Tag Archives: Italy

Chicago Gourmet Recap Coming Soon + Aperol Spritz

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be invited to Chicago Gourmet, an annual food and wine extravaganza that showcases some of Chicago’s best restaurants alongside international food and drink. As in years past, it was a wonderful time, and I am working on posting a comprehensive recap within the next few days. In the meantime, you can check out the ETW Instagram feed for some of my favorite Chicago Gourmet pictures.

We had so much delicious international food and drink, that is is hard to pick a single thing to use as a teaser, but we decided to go with something refreshing and Italian: The Aperol Spritz. Even though it is technically fall, it still feels pretty summery outside, so why not! The Campari Group had a booth at Chicago Gourmet, as in years past, and it always fun to try out some of the Italian cocktails there, like the classic Negroni. This year we went for the Aperol Spritz, a refreshing summer-y cocktail made from Prosecco, Aperol liquer, and soda that is one of Italy’s iconic beverages. Aperol is a liqueur made from bitter oranges, gentian and other herbs and spices, and is similar to Campari, but with a lower alcohol content.  We have only had it a few times before, but we are fans!


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Bagna Cauda at Della in Brooklyn

Italy Bagna Calda / Bagna Càuda is a homey Northern Italian dish from Piemonte made primarily with butter, oil, garlic and anchovies. It is a mainstay at our own family celebrations, but we have never seen it on a restaurant menu… until now! We were at Della (1238 Prospect Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11218) in Brooklyn with friends, when we spotted the bagna cauda on the menu, and we just had to order it. Della has a homey Italian-inflected menu of fish, hearty meat dishes, homemade pastas and some unusual appetizers (case in point).  The homemade pasta was delicious, but the bagna cauda was even better. It came served in a small bowl, with endive, radishes and chunks of bread for dipping. We had to ask for more bread to sop everything up- delicious! We encourage you to make bagna calda on your own for your next party – it couldn’t be easier. Even if you don’t normally like anchovies, you can’t help but love the salty, garlicky goodness!



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Pastry Post-Doc: ‘Mpanatigghi

SicilyA few weeks ago we did a feature on the surprising Mexican origins of Modica chocolate in Sicily, which was brought over by the Spaniards. While researching Modica chocolate, we learned of another quirky Modica recipe with a Spanish connection – the Mpanatigghi cookie (Impanatiglie in standard Italian). The word “‘Mpanatigghi” is a Sicilian-ization of the Spanish word “empanada/empanadilla”, and its half-moon shape is certainly empanada-like. The filling of a ‘Mpanatigghi cookie is chocolate, cinnamon and almonds, but also something pretty unusual – a little bit of beef! Sounds pretty weird until you think of savory Oaxacan moles with chocolate-tinged sauce. Perhaps this cookie also has a bit of Mexican influence somewhere? Even being familiar with Sicilian cookies – this unusual concoction is a new one for us – here’s a recipe for the culinary adventurers out there.


Photo from Anita’s Italy

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The Mexican Roots of Modica Chocolate

Mexico FlagItalyThe story of Modica chocolate is one of our favorites, and we are looking forward to bringing it to you in advance of of the most visible Mexican holiday in the US, Cinco de Mayo. So we know that chocolate is a new-world creation, and was popular among Aztecs (where it was known as Xocoàtl) for centuries. So now that chocolate has spread the whole world over, where can you still find the most traditional Aztec recipes? Sicily! No, I am not joking. It turns out that Sicily, conquered many times over, was under Spanish rule while the Spanish were also colonizing the new world, and these colonizers brought back the Aztec recipes for chocolate to Sicily. These traditional recipes are still made in certain parts of Sicily today with nothing but cacao, sugar and (maybe) spices.ModicaChoc

The process of making the chocolate by grinding it on a metate (as it was originally in Mexico) imparts a pleasantly gritty, natural texture to the chocolate, which is delicious and completely unique. A historical and picturesque Sicilian town in the province of Ragusa, Modica, is known for its expertise in all things chocolate, and is home to several longstanding chocolate shops producing chocolate the traditional Aztec way, which has become known in Italy as “Modica Chocolate.”AnticaBonajutoOn our trip to Sicily, we took a visit to Modica to see this piece of chocolate history for ourselves, and stopped at the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto (Corso Umberto I, 159, 97015 Modica RG, Italy), one of the more famous chocolatiers, in operation since 1880. This shop in particular is known for their wide variety of Modica chocolates made on the premises. The chocolate bars here come in almost every cacao percentage, plus unique flavors like lime, marjoram, almond and orange peel. Fortunately they let you sample, so we were happy to taste a bunch of varieties before we arrive on our two favorite picks: sea salt and hot chili.ADBCannoliWhile you can find good traditional Mexican chocolate in Oaxaca and other places in Mexico itself, what Sicily has to offer is on par with these treats. And truth to be told – we could see that this chocolate and that found in Oaxaca were cousins, maybe even siblings. If you are unable to visit Modica itself, you can get the Modica-made Sabadi chocolate bars at Eataly. P.S. If you visit the Bonajuto shop they also have the best cannoli ever!

