Museo Faggiano


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Museo Faggiano is a family run, independent archeology museum in Lecce and also a working archeological site.  This is a small museum with big history! In 2001, Luciano Faggiano planned to open a restaurant with his 3 sons Marco, Andrea and Davide in a building he owned in Lecce’s Centro Storico.
The building had issues with dampness and sewage backup, likely caused by broken pipes.  Since a working toilet is kind of important, the Faggiano family planned all took 1 week off to work on the plumbing themselves.

Museo Faggiano archeologyThey started digging and found a false floor.  Beneath that, they uncovered 4 subterranean levels to other worlds.  They found Messapii tombs and an ossuary from the 5th Century BC.  The Messapii were from Crete and settled in Southern Italia.  They also uncovered a Roman granary, silo, cisterns a 10 m deep well and even an underground escape tunnel leading to the Roman anfiteatro a few blocks away.  From 1000-1200, the building was a House of the Knights Templar, who left their emblems on frescoes and wall etchings.  A Franciscan chapel and religious artifacts were found from the convent of Sisters of Santa Chiara, which the building was from 1200-1609.  Each of these populations left their traces in the unassuming little building.

Artifacts in Museo FaggianoAfter 7 years of excavation, the museum opened to the public in 2008.  All of the work was financed by Signor Faggiano, under the supervision of the Archeology superintendent of Taranto.  In Italia, anything found underground belongs to the government no matter who owns the property.  This was clearly a labour of love.

In addition to the architectural elements of the builing, treasures found include a gold and emerald Jesuit bishop’s ring, coins, lots of pottery fragments and a stone sculpture with the abbreviated Latin inscription ‘Si deus pro nobis quis contra nos’ -If God is with us, who can be against us?Sculpture found in Museo Faggiano

In 2015, Museo Faggiano was featured in a NY Times article.

Museo Faggiano is at Via Ascanio Grandi 58, a short walk from Piazza Sant’Oronzo.  It is open daily from 9:30am-8pm.  Admission is €5.  Often one of the family members is there to answer questions.  A numbered sheet with self-guided tour is available in many languages.

Imagine 2500 years of history in one small house!  If you are like me and have an inner Indiana Jones, and your palms sweat when surrounded by unique archeology, you will be fascinated by Museo Faggiano!

Luciano Faggiano finally did open his restaurant Quo Vadis, next door in June 2019. He is not planning to dig up the pavimento!

World Pasta Day


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October 25th is World Pasta Day.  Am I the only one who thought that was every day?  I am not sure who comes up with these dates, but since it seems sort of official, I am posting links to 5 pasta recipe posts from the archives.

Gnocchi di zucca-I like to recycle my Hallowe’en pumpkin by turning it into Gnocchi di zucca.  If Hallowe’en is not happening this year, I will buy one anyways.  Squash will work too.  Zucca actually means both pumpkin and squash, although sometimes squash is called zucca gialla. gnocchi di zucca

These gnocchi are topped with a simple sauce of olive oil, sage and Parmigiano Reggiano.

Spaghetti all’AmatricianaI posted this recipe for Spaghetti all’Amatriciana following the terremoto, the earthquake in Amatrice a few years ago.

Swap the eggs in Pasta Carbonara for tomato sauce, and you have Pasta Amatriciana! The other 4 ingredients stay the same.

Ravioli di ricotta e spinaci-Stuffed pasta is so fun to make, and turns any meal into a special occasion.  I made these lovely ravioli with my nipotina Francesca this summer.  Making them is not as hard as it looks!  They freeze well, and can go into the pot of boiling water straight from the freezer.Ravioli di ricotta e spinaci

Corzetti-Corzetti are a traditional pasta of Liguria.  The shape is based on medieval coins.  I bought a corzetti stamp in Vernazza during my trip to the Cinque Terre last year and have used it several times.  If you do not have a corzetti stamp, use a glass to cut the circles, and find something around the house to imprint a design.  Be creative. Corzetti pasta con pesto GenoveseThis post includes a few different sauces to try, including Pesto Genovese.

Tortelloni di ricotta– The first time I made these was as a recipe test for a cookbook.  It was during a snowstorm and I had to go out in the snow with a flashlight, dressed like an eskimo, to forage for sage in the garden!  The link to the recipe is in the post.  

The post Grano Arso does not include recipes, but is interesting to read if you are interested in pasta and gastronomic history.

Let me know which one is your favourite. I hope you all enjoy a delicious plate of pasta today. Buon appetito, Cristina

Pasta tools



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MOSE flood barrier Venezia

2020 has been a crappy year, but finally something has gone right.  On October 3rd, MOSE (moh•ZEH) was activated for the first time and prevented flooding in Venezia caused by high tide! Yeah!

MOSE stands for MOdulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (experimental electromechanical model). Whoever came up with the acronym is brilliant, because in Italian, Mosè, with an accent on the ‘e’, is Moses, who parted the Red Sea.

MOSE is floating architecture-a series of temporary barriers formed by 78 bright yellow mobile gates at the bottom of the seabed.  The 4 barriers are located at the 3 inlets; 2 at the Lido, 1 at Malamocco and 1 at Chioggia.

How MOSE works to keep high tide water in the Adriatic Sea and out of the Venetian lagoon.

During normal conditions, the gates are full of water and resting out of view within their housing structures. When a high tide is predicted, compressed air is introduced into the gates to empty them of water. This causes them to rotate around the hinge axis and rise up above the water to block the tide from entering the lagoon. When the tide has dropped, the gates are filled with water and return to their resting places.

