Julia’s website.  The recipe was for Ricotta tortelloni with butter, sage and hazelnuts.  Tortelloni are super-size tortellini and I had not made them before.  Filling and shaping them was fun and easier than I thought.

I had to use a beer glass to cut the circles, so they came out quite big.  Once I was done making the tortelloni, I made the butter sage and hazelnut sauce-except I had to improvise.   It was dark outside and still snowing heavily.  The sage was growing in the backyard.  I had to dress like an Eskimo and go out with my flashlight to forage for sage under a foot of snow!  Brrrr.  I did not have any hazelnuts, and had even run out of butter making cookies.  Grocery shopping was not an option at this point, so I ended up making an olive oil, sage and toasted almond sauce instead. It was so delicious I did not even have a chance to take a decent photo of the finished dish!

I have made these ricotta tortelloni a few more times, even with ricotta fatta in casa.  Ostro is now out in print and is Gourmet Traveller Australia’s 2017 book of the year.  Auguri Julia!   I believe Ostro is available only in Australia for now.  In Canada, it is only available on kindle so far, so I have not seen it yet.  You can find the recipe here.More about my adventures in (and complaining about) the snow along with snowy photos can be found in Bloccato dalla neve.

Another recipe from Julia and a review of Ostro can be found on Emiko Davies’ blog here.

Ciao e buon appetito, Cristina

La Trinità di Masaccio


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La Trinità di Masaccio is one of the most important paintings in art history…..and it came very close to being destroyed!  The fresco is on the wall of the left aisle in Santa Maria Novella, opposite the entrance through the cloisters. La Santa Trinità is the Holy Trinity; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It was commissioned by unknown donors, probably from the Lenzi or Berti families, since they had tombs close by.

La Trinità, completed in 1427, is the earliest known example of one point linear perspective.  It is painted on a flat wall, but gives the illusion of space, appearing to be a 3 dimensional chapel. This is the start of early 15th Century Humanism, when Italian painting moved from flat, idealized art to a more natural, realistic style.

To create a sense of depth and space, Masaccio uses linear perspective with a vanishing point, chiaroscuro, foreshortening and directional light. This was all new at the time. The figures are life-size, emotional, and so realistic they look sculpted. Jesus is especially realistic looking, with his body affected by gravity.  God is portrayed as a standing man holding up the cross, with foreshortened feet firmly planted on the ground.  He is usually portrayed by a hand or as an old man floating in the clouds.  Mary looks mournfully at the viewer, pointing up to Jesus as if to say ‘this is your answer to eternal salvation’. The praying witnesses are likely the unidentified donors, placed outside the ‘chapel’.

Inspired by Brunelleschi’s newly rediscovered classical principles, Masaccio creates a convincing architectural space, especially the barrel vaulted coffered ceiling. The composition is magnificent, with many triangles further emphasizing the theme of ‘trinity’.   The vanishing point is right at eye-level, guiding the viewer’s eye upwards and emphasizing the perspective of the ceiling.  Masaccio apparently inserted a nail at the vanishing point- the ledge below the cross. He tied strings to this nail which left imprints in the wet plaster.  He used these lines as a guide for the perspective.

My quick sketches of the vanishing point, perspective lines and triangular composition. The colour image is my entry ticket from 2004!

Masaccio was praised in Giorgio Vasari’s 1550 bestseller ‘The Lives of the Artists’.** Masaccio was born Tommaso Cassai. ‘Maso’ is short for Tommaso and with the superlative ‘accio’, it meant ‘big messy Maso’.  According to Vasari, this was ‘because of his complete lack of concern’ for worldly affairs or even how he dressed himself’. He was only concerned with his art.  Masaccio’s most famous work is the Cappella Brancacci in Santa Maria del Carmine.  In 1428, at the age of 27, he died suddenly of unknown causes.  Many, including Vasari believed he was poisoned by a jealous rival.  When informed of Masaccio’s death, Brunelleschi commented ‘Noi abbiamo fatto una gran perdita’-we have had a great loss. Masaccio did not live long enough to be well known in his lifetime, but his work inspired Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippi, and Filippino Lippi.  The Cappella Brancacci was completed by Filippino after Masaccio’s death.

