Roma: Passeggiata all’Aventino


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Giardino degli Aranci

As usual I was awake far too early on my first morning in Roma. I set out on a mission to take some photos and have a passeggiata before the Roman heat set in. The city of Roma was built on 7 hills.  L’Aventino-the Aventine Hill, is the furthest south. In the legend of the founding of Roma, l’Aventino was picked by Remo as the spot to build a new city, but his twin Romolo disagreed.  Remus was killed in the dispute, and Romolo built Roma on the Palatino/Palatine Hill.  L’Aventino was originally outside the city, and it was populated by refugees from areas Roma had conquered.   Then wealthy Ancient Romans started to build homes there and today it is still an elegant residential part of Roma. It is also the perfect place for a long, quiet passeggiata with beautiful views of Roma- without the crowds.Giardinodegliaranci2

I started off by taking the Metro blue line to Circo Massimo, then heading up Viale Aventino, which was originally the ancient road between the 2 high spots of the hill. I passed beautiful homes and quiet streets as I walked uphill.  My first stop on Via di Santa Sabina was the walled Giardino degli Aranci. The orange grove was originally planted in the 13th Century by the Dominican monks of Santa Sabina, who brought the seeds from Spain . The Giardino has a platform at the end with beautiful panoramic views of Roma and the cupola of San Pietro.  A Roman friend once told me that when he was young, he and his friends used to have ‘arance’ fights in the Giardino with the oranges that fell on the ground!Fontana del Mascherone

In the piazza in front of Santa Sabina, near the door to Giardino degli Aranci is a wall fountain built in 1593. La Fontana del Mascherone floods an ancient Roman bathtub-a smaller version of the 2 giant ones in Piazza Farnese.  Santa Sabina all’Aventino, built right at the top of the hill in 422 AD is one of the oldest Roman basilicas.

A short walk away, through a tree-lined residential neighborhood, is Piazza Cavalieri di Malta. This morning I had the whole piazza to myself! It is usually very crowded and full of taxis and people waiting in line in front of a heavy green door.  Cavalliere di MaltaThe door belongs to La Villa del Priorato di Malta.  I Cavalieri di Malta are a military order of knights founded in the 11th Century to look after the wounded in the Holy Land during the Crusades.  In 1798, Napoleon kicked them out of Malta and they moved their headquarters to Roma. The villa and the church inside, Santa Maria del Priorato, are not usually accessible to the public. The people standing in line are waiting to look through the keyhole, known as ‘il buco della serratura’.  I won’t spoil the surprise, so my photo is blurry on purpose.  You will have to see for yourself—unless you have seen La Grande Bellezza and the surprise has been spoiled!IMG_4218

IMG_2385The walk back downhill was nice and I was able to admire the scenery and views as I walked back down Via Santa Sabina, then past Santa Maria in Cosmedin. This is the home of the famous ‘Bocca della Verità’ featured in the movie Roman Holiday.  There is usually a line of people waiting to stick their hand in its mouth!BoccadellaveritaAs I walked past il Teatro di Marcello, I was surprised to notice that there are private residences on the top floor.  Can you imagine living in Teatro Marcello!  I have heard about first time visitors to Roma thinking that thi is the Colosseo and being very confused! Teatro Marcello Polizia

By the time I reached Il Vittoriano, it was getting hot. Time for a granita di caffè! Arrivederci da Roma, Cristina

To read more about walking in Roma click on Un Giorno a Roma and Il Pantheon.

Vini di Puglia Part 3~Il Tuccanese


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Tuccanese (too∙can∙NEH∙seh) is a rare grapevine grown almost exclusively in and around Orsara di Puglia, Provincia di Foggia. It was previously thought to be a clone of Sicilian Perricone brought to Orsara by a Sicilian noble family or that it was a clone of Piedirosso.  A 2008 Italian DNA study found a close genetic relationship between Sangiovese, the well-known ‘Chianti’ grape and 10 other grapes including Tuccanese. Sangiovese has many ‘strains’ but the grapes and resulting wine are very different. The name Tuccanese is probably a corruption of ‘Toscanese’ or ‘Tuscanese’ meaning ‘from Toscana’.  Tuccanese may have been brought from Toscana by the Majorca-Strozzi family from Firenze, who held a duchy near Avellino in the 1600’s. Small pockets of Tuccanese grapes grown for private family use are also found in Campania, in Calitri, Montecalvo Irpino and Bagnoli Irpino, the farthest being 80 km from Orsara.

