Settebello-Bloghiversario #7


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Today is another bloghiversario-a blog anniversary.  It is hard to believe it has already been 7 years since starting Un po’ di pepe.  Where did the time go?  If feels like just yesterday I had trouble coming up with a blog name. This has been an amazing, rewarding experience and I have ‘met’ so many virtual friends and even reconnected with old ones.

7 is a lucky number in many cultures.  Settebello, the sette denari (7 of coins) is the luckiest card in an Italian deck of cards.  Let’s hope that means it will be a lucky year! We could all use more settebello.Settebello

Last year, I did not write a bloghiversario post.  We had been in ‘pandemic mode’ for 6 weeks, and it is hard to believe that 1 year later, the world is still sottosopra…upside down, and I still feel like an extra in a low-budget science fiction movie where plague and pestilence run rampant.  

I started out this pandemic being crazy productive-increasing from 2 blog posts per month to 3, trying out all the recipes I could never find the time to get to, Zoom yoga 3-4 times a week and planned out  many art projects.  I lost steam at some point and now have trouble concentrating enough to write a shopping list or paint my nails.  I am now spending most of my time reading and growing seedlings, but thankfully I am still doing the Zoom yoga 3 times a week.

5 masks hanging on a clothesline

The loss of life, paralysis of the world economy, and mental health effects of this pandemic have been devastating.   Each of us copes differently with the confusion, fear and stress of quarantine, distancing, and finding distraction from all things Coronavirus.  Some of us are madly productive, and others slow right down.  I have yo-yo’d back and forth.  What I am trying to say is, as long as what you are doing helps with coping and local guidelines to help everyone stay safe are followed, it does not really matter. Just stay safe!

I decided to do my part for ‘the cause’ and got a temporary new job.  I will be doing some relief work with the COVID 19 Immunization clinics for Vancouver Coastal Health.  My training session was a few mornings ago and it was a happy place.  The 3 people I immunized were so excited, relieved, and ecstatic, it made my week!  

Personal Protective Equipment

Today is also La Festa della Liberazione d’Italia, the anniversary of the liberation of Italia from Fascist occupation in 1945.  Viva la libertà. Since it is relevant today, I would like to share this 1955ish quote by Piero Calamandrei, an author and protagonist of the Resistenza:

La liberta è come l’aria.  Ci si accorge di quanto vale quando inizia a mancare. /Freedom is like air.  We only realize how much it is worth when it is lacking.

SettebelloGrazie to all of you for taking the time to read, comment, send messages and especially for giving me an excuse to research and write about things that interest me!  If you have any suggestions for posts or just want to say ‘ciao‘, leave me a comment. Here is a link to my first post Perché questo blog?/Why write a blog?

Grazie mille a tutti i lettori di ‘Un po’ di pepe’ per leggere e darmi una scusa per scrivere di cose che mi piacciono.  Lasciami un messaggio se hai un idea per un post o semplicemente per dire ‘ciao’.  Un abbraccio, Cristina

Forza! Continue to stay safe everyone, and hang in there.  Un abbraccio, Cristina



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Buon Primavera!  It is the first day of spring and March 21st is also Giornata Mondiale del Tiramisù-World Tiramisù Day.  Tiramisù, made up of espresso dipped Savoiardi layered with a cream of whipped eggs and mascarpone, topped with cocoa-is thought to be a rather ‘modern’ creation.  It is widely believed to have been invented in Treviso in the late 1970’s and has been popular worldwide since the 1990’s.  The basis of it has actually existed for a long time, and Tiramisù as we know it today is an evolution of traditional local desserts, aphrodisiacs and energy drinks.  It has quite a controversial history, with at least 6 restaurants in 2 regions claiming to have invented it.  Definitely too many cooks stirring this pot!Tiramisu'

In the ‘dolci al cucchiaio’ (puddings/spoon desserts) section of Pellegrino Artusi’s 1861 book ‘La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene’ recipe #649 Dolce Torino sounds similar to Tiramisù.  It is made with savoiardidipped in a spicy liqueur layered with a cream made of eggs, butter, icing sugar, milk, vanilla and chocolate, topped with ground hazelnuts and pistachios.

Zabaione, made of raw egg yolks whipped with sugar with marsala or sometimes espresso, was considered a restorative energy drink for newlyweds, new mothers and the sick.  It also often served as a breakfast for children.  In Veneto, it was called sbattutino, meaning little beaten one.