Back to La Trinità…In 1568, Vasari was commissioned by Cosimo I de Medici to ‘modernize’ Santa Maria Novella. Cosimo ordered all of the frescos to be plastered over and replaced with new ones!  Aaaaaahhhh!  Well-lucky for us, Vasari admired Masaccio and could not bear to destroy La Trinità.  He secretly built a false wall in front, effectively preserving the work for almost 300 years.  On the new wall Vasari installed an altar and painted the Madonna del Rosario.

In 1860 Santa Maria Novella was undergoing renovations and workers, noticing an irregularity in the wall, discovered La Trinità. Unfortunately, it was detached from the wall, transferred to canvas and moved to the another wall inside.  Detaching a fresco is done with the ‘strappo’ technique, which is complicated and fascinating. Italocanadese fresco artist Liana Tumino demonstrates the technique in this video.

The bottom part of the fresco was either not noticed or ignored. It is a cadaver/ skeleton on an open tomb.  Painted to look carved in the stone is written ‘Io fu già quel che voi siete, e quel chi son voi ancor sarete’ –I was what you are and you will be what I am.  This is a Memento Mori, a reminder of our eventual death, like poor Yorick’s skull.  The message can be interpreted as both ‘Do not take life for granted, live life to its fullest’ and ‘Prepare now for eternal salvation’.  The second interpretation was more likely in the 15th century.

Both parts of the fresco were reunited in the original location in 1952. Death below, and the hope of salvation above.  It suffered some damage from being transferred to canvas and then back to the wall.  I am not the biggest fan of Vasari’s work, but in this case…yeah Giorgio!  We can almost forgive him for the gaudy tomb he designed for Michelangelo… Almost.

Ciao, Cristina

**The full title is ‘The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects’, in italiano ‘Le Vite de’ più Eccellenti Pittori, Scultori e Architettore’ often simply called ‘Le Vite’, first published 1550, updated 1568. Read more about Vasari in this post.

Olive Oil Limoncello Cake


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In November I attended an art retreat, surrounded by 900 olive trees!  It was at Casa Berti near Gugliano, about 40 minutes outside of Lucca. There were also lemon trees in giant terra cotta pots on the terrace, not yet ready to be moved into the limonaia for the winter. Many of the lemons become limoncello.  I was so inspired and distracted by the olive trees that I took several breaks from art making to pick olives.  I could not help it-they were calling to me!  Every day or two, when there were enough picked, they would be taken to the frantoio or olive press and then return to Casa Berti as lush, fragrant oil.  Green gold as a friend calls it. The Casa Berti cucina had a stainless steel bidone full of new oil with a little spout for pouring.

Being surrounded by olives, freshly pressed oil, fresh lemons and limoncello, I had the urge to make an olive oil limoncello cake.  I have been making this cake for years, but I did not have the recipe with me.  I also left my art making to bake just when Ben, the owner of Casa Berti, had gone on another run to the frantoio with olives. I searched the kitchen but could not find any measuring utensils or a scale, so the measurements were all a big guess. ??? Luckily I knew where the limoncello was!

The cake came out better than usual, probably due to the quality and freshness of the ingredients.  I usually just dust it simply with zucchero in polvere-icing sugar.  For a fancier look, make a limoncello glaze with icing sugar and limoncello.  The cake is also nice with fresh fruit, especially raspberries or blueberries.  It goes equally well with a cup of espresso or a glass of limoncello and is also very easy to make-you don’t even need a mixer-just a wooden spoon and a whisk.  I adjusted some of the amounts to the recipe based on the Casa Berti cake, but if your measurements are not exact, non ti preoccupare, it will probably still taste good!