Vigneto Tuccanese. Photo Leonardo Guidacci

Vigneto Tuccanese. Photo Leonardo Guidacci

Tuccanese was in danger of extinction but attention to local viniculture in the last 20 years has resurrected it.  Now Tuccanese is an example of Artigianato vitivinicolo-artisan winemaking. The vines do well at Orsara’s 650m altitude and the high calcium and clay content of the soil.  Tuccanese grapes are very resistant to environmental conditions, immune to illnesses, and mature late- in the first 2 weeks of October.  Wines made with Tuccanese are a dark ruby red, dry, tannic and full bodied with a high alcohol content. They have notes of berry, plum, licorice and pepper. Tuccanese is definitely ‘un vitigno locale’, as it is really known only in and around Orsara, where several families grow it for their own table wine.  Really good table wine. My Bisnonno grew Tuccanese on his land at La Cupa, although the vines are no longer there.  Now the land has 81 beautiful olive trees.

Vigneto, La Cupa 1994

Vigneto, La Cupa 1994


Tuccanese has not yet been discovered by the world, but there are 2 commercial producers, both in Orsara di Puglia. One is my amico, il cuoco-contadino Peppe Zullo and the other is my neighbour, architect Leonardo Guidacci! You won’t find these bottles at your local liquor store!

Peppe Zullo nel vigneto. Photo Nicola Tramonte

Peppe Zullo nel vigneto. Photo Nicola Tramonte

Peppe Zullo produces 20-25,000 bottles per year. His 2 wines are Ursaria and Aliuva. Aliuva is 80% Tuccanese 20% Uva di Troia (Nero di Troia) and Merlot.  Ursaria is 80% Tuccanese, 20% Uva di Troia and Cabernet, and is aged for 5 years in wood barrels. Peppe’s vino is used in his restaurant and event facilities and the rest sold on site. Peppe’s wine cellar La Cantina del Paradiso, designed by Nicola Tramonte was featured in the architectural exhibit ‘Le Cattedrali del Vino’ at the Biennale di Venezia in 2010. It is built into the side of a hill, with a vineyard on top! As he likes to say it’s the only cantina where you have to climb up stairs! Stay tuned for a post about the cantina.Vignetodelparadiso

Leonardo Guidacci has been making wine since 1997. His cantina called ‘Il Tuccanese’ after the grape, produces 5,000 bottles per year. Leonardo’s 2 wines are Magliano and Sannoro. Magliano is 100% Tuccanese. It is named after the Contrada (district) of Magliano, where the grapes are grown. Sannoro is 80% Tuccanese 20% Aglianico. His showroom/tasting room/architectural office is in Piazza Municipio, around the corner from my house. You can go for wine tasting and also discuss plans for home renovation!

'Architettura e Vino', Leonardo Guidacci's showroom and studio in Piazza Municipio.

‘Architettura e Vino’, Leonardo Guidacci’s showroom and studio in Piazza Municipio.


Festadelvino2011Orsara di Puglia hosts the 29th annual Festa del Vino tonight-the last Saturday in June.  Salute!Tuccanesefestadelvino

This is the third in a series of 3 Vini di Puglia posts.  Click on these links to read Vini di Puglia Part 1 and Vini di Puglia Part 2~Aglianico-Zibbibo.  The second post includes a glossary of Italian wine terms.  Salute, Cristina.

Vini di Puglia Part 2~Aglianico to Zibibbo


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UvaLaCupa1994In my last post I wrote about the history of vini di Puglia and featured the 3 most common grapes. Puglia has many vitigni autoctoni (Autochthonous grapes or native grapes) that are not very well-known.  You might not ever try them unless you visit Puglia!  Many of these grapes were on the verge of extinction but are recently becoming more popular and grown with more care. You may have also noticed that most vini Pugliese are red.  80% of grapes grown are red, as the climate is too hot for most white grapes.

Il Vigneto del Paradiso, Orsara di Puglia

Il Vigneto del Paradiso, Orsara di Puglia

Aglianico (ahl·yah·NEE·koh) is named for ‘Hellanico’ meaning Greek or from Apulianicum, the Latin name for Puglia.  Brought to Italia by Greek settlers, it is found in Basilicata, Campania and in Puglia near the Basilicata border. It thrives in volcanic soil and is grown mostly near Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano in Basilicata (Aglianico del Vulture DOC).  Ripening late in October, it is full-bodied and musky with berry flavours, chocolate and plum aromas, firm tannins and high acidity. In Ancient Roma it may have been the main grape in the prized red Falernian wine, but there is no real evidence.

