The Big Cheese

(in humble tribute to the 6 million sheep of Sardinia and the rest of Italy, rarely attributed their due)

sheep of Sardinia

Pecorino Romano, referenced in many Italian recipes, but equally hard to find around my town, is that miracle of ewe’s milk that in Roman times reputedly surpassed cow’s milk because it was thought to “help the stomach”. Like so many Italian Regional topics of myriad variety, this is one of the most confusing.


It is an over-simplification to say that all Pecorino is not the same, and that cheese cultures

in Italy vary from region to region.  It is revered similarly in comparison to perhaps a patron saint when Di Bruno Bros. importers calls it “A tincture containing the essence of a Mediterranean isle.” It is ceremoniously served in Italy’s finest hotels and restaurants with all the pomp and circumstance one might award a dish of extinct eels.

The “fully stagionato” are “aged” for as long as 36 months. Some are “matured under ashes”, some bear a stamp, or brand; one from the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany recognizable by its black rind is the pecorino di Pienza, reputedly loved by Lorenzo de Medici. The brine gets a bit muddy when it appears that the Pecorino Romano Locatello® brand, sold in the premium price category exclusively in the U.S. market, also has a black rind.  The brand originated in 1860 in Lombardy and is imported from Sardinia and the Lazio Region. Pecorino “sardo” of Sardinia is used in the deep fried “seadas”, a sweet and savory dessert of Sardinia (shown below), or with peaches and pears or a glass of the local red cannonau wine.


Pecorino Romano, one of Italy’s oldest and most famous cheeses,  loses much of its acidity when cooked into a sauces such as carbonara, amatriciana and cacio e pepe.  Different than Tuscan pecorino, the Sicilian Pecorino siciliano stands head and shoulders high in flavor, often eaten only on its own reserve wrapped in a vine leaf, a rival in taste to none other and pompously served, of course.

Who is to know that when it comes to pecorino, the complexities of this artisan recipe addition can mean so much to the success of a dish and occupy one’s research so laboriously long.

I think it is the sheep that make the countryside so dear.




….uh-oh, a brand new blog may be necessary!

With the trip to Southern Italy dawning closer as a “first adventure”, I thought to consult Fred Plotkin’s “Italy for the Gourmet Traveler”, a voluminous knowledge base.   Mine resides more to the north.  Thankfully, my traveling companion likes to eat good food and wine and even asked me to be sure and get it together in that area.  So far, the research has yielded many deep fried recipes to look forward to, and pizza, neither one my first choice, and many strange and exotic fruits from the sea, not even a second choice.  The south of Italy apparently has an even sweeter tooth than my Tuscan relations, which will have to be on the reluctant choice menu (except for anything lemon, my fav). Red flag! This region is all about lemons everywhere and lemon everything delicious!

I heard about this book on a podcast interview Rick Steeves had with Plotkin and was impressed enough to buy the over 700-page encyclopedia. What a treasure of information on every major and un-major city and/or region, with notes on what it is famous for, where, why, and how…….dining, wines, ice cream, coffee, menu terms and definitions, even detailed walking guides through a town, recipes, folklore, calendar events, maps, personal notes and historical data for example …..”as you walk around Venezia, there are two  other things I would like you to bear in mind……..”  Instead of an index, all the cities and recipes mentioned are listed, and the 27-page Glossary of Food and Wine Terms is a literary piece of its own merit. The book is a treasure-trove of total entertainment to read.  I crossed myself in case  ancestors were watching and skipped to the Campagnia Region where we will be headed.

Although not the most populated city, Naples and the Campania region has the highest population density of any region in Italy. Plotkin’s descriptions are robust, colorful, inviting and, by nature,  contradictory. For example, Campania, like California, has been subjected to severe earthquakes and Mount Vesuvius and Mt. Etna loom over millions of people. Napoli may be wild and chaotic, the people understandably a bit jumpy, but Plotkin goes on to say “the volcanic soil is unusually fertile, so the fruits and vegetables that grow here are sublime…….once you dine at even the most humble trattoria here, it will be hard for you to swallow so-called Italian food back home.”