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Forno Rosso Neapolitan Pizza in Chicago

ItalyForno Rosso (1048 W Randolph St., Chicago, IL) recently opened up a West Loop branch of their original Harlem avenue pizzeria, complete with a signature red tile oven (the titular “Forno Rosso”). Authenticity is the name of the game at Forno Rosso, and it is one of only three restaurants in Illinois to be given the official mark of authentic Neapolian Pizzas – the Verace Pizza Napoletana – which dictates the flour, cook time, oven, etc. needed to formulate the most authentic Neapolitan pizza. Despite its close adherence to tradition, this branch of Forno Rosso is brand new, and gives off a sleek urban vibe with muted grays. FornoPizza Continue reading

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Brunch with an Italian twist at Bar Siena

ItalyThe West Loop is on fire! Well, not literally, but it seems that a great new restaurant is opening up nearly every week, from Japanese to small plates, to Italian. When I was searching for good birthday-appropriate brunch and lunch options, my search led to many options in the West Loop, where we landed on the relatively-new Bar Siena (832 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL), a venture from Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani.

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Sampling Sicilian Food in Siracusa: La Gazza Ladra

SicilyUp and down the picturesque old town – Ortigia – in Siracusa, Sicily, tiny osterias line the alleys, and it is nearly impossible to choose which one to visit. In Osteria La Gazza Ladra (Via Cavour,8 – 96100, Siracusa, Sicily) or “Magpie” we found a spectacular hole-in-the-wall serving up tasty, homemade Sicilian food at reasonable prices. The moniker osteria used to refer to an inn, but now just refers to a rustic bar or restaurant where you are likely to get a good home-cooked meal. The menu is small and consists mainly of specials that are updated daily. The restaurant had only 8 tables and we had the sheer luck to arrive at about 9:30 PM JUST as a table was vacating. Sicilian food is very different than what most Americans associate with typical Italian food, and Sicilian cuisine focuses on fish, nuts, citrus and olive oil. GazzaLadra Continue reading


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Calabria Pork Store: Soppressata Paradise in NYC


ItalyOkay, vegetarian and vegan readers, now is the time to look away. So you probably already have, given the leading picture on this post. If you were wondering about that pictures, yes, the entire ceiling covered with meat, spicy Calabrian dried and cured salami, soppressata, to be exact. The Calabria Pork Store (2338 Arthur Ave., The Bronx) in the heart of the Bronx’ Little Italy, is a real throwback, and is one of the only places you can see meat hanging up at a butcher (a practice that used to be common). The soppressata, for which the shop is rightly famous, comes in mild and spicy varieties, and you can buy a whole or half link. However, the soppressata is only half the story, you can buy all manner of other fresh sausage and cuts of meat behind the counter, by unit or weight. To make a meal of it you can also buy provolone, olives and other cold deli items. M got a tub of sliced, cured Calabrian sausage to eat throughout the day in the manner of potato chips. It’s worth it to visit for the atmosphere alone, but the soppressata is the real deal, and is a must-try for any lover of cured meats.

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Our Favorite Italian Bakery in Philadelphia: Isgro Pasticceria