Aleatico (al·eh·ah·TEE·koh) Not the same grape as Aglianico.  Aleatico is a member of the Moscato famiy, so it is a sweet grape.  It is believed to be native to Puglia or possibly brought by the Ancient Greeks.  Grown in the Bari area and Salento, it is used for dessert wine and has the aroma of roses, berries and lychee. Aleatico di Puglia DOC, known for its pomegranate colour, is Aleatico with Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera.  Aleatico is also grown on Elba, where Aleatico di Portoferraio was enjoyed by Napoleon while he was in exile.UvaOrsaradiPuglia

Bombino Bianco means little white bomb.  The name may come from the word bonvino. Bombino Bianco is often confused with Trebbiano. In fact, in Abruzzo it is known as Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, but it is not the same as the Trebbiano grape that is grown in other parts of Italia.  So confusing! It is a late ripening, high yield crop that produces an inexpensive mild white vino. Because of the high yield and amount of juice it was known as ‘pagadebito’ or ‘straccia cambiale’ (‘debt payer’ or ‘invoice ripper’).  In the past, Bombino was grown as a ‘cash crop’ and shipped straight to Northern Europe, without even bottling, to be sold as generic white table wine.  It is now grown with more care, especially in the San Severo area of Foggia.  San Severo uses Bombino Bianco with Malvasia Bianca, Falanghina or Verdeca. There is also a Bombino Nero grape, used in Castel del Monte DOC red and rosé wines.Vignaorsaradipuglia

Cacc’e Mitt (KAH∙cheh∙MMEE∙te) is produced in the Monti Dauni of Foggia, in Lucera, Biccari and Troia.  It is made up of Uva di Troia with Montepulciano, Malvasia Nera, Susumaniello, and sometimes Bombino Bianco.  The name of this vino is dialetto for ‘togli e metti’ meaning ‘take out and put back’. This is often thought to mean the glass is always refilled because it is so drinkable. It actually refers to old winemaking techniques. The cantina and equipment were borrowed and shared, so the wine was made quickly and tubs emptied to give space to the next contadino.  Cacc’e Mitt was ‘vino dei poveri’ wine of the poor.  After the vendemmia, contadini would pass through again and collect what was left of the various grapes. This is why white grapes are also included.  The Cacc’e Mitt Festival is held every year in Lucera at the end of August/beginning of September.

Falanghina is an ancient white grape brought by Greek settlers in the 7-8th Century BC.  The name comes from the Latin ‘falanghae’, the stakes that supported the grapevines.  I wonder if this is related to ‘phalanges’, the anatomical name for the finger bones? Grown in Puglia, but more common in Campania, Falanghina is yellow skinned and has a slight pine scent and orange, apple and pear aromas. Falanghina may have been one of the grapes in Falernian white, the most famous wine of Ancient Roma.Falanghina

Malvasia is the name of a group of related grapes from the Mediterranean, mostly white, with a handful of reds for blending.  Of ancient origin, the name comes from the Monemvasia fortress near Sparta or Malevizi on Crete. Malvasia is related to the Athiri grape grown all over Greece.  Malvasia was 1 of 3 major wines exported from Greece in the middle ages.  It grows well in dry climates, sloping terrain and well-drained soil.

Malvasia Nera –parents are Negroamaro and Malvasia Bianca Lunga. It is mostly a blending grape used with Negroamaro.  Salice Salentino wine is Negroamaro with 15% Malvasia Nera, Nardò is Negroamaro with Malvasia Nera di Lecce.  It has a dark colour and smells like chocolate covered cherries!villajamelevigna

Moscato di Trani The main grape in Moscato di Trani is Moscato Bianco, of Ancient Greek origins.  Trani is a beautiful port town that is definitely worth seeing. Wines from Puglia were traded via Trani to Venezia, starting in the 11th century.  In 1974, Moscato di Trani 1974, was one of the first vini Pugliese to achieve DOC status in.  It is vino dolce, a sweet dessert wine that goes well with almonds, pastries, and mild cheeses.  It is a gold colour with woody and spicy aromas.  Moscato di Trani is produced in the Trani and Bari areas and also in Cerignola and Trinitapoli, Provincia di Foggia.

Susumaniello, also called Somarello is among the most obscure grape varieties.  An ancient grape only found in Puglia, it is originally from Greece or Croatia.  It is the offspring of Sangiovese with the white Garganega grape. It is high yield and usually blended with Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera.  It is a deep ruby colour with the aroma of red berries, plums and peppery dark chocolate.  Somarello is dialetto for asinello or little donkey, implying the grapevines are heavily loaded like a donkey.

Tuccanese-Featured in Vini di Puglia post #3, coming soon!