The Roman emperor Tiberius made Napoli and Capri his playgrounds. Since then,  there is a long tradition of elaborate cooking and baking for the royal families and nobles. Pizza, born in Naples, is the favorite nighttime meal that wraps around the local street life conviviality today.  The finest “mozzarella di bufala” cheese, Plotkin says, comes from Campania in the province of Salerno.

Pecorino Romano sheep’s milk cheese comes from Sardinia, home to millions of sheep. It holds no candle to American imitations and must be imported, Plotkin advises.   It dances on every table, especially those laden with festival foods created for every saint’s day and for whatever reason you might imagine.

You may think of pasta when Italian food is mentioned. Did you know it did not originate in Italy?  Arabs introduced noodles in the 8th century, Marco Polo brought them from China in 1295 and they were the food of aristocrats until the 1600’s when mechanical pasta began and Naples’ pasta shops blossomed in the 1700’s.  The first documented recipe, however, is said to have been born in 1839. The glorious growing conditions of southern Italy took the credit.

Despite dozens of versions of pasta with lemon in this region, there is much, much more:

Plotkin offers a Penne con Ricotta e Noci Sardinian recipe, that is, pasta with Ricotta and nuts.

I am anxious to try a local version of  Colatura dei Alici, or spaghetti with anchovy sauce.

Every province, every region has their own pasta, individually named, and their own recipe

for the best dish you ever ate. Of course, those from Campania are the ultimate best, you know.  uh-uh.

We will see.





FIRE IN THE HOLE… Italian Style

Take a look at these earthly treasures soon to be glimpsed:

Vesuvius_from_Naples_at_sunsetAs seen from Naples at Sunset, Mount Vesuvius is an imposing sight.  At 4203’ it is the only active volcano on the European mainland, close to Naples, with over 3 million people close by, and considered one of the most dangerous in the world. It is a good 400,000 years old, with the most catastrophic eruption in 79 AD which wiped out Roman settlements including the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum whose total population was between 16,000 and 20,000. The remains of over 1500 people have been found, but the death toll is unclear.  It’s calculated that 21 miles of ash, molten rock and pumice was released, a hundred thousand times the thermal energy of Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings. vesuvius_806ef36f-b618-420c-b25e-ce827d2a2515-1
Mt.Vesuvius from the air

This Unesco World Heritage Site is called today Archaeological Areas of Pompei, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata. It is one of the many Unesco World Heritage sites that make the region of Campania, Italy, unique worldwide. In addition to its source of important geological and tectonic knowledge, Vesuvius is constantly monitored and studied for past present and future activity within the confines of its mainland scientific laboratory, according to a 2018 NOVA documentary. It last erupted in March, 1944. Another eruption in April 7, 1906 killed over 100 people and ejected the most lava ever recorded from a Vesuvian eruption, and even today, there is a constant state of danger surrounding the volcano. It is constantly monitored.

Volcanoes are formed by the upward forcing of rocks formed in the earth’s tectonic boundaries.  There are at least 11 dormant volcanoes in the Italian territory.   The only country with active volcanoes, Italy’s three major concerns are still erupting today.


10,912’ Mount Etna World Heritage Site on the island of Sicily is a stratovolcano or conical volcano, with activity traced back 500,000 years, has mythological beginnings, and in an almost continuous state of activity with summit and flank eruptions, as recent as December 2018. It is the highest volcano in Europe and one of the most active.

Conical shaped Mount Stromboli, north of Sicily in the Tyrrhenian Sea, on the island by the same name, is 3040’ high and in a constant state of eruption.  It’s eruption on July 4, 2019,  is the largest since at least 2007, according to Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.*   Molten lava flowed, causing tree and grass fires. In addition to  panic, a male hiker was killed by a falling stone, apparently the only casualty.

July 4, 2019 eruption of Mount Stromboli.