It takes about 30 minutes to raise the gates and 15 to lower them. MOSE is designed to protect Venezia from tides of up to 3meters (10 ft). A video on how the system works can be found on the Mosevenezia website.

Acqua alta (high water) occurs mostly from October to March and has always been a problem in the Venetian lagoon. The first documentation of it was on October 17, 589! It has gotten worse since 1935, mostly due to environmental issues. Last year, on November 12, 2019 187 cm of water was the worst flooding since 194cm in 1966.

MOSE has been plagued with delays and cost overruns. Hopefully now that it works, it will stop the worst of the flooding. Measures are also being implemented to improve the lagoon environment, decrease erosion, restore the environment of the smaller islands in the lagoon and decrease pollution in the industrial Porto Marghera. Hopefully they ban cruise ships soon too!

MOSE flood barrier Venezia

Fingers crossed MOSE will continue to work. It has been 26 years since I visited Venezia, and I would like it to still be standing when I manage to get back! Ciao, Cristina



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Santa Croce facade black and whiteLecce reminds me of a Caravaggio painting-Baroque, dramatic and opulent, with attention to detail.  It is unfortunate he did not live long enough to visit the city!  Lecce, in the Salento area of Southern Puglia is over 2000 years old and rich in tradition and local customs.  Originally called Syvar, it was founded by the Mesapii(Mesapians) from Crete.  There is a long history of Greek settlement here, in fact there is still a group of 9 towns called ‘Grecia Salentino’ where ‘Griko’ dialetto is spoken.

Conquered by the Romans in the 3rd Century BC, it was renamed Lupiae.  Hadrian moved the city 3 Km northeast in the 2nd Century AD and called it Licea. Then came the Byzantines in 549, followed by Orthodox monks.  Lecce and the Salento were an independent country from 1043 until 1463 when Emperor Carlo V conquered Puglia, and they became part of the Kingdom of Napoli until Italian unification in 1861.  Lecce was an important commercial city, with a building and cultural boom. Baroque doorway Lecce

Lecce is best known for its dramatic Baroque architecture and ornamentation, which even has its own name-Barocco Leccese.  The style was around from the mid 1500’s to the early 1700’s, so even among buildings constructed at different times there is continuity of style.Sant'Irene Lecce Interior

The Baroque style features over the top details and intricate carvings that create a sense of movement.  Barocco Leccese is even more expressive and unique.  Windows, balconies and loggias are elaborately ornamented with twisting columns, scrolls and cornices.  They are carved with human figures, animals, wreaths, vines and gargoyles.  There is also a lot of marble, gilt and bronze involved.  Corbels supporting balconies are a common decorative element in Lecce.Duomo Lecce

‘Salento and the Barocco Leccese, including Lecce, Nardò, Gallipoli, Martina Franca, Ostuni, Francavilla, Galatina and Galatone’ are on the UNESCO World Heritage tentative list since 2006. This is the step before becoming a World Heritage Site.Vespa Lecce Puglia

Lecce’s buildings are made of Pietra Leccese, a local, honey coloured porous limestone.  It is soft and workable for sculpture, and was hardened and weatherproofed by soaking in a liquid solution made with whole milk.  Pietra Leccese is still one of the area’s main exports, mined in open quarries.Vicolo, Lecce

What to see in Lecce:

The Centro Storico of Lecce, with its narrow stone streets, 22 churches and unique architecture is a historically preserved walking museum.  It is mostly pedestrian only and very walkable.  Corso Vittorio Emanuele e Sant'Irene LecceAfter dark the streets are lined with outdoor seating for vino and aperitivo, and everyone is out for passeggiata.Lecce di notte

Lecce’s defensive walls are gone, but 3 gates remain: Porta Rudiae, Porta San Biagio and Porta Napoli, which marked the starting point of the road to Napoli.Piazza Duomo Lecce

The 2 main piazze are Piazza Duomo and Piazza Sant’Oronzo, which are connected by Corso Vittorio Emanuele.  Piazza Duomo is a large open space, but you can almost walk by and miss it!  There is only one entrance, and it is closed off on 3 sides.  The Duomo is unique as it has 2 facades.  This was done so that visitors to the piazza did not have to face a big blank side wall as they entered.  Campanile Piazza Duomo LecceThe Campanile is the tallest in Italia at 68 m.  Piazza Duomo also contains the Palazzo Vescovile and Seminario, which is used mainly for exhibitions.

Piazza Sant’Oronzo, named for the first Christian bishop and the patron saint of Lecce, was the site of the mercato.  The 2nd Century AD Roman anfiteatro was discovered in 1901 during construction of a new Banca d’Italia. Anfiteatro LecceThe 20,000 seat arena was originally built outside of the walls of Lecce and was still in use in the 12thCentury. More than half of it has not been excavated!

Looking down over the anfiteatro is Il Sedile, a 1590 Gothic structure which was the seat of the town hall.  It is now the Tourist information office.Anfiteatro and Il Sedile, Lecce, Puglia

The Colonna di S Oronzo, is a column topped with a bronze statue of Sant’Oronzo.  It was originally built in 110 AD-one of a pair of Turkish marble columns marking the end of the Via Appia from Roma to Brindisi.  This one toppled and broke in 1528 and its twin is still standing in Brindisi. In 1659, the broken remains were given to Lecce to thank Sant’Oronzo for saving Brindisi from the 1656 plague.  The Brindisini have wanted it back ever since!