Verdeca is a white blending grape from Croatia.  Verdeca + Primitivo are the parents for Plavina Crna, a red grape found only in Croatia. Interestingly, Verdeca is not found in Croatia today.  Verdeca is grown in the ‘trulli’ areas of Alberobello, Locorotondo, Cisternino, Fasano, Martina France, Ceglie Messapica and Ostuni.  Locorotondo DOC and Martina Franca DOC are delicate dry whites and spumanti made with Verdeca, Bombino Bianco and Malvasia grapes.Uvapianoparadiso

Zibibbo This last one is not a common grape in Puglia, but I had to include it for sentimental reasons.  I asked Papà what grapes were grown at La Cupa in my Nonno’s campagna. He said ‘Tuccanese, Malvasia Bianca, Mene di vacca and Zibib’.  Zibib?  What is a Zibib??? I looked it up and there actually is a grape called Zibibbo or Zibib.  It means ‘dried grape’ in Egyptian (Zibib) or Arabic (Zabib).  One of the oldest unmodified vines in existence, it is also called Moscato d’Alessandria. It is used to make Passito di Pantelleria, a white moscato from the Sicilian volcanic island of Pantelleria. The Zibib at La Cupa was planted by my Bisnonno Antonio in the early 1900’s so who knows how it got there!

Vigneto, La Cupa 1994

Vigneto, La Cupa 1994

Un Lessico per Vinicolture/A Glossary of Viniculture terms

Botte=wood barrels



DOC/DOCG=Denominazione di Origine Controllata (G=e Garantita) =controlled designation of origin/controlled and guaranteed designation of origin.  A quality assurance label for Italian food products.


Uva=grape Uve=grapes

Vendemmia=the grape harvest

Vendemmiare=to harvest the grapes


Vigna =vineyard

Viticoltura=viniculture/grape growing

Viticoltore=grape grower

Vitigno=species of grapevine

Vitigni autoctoni=autochthonous grapes, which are native or indigenous

Salute! Vini di Puglia Part 3, Il Tuccanese coming soon!

Vini di Puglia


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Oenotria, ‘Land of Wine’. This is the name the ancient Greeks gave to Puglia. 425 km long, Puglia has a diverse agricultural landscape with mountains, plains, the Mediterranean sun, coastal sea breezes and fertile soil.  The climate is hot and dry, especially during the summer months.  The name Puglia comes from the Latin ‘a pluvia’ meaning without rain. These environmental features, plus the presence of vitigni autoctoni (Native or Indigenous species of grapes) provide an ideal environment for growing grapes and producing vino.

Grape harvesting and winemaking are an ancient tradition in Puglia, where the soil has been tilled for centuries.  The vines are deeply rooted to an ancestral bond with the earth and local traditions. I find the surreal peace and tranquility in the vigneti to be very therapeutic and meditative.VillaJamelevigneto

The history of vinicoltura in Puglia is based on a bit of science, and a lot of legend. According to legend, after the fall of Troy the mythical hero Diomede (Diomedes) found out his wife had been unfaithful.  Instead of returning home to Argos, he sailed about the Adriatic, created the Isole Tremiti, and then was invited by Daunus, King of the Daunia (modern Provincia di Foggia) to settle there.  Diomede allegedly planted the first vines in Puglia, brought with him from Greece and beyond.Vignastradacupa

Vino Pugliese has always been consumed and enjoyed locally. In the past, Pugliese grapes were often harvested for quantity rather than quality. They were used to blend with underwhelming Italian and European grapes that needed substance or a boost in the alcohol content.  In Puglia, grapes develop high levels of sugar over the hot summer, resulting in wines that are high in alcohol.  Mass production decreased the value of Pugliese grapes and wine.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s, government funds were available for contadini to plant wheat.  Half of Puglia’s ancient vigneti/vineyards were cut down to make way for fields of wheat.  Some ancient vines were all but lost.  Now many are being replanted and there has been a resurgence of forgotten native grapes and lesser known grapes.  Vini Pugliese are finally getting the love they deserve! There are now over 30 Pugliese DOC wines and they are generally very well priced for the quality. I still say the best stuff doesn’t leave the region.  It is made in batches too small to export and is consumed locally.

La Cantina del Paradiso, Orsara di Puglia

La Cantina del Paradiso, Orsara di Puglia

Puglia can be roughly divided into 3 wine producing areas. The first is Northern Puglia including the Daunia (Provincia di Foggia) and the northern part of the Provincia di Bari, around Castel del Monte.  The second is the Provincia di Bari including Gioia del Colle and the Val d’Itria and the third is the Salento area or the ‘heel’ of italia.  It includes the Provincia di Lecce, most of the Provincia di Brindisi and part of the Provincia di Taranto. (I will add a map soon)

This is the first of 3 blog posts about Puglia and its native vines. I have been conducting my own personal research on this topic for many years.  The sacrifices I make for my readers knows no limits!

This post will include the 3 main grapes, post number 2 Aglianico to Zibibbo will feature the lesser known vigni autoctoni and a wine vocabulary, and number 3 will be dedicated to Tuccanese. Salute!