Casa Berti

Casa Berti Olive Oil Limoncello Cake

400g (~3 cups) flour

200g (almost 1 cup) sugar

4 medium sized eggs or 3 large eggs

160ml (~ ¾ cup) extra virgin olive oil

130 ml (~½ cup) milk

60 ml (¼ cup, 4 tablespoons) limoncello

Grated zest/peel of 2 organic lemons

16g packet Pane degli Angeli (or 15 ml/1 tablespoon baking powder)

  1. Preheat oven to 160°C (325°F)
  2. Butter and flour a 23 cm (9 inch) pan
  3. In a small bowl, add the lemon peel to the sugar and mix with fingers or the back of a spoon until they are well mixed and the sugar looks damp
  4. Whisk the eggs and add the sugar/peel mixture
  5. Add the olive oil, milk and limoncello
  6. Add flour a bit at a time and stir with a wooden spoon just until the flour is mixed in.  Do not over mix
  7. Add Pane degli Angeli
  8. Spoon into the pan and bake for 40-45 minutes.  Be careful not to overbake or it may come out dry
  9. Cool and dust with icing sugar
  10. For a fancier topping, make a limoncello glaze with 1 cup icing sugar and 30 ml (2 tablespoons) limoncello.  If it is too dry, add another 15 ml (1 tablespoon) limoncello or milk.  Mix together and drizzle onto cake.

Buon appetito, Cristina

La Grande Cacata


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As I entered Piazza della Signoria in November, I was surprised to see it occupied by a massive excremental aluminum sculpture. Big Clay #4 is the actual title of the 12 meter high work by Swiss artist Urs Fischer.

The sculpture is actually an enlargement of pieces of clay that the artist modeled with his hands.  He took 5 small pieces of clay and squished them around in his hands, then piled them up.  Then it was ‘supersized’ to 12 meters high.  The artist’s fingerprints and palm creases that were impressed onto the surface of the clay were also reproduced. An interesting idea…. too bad it came out looking like poo.

The installation of this sculpture is not a successful pairing of contemporary and Renaissance/Classic art. If I sound like a harsh art critic, let me say that I am not one of those people who just dislikes contemporary art.  In fact, one of my favourite musei in Firenze is the Museo Marino Marini, housed in the deconsecrated ancient church of San Pancrazio. Marini’s 20th Century sculptures are elegant and classic and his melding of the historical and the contemporary is extremely successful.

In my determined quest to find a positive angle on this work, I looked at the photo below and wondered if the artist was trying to (unsuccessfully) mimic the spiraling vortex of Giambologna’s Ratto delle Sabine.  This is not the case, since I found out the sculpture was not made for this site.  It was previously displayed outside of the Seagram Building in Manhattan, where it was known as the ‘Big Turd’.

The work is supposed to be thought provoking.  The only thought that came to me was ‘Now I know what it would it look like if a brontosaurus took a big dump in the middle of Piazza della Signoria!’ The sculpture is up until January 21st, so you only have  4 more days to see it here.  My title may sound a bit harsh, but many other colourful, scatologically oriented comments were heard in the piazza and around Firenze. I don’t think many Fiorentini will be sad to see it go!

Ciao, Cristina

Buon Anno 2018


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Buon Anno a tutti i lettori di ‘Un po’ di pepe’, vicini e lontani!  Spero che 2018 porta buona salute e gioia a voi e ai vostri cari. Happy New Year readers of ‘Un po’ di pepe’ near and far.  I hope 2018 brings you and your loved ones good health and joy!

WordPress sent me some stats which i find so interesting I need to share them. In 2017, Un po’ di pepe had almost 7,700 views from 101 different countries!  I wish I could visit even a few of them!  This post is also a milestone, as it is post number 100!  Last month I also reached 250 followers.  Number 250 is the lovely Cher who I met at my exhibit in Pietrasanta, Lucca. Cher, if you are reading this, I will be sending you a ‘prize’ soon!  Based on the number of views, the most posts of 2017 were:

#9 A post full of sundrenched photos from my daytrip to Trani this summer#8 At first, it seemed like this post didn’t get as much love as I thought it deserved, so I was felicissima that Hairstyling in Ancient Roma made the list! I am an archeology nerd, and obviously some of you are too!

#7 Torta Caprese all’Arancia the delicious flourless chocolate cake recipe I posted to celebrate receiving a Cannolo Award makes the list again this year

#6 My grand amico Peppe Zullo Il Cuoco Contadino will be thrilled that the post about him and his Azienda Agricola made the list!