Not far from the piazza is Museo Faggiano- a unique museum, especially for archeology nerds like me!  Plumbing issues result in DIY renovations that uncover layers of history…..Blog post coming!Santa Croce lecce under renovation. Black and white

Santa Croce’s façade is the masterpiece of Barocco Leccese.  It took 200 years to build.  The exterior was recently cleaned and renovated.  The interior has a gilded coffered ceiling and 14 chapels with carved, twisting columns.Santa Croce interior Lecce

Sant’Irene is dedicated to the ancient protector of the city 1591-1639.  The interior is simple, but has twin Baroque side altars.  My amazing balcony at Palazzo Belli B&B looked out onto the side entrance.Sant'Irene Lecce

Santa Chiara built in 1687 has an unusual façade and an extravagant interior with a wooden ceiling. There are loads of other beautiful churches to see in Lecce, but i have only mentioned the main ones. Santa Chiara Lecce

Sometimes the scenery looks like an old movie set!  Walk down Via Palmieri, lined with grand palazzi, ending at Porta Napoli.  Via Palmieri Lecce Puglia

Things I did not have time to see include the Castello Carlo V and its carta pesta (papier maché) museum, the Teatro Romano and the Museo Provinciale.

Lecce is a great place to shop.  Specialties include colourful Pugliese ceramics, carta pesta, olive oil and vino.  Lecce observes the pausa pranzo which means shops are closed from 2-5pm.Lecce ceramic souvenirs

Make sure to try pasticciotto.  My favourite is the kind with crema and amarena. Yum! Colazione LecceSit outside to have Caffè Leccese –espresso on ice with almond milk and of course local vino, especially my favourite-Negroamaro.  Here is my cena with Negroamaro rosé.  Burratina, taralli e Negroamaro Rose,

Since the centro storico is car free, dealing with a car in Lecce can be a pain.  During high season, it is easier to get around by bus or local train.  During low season, a car will make it easier to visit places that are not on the main train line. Lecce is between 2 seas, the Adriatic is 11km away and the Ionian 23 km away.

Lecce (pop. 96,000) is on the Adriatico train route that starts in Bologna.  The Stazione is a flat walk, 1 km south of the Centro Storico.  Last year, I took the train from Foggia (3 hours) staying 3 days in Lecce and 1 in Nardò. It was late July/early August, and not crowded at all. I booked my train and accomodation 3 days in advance. Try to avoid making Lecce a daytrip, as you will miss the beautiful evenings and fun nightlife. I am looking forward to going back as soon as possible!Via Palmieri Lecce black and white

Buon viaggio, Cristina

Writing about Italian Canadian Food Culture


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The Italian Cultural Institute of Montreal and the Association of Italian Canadian Writers (AICW), as part of a webinar series dedicated to writing, an experience animated by Italian-Canadian authors, translators, journalists, publishers and bloggers, are pleased to present “Can you smell the garlic? Writing About Italian-Canadian Food Culture”

Tuesday, September 8, 2020 – 5:00 pm EST

Nonna stirs tomato sauce bubbling in a cauldron in the garage, papà proudly pours a glass of his homemade wine, zie gather to make taralli and biscotti in the basement kitchen…

These culinary traditions are a treasure trove of material for the Italian-Canadian writer. How does nostalgia affect the relationship to food and writing about food? Push past the clichés, what complicates the rosy images? Is it more difficult to write in a critical or unsentimental mode about food and Italian-Canadian identity?

Domenico Capilongo, Monica MeneghettiCristina Pepe and Jim Zucchero will read mouth-watering prose and poetry and talk about the connections between food and their writing. The webinar will be moderated by former restaurant critic, Francesca M. LoDico. The series is hosted by the Secretary of the AICW Executive, Giulia Verticchio.

Event details & bios:


I will be reading about Grano Arso.  The webinar will be available to view later on the Istituto Italiano di Cultura-Montreal’s website and Facebook page.

In Italiano:
L’Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Montréal e l’Associazione degli Scrittori italo-canadesi (AICW), nell’ambito della serie di webinar dedicata all’opera della scrittura, un’esperienza animata da autori italocanadesi, traduttori, registi, giornalisti, editori, bloggers…, sono lieti di presentare il webinar intitolato “Senti l’aglio? Scrivere sulla cultura culinaria italocanadese”.
Nonna mescola la salsa di pomodoro che ribolle in un calderone nel garage, papà versa orgoglioso un bicchiere del suo vino fatto in casa, le zie si riuniscono per fare taralli e biscotti nella cucina del seminterrato… Queste tradizioni culinarie sono un tesoro di materiale per lo scrittore italo-canadese. In che modo la nostalgia influenza il rapporto con il cibo e la scrittura sul cibo? Superare i cliché, cosa complica le rosee immagini? È più difficile scrivere in modo critico o non sentimentale sul cibo e sull’identità italo-canadese?
Domenico Capilongo, Monica Meneghetti, Cristina Pepe e Jim Zucchero leggeranno brani e poesie da “leccarsi i baffi” e parleranno delle connessioni tra il cibo e la loro scrittura. Il webinar sarà moderato dal già critico di ristoranti, Francesca M. LoDico. La serie è ospitata dalla Segretaria dell’Esecutivo AICW, Giulia Verticchio.
Buon appetito, Cristina