Vini Pugliese available at my local BC Liquor Store

Vini Pugliese available at my local BC Liquor Store

3 Main Vitigni Pugliese/Grapevines:

Primitivo is the most internationally well-known Pugliese grape.  It is grown across Puglia, especially in Taranto (Primitivo di Manduria) and the Gioia del Colle area in Bari.  The production of Primitivo has increased in recent years.  The name was given by a late 18th Century monk who studied botany.  It does not mean primitive, but comes from the Latin ‘Primatirus’ which means early ripening.  La vendemmia (the grape harvest) for Primitivo is August to early September.  It was previously known by other names, including Zagarese, possibly meaning from Zagreb.  In 1881, Primitivo vines were first brought to Manduria from Gioia del Colle as part of the dowry of Contessa Sabini di Altamura. Including vines in a dowry may sound strange, but also implies they must have been considered valuable!

Primitivo is ‘corposo’ (full bodied) and has lots of anthocyanins. The grape can turn much of its sugar content into alcohol, reaching up to 18% alcohol!  It is aromatic with hints of sour and black cherry, fig, blueberry and blackberry. Primitivo has a spiciness of pepper and licorice when grown in certain types of soil and it is often aged in oak. Not a productive vine, it gives low to medium yields. Primitivo ripens unevenly and will over ripen quickly.  If the tips are pruned in spring, a second harvest with a lower alcohol content is possible mid September to October. In Manduria, Primitivo grows on red soil.  It is also grown on volcanic soil, and even sand near the sea.

Primitivo arrived in Puglia from across the Adriatic thousands of years ago with the ancient Greeks. It may have crossed the Adriatic again in the 15th Century with Slavs and Greek Albanians arriving in Puglia to seek refuge from the Ottoman Turks.

Like all Italians, Primitivo has cugini, or cousins. Zinfandel has been proven by genetic analysis to be a clone of Primitivo and Crljenak Kastelanskj (Plavina) a vine on the coast and islands of Croatia. Pugliese immigrants in the 1800’s and early 1900’s likely brought their native grapes to California. Primitivo is also one of the parents of Plavac Mali, another Croatian grape.Stradacupaprimitivo

Negroamaro is grown almost exclusively in Puglia and is one of Italia’s most ancient vines.  It is grown all over Puglia, but especially in the Salento, the ‘heel’ of Puglia.  Since ‘niger’ is Latin for black and ‘amaro’ means bitter in Italiano, the name is thought to mean ‘Black bitter’, after its strong colour and tannins. The amaro part of Negroamaro is actually from ‘Mavros’ the Greek word for black.  In this case, Negroamaro actually means ‘black black’.  It is thought to have been brought to Puglia by Greek colonists around the 8th Century BC so it makes sense that the grape developed a hybrid Latin/Greek name.

Puglia is an ideal habitat for Negroamaro grapes as they tolerate hot and dry well, and are very adaptable to different soils, even in rocky areas. Negroamaro has a rich dark red colour and is corposo but not too tannic or acidic, making it very easy to drink! It has flavours of ripe plums and baked raspberries with hints of cinnamon and anise, and is rich in polyphenols including the antioxidant resveratrol.  La vendemmia for Negroamaro is after Sept 10 to the beginning of October. Negroamaro is usually used on its own, or blended with Malvasia Nera. The first rosé bottled in italia in 1943 was a Negroamaro rosé. My favourite Italian rock band is Negramaro without the ‘o’, from Lecce. I recommend listening to Negramaro with a glass of Negroamaro!

Nero di Troia (also called Uva di Troia) is named after and grown around Troia, in the Monti Dauni area of Foggia and near Castel del Monte.  Troia is only 14 km from Orsara di Puglia so I know it well!  Nero di Troia is thought to be those very vines brought by Diomedes from Troy when he was welcomed by the king of the Daunia!  Genetic analysis does show it originates in the Adriatic area.  We also know Nero di Troia was around in the 13th century during the reign of Federico II of Svevia.

Nero di Troia is a late ripening grape, with vendemmia in mid to late October. It is very purple skinned, rich in polyphenols and especially tannins but is not too acidic or tannic tasting. It has a spiced woody taste with hints of blackberry, licorice, cherry, black currant, black pepper and violets. Nero di Troia goes down nicely and leaves a silky feel on the palate.  Traditionally it has been blended with other grapes.  For example, Castel del Monte wines blend 75% Nero di Troia with 25% Montepulciano. In recent years, there has been a move towards appreciating the unique characteristics of Nero di Troia on its own and it is becoming increasingly well-known and appreciated.NerodiTroia

In Orsara Papà often buys Nero di Troia to drink at home with meals. It comes in a 3L plastic bottle at the grocery store for €5.50!  Seriously.  It has an expiry date and he transfers it into 4x 750 ml glass bottles.  It may not be the best Nero di Troia available, but it’s very good and the best value for $. Now you all know for sure I am not a wine snob!  Visit Troia the last Sunday in July for ‘La notte del Nero di Troia’. Maybe I’ll see you there?  Salute! CristinaPianoParadiso

Aglianico to Zibib~Vini di Puglia Part 2, coming soon!