Approximately 1,000 people live in Stromboli’s shadow. The enormous influx of tourists in July is also a pressing concern. The volcano’s spectacular geological feature is the “Stream of Fire” (Sciara del Fuoco), a U-shaped depression on one side of the cone created by 13,000 years of eruptions and collapses. Like the other Aeolian islands, Stromboli is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After the 2002 eruption, a network of high-tech monitoring of volcanic activity was set up, making it one of the most monitored volcanoes in the world. Excursions to the craters are only allowed with a volcanological guide.

There are at least 11 other volcanoes on Italian territory with dormant and/or “uncertain” status dating from 600,000 years ago through to the 1900’s.

*INGV is funded by the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research and monitors seismic and volcanic phenomena, employing approximately 1000 people between headquarters in Rome and other locations in Milan, Bologna, Pisa, Naples, Catania and Palermo.










We call the time I’ll be away on vacation, “the duration”, since my spoiled husband must fend for himself.

My solution is to prepare one-dish meals. I allocated the small freezer in the garage to him and shopped carefully to find a lot of healthy meals he can heat up. Soup is a savior. In addition to loading it up with vegetables, cooked meatballs can be added for protein, or pulled rotiserrie or canned chicken. Of course these helpful notes must also appear in type on the refrigerator. Label the meal containers and storage containers any way you like.  I put all the lunch ideas in the door, soup is on the bottom main shelf, the rest is all entrées. Breakfast containers reside in the kitchen freezer.

Freezer Door: Healthy, chemical free lunch selections

Containered Entreé selections
Soup below

Now for the recipes:

BREAKFAST   Find frittata recipes that make sense to you, prepare in large rectangular baking pan, and cut into squares as you would lasagna.  Freezer in your handy dandy square plastic clamshells. A dozen online  sites, just google it, or use glass storage in quart or larger sizes.

Frittata Breakfast

Frittata Breakfast

French toast breakfast sandwich


Glass containerized breakfast scramble

Hot cereal, dried and/or fresh fruit is not that complicated to prepare just have him watch/learn.

We don’t eat cold cereals, Danish, and skip the sugared breakfast pops. A one- package meal might consist of French toast, sandwiched between uncured Canadian bacon or nitrite free ham and cheese that just needs defrosting and heating.  Or, saute onion and/or mushrooms scramble in eggs and containerize/freeze.  Put “Egg Bites” (Cost Co) and two breakfast sausages in freezer bags in kitchen freezer drawer for variety.  Hard boiled eggs are at the ready along with cottage cheese and fresh or canned fruit.

Prepared homemade muffins fit in freezer containers to go with a blended protein drink.  Cottage cheese and fruit is always at the ready in the fridge. All of these ideas I use all year long so Bruce can fix his own breakfast and lunch and dinner if necessary.

Pick from the freezer door, the kitchen freezer containers, protein drinks, or make sandwiches from the nitrite and chemical free lunchmeat and cheese in the fridge.  Soup in the pantry is low sodium, and homemade is in the freezer.

 The one-dish meals in the designated “Bruce freezer” were cooked, made and placed in containers: (Yes, of course these meals must be removed from any plastic container before heating.)

  • Roasted vegetables and roasted chicken pieces in containers.
  • Chili, made with beans, beef or chicken.
  • bean/chicken/greens meal;
  • salmon with baked potato and veggies;
  • pork tenderloin (cooked, sliced and placed in larger container with cooked baked potato and vegetables).
  • Same idea for pork or beef ribs or brisket.
  • For any entrée, Safeway simmer sauces are a godsend if more sauce is needed.
  • Soups: green pea is a fav, and loaded with protein.
  • Stews: made with beans, beef or chicken often with potatoes and vegetables.
  • Salads: greens washed, cut and in container at the ready. Fixings in the fridge drawer. Top with protein such as sardines, canned tuna/salmon/chicken, and you have a one dish meal.


To prevent the entire quart of ice cream from vanishing, I put homemade gelato (sugar free with Xylitol) in the purported “serving size” of ½ cup containers (dollar store). Cookies are in the can or a smaller container, slightly out of reach. Otherwise, he’ll have to wait til I get home and have company for the Tiramisu´.

Cookies just out of reach from the TV tray.

serving size Gelato


Me? Cook Sicilian?