In Treviso, they say the madama at a local brothel served a dish inspired by sbattutino, made with eggs, sugar, caffè and savoiardi to patrons and staff to restore their energy.  Sounds like an early Viagra?  It was called Tireme su, meaning lift me up in dialetto Veneto.  While this is likely leggenda metropolitana– an urban legend, I believe there may be some fact to it!

In his 1968 memoir, Giovanni Comisso (1895-1969), a writer from Treviso wrote about his nonna making a dessert called Tirame-sospiro-su in the early 1900’s and how she remembered it from her childhood.  (Note-I tried but was not able to locate his memoir).

The claim for inventing Tiramisù as we know it today is made in both Veneto and Friuli by at least 6 restaurants!  Owner Alba Campeol and chef Roberto Linguanotto both claim to have invented it around 1969 at the former Ristorante alle Beccherie in Treviso, as well as Carminantonio Iannaccone, a baker who claims he made and delivered the Tiramisú served at the restaurant!  Other Treviso restaurants staking a claim wereAl Camin, El Toula and Le Celeste.  In Friuli Mario Cosolo at Al Vetturino in Pieris and Norma Pielli at Albergo Roma in Tolmezzo both claim to have invented Tiremesù in the 1950’s.  Mannaggia!

Veneto is definitely responsible for popularizing Tiramisù, after the first published recipe appeared in Vin Veneto magazine in 1981. In the US, it became popular after being mentioned by Tom Hanks in the 1993 movie Sleepless in Seattle as being a mysterious dessert that women love.

In 2013, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano requested it as a special menu item at the International Space Station……dehydrated Tiramisù.  Uh…no, grazie! Tiramisu ingredients

My Tiramisù recipe is classic and simple.  A few notes on the ingredients:

Mascarpone is a product of Lombardia.  Often called a cheese, it is actually a cream, like clotted cream.  It can not be replaced with whipping cream and definitely not with cream cheese!

Eggs are raw in Tiramisù.  If possible, use farm fresh eggs, kept in the fridge until needed.  When separating the eggs, crack the whole eggs into a bowl, then scoop the yolks out by hand and put them in another bowl, rather than using the eggshell to separate them.  Make sure there is no yolk mixed in with the whites.

Caffè = espresso, preferably made in a stovetop Moka pot.  Decaf espresso is fine and will not change the taste.  Do not use North American brewed coffee or instant coffee!

Alcohol is optional.  Marsala is the most traditional alcohol to use.  My family has always treated caffè and Sambuca as a package deal, so this is what I use and I believe it is the yummiest option. 

Savoiardi are usually called Lady Finger Biscuits in English.  They are named after the House of Savoia, the ruling family of Italia.  In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, savoiardi were considered patriotic.  Read more in the post Margherita di Savoia.  I also like to make Tiramisù with Pavesini. They are smaller, crunchier and much thinner than savoiardi and have a light vanilla taste to them.  This results in an elegant looking Tiramisù with multiple thin layers, as in the photo below.Tiramisu' with Pavesini

Dish-a dish with straight sides rather than flared works best.  I use a 20cm X 30 cm glass baking dish (8 inch X 12 inch) with a plastic lid and it works well for a 2 layer Tiramisú.  If you want a 3rd layer, use a smaller dish.



500g container of Mascarpone

1 400 g package Savoiardi

5 large eggs, separated

60g (¼ cup) sugar plus 10g (2 tsp) sugar

300ml (1½ cups) caffè

Sambuca or preferred alcohol

Cocoa powder or shaved chocolate for topping

Pinch of salt

  • Make caffè and stir in 10g (2 tsp) sugar while still hot, then add alcohol and let cool.
  • Mix yolks with sugar in electric mixer until frothy.  Add mascarpone and mix.
  • In a separate bowl, using clean whisk or beaters, whisk egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form.  Note-If you only have 1 mixer bowl and beater, it may be easier to mix the egg whites first.  If any bit of yolk gets into the whites, they will not become fluffy. 
  • Add egg whites to mascarpone mixture, stirring up from the bottom to keep it fluffy.  Do not overmix. Tiramisu' in progress
  • Spread a bit of mascarpone cream mixture to the bottom of the dish
  • Dip savoiardi one by one in caffè/sambuca mixture and arrange on bottom of dish.  Cover with half of the remaining cream mixture and repeat. Tiramisu'
  • Top with sifted cocoa powder or shaved chocolate. 
  • Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight, then cut and serve.  It is best to consume it all by the next day, which is not usually a problem!Tiramisu'

Happy World Tiramisù Day/Buon Giornata del Tiramisù! Do any of you readers, especially those from the Veneto- have Tiramisù origin stories? Buon Appetito, Cristina!