Limoncello Cheesecake


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Limoncellocheesecake2Limoncello tastes like summer in a glass.  What could be even more refreshing than a nice cold glass of Limoncello?  Limoncello Cheesecake of course!  I’ve been making it for years and every time I am asked for the recipe, so I thought I would simplify things and share it here on my blog.  The coconut crust makes it taste even more summery!  I like to add a small amount of lime juice too, but you could just add more Limoncello.  This cheesecake tastes better if made a day ahead of time so it spends more time in the fridge.  If you are looking for cream cheese in Italia, it’s known as ‘Philadelphia’, pronounced Fee•la•del•FEE•ah.  Buon Appetito!

Cristina’s Limoncello Cheesecake


  • 150 g (2 cups) unsweetened coconut
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) sugar
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) melted butter
  • 5 ml (1 tsp) grated lemon rind


  • 750g (3 x 250g packages) cream cheese
  • 210 g (1 cup) sugar
  • 4 eggs at room temperature
  • 1 tsp grated lemon rind
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) lemon juice
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) lime juice
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) Limoncello (or reduce the juices to add more Limoncello)
  • Pinch of salt


  • 2 eggs @ room temp
  • 160 g (¾ cup) sugar
  • 10 ml (2 tsp) coarsely grated lemon and lime rinds
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) lemon juice
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) lime juice
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) butter
  • 30 ml (2 tbsp) Limoncello
  • Shredded coconut and citrus rinds for garnishLimoncellocheesecake5

Crust-Preheat oven to 180° C (350 ° F). Combine ingredients and press onto bottom of 22-25 cm (9-10 inch) springform pan. Bake 10-12 minutes until lightly toasted. Be careful not to burn the coconut.

FillingBlend cream cheese until smooth. Add sugar, then eggs, one at a time.  Add juices, rinds, salt and Limoncello.  Make sure there are no lumps and pour over toasted crust, smoothing the top.  Bake at 180° C (350° F) for 45 minutes or until set.  Turn off the oven and leave cheesecake in for another 10 minutes.  Open the door and let cheesecake cool in the oven for another 10-15 minutes.  This will prevent the cheesecake from ‘falling’ or cracking all over the surface.  Run a knife around the rim of the pan and continue to cool at room temperature, then chill in refrigerator.

Topping-Whisk eggs until foamy. Combine with sugar, juices, rinds and butter in a small saucepan.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until smooth and thick. Remove from heat and add Limoncello.  Let cool and then spread over cheesecake while the springform pan is still attached.  Garnish top with coconut and coarsely grated lemon and lime zest.  Return to refrigerator for at least a few hours.  Serves 12-16 people.Limoncellocheesecake

Buon Appetito!


Secondo Bloghiversario!



AuguriToday is Un po’ di pepe’s secondo bloghiversario-2nd anniversary of blogging!  I can’t believe 2 years has already gone by since I hit the big blue PUBLISH button for the first time.

In honour of the bloghiversario, last week I finally made my most viewed post June 2014’s ‘Italiano per Ristoranti~How to pronounce your menù’ into a PDF that is downloadable from the blog. It only took 22 months to get it done, but as my Mamma says ‘Meglio tardi che mai’-better late than never! Click on the link in red and the PDF is available at the end of the post. I’m thinking of adding more content and turning this into an ebook available on Amazon.  Hopefully it won’t take me another 22 months to do that! Another exciting thing that happened in year 2 of blogging was receiving a Cannolo Award.

One more thing I will do in honour of the bloghiversario is post a link to my first real post ‘Il Gigante~Michelangelo’s David’. Davide

Stay tuned for more ‘cose interessanti’- interesting stuff in year 3 including a series on wines of Puglia.  In August I will be reading at the AICW (Association of Italian Canadian Writers) Conference in Padula and blogging from there.   Please leave a comment if there is something you’d like to read more about.  Grazie a tutti i miei lettori, Cristina

San Gimignano


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Torri di San GimignanoSan Gimignano’s skyline looks like a Medieval Metropolis, complete with early ‘grattacieli’ (grat•tah•chee•EH•lee = skyscrapers). It was known as San Gimignano delle belle Torri-San Gimignano of the beautiful towers. The site was an Etruscan settlement, then a castello called Silvia with a walled village built around it.  Silvia was renamed San Gimignano in 450 after the Bishop of Modena, who spared it from Attila the Hun’s troops.San Gimignano Torre

San Gimignano became an independent town in 1199. It was prosperous, being a stopping point on La Via Francigena, the medieval pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Roma, via France.  San Gimignano also traded in local zafferano (zaf•fer•RAN•noh = saffron) and wine from the white Vernaccia grape. The earliest mention of Vernaccia di San Gimignano is in the archives of 1276! In 1966, 690 years later, it was the first Italian vino bianco to receive DOC recognition.