ItalyWhen I went to school in Philadelphia, an essential component to my foodie explorations was a monthly pilgrimage to Isgro Pasticceria in South Philly (1009 Christian St., Philadelphia). I used to bring home a box of cannolis from there on the holidays, despite some major flak from the TSA (the major question: Is ricotta a liquid?). Year in and year out, I still think Isgro has the best cannolis, and I think it’s about time they were featured on ETW. Isgro’s is the type of old-school Italian bakery that once graced most major Northern metropolises, and they have been doing business in Philly since 1904. The difference is, Isgro’s is still here, and they are baking up pastries and cookies like it is still 1940. IsgrosStepping into Isgro’s is like stepping back into time, from the retro store, to the gruff but friendly service, to the shelves piled high with cannoli shells. There is definitely too much to chose from, so long story short, get the cannoli. The traditional type, filled with ricotta with chocolate chips my favorite, but you can also get special chocolate or mascarpone varieties.  However, I think the ricotta strikes the perfect balance of a sweet, but not too sweet, filling and super fresh crispy shell, which is filled to order. The filling to order is essential – as it preserves the integrity of the crispy shell. M pointed out that Isgro’s website is Bestcannoli.com and while that is pretty somewhat boastful – we think it’s true!Cannolo1Beyond that, Isgro’s serves a huge variety of Italian-American favorites like pignoli, biscotti, Rum Baba, Sfogliatelle and tiramisu. On the American dessert side they have heaps of fruit tarts, brownies and spritz cookies. On our last visit, there were even special pastries and cookies dedicated to the Pope’s 2015 visit (and Isgro’s was even tapped to make him dessert). Everything we tried there has been excellent, but we keep coming back for the cannoli. If you are in Philly, definitely give Isgro’s a try, if you like cannolis it is an absolute must.We wish we lived closer!

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Archestratus: Sicilian Food and Cookbooks in Brooklyn


SicilyThere is nothing we love more than a bookstore/cafe combo, and though they are already popular in other parts of the world, it seems that more and have been popping up in the US recently. A good example of this trend is Archestratus Books & Foods (160 Huron St., Greenpoint, Brooklyn), a cookbook/food book shop with a Sicilian bakery and cafe. Food books and Sicilian cuisine – two of our favorite things! Named after the Greek-Sicilian philosopher Archestratus, owner Paige Lipari calls on her heritage to serve classic Sicilian treats like cannoli and arancini in the cafe. In addition to the books and food, Archestratus also hosts demos and events. Continue reading

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Lemon Ricotta di Bufala Cheese from Puglia


ItalyWe came across one of the most unusual cheeses we have ever encountered at the new Whole Foods in Cleveland, which looked like tiny wedges of lemon cheesecake. Turns out it was a baked buffalo milk ricotta, flavored with lemon, from the Puglia region in Italy. When the ricotta is baked it takes on the texture and consistency of a cheesecake! So is it a dessert or a cheese? Maybe a little of both…. When it is whole, the cheese looks like a round or bundt cake (which may vary between brands), and you can buy the whole thing or little wedges. So even though you will usually find this in the cheese section, we think it may be better suited to the dessert case. We also saw this cheese in the inimitable DiBruno Brothers in Philadelphia, so we are hoping it will be relatively common in cheese stores with better selections (or Zabar’s online). We think we have found the perfect dessert for cheese lovers (or cheese for dessert lovers)!


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Ossi dei Morti – Italian bone cookies for Day of the Dead

ItalyWe love making special food for the holidays, and foods for Halloween/ Day of the Dead tend to have a bit of a macabre bent, which is always fun! Many foods for these holidays feature bones, skulls or similar shapes, and we are always interested to see how this is even true across cultures. Pan de Muerto from Mexico is topped with mini dough bones, and we recently discovered an Italian cookie that is all bones – the “ossi dei morti/ossa dei morti” – bones of the dead. The “Ossi” are like biscotti, and are flavored with almond and cinnamon/clove. Though this cookie is from the region of Piedmont north of Italy, it is found throughout the country. Good Food Stories has a good-looking recipe, as does Passion and Cooking which includes hazelnuts and a slightly less macabre shape.

Ossi dei Morti

Ossi dei Morti in Philadelphia by cherdt


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Vero Pizza Napoletana in Cleveland

ItalyDespite being Italian, both eaters are paridoxically not much into going out for pizza. Maybe this is because so much of it is mediocre? But when we do go for pizza, we either do Neapolitan-style of Chicago-style deep-dish (Yes, Chicago-style IS pizza). So when we heard about Vero Pizza Napoletana (12421 Cedar Rd, Cleveland Heights, OH) and the accolades heaped on it and its owner Marc-Aurele Buholzer we were cautiously excited. The focus here is on Neapolitan pizzas cooked in authentic 900° wood-fire oven (inside which a pizza is cooked in only 90 seconds). Vero’s interior is sleek and simple, and has two stories – but even so, it is not a huge place. Another feature of the second floor is that you can look right into the kitchen and see the oven and pizzaiolo at work, which is pretty cool.


The only thing on Vero’s menu is basically pizza (10″ pizzas that serve one, with a little to spare), which we always appreciate in a pizza place. The varieties available at Vero run the gamut from classic to creative ad include pizzas with and without red sauce – the Blanca features mozzarella, basil and garlic (and no red sauce). The inventive Milk ‘n’ Honey is topped with a farm egg (which you can also add to other pizzas for $2) and wild honey. For those feeling peckish, you can get a local cheese platter, olives or charcuterie to start off your meal.