To listen to more about Tiramisú, check out Luca’s podcast on Luca’s Italy.


Percorso della Memoria


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Largo San Michele Orsara di Puglia

During my last trip to Orsara di Puglia in July 2019, I arrived just in time for a new event, the Fine Confine Festival held in conjunction with Montaguto.  Montaguto is the closest town, less than 7 km away, but it is ‘across the border’ because it is in Campania.  Fine Confine means ‘no more borders’.  Of course, there is no actual border between Puglia and Campania, it was meant to be an emotional reflection on borders and walls.  

The 3 day festa had a jam-packed creative program.  One of the featured events was an open air exhibit, Percorso della Memoria.  The exhibit featured black and white photos taken by local architect Nicola G Tramonte between 1972 – 2008, super mega enlarged and affixed to the textured stone exteriors of buildings in the Centro Storico.  The photos are from his 2016 book Consegna di un Mondo (Surrender of a World).  It weighs almost 2kg, so I left my copy in Orsara!  Percorso della memoria, literally ‘path of the memory’, is best translated as ‘a stroll down memory lane’.  

My favourite piece, both for image and location is of Z’Ndunett (Zia Antonietta), my friend’s bisnonna, with her nose in a book.  It is on the imposing portone of Palazzo Varo in Largo San Michele.  I wonder what she is reading-it looks like it could be a prayer book? It was rare for anyone of her generation to make it past grade 2, which make the photo even more interesting.

True amicizia.  These two vecchiette were likely the best of friends for almost a century. Vecchiette are little old ladies.  Isn’t that what LOL meant before texting?

Un centesimo for her thoughts?  If only we knew what she was thinking.

This image is on the outer side wall of the 17th Century Fontana Nuova, where my Mamma used to wash clothes.  These gnarled, wrinkled, sturdy hands have worked and tilled the soil.  Likely they hand washed a lot of laundry too!

The only colour photo in the exhibit, this one is on the portone of an abandoned building I have always been fond of.  I refer to it as la casa del cappero because there is a caper tree growing from the inside. The owner died long ago, and apparently a disinterested heiress in New York does not give it much thought.  The subject lived around the corner and she fits right in,  seeming to become part of the building.  I remember her from the 1980’s when she was scandalized by my sister’s short shorts.  She would mumble ‘puttanella, puttanella’ when 8 year old Lucia walked by!

My friend Antonietta’s dress blends nicely into the colour palette as she admires this photo.  I adore these chickens who look like they are doing ‘lo struscio‘ – a passeggiata up the main street of Orsara! There were actually 2 photos on this wall, as you can see in the next photo.  This beauty is one of my favourite doors in town.

The ragazzo in this portrait with his infectious gap-toothed laugh absolutely radiates the joy of childhood! The wire his hand is gripping is mirrored in the real wire of the clothesline and the cast shadow it leaves. Unlike the rest of the photos in the exhibit which are on crumbling exteriors, this one is on a clean, newly painted surface.  My nonno Luigi used to live around the corner to the right.

There is another photo across the narrow street, but I did not get a close image of it.  I love the afternoon cast shadows on the walls. I am  constantly on the lookout for cast shadows when I wander the streets of Orsara-you can see some of my discoveries in  Il Sole di Metà Pomeriggio.

This last photo by Nicola is actually from an earlier exhibit during Fucacost e Cocce Priatorje, the November 1st festa in 2017.  I had to include it here because it was affixed to the wall of a wall down and across the narrow street from my casa in Orsara.  The red palazzo belongs to the same owner as la casa del cappero.  They are painted the same colour.  You can see the street is decorated for the festa with zucche (pumpkins) and ginestra (Scotch broom).  In case anyone is wondering ….small cars do drive these  narrow streets!

I hope you have enjoyed this virtual tour.  Hopefully there will be another Fine Confine Festival soon, when travel is possible again.  To see more of Nicola’s photos, check out his instagram account @nicolagtramonte.  

Buon viaggio (speriamo), Cristina

Ravioli Rossi


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La festa di San Valentino is coming up.  I love the colour red and any excuse to spread love. I also spent many years on a pediatric heart surgery unit-so hearts are a special shape for me!  My nipotine* and I made ravioli rossi a forma di cuore-heart shaped red ravioli so that the whole family can share a fun meal-even though we will not all be together.

