Are Artisan Pastas Worth the Price?

Francine Segan’s article in Italy Magazine answers the question as she scours Italy, attends a major event in Umbria and gives us the step by step test you can do to tell so-so pasta from artisan.  Check out this site

Secrets of Ca’Dario in Venice

Dubbed “the house that kills”, this 500 year old Venetian Gothic palace has claimed lives and repelled boatmen, boarders, renters, owners and potential owners like Woody Allen.   Built for the aristocrat Giovanni Dario in 1479, the house then passed on to a long list of owners who were stabbed to death, murdered, or died by suicide or assassin, suffered financial ruin, scandal, or heart attack. Violence, death by near-miss, lovers’ quarrels and ghosts further occupied its long history of tragedies and mayhem. As recently as 2002, The Who’s original bass player John Entwistle suffered a heart attack a week after renting the palace.

The house sits on an old Templar cemetery. Apparently, the settling of the foundation makes the building tilt visibly to the right. The house is directly opposite the S.Maria del Giglio boat stop on the canal.

Photo: Nino Barbieri/CCBY-SA2.5

What About the Food, everyone asks

Have you ever heard anyone not rave about the food in Italy? Rare, indeed. My last trip had the bonus points plugged in. Norma’s hometown was in the Veneto, along with relatives and friends that coming out of every door. Then, too, because it was a Sister City visit to Crespano del Grappa near Mt. Grappa, the Military Corps of the Alps, “the Alpini”, saw to it our celebratory evening was filled with delectables of every sort.

But one of the most memorable dinners was in Lucca, with my cousin Roberto and family. He refused my invitation but did allow me to participate in a sumptuous meal featuring Branzini. The local supermarket had a never-ending case of this sea bass and other fish of every description. Seafood is so prevalent throughout Italy and its freshness makes for a delicious selection on any menu. Roberto stuffed the fish and baked it in the oven, deftly removing its skeleton. To accompany this prize entree, there was Betty’s pasta con pesto, Christina’s special green peas, a remarkable Insalata fresca and strawberries for dessert lovingly cut by Francesca. It was a wonderful family dinner memory.

Getting off the Beaten Path in Italy…

You might be surprised, but better yet, learn much about its people.

Such was our luck one day taking an off-highway excursion on the way to Todi to see a relation of a friend we were told to visit on our trip.

Juggling my cell phone, map and a handwritten page of instructions I was happy my husband Bruce could drive on these poorly maintained roads often recommended by well meaning inn keepers. “She still doesn’t answer,” I whined, referring to Roberta, the
relation we were to visit.

Then I saw it. “Stop!” I demanded. Bruce slowed down, stopped, and backed up. We were out in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, not a car or other building in sight. Off the shoulder of the road appeared an elaborate iron gate between two stalwart stone-stacked pillars. It looked like it must be a destination worth visiting, but no, it was a Dantes Palace1 residence.

Beyond the gate stretched an also elaborate steep stone driveway leading to a large home at the very top of the hill. “What?” Bruce demanded. “That,” I said pointing to the obviously handcrafted artistic stonework lining the driveway on both sides. He argued against stopping or getting out of the car, but I was already at the gate. There didn’t appear to be a bell or buzzer, so I headed back to the car just in time to hear someone call out from up the hill.

Dante Anderlini, a 77 year-old Italian-born retiree whose home was just off the road to Aquasparta, had built a work of art over the last 45 years. His weathered face and hands and worn, dusty work clothes verified this fact. What a find! He couldn’t wait to open the gate and show us in to “see something really beautiful.” Dante’s English was sparse and my Italian sloppy, but somehow we managed. As we huffed and puffed up the driveway, his handiwork on both sides took our breath away even further.


His “something beautiful” turned out to be the living room he built, he told us, for his wife, whom we were not able to meet. It was truly an unbelievable work of art. Dante handcrafted the stone and marble walls, cabinets, counters and floors in both the living room and downstairs kitchen as well.


Dante was especially proud of the fountain he created over a handmade marble bowl. His broad smile was a reminder of his constant heartfelt pride throughout our tour.


Outside, the views of lush green rolling hills from atop his property were also something beautiful. We marveled from inside the stone patio at the well he had manufactured in the center. The marble pillars and intricately built stone and marble pergola surrounding it had a matching bell tower on its roof.


Further to one side was an outdoor warehouse of enormous sheets of marble and stone.

He told us that his son, who worked in corporate Italy, would help him from time to time, and I imagined that perhaps finances were part of the “help”. Dante seemed reluctant for us to leave as we meandered back down the steep driveway. I asked him if a magazine photographer had ever visited here, and he shook his head “no”. I resolved to do something along those lines, thanked him in profuse broken Italian and we got back on the road.

Never did find Roberta.


Celebrate Spring with Asparagus

ASPARAGUS! The spring veggie loved by many, or few?

We Italians love them every which way, especially found wild and wrapped up in some farm fresh eggs as a frittata. You can roast them, sauté them, put them in a pie, use in a cheese fondue. I’ve found them on a pizza, in a salad, wrapped in prosciutto, speared through a hot dog or sausage and toasted on the grill. If you want to really appreciate asparagus wild, take a look at Anne Robichaud’s article from Italian Notebook.


Asparagus with Quinoa

Saute two sliced shallots in 1 T each butter and olive oil until softened. Add a bunch of asparagus sliced on the diagonal and season as desired. Cook on lowered heat, covered, until softened, but still firm to the bite.

To serve, portion over cooked quinoa with a squeeze of lemon. Drizzle with bacon bits, or Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Asparagus and Spinach Frittata*


1 lb each spinach and fresh asparagus, washed, drained, tough ends discarded
8 eggs
3 T whipping cream or water
s/p to taste
¼ c Parmesan or Romano cheese
4 T olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced

Cut asparagus into 1-inch lengths, cook in boiling, salted water until tender to pierce, about 3 minutes. Drain, immerse in cold water and drain again. Cook spinach in a covered pan until wilted, stirring. Drain, cool, coarsely chop. Set aside.

Beat eggs, cream, salt and pepper, cheese. Set aside.

In a large on-stick skillet, place olive oil, and garlic cloves over medium heat until just beginning to brown, do not scorch! Add spinach and asparagus, and sauté 2 minutes. Pour egg mixture over asparagus and cook until eggs begin to set. Sprinkle with cheese and reduce heat to medium-low. When almost set, place skillet under broiler until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Let frittata stand 4 minutes before loosening, and sliding onto a plate.

*Optional ingredients

  1. Omit spinach, add 1 seeded, diced tomato and Fontina cheese instead of Parmesan.
  2. Use spring onions in addition to or instead of garlic, and Gruyere or Swiss cheese.
  3. Cut unpeeled red potatoes 1/8” thick and sauté w/green onions 6-8 minutes, covered, then uncover, brown well another 7-8 minutes. Add to asparagus/egg mixture.