Garlic drawings



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Freshly made limoncelloQuando la vita ti da limoni…fai il limoncello! When life gives you lemons…make limoncello! This is a good motto for life at the moment.  What else does a global pandemic have to do with limoncello? I usually make homemade limoncello or other infused liqueurs with vodka, as grain alcohol is not available here.  With the hand sanitizer shortage a few months ago, my fratello was able to order 151 proof (71%) Everclear grain alcohol to make his own. Hand sanitizer is available again and he had an extra bottle, so I used it to make limoncello.  It is not the 191 proof (90%) alcohol that liqueurs are usually made with-but better than using vodka.Limoni lemons Capri

Limoncello (lee·mohn·CHEL·loh) is an Italian liqueur, made mostly in Southern Italy and especially in the Amalfi/Sorrento area where the limoni are large and fragrant. It is usually served chilled as an after dinner digestivo. I use it to make many of my desserts too!Limoni organic lemons

To make limoncello, you need 1L (4 cups) of grain alcohol and 8-10 organic lemons.  Limoncello is made only with the scorza, or lemon peel, so the lemons must be untreated.  I used the juice to make limonata.Making limoncello

Peel lemons with a vegetable or potato peeler, taking only the peel, not the pith (the white stuff). If a bit of pith snuck in there, scrape it off with a knife

Place the lemon peels in a large airtight glass jar.  I used an old 2L jar that used to hold artichokes, rinsing it out with vinegar and soap to remove any smell.Making limoncello

Cover lemon peels with alcohol and leave the jar to steep in a dark cool place for 2 weeks or more.  A cantina is ideal if you have one.  Give the jar a good shake every few days.  When the peels are very pale, almost white, it is done.  The liquid will be a gorgeous golden colour.Limoncello steeping

Mix 750 ml-1L (3-4 cups) water with 500 ml (2 cups) sugar in a saucepan.  For sweeter limoncello, add more sugar-up to double the amount. Simmer over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, then let the syrup cool.Discarded lemon peels from limoncello production

Strain lemon peels from the alcohol and add cooled syrup.  It will be a cloudy yellow once the lemon essential oils and water mix together. Making limoncelloIf using vodka instead of grain alcohol, use less syrup.  Shake the jar and leave it in the cantina or a cold, dark place for 1-2 weeks.  Then ladle into small bottles with pop-tops or secure tops and leave for 1 more week to intensify the lemon flavour.Bottling limoncello

Il limoncello è pronto. Salute!Limoncello

Posts with recipes using limoncello:

Limoncello Cheesecake

Limoncello Ricotta Cookies

Olive oil Limoncello Cake

Ciao, Cristina

L’ultimo Caravaggio


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Martirio di Sant'Orsola Caravaggio's last painting410 years ago today, Caravaggio died in a tavern in Porto Ercole. This is about his last painting and the time I went to see the WRONG Caravaggio. I rarely use the words wrong and Caravaggio in the same sentence, but in this case it works.

A few years ago, I had an extremely Caravaggio’d out day in Roma.  After my visit to Galleria Borghese, I stopped in to see more Caravaggio works at Santa Maria del Popolo, then met a friend at Sant’Agostino to see the Madonna dei Pellegrini. Whew!  I ended up in a Caravaggio Coma and had the best day ever!

When my friend Romano heard I was going to Sant’Agostino, he immediately offered to meet me there.  I remember thinking this was odd, since I knew he had a full day.  As soon as we approached the painting, and he said ‘Questo è il collo più sensuale nella storia dell’arte /This is the most sensuous neck in the history of art’, I realized he was a fellow Caravaggio nerd.  This was, in fact his favourite painting.  Afterwards, we went to have caffè freddo and talked about Caravaggio for an hour!

Romano had recently been to Napoli and told me about a Caravaggio painting in a former church owned by a bank.  The bank bought the building and it came with the Caravaggio!  Whaaaaat!  I knew I had to see this Caravaggio if I was ever in Napoli.  The name or subject of the painting, and the name of the palazzo was not part of our discussion.

I usually fly home from Napoli, arriving in time to have caffè marocchino and a sflogliatella at the airport, then off I go.  2 days before my departure, I decided to arrive a day early, and spend 24 hours in Napoli.

One of the 4 things on my list to see that day was the painting Romano spoke about. I quickly googled ‘Caravaggio, Napoli, decomissioned church, bank’ and all results came to the painting ‘Sette Opere di Misericordia’/Seven Acts of Mercy’ located in Pio Monte della Misericordia.  All 4 of my ‘must see’ places were walking distance from Piazza Dante, and I booked a B&B appropriately called ‘Il Paradiso di Dante’.

Caravaggio Sette opere di misericordia Pio Monte della misericordiaI had heard of ‘Sette Opere di Misericordia’ but was not familiar with the location, where it has been hanging for over 400 years.  Pio Monte della Misericordia seemed to be a functioning church, so I suspected that something was off. I was not too concerned because it was earthshatteringly amazing, as you can tell by my happy photo.  I visited the 3 other places, ate lots of sfogliatelle and had an amazing day.  Read all about it in the post Un giorno a Napoli.

Returning to the B&B-and access to wifi- that evening, I looked it up again.  As I suspected, Pio Monte della Misericordia is a functioning church with an incredible history.  It turns out I went to see the WRONG Caravaggio!  If only all of my mistakes were this amazing!Pio Monte della MisericordiaThere are 3 Caravaggio works in Napoli.  The one Romano saw was Il Martirio di Sant’Orsola /The Martyrdom of St Orsola, Caravaggio’s last painting before his death, and only recently re attributed to him.  He may have even referred to it as ‘l’ultimo Caravaggio’, which would have been a helpful clue, but I did not remember that detail.Martirio di Sant'Orsola by Caravaggio in Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano

Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano was converted to a bank from 1898-1920 and now houses the Banca Intesa San Paolo Collection.  It was not far out of my way back to Piazza Dante, so I could have made it there if I had realized my mistake earlier.  Mannaggia!