Cutting out heart shaped beet ravioli

The pasta is coloured with beets-not food colouring.  This is something I have always wanted to try, even though the thought of staining myself and everything in the kitchen is scary.  We adapted my Ravioli con ricotta e spinaci recipe published in the fall.  I posted a photo of our ravioli on Facebook and Instagram, and had many requests for the instructions.  The adaptations are reviewed here, but you will need to refer to the original post -unless you are already a ravioli making machine.

Start by roasting 4 small or 2 medium beets with a drizzle of olive oil and salt in aluminum foil for at least an hour.   Before they cool, remove skin with a paper towel or gloved hands.  Chop then puree the beets in a food processor or with an immersion blender.  

We made 2 ‘half’ doses of my usual ravioli dough so we could make 2 different shades of red.  

2 eggs

125 ml (½ cup) roasted beet puree

250g (almost 2 cups) 00 flour, plus extra

For the lighter colour, we used about 60 ml (¼ cup) beet puree and added an extra egg yolk-although just using less flour is also an option.  

Mix the beets and eggs, then add in the middle of the flour, if kneading by hand.  I usually knead my dough by hand, but red stained hands did not sound appealing, so I started with the food processor.  When the dough is partially mixed and a uniform colour, transfer to a well-floured surface.  Knead for 10 min, adding extra flour as needed.  The amount of flour will depend on how much moisture is in the beets.  I had to add at least an extra 50g (~1/3 cup).  The dough should spring back when you stick a finger in it, but not stick to the work surface.  It will look and feel like pink play doh!  Cover with an upside down bowl and let sit for at least half an hour.  

We used the same ricotta filling as in the original post, omitting the spinach and adding the zest of half a lemon for extra flavour. This is enough filling for 2 ‘half’ doses of dough.

Heart shaped beet ravioli being shaped

When rolling the dough, flour the work surface as needed.  If the dough is still too moist to go through the pasta machine, sprinkle with flour before rolling it out-but be careful not to use too much.  If the dough is toodry, the 2 pasta sheets will not stick together and the ravioli will open while cooking.  Yuck!

Cutting out heart shaped beet ravioli

Roll the dough to the second thinnest setting on the pasta machine-usually this is a 6.  Use a heart shaped tagliabiscotti – a cookie cutter about 6-7 cm (2¼-2¾ inches) wide.  It is handy to have a slightly smaller size too, for places where there is not quite enough dough to cut the bigger size.  This decreases dough wastage! Press around the filling to remove air before cutting, and seal around the edges with fingers after cutting.  Egg white can be brushed along the edges to seal, but I have never found this necessary.  If the heart shape is not working for you, a traditional shape looks festive too.  

The colour lightens a lot when cooking, so make them as dark as possible!  If you do not like beets, not to worry, they add very little taste to the pasta dough.

Heart shaped beet ravioli boiling

Each half portion of dough will make about 45 ravioli.  Freeze and cook them as described in the original post.  Serve with a simple sauce.  I heat up olive oil with whole or chopped sage leaves and slivered almonds or hazelnuts.  Spoon it on top of the ravioli and sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano.  Aglio, olio e peperoncinoalso works well, or a light cream sauce with walnuts. 

Note-If my instructions are not clear or detailed enough you can link to 2 different, but similar heart shaped beet ravioli recipe posts. If you need a video, watch Gabri’s. It is in Italiano, the visuals are helpful even if you do not understand. For a more professionally presented printable recipe, check out Pina’s post.

Buon appetito e auguri per la festa di San Valentino!  Viva l’amore, Cristina

*nipotine means nieces or granddaughters.  In this case it means nieces! Grazie Isabella e Francesca!

700 Years of Dante


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Dante Alighieri profile2021 is the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri.  Dante is known as the ‘Father of the Italian Language’.  His most famous work La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy) is considered a masterpiece, the first and still the greatest work of literature in the Italian language and a precursor to modern fiction.  In the late medieval period, Latin was the only language for education, literature and religion.  La Divina Commediawas the first major work written in a language of ordinary speech or vulgare, the way people actually spoke at home. Dante combined Tuscan and other dialects, including Sicilian and Latin, establishing the modern Italian language.  Even though La Divina Commedia was written in 1308-20 the language is understandable today.Dante Divina Commedia

La Divina Commedia is a 3 part epic poem written in the first person, emphasizing the importance of salvation and Divine love in the redemption of humanity. It explores Dante’s imaginary trip to Paradiso (Heaven), passing through L’Inferno (Hell) and Purgatorio (Purgatory).  It is also a critique of famous figures of his time. The work is filled with historical, mythological and biblical references and discusses politics, religion, science, ethics and love. La Divina Commedia does not contain jokes nor is it funny.  The reason it is termed a commedia is because it is not a tragedia (trajedy) and it has a happy ending.