Anyone who knows my passion to cook, especially Italian dishes, knows also of my heritage from Tuscany. You can’t get more Italian than having had a mother from Elba and a father from Lucca who became a noted restaurant chef during California’s heyday in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It’s one of the good things in my genes. But these Italians avoid Southern Italy, their famous limoncello notwithstanding. Nothing Sicilian would have ever found its way onto one of our family dinner tables. Now, with a trip to Naples soon ahead, my curiosity prevails.

One of my favorite TV personalty chefs is Mary Ann Esposito on Ciao Italia. When she went to the East Coast to interview Morgan Morano making her Sicilian artisan gelato, I bought her book and went to work, starting small, hoping for no ancestral observation from “above”.

Pasta is better in this province, than that one. It even is named differently. Ever notice how one region promotes their specialties over another. Why is Sicilian gelato better?  Moreno learned from a Sicilian gelato artisan before opening her shop in New England. Much gelato is premade, she tells us, often with chemicals and coloring and warns that artisan standards do not exist where you see carnival gaudiness and mile high piles. At Morano Gelato, base ingredients are made to individually tailor each recipe. It differs from American ice cream because:

  • it is lower in butterfat (4-9% vs. 14-25%), intensifying the flavor
  • it is dense, far less air than the 50% more air churned into American ice cream
  • served at a warmer temp, the flavor and creamy texture is reinforced

I learned to make the easy recipes with an inexpensive scale than includes grams and replaced the sugar content with no taste difference with Xilytol (4lb. canister available through Swanson Amazon has  “The Art of Making Gelato” by Morgan Morano for a cooking experience par artisanale!



Blank so Long…….

Over the past several months, I have yet to post in my blog any relevant words. The reason for this is that I have been embroiled in preparation for what might become my last trip to my fatherland. First I had to celebrate a birthday that so clearly defined me a senior citizen that it put me in a state of melancholy for weeks. Then came household property matters about new fire safety regulations so stringent they financially almost ruled out any travel of any kind.

Insurance companies across California have swathed home owners’ landscapes into an ugly depiction of its former self in hopes of reducing fire hazards when any fire within a mile radius would evaporate the property anyway. But I digress trying to explain these powerful excuses.


The good news about winning a trip to the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy came on the heels of my return from the Veneto trip last April. I could not include Amalfi in that trip and came home with regret and wishful thinking, only to find the opportunity on line in a raffle on  “”.   The contest  ran for months, reminding me to buy tickets. I bought two. And eventually, it was announced. I had won first place!  Six nights at one of Positano’s most luxurious hotels, Villa Magia, at the high point on the cliffs of Positano.  It bowled me over, but I knew it was meant for me, thank the Lord, to go, means notwithstanding. I chose October from the two calendar dates offered, and that meant months of anticipation, but time for travel planning.

Pam (travel partner) and I would be in the heart of artisan ceramics, leather sandals, linens, inlaid wood, limoncello and everything else lemon, not to mention the architectural remnants and majolica duomos of centuries past civilizations and occupations by every imaginable kingdom.

Vietri Sul Mare – Salerno Province, Campania Region, Italy, Europe

As a student at heart, I’m a questioning, curious personality who loves to examine, research, find out, and express it in photographs and writing.  My new task was an ominous one. Northern Italians raised by the fierce pride of Tuscan ancestors, don’t usually have enthusiasm for  the South of Italy. But the reputed unbelievable beauty of the coast was a powerful draw for me as it is for other travelers.  So is the culture, history, food and museum wealth to be found there. Little did I know it would be so overwhelming a research project. To me, travel has become so much more rewarding with the research beforehand, so that instead of simply sightseeing and finding I cannot skip the line or being confused about what was abbreviatedly explained (often in Italian), I wanted to learn what I was going to be looking at ahead of time.

I wanted to start my research with the Etruscans…..the ancient people who contributed so much to the Roman civilization. I’ve had a fascination with their civilization since we saw and learned so much about them in our Umbrian/Tuscany adventures (“Lost in Italy and Loving It!”, a memoir adventure book by Betty Albert on Amazon e-books).  But despite their efforts, there is little of their history where we will be going. Read on to learn my discoveries before the travel adventure even begins.