The painting was commissioned by Marcantonio Doria, a young banker and collector from Genoa.  His stepdaughter was about to enter a religious order and take the name Suor Orsola (Sister Orsola).  Lanfranco Massa, the art agent in Napoli wrote to Doria on May 11, 1610 that the painting was finished but not yet completely dry, so he had put it out in the sun (bad idea!) and the varnish had gone a bit soft.  Massa also encouraged Doria to commission more Caravaggio works, as patrons were fighting over him and this was a good opportunity.

Caravaggio arrived in Napoli for the second time in October 1609.  Within days, his violent past caught up to him and he was brutally attacked by 4 armed men.  There were rumours he had been disfigured or killed.  His recovery was long, and he produced only 3 paintings during this time.  Sant’Orsola arrived in Genoa June 18, 1610.  Soon afterwards, Caravaggio set sail for Roma to finally receive a pardon for his murder conviction from Pope Paul V.  He died enroute in Porto Ercole on July 18th 1610 from a staph infection caused by the attack.Book cover L'ultimo Caravaggio, Martirio di Sant'Orsola

The subject of the painting, Orsola, and her 11 companions were captured by the Huns on the way back from a pilgrimage to Roma.  The companions were killed, but Attila the Hun was impressed by Orsola’s modesty and beauty.  She refused to marry him and he shot her with an arrow.  The painting captures the moment of action when the arrow strikes her. She is deathly pale as she looks down at the entry wound with a surprised expression, as if to say ‘Oh my….look…there is an arrow sticking out of my chest’.  The painting is looser and more impressionistic than usual, as if it was painted in a rush.  It is very dark, less chiaro, more scuro and does not have the divine light present in most Caravaggio works.  He was going through a difficult time, which is reflected in the darkness and mood of the painting.  One of the shocked bystanders behind Orsola is Caravaggio in his last selfie.


The Doria estate eventually ended up in Napoli, bringing Sant’Orsola back home. In 1854, it was listed in the inventory of Giovanni Doria’s inheritance along with Palazzo Doria D’Angri. Caravaggio only signed one of his works. The Doria family owned this painting for 300 years-so long that over time the artist was forgotten. Oops!  Caravaggio’s influence and style defined painting in Napoli for several centuries.  During a 1963 exhibit in Napoli called ‘Caravaggio e Caravaggeschi’, Sant’Orsola was attributed to Mattia Preti (1613-1699), although several art historians believed it to be  Caravaggio’s work.  In 1973 Baronessa Avezzano sold it to Banca Intesa.

In 1980, in the Doria family archives, art historian Vincenzo Pacelli (1939-2014) found the letter from the agent which I mentioned earlier, confirming that Sant’Orsola was painted by Caravaggio. Finalmente!Martirio di Sant'Orsola Caravaggio's last painting

Palazzo Zavallos Stigliano is on Via Toledo 185, Napoli, not far from the Toledo Metro station.  Admission is €5. It is closed Mondays.  Hours Tu-F 10-18, Sat/Sun 10-20

Links: For more about the life and death of the Baroque Bad Boy – Caravaggio.

To recreate my Caravaggio coma day in Roma –Caffè con Caravaggio a Roma

I hope you found my convoluted story molto interessante!

Ciao, Cristina

Ravioli di Ricotta e Spinaci


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Ravioli di ricotta e spinaciStuffed pasta is more of a special occasion dish than an ‘everyday’ pasta, and really fun to make by hand. I especially like large ravioli, as they look like little gift packages-and everyone loves presents!

Making ravioli is more efficient and fun as a team effort.  I recently spent a morning with my nipotina Francesca making ravioli with a creamy ricotta and spinach filling. Since I needed to measure out the recipe for her, I decided to share it in a post.Ravioli di ricotta e spinaci

Pasta naming can be confusing, and there are also regional differences.  Ravioli are usually square, but can also be round or mezzalune –half moons.  They are usually made with a filling between 2 thin pasta sheets, sealed and cut.  Large ravioli are sometimes called agnolotti- a sub category of ravioli where pasta sheets are folded over a filling, sealed and cut.  One example is agnolotti del plin.  As you see in the photos, some of our ravioli were made folded over, and some not, so we just call them all ravioli.ravioli di ricotta e spinaci

To make the pasta:

Fresh egg pasta is generally made with 1 egg to every 100g flour.  I use finer OO (doppio zero) flour as it makes a more elastic dough which is more likely to stay al dente. All purpose flour can be used as well, or a combination of the 2.

Depending on the size of the eggs, an extra yolk may need to be added, or a bit less flour.  The dough should not be too dry, or the ravioli will not seal properly and will open while cooking.

I usually use 5 eggs and 500g 00 flour, which will use up all of the filling. This makes about 75-80 ravioli 5cm (2 inch) square.

Tip the flour onto a wooden board.  Make a wide hole in the center of the flour and add the eggs.  Move a few tablespoons of the flour off to the side in case it is not needed.  This prevents needing to add water because the pasta is too dry!Pasta all uovo

Beat the eggs with a fork and slowly start to mix in some flour.  Keep adding flour from the inner edge of the wall.  When the egg mixture is no longer runny, start kneading by hand.

