Pasta the Italian Way

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
Published by W.W. Norton with illustrations by Luciana Marini and photographs by Gentl & Hyers

Published by W.W. Norton with illustrations by Luciana Marini and photographs by Gentl & Hyers

Unlike pasta which is often best served right after cooking, this post has simmered on the back burner for a few months.

I wanted time to peruse the 400 pages of Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way by Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant, which was released last fall to rave reviews. De Vita is an authority on the history and variety of the country’s regional cooking. Fant is a writer and native New Yorker who has made Rome her home for more than 30 years.

Reading the book has been like a conversation with trusted culinary colleagues. In some sections my head bobbles up and down in affirmation. At other times, I cock my head as a fresh idea leads me to consider something in a new way.

read more about Sauces & Shapes

Little Shop in Florence

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
Just off the luxury goods trail in Florence, Sandra's little shop beckons with hidden "treasures."

Just off the luxury goods trail in Florence, Sandra’s little shop beckons with hidden “treasures.”

Ferragamo didn’t need to open its Salvatore Ferragamo Museo just for me. I approach all the luxury goods temples—Prada, Roberto Cavalli, Bulgari–on Florence’s stylish Via Tornabuoni with a gaze-in-awe-but-don’t-touch reverence. Owning these baubles is not for me but I can admire the artistry as I would the masterworks in a museum.

So, imagine my surprise on a blindingly sunny morning in April when I wandered a few footsteps east of the Salvatore Ferragamo Museo on peaceful Via B. SS. Apostoli to discover a shop called Sandra.

Gorgeous globe artichokes fresh from Sandra's garden.

Gorgeous globe artichokes fresh from Sandra’s garden.

At 41r, tucked into a street level space no wider than a train car, Sandra was honoring her store motto: “di tutto un pò un pò di più” (a little of everything and a little more). Surrounding the entrance were crates of fruits, vegetables, braids of garlic, copper pots, painted wooden plaques, bunches of dried flowers. Sandra said she had plucked the artichokes from her garden that morning.

Stepping over the threshold was like entering a time machine back to Florence of 30, 40, or 50 years ago. On the shelves and from the ceiling were household items, oils, vinegars, herbs, jewelry, collectibles, petite chandeliers. Every centimeter offered a new treasure.

Sandra occupied the space behind the glass refrigerated display case at the back. It was stocked with salume and formaggi, no doubt to fortify serious Sandra shoppers who might want to inspect everything on the premises.

Wild fragolini and their hybrid cousins.

Wild fragolini and their hybrid cousins.

I wondered to myself how Sandra could afford the rent in this alta moda area given the price points of the merchandise. As I paid for my lovely little olive wood mortar and pestle and fragolini (tiny sweet wild strawberries—the only strawberries that would have been in a Florence market 30, 40, or 50 years ago), I said a silent “grazie” to Sandra for having di tutto up pò.

Sandra, Via B. SS. Apostoli, 41r, Firenze, (055) 28.34.10


A Break with Nespresso

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
Nespresso's pop-up caffe at Manhattan's Grand Central Station is the ticket to a genuine Italian coffee experience.

Nespresso’s pop-up caffe at Manhattan’s Grand Central Station is the ticket to a genuine Italian coffee experience.

By Tess Sanders

Today I was transported within the walls of legendary Grand Central Station. No, I was not catching a train for a beach getaway. I traveled briefly to Italy with Nespresso.

Until June 6, Nespresso is offering complimentary cups of their pod-brewed beverages to celebrate their new home brewing machine, the VertuoLine.

Amidst the bustle of New Yorkers and tourists alike, I met with Nespresso demonstrator Fabio Ferrari (yes, his real name) who told me the company’s cross-cultural origin story, a Swiss entrepenuer who became enamored of Italy. Watch the video story here.

And that signature Italian crema? Ferrari tells me that after countless Nespresso customers asked for it, the company delivered with the new VertuoLine: a pod system that brews an American size cup of coffee with the delicate flavor of crema, the creamy foam that crowns genuine Italian espresso.

As Ferrari—a Modena native—sees it, coffee preferences reveal cups-full about cultural proclivities.