Peppe Zullo nel vigneto. Photo Nicola Tramonte

#5 Pomodoro Day is a new post with links to 2 previous posts about the history of  pomodori and my family’s annual passata di pomodoro canning.  There are a lot of photos and they are very red!

#4 An introduction to my paese Benvenuti ad Orsara di Puglia made the list again this year.  Viva Orsara! I need to publish a photo essay of black and white photos taken this year.

#3 I am so happy to see Mercato Inspiration in the top 3! This post is a link to a photography blog post written by someone who purchased a small print from me. He writes about how meeting me and talking about art inspired him.  Molto cool!

#2 is my About me/Chi sono page but since it is not an actual post, the #2 spot goes to another old favourite.  Grano Arso is about a resurfaced gastronomic tradition in Puglia that honours the resilience of our contadini ancestors.  In September I read a piece about grano arso at the Association of Italian Canadian Writers Conference. It will be published in a special edition of the journal Italian Canadiana in 2018.

#1 by a long shot once again is Italiano per Ristoranti my handy Italian menu pronunciation guide.  This post is from 2014, and updated in 2016.  It is available from the post as a downloadable PDF.  I would like to expand on this post and make it into an ebook once I have time to figure out how to do that!

Bruschetta (broo.SKET.tah)

In October, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by fellow blogger Silvia Spatafora.  The link to her bilingual post is in L’Intervista con Silvia. Also molto cool!In 2017 I saw U2 perform live for the 7th time and I went to Italia twice!  If you read the posts In Partenza and Autunno in Italia, you know that the second time was not planned very far in advance.  Spontaneity is good!  I have several blog posts coming in 2018 related to the short trip! I also have a few book reviews to post.  My goals for 2018 are simple….less stress, more exercise, more art and writing!

I would love to hear which post was your favourite.  What would you like to read more of in Un po’ di pepe?  Looking forward to writing more cose interresanti /interesting stuff in 2018.

Vi auguro un 2018 piena di gioia e buona salute!  Ciao, Cristina

Panettone Fatto in Casa


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I started experimenting with panettone last year. I did not do it intentionally… it was an act of desperation.  I had made lievito madre– mother yeast or bread starter that I was keeping for months, and needed to feed at least once or twice a week.  I had to do something with the part you need to give away or throw out.  It was invading my cucina! I ran out of people to give it to, and did not like throwing it away.  Then I found out I could use my lievito madre to make panettone. Yeast still had to be added, but the lievito madre added flavour and texture to the dough and helped it stay fresh longer.  I adapted this overnight panettone recipe, replacing 1 cup of flour with 1 cup of my starter.  It was pretty good.  This year, I no longer have my starter, plus I lost all of my recipe experimentation notes. Mannaggia!  So I had to start all over, but luckily my panettone turned out better.  This time I used a biga (BEE•gah), a sort of ‘mini starter’ that ferments overnight.  After trying a lot of different things, I can finally post the recipe, just in time for Natale.  Traditionally, panettone is made with uvetta and canditi-raisins and candied citrus peel.  I love panettone, and canditi, but I usually end up picking out the raisins, so I used dried figs soaked in grappa instead.  If you like raisins, they do grappa well too!  Panettone dough needs to rise 3 times, so this recipe is not recommended for the inpatient or inexperienced bread baker.  Be sure to read my notes at the bottom.  My previous post Panettone details the history of this lovely dolce.

Panettone con Fichi, Noci e Arancia/Panettone with Figs,Walnuts and Orange:

Make a biga the night before:

  • 100 g 00 flour or all-purpose flour (200 ml, ~¾cup)
  • 100 ml milk (85g, a bit more than ⅓ cup) at room temperature
  • 1 (7 g) package active dry yeast (not quick rise or instant) Lievito di birra is what I used*
  • 15 g honey (10 ml, 2 tsp)

In a glass bowl or measuring cup, dissolve the yeast in the milk.  Add honey, then flour.  Cover with a tea towel and leave overnight or longer. It should be bubbly and doubled in size

Soak fruit: 250-500 ml (1-2 cups) chopped dried figs (or apricots, cranberries, raisins or other mixed dried fruits).  Cover with 30ml (2 tablespoons or 1 ‘shot’) of grappa and soak overnight.