Knead for 10 min using the whole hand.  Keep folding and turning until the dough is shiny and elastic.  Shape into a ball.  Cover with an overturned bowl and let the dough sit for 30-60 min.  This lets the gluten relax, and the dough will be more elastic and workable.

A stand mixer or food processor can be used to make the dough, but it does not come out as nice, plus I find it more work to wash the appliances than to mix it myself.

To make the filling:

The filling can be made the night before, or while the pasta is ‘relaxing’. I do not really measure the ingredients.  Use less ricotta and more spinach if you like.  I often make them without any spinach.  These are the approximate amounts:

500-600 g (~2 cups) ricotta, drained

80-100g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated (¾ -1 cup)

2 egg yolks

500g fresh spinach, cooked, drained and chopped finely, or 200g frozen spinach, thawed and drained

A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper qb*

The ricotta I use comes in its own little draining basket.  The basket can sit in a colander over a bowl to drain for a few hours.  To make your own ricotta, check out the post Ricotta fatta in casa.  Make sure to squeeze out all of the water from the spinach as well. Extra moisture will produce soggy ravioli.  Yuck!  Mix all ingredients with a fork.  Cover and store in the fridge until the ravioli are ready to fill.

To make the ravioli:

Cut off one piece of dough at a time (~1/8th of the total) and leave the rest under the bowl so it does not dry out.  Lightly flatten the dough with fingers and run it through the pasta machine twice on the widest setting.  Gradually run the dough through at thinner settings, until the second thinnest setting.

Since ravioli is double layered, the pasta should be as thin as possible.  The green spinach should be visible through the pasta!Ravioli di ricotta e spinaci

The dough can also be rolled out by hand, but it takes real talent and years of practice to roll out a sfoglia thin enough for ravioli!

Work with only 1 piece of dough at a time-or the pasta will dry out and not stick together.  Try not to add any extra flour to the dough or the board when making stuffed pasta as this will also prevent sticking.Ravioli mold RaviolampRaviolamp ravioli mold

I have a ravioli mold called a Raviolamp, and a round ravioli cutter, but I also like to make them ‘freeform’.  We made a combination of all 3 so that Francesca could try them all!  They do not have to all look the same-but try to make them all the same size so they take the same time to cook.Ravioli di ricotta e spinaci

Using 2 teaspoons, drop 1 heaping teaspoon of filling on the pasta sheet 2 fingers apart.  Either use 2 sheets, 1 for the top and 1 for the bottom, or 1 long sheet and fold it over.  Press in between the filling with the heel of hand, making sure to remove any air. The filling can be piped out of a pastry bag if you want to get fancy.Ravioli di ricotta e spinaci

Cut the squares with a fluted pastry wheel or ravioli cutter.  The Raviolamp makes 12 ravioli stuck together, then they can be cut apart with the pastry wheel.Ravioli mold RaviolampI use the leftover dough to make a few ‘freeform’ ravioli rather than putting it through the pasta machine again.  Use the leftover bits as soon as possible so they do not dry out. The finished ravioli can go on a floured tea towel on a cookie sheet until they are ready to cook or be frozen. Ravioli di ricotta e spinaci

Cook the ravioli in a large pot of boiling salted water.  If cooking frozen ravioli, do not defrost.  Drop them into the boiling water directly from the freezer.  Cook for ~4 minutes, or 1 minute after they float to the top.  Remove with a slotted spoon.Ravioli di ricotta e spinaci

These ravioli should be served with simple sauces.  While they are cooking heat up olive oil with some garlic and fresh sage.  They are also delicious with a simple tomato sauce. For either sauce, top with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and bite into them!Ravioli di ricotta e spinaci

Buon appetito, Cristina & Francesca

*qb=quanto basto meaning however much is needed.  This is what you commonly see in recipes written in Italian



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Lucca Torre GuinigiLucca is one of my favourite smaller cities in Italia.  While writing my last post, I realized that I have not yet dedicated a whole post to Lucca!   Founded by the Etruscans as Luk, meaning marsh, Lucca became a Roman colony in 180 BC.  In the 12th-13th centuries, the silk trade and banking were responsible for economic development and population increase.  Lucca was an independent republic for 500 years, until Italian unification. Today the population is 88,000 and Lucca has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2006.Porta Santa Maria Lucca

Lucca does not have 1 or 2 monumental sites-the city itself is the attraction!  Lucca is best known for the well preserved, intact Renaissance walls encircling it.  The complex defense network is still mostly intact, 12 m high and 30 m wide, with 6 porte – entrance gates and 10 ramparts.  The only thing missing is the moat, which was filled in the 1800’s.Lucca medieval walls

On top of the walls is Via delle Mura Urbane, a wide 4.2 km tree lined pathway that is popular for walking, cycling and running.  When entering Lucca, the 16th C walls from can be seen from below. Bike rentals are available near most of the entry gates.Lucca

Lucca has a real ‘lived in’ feel to it.  Walking through one of the gate tunnels is like stepping back in time.  Lucca is flat, with a random street layout.  Most of the centro storico is pedestrian only and full of biciclette to photograph.  Lucca bicicletta rossaThe streets are narrow and flanked by tall, narrow buildings.  The many towers and other landmarks are often not visible from below, so it is easy and fun to get lost among the historic architecture and cobblestone streets.Lucca