“Italians socialize around food… The espresso signals that food is over and it’s time to get back to work.” Compare that to Americans who “invented fast food” and use coffee, instead of meals, to socialize.

The VertuoLine allows users to taste it all, brewing both espresso and coffee. In the time it took me to enjoy a cappuccino and begin a coffee, I’d learned Ferrari’s story (a “caffeine-crazy boyfriend” introduced him to Nespresso and he left his life “in a golden cage” as a 9 to 5er to begin demonstrating for the coffee company).

My only complaint about the cappuccino: it was prepared with 1% milk instead of the full-fat stuff. The coffee was the most flavorful pod-brewed I’d ever sipped. The head is lush, rivaling a Guinness!

My tastings were prepared after three staff members consulted about my preferences (the more bitter, the better if you’re wondering—though only in matters of chocolate and coffee), and the three-on-one consultation was a delight. You can revel in Nespresso’s escapism all week at Grand Central.

If you’re lucky you’ll meet Ferrari, who, in his own words, will lure you into the world of bold flavors and won’t contaminate the experience with a sales pitch.

Kanye West and Kim Kardashian Choose Florence

Friday, May 23rd, 2014
Will Florence's 16th century Forte Belvedere--constructed to protect the Medici city-- withstand the hordes of paparazzi at Kimye's nuptials?

Will Florence’s 16th century Forte Belvedere–constructed to protect the Medici city from enemy armies– withstand the hordes of paparazzi at Kimye’s nuptials?

How hip is the Oltrarno, across the Arno River from Florence’s tourist-action-packed centro?

Extremely hip.

Hip-hop genius Kanye West will wed reality TV princess Kim Kardashian in the 16th century Forte Belvedere, perched on the southern hilltop of the Oltrarno, on Saturday, May 24, 2014.

Walter and Sharon recently explored the less-traveled quarters of Santo Spirito and San Frediano in the Oltrarno and filed this report for

Gelato in Florence

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
Gelato maestro Toni Cafarelli churns out sweet memories at Il Re Gelato.

Gelato maestro Toni Cafarelli churns out sweet memories at Il Re Gelato.

On my recent three-day stay in Florence, I sampled a pair of artisinal gelaterie that I’ve been hearing about. Years ago when I lived in Florence in the Santa Croce quarter, there was only one choice. Vivoli was our spot—superb gelato five minutes away from our apartment. It remains a fine gelateria but these days the number of gelato shops in Florence is expanding faster than a kid’s wish list in December.

Il Re Gelato

Sicilian Toni Cafarelli is the gelato king as far as I’m concerned. He appears on Italian TV and gained major press for his olive oil gelato. The pistacchio and cioccolato fondente we sampled were intensely flavored and caressed our tongues. The fiordilatte (flower of the milk), flecked with candied orange peel, was like eating specks of sunshine.

Located on the busy ring road Viale Strozzi near the Fortezza da Basso and the train station, the shop was filled with locals. In fact, we were the only foreigners. A selection of Sicilian pastries is also on offer. You can try a freshly baked brioche stuffed with gelato in the southern style.
Viale Strozzi 8/r


Like buried treasure, the gelato at Carapina is kept under cover.

Like buried treasure, the gelato at Carapina is kept under cover.

Another ultra artisanal shop, Carapina breaks with the tradition of displaying mountains of gelato on trays set in glass cases (visual stimulation=increased sales). Instead, the gelato is kept in stainless steel tubs covered with stainless steel lids to keep out air and light, and thus maintain freshness. 

The flavors we tried–cioccolato fondente, crema, and caffè–were all smooth and lovely. We visited the Via Lambertesca location tucked between Piazza della Signoria and the Arno River. The main shop is on Campo di Marte and there’s also a Rome location.

Via Lambertesca 18r
Campo di Marte, Piazza Guglielmo Oberan 2r
Camp de’ Fiori, Via de Chiavari 37/37a (Rome)

For more tempting gelato spots in Florence, check out Toni Lydecker’s article in the Tampa Bay Times and Elizabeth Minchilli’s blog post.

What do you say is the best gelateria in Florence?