Make the dough the next morning:

  • Biga made the night before
  • 400g flour (~800 ml, 3 ¼cups)
  • 60 ml white wine (¼ cup, 4 tablespoons)
  • 100 g sugar (120 ml, ½ cup)
  • 100 g butter at room temperature (125 ml, ½ cup, 1 ‘stick’)
  • 6 g salt (1 tsp)
  • 3 eggs (plus one extra yolk if the eggs are small)
  • 5 ml (1tsp) Fiori di Sicilia (or 1 tsp vanilla extract or ⅓ a vanilla bean and 5 drops of orange oil) **

Make a well in the center of the flour. Add the biga and other ingredients.  Mix with a wooden spoon.  Knead by hand on a floured surface for 10-20 minutes or electric mixer 10 minutes followed by a few minutes by hand. Cover bowl with a tea towel and let rise for a minimum of 3 hours.  Longer is better*

Add fruit and canditi:

Deflate the dough and pull it into a rectangle. Top with:

  • Grated rind of 1 large orange
  • Drained figs or other dried fruit soaked in grappa
  • 125-250 ml (½ to 1 cup) Canditi-candied citrus peel
  • 125-250 ml (½-1 cup) chopped walnuts

Roll dough up into a log, then knead on a floured surface to evenly mix in the fruit, nuts, and canditi. Shape into a ball.

Place the ball in a 750g panettone paper mold, a metal coffee can lined with parchment paper, an 8 cup glass pyrex measuring cup lined with parchment paper, or a new terra cotta pot. Whatever you use, make sure the sides are tall enough to allow for the dough rising. Let rise 4-5 hours*** I had to let mine rise overnight in the oven-turned off with the light on.

Slash a cross on top of the panettone and place a small square of butter in the middle

Bake panettone in a preheated 190° C (375° F) oven for 45-50 minutes or until the top is done.  If the top is becoming too dark, cover with a piece of aluminum foil

Cool panettone upside down to prevent falling.  I could not find bamboo skewers, so I used my bamboo knitting needles to skewer the bottom then hung it upside down over a large pot. I don’t know if this step is really necessary, but after all this work, I am not willing to find out! It also looks cool.  See photo:

The panettone should keep fresh for 5 days in a plastic bag- if it lasts that long!


Amounts can vary depending on temperature, humidity and type or size of ingredient.  I have included ml and cup measurements in brackets, but measuring ingredients by weight is the most accurate.

Fig and chocolate is also a nice panettone combination.  For best results, freeze the chocolate pieces before adding to the dough.

I made my own canditi-candied orange peels, using the instructions on Domenica’s postIt was easier than I thought and I won’t be buying canditi any more!

*Lievito di birra is beer yeast.  It is available from some Italian supermarkets in packets.  Use ‘active’ dry yeast, not instant or quick-rise.

**Fiori di Sicilia is a vanilla citrus mixture that smells like panettone in a bottle. It can be hard to find and expensive.  Vanilla extract and orange oil is a good substitute.

***Dough rising times are variable, especially in colder weather. If you are having difficulty getting your dough to rise, there are some things that can help.

  • Place the dough on the counter while a pot of water is simmering on the stove
  • Place the dough in the oven (turned off) with the light on
  • If really having difficulty, preheat the oven to a ‘keep warm’ setting, then turn it off and place the dough in there.
  • Abbia pazienza-Just be patient!

Buon appetito e Buon Natale, Cristina



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Panettone is a Christmas and New Year’s tradition in Italian households. Panettone (pah∙neh∙TOH∙neh) literally means big loaf of bread. Panetto is a small loaf of bread and the suffix ‘one’ makes it a big bread.  The origins of panettone probably date back to the Ancient Romans, who made a leavened bread with honey and raisins.  Bread has always been a symbol of family ties, as in ‘breaking bread’ together. In the middle ages, a sweet leavened bread with dried fruit was incised with the sign of the cross before baking as a blessing for the new year, then distributed to the family.  A slice was also saved for the next year.  In the 1400’s it became custom to make il pane di Natale-Christmas bread, with white flour and costly, hard to find ingredients that made it special.  This was called pane di lusso-luxurious bread, which in Milanese dialect was ‘pan del ton’.  Modern panettone originated 500 years ago in Milano during the reign of Ludovico Sforza (1481-1499). There are several legends regarding its origin.