The 13 and 14th Centuries saw San Gimignano caught in the Guelph/Ghibelline conflicts.  Read about this in Dante’s post. Wealthy San Gimignanesi built tower houses as symbols of power and wealth, as well as for protection.  The height of these ’torri’ kept increasing, up to 70m high, to keep up with the neighbors. There were originally 72 torri and 14 still stand today.

Waves of plague and famine hit San Gimignano in the mid 1300’s. The ‘black death’ claimed almost half the population, and San Gimignano was now under the rule of Firenze.  Fiorentino control prevented any urban development that happened in other towns.  As a result, San Gimignano was preserved in a medieval ‘time warp’, retaining its original atmosphere and appearance.  Little changed until the 19th century when it became a tourism destination. Today the pop is 7800 and it does have 1 traffic light! To protect San Gimignano from the effects of mass tourism, strict rules prevent modification to the appearance or intended use of buildings.

Bancomat Medievale/Medieval Bank Machine!

Bancomat Medievale/Medieval Bank Machine!

In 1990, the Historic Center of San Gimignano became a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its outstanding examples of medieval architecture and original urban layout.Piazza della Cisterna

The Cattedrale know as La Collegiata, has Masterpieces of 14th and 15th Century art.  Inside the front façade is the Fresco of Last Judgement, Heaven and Hell by Taddeo di Bartolo (1393). The Cappella di Santa Fina with frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1475) was featured in the 1990 Franco Zeffirelli film ‘Tea with Mussolini’.

In the Palazzo Comunale is the Sala di Dante where Dante Alighieri spoke as an ambassador for the Guelphs in May 1300. The Pinacoteca has treasures by Filippino Lippi, among others.  Climb the 218 steps of the adjacent 54m Torre Grossa for views of San Gimignano and the Val d’Elsa.  Admission is €6.View from Torre Grossa

Piazza della Cisterna is triangular with a well on an octagonal pedestal in the center, surrounded by medieval buildings. It is named for the underground cistern built in 1287 which was the main source of water for the San Gimignanesi.  Piazza della Cisterna is the meeting point of the Via Francigena and the road from Pisa to Siena, so it was a happening place in medieval times.

Piazza della Cisterna, seen from Torre Grossa

Piazza della Cisterna, seen from Torre Grossa

San Gimignano is an easy daytrip on the bus from Firenze, Siena or Poggibonsi. There is no direct train. The route is to change trains at Empoli to Poggibonsi and then bus from there. It’s also nice to be there in the evening or overnight when all of the daytrippers have left.

Like Alberobello, no matter how many hordes of tourists it is overrun with, San Gimignano is ‘incantevole’ (een•can•teh•VOH•leh = enchanting) and definitely worth a visit. I need to go back to do ‘research’, since I have a drawer full of unfinished sketches, monotypes and etchings! Buon Viaggio, Cristina

Madame Gautreau


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Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast. After John Singer Sargent. Cristina Pepe 2016Finalmente!  An unfinished painting after John Singer Sargent’s ‘Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast’ was propped up on my bookshelf for 4 years.  She is finally finished!  I started it as part of an assignment for a painting course involving taking a drawing and turning it into a painting.  I got as far as the background and basic shape of the figure and glass.  My images tend to be landscapes, architecture or food.  Figures, especially ones in colour and with faces aren’t really my thing.  This was the first time I painted skintone. Scary! My painting was actually starting to look kind of like a human….. then I was afraid to work on it any more.  So it sat untouched for a few years.

Recently, with some coaching from the amazing Val Nelson, I completed the painting!  Below are the various stages. I didn’t think to photograph them all in the same place at the same time of day, so the lighting is not consistent.  You might notice she had a nose job, facelift, forehead enhancement, and ear repositioning.Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast, Cristina Pepe 2016

John Singer Sargent is one of my favourite artists.  He was born in Firenze to expat American parents.  They lived off his mother’s small inheritance and he had a Bohemian upbringing.  Sargent is mostly known as a formal portrait painter.  I love his acquerelli, the watercolours he painted of friends and family while on vacation.  They are so fluid, spontaneous, and bathed in light.  He could do so much with each brushstroke.  This painting was an oil sketch but has same spontaneity as his acquerelli.  It was a study in preparation for ‘Madame X’.

Madame Gautreau is the same subject of ‘Madame X’, a very famous, or shall we say ‘di cattiva fama’, a notorious Sargent painting. The subject, Virginie Avegno Gautreau was an expat American socialite married to an older Parisian banker.  Sargent though a painting of her unusual features would bring him increased portrait commissions.  Madame Gautreau thought being painted by Sargent would elevate her social status and add a dash of celebrity.  She posed for the portrait wearing a slinky black velvet dress with an impossibly fitted bodice, her skin powdered in lavender.  While posing, the jeweled right strap of her dress slipped from her shoulder and Sargent painted it that way.