Dante was born in Firenze in 1265.  He studied philosophy, poetry, and was also an apothecary-a medieval pharmacist.  This is not as strange as it sounds, since nobles in public office had to belong to one of the city guilds and books were sold by apothecaries at the time. He married Gemma Donati in 1285 and they had 3 children.  Dante’s family was involved in the Guelfi/Ghibellini (Guelph/Ghibelline) power struggles.  The Guelfi supported the Papacy and the Ghibellini supported the Holy Roman Emperor -even though there was not one at the time. 

The Guelfi split into 2 groups because the Pope kept interfering with internal matters in Firenze.  Guelfi Bianchi (White Guelphs) did not want the Pope involved in city politics and Guelfi Neri (Black Guelphs) supported complete Pope authority. Dante’s family were Guelfi Bianchi.  In 1302, while Dante was in Roma as an ambassador, Firenze was occupied by the Guelfi Neri.  The Guelfi Bianchi, including Dante and his sons, were exiled. A few years later, other Guelfi Bianchi in exile were pardoned- but not Dante.  He was quite the badass in exile and burnt his bridges by writing many nasty letters.  Dante was offered amnesty in 1315, but it came with conditions and a heavy fine, which he was not able to pay.

Dante wrote La Divina Commedia while in exile and ruthlessly sends everyone responsible for his banishment to eternal damnation in L’Inferno.  He put a lot of effort and imagination into coming up with the horrible details! If Dante were alive today, he would probably be writing political satire.

Dante never did return to his beloved Firenze.  He stayed in Roma, then moved to Ravenna, where he completed Paradiso in 1320 and died of malaria Sept 14th 1321.  He is buried in the church of San Francesco. Jacopo Alighieri (1289-1348), also a poet, regained possession of his father’s confiscated property in 1343.

Firenze regretted Dante’s exile, and repeatedly asked Ravenna for his remains. A tomb was even built in 1829 in Santa Croce but all requests were refused and the tomb is empty. In June 2008, Firenze finally passed a motion rescinding his sentence and exile.  As my Mamma says ‘meglio tardi che mai’-Better late than never!

700th anniversary celebrations are happening throughout 2021, although most of them will depend on ever changing COVID 19 restrictions.  There is a website for all of the 700 Dante Firenze festivities. A few examples:

Museo di Casa di Dante has a new multimedia display and a virtual tour.
L’Accademia della Crusca, Italia’s fun ‘language police’ was established in Firenze in the 16th Century to safeguard the study of the Italian language.  Their website includes ‘Parola di Dante fresca di giornata’ a Dante word of the day for each day of 2021!

La Divina Commedia is as relevant today as it was in 1320.  I will leave you with an encouraging message of hope from the final phrase of l’Inferno

             ‘e quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle’– ‘hence we came forth to see the stars again’

Ciao, Cristina


Statue of Dante in Piazza Santa Croce, Firenze

Buon Anno 2021


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Buon Anno a tutti i lettori di ‘Un po’ di pepe’, vicini e lontani!  Spero che 2021 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 2021 brings good health and joy to you and your loved ones!

I usually write a Buon Anno post on New Year’s Day, looking back at the blog year.  I am late in writing this one, since I wrote an end of year post Reflecting on 2020, summing up and bidding good riddance to 2020-although I was not that polite in my sendoff!