In the most romanticized legend, Ughetto, son of nobleman Giacometto degli Antellari fell in love with the beautiful Adalgisa. To be near his innamorata, he pretended to be an apprentice baker for her father Antonio, who was called ‘Toni’.  Desperate to impress Toni, Ughetto created a rich bread with yeast, butter, eggs, sugar and canditi- candied cedro and orange peel. The bread was an overwhelming success and people came from all over Milano to taste this ‘pane di toni’ – Toni’s bread.  Duchess Beatrice d’Este, wife of Ludovico Sforza, was so taken with the love story that created this bread that she convinced Giacometto to let his son marry the baker’s daughter.

Another version takes place in Ludovico’s kitchens. There was a custom to prepare a particular dolce for guests on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, it was burnt, sending the cook into desperation.  One of the kitchen workers, a boy named Antonio, offered the bread he was making for himself using the dough left over the day before from the original dolce. It was a domed sweet bread with grapes.  When the invited guests asked what this delicious dolce was called, the cook replied ‘pan del toni’.

The final legend is the simplest, but probably the most believable.  It involves Suor Ughetta, a young nun in a very poor convent in Milano. To make Christmas Eve more festive, she made a dolce for her fellow sisters with butter, sugar, eggs, canditi and uvette.  Uvetta means raisin in Italiano, and in dialetto Milanese it is pronounced ‘ughetta‘. Whichever legend we choose to believe, today panettone is synonymous with Natale for anyone of Italian origin.

In 1919, baker Angelo Motta opened his first pasticceria in Milano. He let his panettone rise 3 times, to the familiar cupola or dome shape on a cylinder that we see today. Previously the shape of panettone was more schiacciata-lower and more compact. Motta also invented the paper wrap and box. A few years later, he had a competitor in Milano, Gioacchino Alemagna. Their competition led to industrialized production of panettone, with factories replacing the small pasticcerie. They also began exporting all over the world. Today both Motta and Alemagna are owned by Bauli, based in Verona. Last year almost 120 million panettoni were produced in Italia!

I will be enjoying my panettone and prosecco for Capodanno-New Year’s eve, and making panettone French toast with ricotta if there is any left over! I have been experimenting with making my own panettone since last December.  My next post will be a recipe for Panettone fatto in casa!  Read about other dolci di Natale in this post. Buon appetito, Cristina

Autunno in Italia


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Returning from my short trip to Italia, as usual I was back to work the next morning.  This did not help with the cambiamento di fuso orario. I have so many posts to write, but now they will have to wait until after Christmas. Until then, here is a quick summary with some highlights from my viaggietto.  It was a bit of a blur….at 17 days, I think this was my shortest ever trip to Italia!

I had not been to Italia in autunno before. The fall weather was mostly clear and sunny, with a few days of serious rain. I envisioned myself having every piazza practically to myself….was I ever mistaken!  My first few days were in Roma the last weekend of October.  The Pantheon was packed with more people than I have ever seen in July. I could barely make it through the crowd to throw my coin in the Fontana di Trevi!  I found out that some European countries have their school midterm break around this time.  In Italia November 1st, All Saints’ Day, is a holiday and many Italians take ‘il ponte al primo novembre’, an extra-long weekend.  Even so, the guard at the Pantheon said ‘Qui non c’è bassa stagione’-there is no low season here.  My 2 partial weekends in Firenze were similar.  Smaller places, especially the seaside are quiet at this time of year, but the cities always have a lot of visitors, especially on the weekend.  Despite my utter shock at the hoardes of tour groups I was not expecting, Roma was glorious as usual. One day I want to spend a whole month in Roma.