Research Shows Sugar Causes Cancer

The GreenMedInfo Newsletter
July 19, 2019

Featured Article

The average American consumes their body weight annually in this cancer-causing substance, and yet hospitals freely feed it to their cancer patients, oblivious to the harm it does.  Click to Read

When I find an article this worthwhile, I want to pass it on. This site is scientific, researched, referenced and trustworthy.

In my prior healthnaturally business for years we passed along similar information; I’m grateful they are now on-line.

read the full article in the link they sent me:

Neptune shines again

Bagni di Lucca and Beyond

The magnificent Neptune Fountain in Piazza Signoria in Florence is on full view again after being covered for restoration for 2 years. The restoration project costing €1.5 million was funded by Salvatore Ferragamo.

The first public fountain in Florence, it was commissioned by Cosimo I de Medici in 1559 after a competition to chose a design. Baccio Bandinelli was chosen as the winner but he died before the work began. Bartolommeo Ammannato took over the project. The 4.2 metre Neptune stands high above all else in the middle of the fountain. It is said that his face resembles that of Cosimo I de Medici.

The central part of the fountain with Neptune on a pedestal with the mythical figures of Scylla and Charybdis was completed in 1565 in time for the wedding of Francesco I de Medici and the Grand Duchess Giovanni d’Austria. The basin surrounding Neptune, decorated with bronze…

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Fico, Eataly World

Italy’s New CostCo? Nonna would never approve.

Bagni di Lucca and Beyond

Just outside Bologna, FICO is the world’s largest food park. Food from all over Italy is on display in a huge 100,000 square metre area that used to be a wholesale market in the 1980s.


Helpfully, FICO has installed a selfie platform in front of the sign.

The complex took 4 years to complete, cost €120 million, and works with more than 150 Italian companies. It was opened in November 2017.

The entrance has a wall of apples, along with a sign asking you not to take them. The sign above the entrance informs us that there are 1200 varieties of apples in Europe, 1000 of which are in Italy.



Inside there is an amazing display of producers, offering people of all ages classes in the history of food, the relationship between humans and nature and the importance of eating well.





There are 45 eateries all with visible kitchens, many offering…

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Easter Bread Legends


Like so many things in Italy, bread and cakes come by many names, especially if it is a holiday and then, it depends on what kind of holiday or occasion it might be. Of course the names and kinds of bread and cakes come  with their own legends, traditions, cautions, and  ingredients born from science, literature, ancient manuscripts or the simple competitiveness of the Italian people.

Pandora (left) Panettone (right) The Panettone, instead, is a typical Milanese cake, and it became over the years a true symbol of Christmas in Italy. It is a sweet soft, stuffed with raisins and candied fruit, better to be served with dried-fruits and walnuts at the end of a hearty Christmas meal
or for breakfast the next day. It is similar to the Pandoro, which lacks fruit additions.
Italy’s: food culture is strongly rooted in the Italian DNA, and the rivalry between the two typical Christmas cakes can escalate quickly among the guests of any Italian dinner party. Before you take side: did you know that the original recipe of panettone is 500 years old?
Italy has many Christmas sweets and threats, but a slice of panettone and a flute of prosecco is the classic way for Italians to welcome the festive season. Panettone is a traditional cake-like bread stuffed with dried raisins, candied orange and lemon peel. The origins of Panettone are in Milan, in the northern Italy. It has a noble and antique birth, and several legends to explain it.
One of the most popular ones tells about Ughetto degli Atellani, a nobleman who lived in 1400’s in Milan. He was in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a poor baker named Toni who worked in the kitchen of the powerful Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza. To win her love, he disguised himself as a baker.