WordPress keeps end of year stats which I love to share because they are so interesting.*  In 2020, Un po’ di pepe had over 14,000 views from over 100 different countries!  I wish I could visit all of of them!  The top posts of 2020 are listed here, in case you missed any of them.  Lots of links included!  Based on the number of views, the top posts of 2020 are:

#10 Viaggio con Isabella A summary of a trip to Italia with my super-photogenic energetic travel buddy, my nipotina* Isabella.  Since travel is still not possible, enjoy a virtual trip with us!Piazza della Repubblica selfie
#9  Limoncello Because the pandemic caused a hand-sanitizer shortage, I was able to get some grain alcohol.  When life gives you lemons……This post includes instructions and photos of the process to make limoncello at home.Limoncello steeping

#8 Cinquecento Love In May I published an article/photo essay about my lifelong obsession with the huggable Fiat 500 in a special print edition of Accenti Magazine.  This post links to the full online article.Fiat Cinquecento wedding car

#7 The recipe for Olive oil Limoncello Cake was inspired by an art retreat at Casa Berti near Lucca, surrounded by 900 olive trees, freshly pressed olive oil and limoncello.Olive oil limoncello cake

#6 Napoli  Street  Art I just love Napoli a perfect place for self-expression for the last few thousand years.  Join me on a graffiti/street art tour in the Centro Storico.volto di Sophia Loren Napoli street art

#5 I was happy to see La Trinità di Masaccio on this list yet again! When I first published this art history lesson, it had about 30 views, but I discovered that it comes up as the 1st listing in a google search! This explains the steady trickle of views. I also suspect that it is on some sort of a reading list for art history classes in the US, because I have noticed a lot of views referred from the course websites of Santa Monica College and a high school in Pittsburgh! How cool is that?  Didn’t I say the stats were fascinating?

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

#4  I am so super thrilled that L’Arte sa Nuotare  made my top list again! During my trip with my nipotina** Isabella we were on constant lookout for street art by Blub, the talented artist who plunges famous works of art underwater. This post also comes up 4th on a google search.  Spread the Blub love- read about more Blub in Blub a Napoli.Blub street art Firenze

#3 The Last Medici As an art history nerd, this post was my personal thanks to Anna Maria Luisa De’ Medici (AMLDM) the last of the Medici family, for leaving the world her family’s legacy of art treasures.  I was thrilled to see it get some love!

#2 Italiano per Ristoranti-How to Pronounce your Restaurant Menu, this handy Italian menu pronunciation guide has been #1 every year until now.  In a google search for ‘Italian pronunciation guide restaurant’ and ‘Italian menu pronunciation’ it comes out as the top suggestion! Molto cool! This post is available as a 6 page downloadable PDF via a link on the post.  Someday, I plan to expand and turn it into an ebook. Speriamo!

Bruschetta (broo.SKET.tah)

#1 For the first time ever a different post is #1.  I wish I had not had to write this post,  but I am glad I did.  COVID 19-Andra tutto bene was my top post for 2020.  A lot has been written since, but I wrote this early into the pandemic, after overhearing too many people saying that it was all a hoax and more people die from the seasonal flu.  As a health professional, I felt I needed to provide some education as a public service. I followed it with another post COVID 19-Insieme ce la faremo.

For 2021 my goals are simple….lots of travel-if we are able, less stress, more exercise, more art and writing!

I would love to hear which post you liked best, and what you would like to read more about in 2021 on Un po’ di pepe?  Let me know in the comments.  Looking forward to writing more cose interresanti /interesting stuff in 2021.

Vi auguro un 2021 piena di gioia e buona salute!  Ciao, Cristina

*Note…WordPress’ method of collecting stats is odd.  The newest post counts as a ‘Home page’ view until the next one is published and I am not sure how much this changes the results.

**Nipote or nipotina means both niece and granddaughter in Italiano.  In this case, it means niece.

Reflecting on 2020


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5 masks hanging on a clotheslineAddio 2020!  Is that too polite? How about vai via 2020?  Via al inferno 2020?  Vaffanculo 2020 may be the most appropriate send off to this year that most of us would like to forget.  COVID 19 has affected life for everyone.  Even in my weirdest dreams, I never imagined plague and pestilence in the form of a planetary health crisis during my lifetime…..yet here we are.

My word of the year is sottosopra (sot•toh•SOH•prah)…..upside down.  I doubt I am alone feeling like an extra in a bad science fiction movie, where everything in the world is upside down. Kisses and hugs spread disease, lounging on the couch binge watching Netflix is responsible adult behaviour, NOT visiting family is a sign of love, and losers are the ones who DO go out on New Year’s Eve!Personal Protective Equipment

The loss of life, paralysis of the world economy, and mental health effects of this pandemic have been devastating.  It has been more stressful than most of us are willing to admit.  Each of us copes differently with the confusion, fear and stress of quarantine, distancing, and finding distraction from all things 2020.  Some of us are madly productive, and others slow right down.  As long as our activities help us cope and we follow local guidelines to help everyone stay safe, it does not really matter.

