Wednesday, March 19th, 2014
In Tuscany, chestnut pancakes are a sweet taste of surviving through hard times.

In Tuscany, chestnut pancakes are a sweet taste of surviving through hard times.

In a recent Italian language conversation meeting, talk turned to castagnaccio. Daniele, our born-and-bred Tuscan from Siena, recalled snacking on this cake. He remembered it in detail. It was made from ground chestnuts and olive oil embellished with raisins, rosemary, and pine nuts.

To my American ears, such an austere combination of ingredients didn’t sound much like any cake I knew. But since I had never sampled a castagnaccio, I decided to bake one.

I ordered chestnut flour on and while waiting for it to arrive, I started researching recipes.

Pamela Sheldon Johns’ Cucina Povera seemed like a good starting point since this “cake” was clearly food of the poor. She shared a recipe but the head note gave me pause. “This dense cake is an acquired taste, and it has taken me almost twenty years to acquire it. But its musky chewiness is much loved by Tuscans.”

Patrizia Chen in Rosemary and Bitter Oranges was more encouraging. “Semisweet, tender, and distinctively nutty, castagnaccio is in itself worth a trip to Tuscany in fall or winter.” She also refers to the preparation as a pancake which seems a more accurate descriptor than cake.

more about castagnaccio

Pop-up Cooking Class: Pasta

Sunday, February 16th, 2014
Lehigh Valley Style

photo by Colin Coleman, Lehigh Valley Style magazine

Escape from the snow, cold, and ice with a fun, interactive pop-up pasta cooking class with Sharon Sanders, Certified Culinary Professional, and Walter Sanders of

The small classes (maximum of 10)  in a welcoming home kitchen (Center Valley, PA) are an intimate experience.

You’ll learn to make, roll, and cut fresh egg pasta dough by hand-cranked machine, as well as prepare, and pair, three sauces for both fresh and packaged pasta.

You’ll also receive an inscribed copy of Cooking Up an Italian Life and a chef’s apron.

And, of course, you’ll sample all the pastas you’ve prepared!

Check out what Lehigh Valley Style
says about our Learn-and-Dine cooking classes

Choose from two sessions:

Sunday, March 9, 2 p.m.

Thursday, March 13, 4 p.m.

Fee is $60 (per student). To request a spot, fill out the “Contact Us” form click here


A Vintage Tour of Italy

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013
photograph courtesy of the Italian Government Tourist Board

photograph courtesy of the Italian Government Tourist Board

By Tess Sanders

Walking through the ever-bustling Manhattan Eataly it would be easy to miss the latest additions to the 58,000-square-foot Flat Iron-district emporium.

They’re dangling from the ceiling as you stroll past the Lavazza cafe, the house-made gelato, and the sweets: remastered Italian travel images. Some of these lush posters date back to 1920. The Italian Government Tourist Board hosted a reception to welcome the exhibit “A Vintage Tour of Italy.” Tourist board director Eugenio Magnani introduced the Italian consul general Natalia Quintavalle who cut the ribbon.

Thirty digitally revitalized posters of the original art works are in the show.

Italia PosterXThe stylistic representations mark nearly a century of travel art, from the hyper realistic rendering to bolder expressionism. One stunning poster is done in that modern style: I. Gnagnatti’s Italia from 1963. It is the eye-arresting image of a woman’s back with the word Italia scrolling across her red shawl. With little more than a block of incandescent coral, Gnagnatti captures the allure of the Italian woman.

In a time predating television these images were among the first to capture the sparkle of the now-beloved Italy as a destination. Today the proliferation of blogs like this one is the norm when it comes to Italy worship, but in the 1930s these images were all that foreign, prospective tourists saw of the country.

When she's not contributing to SimpleItaly, Tess Sanders works for Macmillan Higher Education. Her office is serendipitously located across from Eataly.

When she’s not contributing to SimpleItaly, Tess Sanders works for Macmillan Higher Education. Her office is serendipitously located across from Eataly.

When I inquire as to how long these iconic images will be showing at Eataly, I am told “at least through the new year.” After that, these vibrant posters will grace venues in Washington D.C., Chicago, Miami, and L.A.

Catch them at Eataly NYC while you can!



Flavors of Friuli

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013
Elisabeth Antoine Crawford traveled throughout Friuli for five years to research her new book.

Elisabeth Antoine Crawford presents an enticing journey through an Italian region that’s not well known by American travelers.

I’ve longed to travel through the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia. But the closest I’ve come is wandering through the seductive Flavors of Friuli: A Culinary Journey through Northeastern Italy by Elisabeth Antoine Crawford.

For that day when I do travel to the region, I hope Crawford will have created an app. Otherwise, I’ll be forced to lug her three-pound, 368-page tome with me. It’s an exhaustively researched guide to the mountains, meadows, vineyards, and coasts, all with their own distinctive foods, wines, architecture, museums, attractions, and festivals.

Most Italian regions don’t border anything other than other Italian regions or the sea but not Friuli Venezia-Giulia. It juts north and east of the peninsula. It’s bordered by the Veneto to the west, Austria to the north, The Republic of Slovenia to the east, and the Adriatic Sea to the south. Romans, Venetians, Austro-Hungarians, and Slavs have all ruled this territory over the centuries. Parts of the region weren’t incorporated into the Republic of Italy until after World War I and the cosmopolitan city of Trieste not until 1954.

Middle European influences abound in dishes such as sauerkraut, buckwheat pasta, liptauer, goulasch, and torta Dobos. Yet, the region also produces foods that are recognized around the world as quintessentially Italian: prosciutto di San Daniele, Montasio cheese, and Illy caffè.

more about Friuli

Abruzzo Green Tomato Pasta

Thursday, October 24th, 2013
Chopped green tomatoes are seasoned with parsley, hot pepper flakes, garlic, celery, and olive oil in this unusual pasta sauce.

Chopped green tomatoes are seasoned with parsley, hot pepper flakes, garlic, celery, and olive oil in this unusual pasta sauce.

Since I wrote about Miriam Rubin’s delightful cookbook Tomatoes back in May, I’ve been intending to try her recipe for Green Tomato Pasta Sauce from the region of Abruzzo. I was intrigued because I’d never eaten anything like it or even seen a recipe for an unripe tomato sauce.

I panicked recently when the weather forecast predicted an overnight frost. I hadn’t tried the green tomato dish and time was running out. Unlike Rubin, who is a dedicated home vegetable grower and pens the “Miriam’s Garden” column for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, I do not have a patch from which to pluck tomatoes. A generous gardening friend donated some green fruit to enable the test.

onthevineThe sauce is easy to prepare. It’s a lively blending of tart fruit, hot pepper, rich olive oil, and plenty of garlic. I believe it would be a good recipe to use in the winter months with pale, firm supermarket tomatoes. I’m going to give that a try, too.

I’m curious if any SimpleItaly readers have relatives or friends who live in, or are from, Abruzzo who prepare a similar sauce. Please share a Comment if you do.


recipe for Green Tomato Pasta Sauce