Ludovico Sforza
Image credit: Wikimedia CC

To impress Adalgisa, he invented a special bread, adding new ingredients: butter, eggs, dried raisins and candied peel. Pan del Ton (Toni’s bread) was a huge success in many ways: Ughetto gets the girl, Duke approves the marriage and Toni’s invention is welcomed with an enthusiastic response. A new dessert is born, called forever Pan del Ton, or: panettone. The actual translation is ‘big bread,’ from ‘panetto’ meaning dough and the suffix ‘one’ meaning lar

In Italy, the rules for making the delicacy are as strict as ever: in order to be labeled as such, a native panettone must be composed of no less than 20 percent candied fruit, 16 percent butter, and eggs that are at least four percent yolk. Attempts by the Italian agriculture ministry to have these standards applied abroad have not panned out, and the reality is that panettone is a dessert with many homes.
Read more:

The internet offers plenty of recipes, ranging from the traditional to celebrity variations, so making it at home isn’t beyond the reach of most competent home-bakers. Italians consider it bad luck to remove the domed top and to consume it on your own.


Not to be confused with the Greek mythological woman, Pandoro, who opened the box to unleash all human ills, or all human blessings except hope, whichever version you select.

Similar to panettonepandoro is made from a rich, eggy dough, not unlike a French brioche, explaining its name of “golden bread.” The cake is baked in an eight-pointed star-shaped pan that gives it its signature form. It’s modeled after the mountains near Verona, where the cake was first made in 1894. Domenico Melegatti was granted a patent to produce pandoro industrially, made popular by rich Venetians.   Italian bakers sell an astonishing 117 million cakes a year!

COLOMBA (Dove cake)

A debate has gone on for centuries as to the beginnings of Colomba di Pasqua, particularly between the two stories of the Milanese and Pavia (Lombardy).  The Milanese story is more commonly accepted which follows:  During the Battle of the Legano, two doves were witnessed flying onto the altar of a chariot that carried the standards of the Lombard League, who had just won defeated Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The doves were believed to symbolize the Holy Ghost, and so the Colomba (cake shaped like a dove) commemorates that event and is viewed as a symbol of victory. Others view it as a symbol or peace and springtime.  It was first made in Lombardy in the early 1900s by the Motta Italian baking

Of course, the legends and traditions of the even more ancient Sicilian version of this cake is known as Palummeddi and Pastifuorti, also recognized by Italy’s Ministry as a Tradiitional Italian Product. Whatever version or legend selected, know that this cake, especially the Limoncello added recipe version is a mouthwatering addition to any household, holiday or not.


An Umbrian cheese bread made in outdoor stone bread ovens, or a local “forno” (oven)

but not before the yeast, flour and water “Biga” was blessed by the local priest before making the dough. Also known as Torta di Formaggio (Cheese bread), traditionally made with aged and young Pecorino cheeses.


I would be remiss not to include the bread of my father’s home town, Lucca. It is their daily signature bakery offering, though my family only favored us with a loaf at Christmas or Easter.

The word buccellatum was soldiers’ bread and later evolved into the meaning of sweet bread. In 1485 a document related to the process of a woman who had killed her husband with a poisoned buccellato.

This bread was important to the history of Lucca because in 1578, a levy was imposed on its sale and the money was used to rebuild the embankments of the river Serchio.

The most famous buccellato is the one you can get in the Taddeucci pastry shop, a refined shop born in 1881. It looks like an old grocery shop, with huge shop windows crammed of desserts, cakes and sweet breads. You can easily find the shop right in the historical centre of Lucca, in Piazza San Michele, close to the homonymous church.

In the past, buccellato was a cake that was traditionally made, or bought, for the confirmation of your children. Today it is rightfully included in the everyday life of the city of Lucca.

It is made just from flour, water, sugar, raisins, aniseed and yeast. The next day, when it is no longer fresh, the heirs of Jacopo Taddeucci suggest toasting it quickly and having it with butter, coffee and milk for breakfast, or using it as a base for other sweet recipes, from a traditional strawberry soup to semifreddo.

When you are there do not forget to try the torta di verdure, a vegetable pie made with Swiss chard, raisins and pine nuts. It is sweet and spiced, unusual, a light and pleasant looking dessert and very tasty! It is also very easy to make, with regular pie crust.