This has been a time for many of us to reflect about what is important, especially so in this quieter of Christmas seasons.  There are not many positive things to discuss during a global pandemic.  Even so, I have felt humbled by the outpouring of kindness, humanity and creativity that has come out of this terrible situation and speak to the resilience of the human spirit.  Just a few of my favourite examples include:

  • The adaptability and creativity of businesses, workplaces, schools and social groups, offering their services differently and online.  I have been doing zoom yoga 3-4 times a week! Many of these practices will likely continue in some form when the world is no longer sottosopra!
  • The world becoming emotional watching videos of neighbourhoods throughout Italia singing in solidarity from their balconies and windows.  This uplifting show of unity and community support spread positivity around the world.
  • Collective rounds of applause and banging of pots for frontline health care workers.  As a healthcare worker, I thank you all for your enthusiasm! This video ‘A Violin flies over Cremona’ of Lena Yokoyama playing Ennio Morricone for health care workers on the roof of the hospital in Cremona makes me cry.  The full 15 minute documentary, with English voice over by my amica Anna Ambrosini is available here 
  • Pandemic street art!  A creative response to the pandemic, often with a dose of humour.  I wrote about street art for International Nurses Day and have another post planned soon.John Doh street art
  • Volunteers helping the elderly with groceries and errands, sewing masks, donating blood and many other wonderful things.
  • Nerdy science geeks are finally cool!
  • The elementary school near home had to cancel their Christmas concert.  They walked around and sang in front of the homes of the older and housebound neighbours instead.  Singing with their antlers and little masks on-they were adorable.  My parents were so thrilled, as was 98 year old Pasquale across the street.
  • The extra effort to spread Christmas cheer this year with outdoor decorations and lights.   Tree lots here sold out the in first week and many stores almost sold out of seasonal stuff by mid-December.  My lights and decorations always help me get through the cold, wet, dark, depressing days of winter, so I have really appreciated this.

    was consistent…ha fatto schifo dall’inizio fino alla fine! It sucked from beginning to end!

    Please remember the global Christmas message of goodwill towards everyone.  We are all facing challenges that are not visible.  Do not assume you know what others are going through. As our Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says ‘Be safe, be calm, be kind’.

    Il Bacio TV Boy Pandemic street art

    Wishing all readers of Un po’ di pepe a safe, healthy, happy, better New Year, where the world is not upside down!

    Tanti auguri a tutti i lettori di Un po’ di pepe per un migliore Anno Nuovo piena di gioia, salute e sicurezza, dove il mondo non è sottosopra5 masks hanging on a clothesline

     Forza!  Hang in there everyone!

     Virtual baci e abbracci, Cristina

    Street art images from the artist’s instagram:

  • No need to shit yourself @johndohart
  • Trust Science, not Morons, Mike Dellaria @dellarious
  • Il Bacio @TVBoy

Panforte di Siena


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Panforte di Siena

Panforte is un dolce Natalizie- a seasonal treat from Siena, although it is sold all year round.  A chewy, sweet cake, panforte leaves a wonderful aftertaste of candied citrus, almonds and a bold hit of spices.

Panforte dates back to the introduction of exotic spices from the East, via the port of Pisa.  The earliest known record is from the year 1205.  Documents in the State Archive of Siena state that a bread rich with pepper, spices and honey was paid as a tax to the monastery of Monte Celso on the seventh of February, 1205.

Panforte di Siena

Panforte was originally made with flour, water, honey and spices, mixed with chunks of fresh autumn fruits such as grapes, figs and plums.  The water content of the fruit kept the bread moist and after a few days, fermentation gave it an acidy flavour. This is where the name panes fortis, or ‘strong bread’ comes from.  It was also known as panpepato because of the abundance of pepper and other spices and the dusting of black pepper on top.

Panforte di Siena ingredients

Panpepato/panforte was made by speziali, spice sellers who could be considered medieval pharmacists.  It was valued not only as a food but also as a medicinal remedy because of the spices it contained.

Siena was on the Via Francigena, the ancient pilgrimage route running through France to Roma, then to Puglia where the ports of Bari, Brindisi and Otranto were transit points for the Holy Land.  This made Panforte known outside of Tuscany. A sweet cake with energy and sustenance, Crusaders carried it on their travels…like medieval energy bars! In 1515, a nun named Suor Berta changed the fruit to canditi-honeyed or candied fruit.  The canditi were usually citrus fruits (orange, lemon and cedro/citron) and dark melon or pumpkin.