The main street, Via Fillungo has beautiful storefronts and buildings.  It connects Piazza Anfiteatro and Piazza San Michele.  Piazza Anfiteatro’s oval shape is the ‘ghost’ of the 10,000 seat Roman amphitheater that once stood there.  Entrance to the piazza is through brick tunnels.The stones were looted to build other structures, but the tall buildings in shades of yellow and cream with green shutters were built following the shape of the former amphitheater.Piazza AnfiteatroPiazza Anfiteatro Lucca

As in San Gimignano, defense towers were a status symbol for Lucca’s wealthy families in the 1300’s. Lucca’s skyline has several towers, the most famous being the 45 m Romanesque Gothic red brick Torre Guinigi.  Built in 1384 by the Guinigi family of silk merchants, the tower is 45 m tall with 7 Holm Oak trees growing on top, symbolizing rebirth.  Torre Guinigi, LuccaThe rooftop was originally used for dining, with the kitchen on the floor below.  Imagine carrying dishes the 232 steps to the top!  Admission is €5 single/ €8 family. A 2 day combination ticket can also be purchased that includes Torre delle Ore and Orto BotanicoView from the top of Torre Guinigi Lucca

At 50m Torre delle Ore is the tallest tower in Lucca.  It started as a personal defensive tower, and when defense was no longer needed, it was turned into a clock in 1390.  The present clock mechanism is from the 1700’s.  It even has its own resident ghost legend-in 1623, a Lucchese woman who had sold her soul to the devil ran up to the top to try to stop time, but she didn’t make it.  Climb the top to see rooftop Lucca and the best views of Torre Guinigi. In the photo below you can see Torre delle Ore and the campanile of San Martino.View from Torre Guinigi

Lucca has over 70 churches.  The Gothic/Pisan Romanesque church of San Martino was started in 1070.  It has a mismatched 14th C campanile-the top is white like the church, but the lower half is red quartz stone.  The church façade has 3 levels of open arches and each of the 37 columns are different.  There was a contest for the design of the columns and each artist submitted one.  Instead of awarding a winner, all of the columns were used without paying the artists.  Che furbi!  San Martino is home to the famous relic, a cedar crucifix known as  il Volto Santo di Lucca (the holy face) and works of art by Jacopo della Quercia, Ghirlandaio and Tintoretto.

Like much of Lucca, the church of San Michele in Foro was built on a much earlier structure.  Piazza San Michele was formerly the Roman Forum.  The façade has 4 rows of ornate arches and columns, similar to San Martino.  I do not think artists contributed these columns for free! San Michele has works by Tuscan superstars Luca della Robbia and Filippino Lippi.San Michele in Foro, Lucca

The oldest church in Lucca, 6th C San Frediano has a beautiful golden  mosaic façade.  Lucca San Frediano

Lucca is the birthplace of Giacomo Puccini, and the house where he was born is now Museo Puccini.  Admission is €7. If you are in Lucca in the evening, it is common to hear music coming from churches, piazze and the opera house Teatro del Giglio.Lucca San Giusto

Lucca is beautiful to visit any time of the year……except for the first week of November!  Unless you are attending, avoid visiting during Lucca Comics and Games.  Lucca is NW of Firenze, closer to Pisa.  The train station is right across the street from Porta San Pietro, one of the entry gates, making Lucca an easy day trip -90min from Firenze and 30 min from Pisa.  Lucca really deserves a few days of its own though, and also makes a great base to see the rest of Toscana.Lucca, bicicletta

The photos in this post were taken on 4 separate visits over a 15 year period, which explains the dramatic weather fluctuations!

Lucca is also mentioned in the posts Viaggio con Isabella and Autunno in Italia

Photos of San Martino and San Frediano from wikimedia commons.

Buon viaggio, Cristina

Viaggio con Isabella


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Duomo Selfie FirenzeOne year ago I was just returning from Italia with my nipotina Isabella. Since we are not able to travel in real life, viaggiamo in pultrona, let’s armchair travel and revisit our trip.

A bit of backstory…when Isabella was about 8 years old, she saw a photo of me on the Ponte Vecchio and asked ‘Zia, where is this?’.  I replied ‘Firenze’ and she asked if we could go there together one day.  I was thrilled at the opportunity to share my love of Firenze with her, so of course I said ‘Si! We can go when you graduate’.  We were delayed a few years due to scheduling issues, but last year in between Isabella finishing her university classes and starting a summer job, we managed to squeeze in a 2 week trip!Ponte Vecchio Firenze

We flew to Firenze, where we rented a studio apartment in the Oltrarno for a week.  It was in a renovated stone tower a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio and down a narrow alley from Piazza della Passera.Peppe Zullo, Mercato Centrale

Chef Peppe Zullo, our amico from Orsara, was in town our first day.  We met him at the Mercato Centrale where he and his son Michele had recently taken over a restaurant upstairs called Tosca.

Galleria degli UffiziWe had prebooked only 1 museum-the Uffizi of course, for the Saturday so that Gaetano, our cugino in med school could join us.  New Caravaggio rooms have opened since my last visit!  Galleria degli UffiziI noticed many portraits of Anna Maria Luisa de Medici on display.  We have her to thank for all of this! Isabella loved the Uffizi, not just for the artwork, also the building itself, so Gaetano suggested she visit Palazzo Pitti another day.Palazzo Pitti Firenze interior

I am ‘vertically challenged’, which may be why I like to climb to the top of things, especially if there is a view involved. We climbed almost everything in Firenze, starting with a walk to Piazzale Michelangelo via Porta San Niccolò for views of the city, then continuing up to San Miniato al Monte. We climbed the dizzying narrow stairs to the top of Brunelleschi’s Duomo to see the views and the Torre Giotto.  Duomo FirenzeAnother day we climbed the Torre Giotto and saw the Duomo!  These climbs were vital to working off gelato! For more photos taken from above see Viste di Firenze.