When the painting premiered at the Paris Salon of 1884, it caused an outright scandal.  We could call it ‘Strap-Gate’.  ‘Madame X’ was considered sexually provocative and in bad taste.  A humiliated Madame Gautreau had to retreat to the country and she refused to buy the painting.  Sargent was critically panned by the Salon and moved to London soon after the controversy and his poor critical reception.

Sargent in his studio with Madame X. Image

Sargent in his studio with Madame X. Image

Sargent eventually repainted the strap back on the shoulder, and ‘Madame X’ was kept in his studio for 30 years. After the death of Madame Gautreau, he sold it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.  There is also an unfinished version with a single strap at the Tate Gallery in London.  I was lucky enough to see this one in person in 2001 at the Seattle Art Museum. Madame Gautreau finally did get the fame and attention she craved.

'Madame X' Metropolitan Museum of Art and 'Unfinished Madame X' Tate Gallery. Images Wikimedia Commons

‘Madame X’ Metropolitan Museum of Art and ‘Unfinished Madame X’ Tate Gallery. Images Wikimedia Commons and

‘Madame X’ has been the subject of several books including ‘Strapless’ by Deborah Davis and ‘I am Madame X’ by Gioia Diliberto.  Just last month the one act ballet ‘Strapless’ premiered in London.

‘Madame Gautreau Drinking a Toast’ lives at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.  The Gardner Museum has a large Sargent Collection including many of his acquerelli di vacanze and the amazing gypsy dance ‘Il Jaleo’.

At the moment, I have no plans for a new career as una falsaria d’arte-an art forger.  Studying and reproducing a Master painting is a valuable learning experience. They don’t call them ‘i Maestri’ for nothing! I think I will tackle Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ next.  Or maybe my own scandalous full size version of Madame X? Che pensati?


Fiadoni Abruzzesi


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Fiadoni AbruzzesiThis weekend I had the pleasure of being a ‘recipe tester’ for Paola of Italy on my Mind for her upcoming cookbook on Italian street food and bar food. Paola is Italoaustraliana, living in Melbourne and her roots are in the Veneto and Istria.  She runs cooking classes in Melbourne.  In September she will be a guest instructor at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking School in Sicilia.  Paola was also a contestant on Masterchef Australia!

These cheese-filled Fiadoni were squisito and I will definitely be making them again soon.  I’m not able to share the recipe here-we’ll have to wait for Paola’s book!  Ciao, Cristina



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Last week, #petaloso was one of the top trending topics in Italia.  Just over a month ago, an 8 year old boy named Matteo in 3rd year elementary in Ferrara used the adjective ‘petaloso’ to describe a flower.  His maestra (teacher) Margherita Aurora marked his assignment as incorrect, but she thought it was a beautiful word.  ‘Un errore bello’ to be exact.  So she said to Matteo ‘Chiediamolo alla Crusca’ (Let’s ask the Crusca).Fiore profumato petaloso

L’Accademia della Crusca, literally ‘The Academy of the Bran’, is the oldest linguistic academy in the world.  It was established in Firenze in the 16th Century to safeguard the study of the Italian language. They are notoriously purist-as they should be, and don’t like foreign words and anglicismi (Anglicisms).  The name sounds kind of strange, but it refers to separating the wheat from the bran, or as we would say in English ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’.

Petaloso is the noun petalo (petal) with the suffix ‘oso‘.  Petaloso means ‘full of petals’or ‘petalous’.  Matteo and Margherita submitted the word for valutazione (evaluation) by ‘La Crusca’.  I’ve been inventing Italian words by mistake my whole life and didn’t know this was possible! Most of my new adjectives are not appropriate for polite company so I don’t think La Crusca will be hearing from me!  Valutazione is usually a long and arduous process, but they received an adorable response from La Crusca in 3 weeks.

‘È una parola ben formata e potrebbe essere usata in italiano come sono usate parole formato nello stesso modo come peloso e coraggioso’.  (It is a well-formed word and could be used in Italian like we use words formed in the same way).  The letter went on to say that new words don’t enter the vocabulary unless they are used and understood by lots of people in everyday conversation.  For example, ‘le margherite sono fiori petalosi, mentre i papaveri non sono molto petalosi’ (Daisies are flowers full of petals, whereas poppies are not very petalous).

#petaloso was one of the top twitter tweets for Feb 23rd 2016, as everyone tried to help Matteo spread it around. Margherita’s response ‘per me vale come mille lezioni di italiano’ (for me this was worth a thousand lessons in Italian!’


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