Canditi, nuts and especially spices were costosissimi-making Panforte an extremely expensive item.  Only the wealthy could afford the extravagance.  It was also given to the clergy as a gift on special occasions such as Christmas or local feast days.Panforte confezionato

The recipe remained the same for centuries, almonds, flour, honey, canditi and spices, dusted with black pepper and held together at the bottom with foglie di ostie-a sheet of unconsecrated communion host! That was until 1879, when Regina Margherita di Savoia– of pizza Margherita fame-visited Siena. In her honour, a local speziero made a more delicate ‘white’ version of panforte, without the black candied melon and covered with a dusting of vanilla icing sugar instead of black pepper. It was called Panforte Margherita and is the version most often sold today.  In 2014, Panforte di Siena received the PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) European Union designation of quality label. Panforte di Siena with holly and greenery

In Siena it is thought that Panforte should contain 17 different ingredients.  This is because 17 is the number of Contrade or districts in Siena.  Representatives from the Contrade take part in the Palio di Siena horserace every July 2 and August 16.

A thin wedge of panforte makes a delicious treat with caffè or liqueur after a meal. Panforte makes a beautiful edible gift-but only for very special people! I made mine small, wrapped them in parchment paper then in Florentine paper and sealed the bottom with a large gold sticker.Homemade panforte di Siena

I used white pepper, as the flavour is more delicate, while still providing heat.  It is hard to find good canditi, so I made my own with organic orange and lemon peels using Domenica’s recipe. canditi

My homemade canditi ran out after 2 batches, then I substituted chopped dried Kalamata and Mission figs and sour cherries. The zest of an orange added a bit of citrus flavour. For the ostie, I used something called ‘edible wafer paper’ made with potato starch. Edible rice paper is also available at specialty food stores.

Panforte di Siena


125g (1 cup) hazelnuts

200g (1½ cups) blanched almonds

175g (1½ cups) icing sugar, sifted

200g (⅔ cup) good quality honey

30ml (2 tbsp) water

300g candied fruit peel (orange, lemon, citron) or dried fruit

Grated orange or lemon zest

5g (1 tsp) ground cinnamon

2g (¼ tsp) ground ginger

2g (¼ tsp) ground cloves

2g (¼ tsp) ground star anise

3g (½ tsp) ground coriander

2g (¼ tsp) ground nutmeg

2g (¼ tsp) ground white pepper

175g (1½ cup) flour, sifted

Ostie-unconsecrated communion wafer /wafer paper/rice paper

Icing sugar to coat


  1. Using a heavy saucepan and a low flame, set the sugar, honey and water to boil. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon, being careful to keep the syrup from sticking. This will take a while, so in the meantime, do steps 2 and 3.
  2. Use pan(s) with removable bottoms.  Line with the ostie/wafer paper. If needed, grease and dust the sides with cocoa powder.
  3. Toast the nuts lightly for 6-10 min in a 200°C (400ºF) oven.Panforte dry ingredients
  4. Coarsely chop with a knife, or leave whole.  Dice the candied fruit.  Dice the candied fruit and mix with the spices and nuts, then add in the sifted flour.
  5. When the syrup in step 1 reaches at least 100°C (200°F ), remove pot from heat and stir into the fruit and nut mixture. If you do not have a candy thermometer, use a toothpick to pick up a bit of syrup and pass it under cold water. If it becomes solid, it is ready.Panforte syrup in a pot
  6. Working quickly, using wet hands and 2 tablespoons, divide the batter into the pan(s), smoothing the top with damp fingers or the back of a wet spoon. It can also be pressed down with the bottom of a glass.Panforte crudo
  7. Bake in a 150° C (300°F) oven for 35-40 minutes. Do not let the panforte brown, or it will be too hard. Panforte cooking in the oven
  8. Remove the panforte from the pans and let cool completely on a rack. Dust with icing sugar on all sides. and serve cut into thin wedges.
  9. Panforte keeps well for a month if wrapped in parchment paper or in an airtight container and stored in a cool, dark place. Do not store in the fridge.
  10. This recipe makes one 22cm (9½ inch) panforte in a springform pan or six 10cm (4 inch) panforte in tart pans. A 25cm (10 inch) round of parchment paper and fancy paper wraps the 10cm size.

Panforte di Siena wedge with espresso and Christmas ornaments

Buon appetito e Buone Feste, Cristina

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

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