We also enjoyed the view, modern art and caffè from la terrazza degli Uffizi.  This is the title of one of my monotypes, so I had to throw that in there!  The Aperol Spritz from the roof bar of La Rinascente in Piazza della Repubblica was the best I have had.  With her new headband and puffy sleeves, Isabella looked like a Renaissance principessa enjoying a spritz!Isabella Aperol Spritz Duomo Firenze

We were on constant lookout for street art by Blub-even Gaetano when he was with us.  The results of our Blub hunt are in the post L’arte sa Nuotare.Blub street art Firenze

Isabella loves caffè.  She started ordering caffè lungo because both times she ordered un americano, they repeated ‘American coffee’ and tried to serve her drip coffee!   Mannaggia!   What has the world come to!Caffe a Firenze We had caffè at a different place every morning, including Caffè degli Artigiani in Piazza della Passera, Bar d’ Angolo in Porta Romana, one of my old favourites I Dolci di Patrizio Cosi, and one place way too close to Ponte Vecchio. They were all wonderful!  Isabella kept track of the cost of a cornetto and 2 caffè lunghi… expected, she found the price decreased and the quality increased the farther out we went!  Valuable life lessons!

San GimignanoWe joined 5 others on a lovely daytrip from San Gimignano to Siena with Piero of Bike Florence and Tuscany.  The weather was ominous, either sprinkling or threatening to rain all day.  Bicicletta ToscanaMonteriggioni was a stop for wine tasting and we cycled parts of the Via Francigena. In Siena we had a few hours to explore the city and have Panforte.Monteriggioni Siena

The weather was not very warm for May.  I think this is the first time I have ever packed a small umbrella, but glad I did!  We had to dress in layers, or ‘a la cipolla’ as they say in italiano.  Some evenings in Firenze, it seemed like we were wearing ALL of the clothes in our valigia! Despite this, we walked everywhere.

Here is our map –YES- a map-of where we walked.  Maps of the city centre are great for getting oriented.  It is much easier than trying to look at a GPS on a tiny phone screen.  We did not have time to take the bus to Fiesole or get to L’Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David or attend Mass at Santa Croce.  Isabella will definitely need to get back to Firenze.  While shopping, she did receive many compliments every day on her Italiano, even bartering down the price of a cute leather jacket!Biciclette, LuccaLucca was our next stop, 1.5 hours away by train.  Lucca is one of my favourite places in Italia!  We stayed at a small B&B near Torre Guinigi.  The owners found out we lived in Vancouver and told us about their nipote in Vancouver who is Isabella’s age.  I started to say that Vancouver was a big city…… when Isabella said ‘Uh….Zia….I actually do know him….  Che mondo piccolo!  After that, every time they saw Isabella, with no subtlety at all, they went on about what a nice boy he was!Riding the medieval walls Lucca

Lucca is known for its intact medieval walls.  We rented biciclette to ride the path on top of the walls.  The forecast was for good weather.  We had done 4 laps of the tree lined 4 km route, when unexpectedly a torrential downpour started.  It rained so hard we could barely see.Lucca medieval walls

We tried to get off the path, but visibility was so bad we could not tell which gate and ‘onramp’ we had taken to get up to the wall.  This was important because we had to return the bikes where we rented them.  Isabella wore her new jacket, and rather than get it ruined in the rain, she had folded it up inside out in a plastic bag in the cestino -the basket- leaving her in short sleeves.  Brrrr!

Piazza Anfiteatro LuccaBy the time we got to Piazza Anfiteatro to warm up and wait for the rain to stop, we looked like wet rats.  The restaurants are outdoor, so they had large heaters, and even blankets.  Piazza Anfiteatro Lucca A friend was coming from Viareggio for aperitivo later, but she had to cancel due to the weather.  Even in the rain, Lucca is spectacular. It is also a great place to shop!  I never spend enough time in Lucca.Monterosso a mare, Sentiero Azzurro

Our next stop was La Spezia via Pisa and on to Vernazza, our home base in the Cinque Terre.  I wrote about our time there in 2 posts- Le Cinque Terre and Exploring le Cinque Terre. The second post is specifically about our adventures.  The weather was beautiful, which is good, as there are no indoor activities there!  Hiking all day with a 19 year old is hard work, so luckily there was wine tasting in the evening!Milano Naviglio GrandeThe morning we left Vernazza was raining almost as much as on the walls of Lucca!  Isabella had been to Roma several times, but not to Milano, so we booked to fly home from there.  We met our cugina Federica, who we stayed with, and went to the Navigli area to have dinner with more cugini. Our visit was too short.  We spent the next day walking and window shopping around the Cento Storico and had a few ‘streetside reunions’ and phone calls with more cugini and a friend.  I have been to Milano many times but have yet to see L’Ultima Cenacola, Da Vinci’s Last Supper.  Even 2 weeks in advance, I was not able to book admission.  Another reason to return!Milano Duomo nella pioggiaWe hope you have enjoyed this piccolo viaggio virtuale with us!  Hopefully we can travel again soon.  Ciao, Cristina & IsabellaPiazza della Repubblica selfie