Franco joined me for the first 9 days-this was only confirmed a week before leaving! He had not been to Roma in a very long time, so we decided to visit the Colosseo and Foro Romano.  I took way too many photos of this was obsessed with the way the sunlight struck this green door on the Tempio di Romolo in the Foro Romano. The rest of the day involved a lot of walking and was centered around a visit to Poggi to buy Fabriano Rosaspina paper for my art retreat, and meeting a friend in Monti.  We ended up doing everything on my Un Giorno a Roma itinerary and a few extras.


Spending just 4 days in Orsara di Puglia was a mad dash. This was not enough time to visit family and friends, so I greeted a lot of them in the street.  I heard the same phrase from anyone who was not expecting me ‘Ma sei fuori stagione!’. I guess I was out of season, but technically so were they!  It was hard to recognize people bundled up in their puffy piumini. November 1 is a holiday, and in Orsara also the festa Fucacoste e Cocce Priatorje.  In Italiano this would be Falò e Teste del Purgatorio (bonfires and heads from purgatory). Sometimes we simply call it ‘Tutti Santi’.  I wrote about the festa in this post, and now that I have been there myself, I will add photos.  There were zucche and bonfires everywhere.  My balcony was decorated with zucche.  I took so many photos I am still going through them, but here are a few. 

Il fuoco e le zucche di Antonella e Domenico

The festa was absolutely amazing and also a moving, sprirtual experience-for me and 20,000 others. The weather was clear and crisp, but it was very cold at night.  My little casa has no heat, so I borrowed an electric space heater.  Brrrrr.

I encountered a lot of olives on this trip. It seemed every road near Orsara was full of parked cars and people with crates and olive nets.  I was not used to seeing the trees full of ripe olives!  I enjoyed spending a day at my Nonno’s olive grove. One evening we walked past the frantoio, the olive mill, which is always closed the rest of the year.  The divine smell of pressed olives lured me in.  I photo-documented the entire olive oil extraction process for a future post.  Then it was arrivederci Orsara until July.  Unfortunately, I missed my family’s olive harvest by one day, but I was able to pick olives in Gugliano.

Next was Firenze for 2 half days. I had not been for several years and it felt good to be back. A spectacular view was the reward for a long morning walk along and across the Arno to Piazzale Michelangelo. A torrential downpour started just as we arrived so the return trip was very wet. I had to blow dry myself, then got back out in the rain to catch the train to Lucca.  We arrived in Lucca just as thousands of attendees were leaving the Lucca Comics and Games Convention.  For security reasons, the front of the stazione was closed off.  My ride was waiting out front, so by the time we got there, I looked like I had been through the spin cycle.  The imposing medieval walls of Lucca were barely visible through the rain and the mist.  Next came the bumpy half hour ride to Casa Berti near Gugliano for the Catalyst Art Retreat.

Casa Berti

Luckily a fire was waiting.  Franco was in charge of roasting castagne, then he caught the last train back to Firenze to fly home in the am. The retreat was wonderful and the location stunning.  My fellow artists were an inspiration.

My corner of the studio at Casa Berti, looking out over olive trees

Artist Mary Cinque working on a woodcut in the studio

The retreat ended with an exhibit at Villa Coloreda near Pietrasanta

I also found time to visit Lucca, pick olives and cacchi, make limoncello cake with freshly pressed olive oil and finally try Bistecca alla Fiorentina.  Lots of material for future posts.


So much for a ‘quick’ summary! I’ll end with a few notes about travelling to Italia in autunno:

-It may be ‘low season’ for airfares, but unless your destination is a small town or a seaside area, do not expect to be alone! This is especially true on weekends. In the cities, midweek hotel prices are lower, but they go up on weekends.

-Dancing around an almost empty Piazza Navona is possible……before 8am!

-The days are shorter.  It gets dark at 16:30 to be exact. Take this into account when making plans for the day.

-The weather can be variable. Even if the days are sunny, nights are cold.  Dress ‘a la cipolla’, in layers like an onion, and be prepared for rain too!

Il Ponte Vecchio 12 Novembre

Buon Viaggio, Cristina