PizzaMargheritaFirst, we selected one of our favorite pizzas, the stalwart Margherita – tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella – the classic by which we judge almost any pizzeria. Next, we opted for the “Capua” variety which was topped with prosciutto, arugula and Parmesan cheese. The pizzas arrived quickly, as advertised. The pies initially come out uncut and the server will cut them for you into whatever configuration you may wish. The traditional way to eat this kind of pizza is by knife and fork anyway. Overall, the topping were fresh, generous and uniformly excellent, and the sauce was the perfect consistency. The crust was a little thicker than Neapolitan pies might be, but we don’t have any complaints. PizzaPro

The hype behind Vero’s fresh and authentic pizzas turned out to be warranted, as evidenced by the fact that we practically inhaled our pizzas. We also appreciated Vero’s commitment to the art of Neapolitan pizza. For example, in addition to the authentic oven of course, Vero doesn’t deliver pizzas and instead focuses on having the in-person Neapolitan experience. This makes perfect sense, since this kind of pizza really doesn’t taste the same unless you are eating it fresh out of the oven. We would definitely go back for another pizza fix soon, especially since we are so far from our deep-dish alternatives. As if that wasn’t enough, the gelato in the front counter looked pretty good, too.VeroInterior

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Eating like a local in Venice

ItalyWe were afraid to eat in Venice. Maybe it is because of a super strict ordinance serving fines and police scrutiny for eating in St. Mark’s square. Not that many tourists would have dared, considering that St. Marks was well under 2 feet of water when we arrived on a soggy cold day. However, with this first impression, we were a little intimidated, since getting food from various shops, cobbling together a picnic meal and eating al fresco is our obligatory European mealtime.

But, no matter, we figured out a way to do it, and you can too. Our first stop was the Rialto Market. Rialto Market is a classic open-air fruit and veggie market. It is surprisingly un-touristy though you will find quite a few tourists alongside the hustle and bustle of locals. By 2:30 everything is pretty much closed up – so hurry to get there before lunchtime if you can. We picked up some Sicilian oranges and sundried tomatoes, though as you can see there is a wide  variety of produce available (and even some chili peppers and flowers).
In order to supplement our fruit and veg we got cheese and prosciutto at Casa Del Parmigiano (San Polo, 214, 30125 Venezia). It is an absolutely tiny little store, but is completely packed with cheese. In fact, this is probably one of the highest cheese-to-square foot ratios I have ever seen. The store has been in operation since 1936 and you can tell they are experts at the craft of cheese. There is every type of Italian cheese under the sun We got some goat’s milk Latteria della Valsassina cheese to go, which was creamy and mild.  In addition, there is a small but well-curated selection of prosciutto, and the San Daniele we chose was among some of the finest we ever tasted. We picked up two little ciabatta rolls from a grocery shop nearby to complete our sandwich. We ate clandestinely, evading authorities just off the Rialto market under a covered sidewalk that led to some sort of governmental building.


Our final stop Gelatoteca SuSo (Calle della Bissa, 5453, 30124 San Marco, Venezia). It is a little way back from the canal and found it only through a 6th sense that directs us toward gelato products. Suso makes gelato artiginale – artisinal gelato – produced in-house in a large number of unusual flavors.  M got the Orient Express (cinnamon, clove and caramel) and L got Death in Venice [ha ha!] – coffee and chocolate swirl. The gelato was excellent, and the perfect finish to our al fresco lunch. Though we had to do it on the sly – we managed to find (and eat) some non-touristy food in Venice.


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D’Amato’s, an old school Italian bakery on West Grand Avenue

ItalyD’Amato’s (1124 W Grand Ave., Chicago, IL) is the type of place that hasn’t changed in decades. Like Bari, D’Amato’s is carrying on the tradition of the old Italian enclave that once existed (and now exists in pockets) on West Grand Avenue in Chicago. Carrying it one step further, this cash-only place has a ornate, copper cash register from the 1920s. We tried to get a video of it in action, but we were so mesmerized that we couldn’t even get a proper shot. However, go take a look for yourself, we know you will be mesmerized too.


The stock in trade at D’Amato’s is classic Italian American baked goods and thick squares of coal-fired Sicilian pizza. They are known for their cannolis – you can even get a giant cannoli filled with miniature cannolis, one of our favorite things in existence. For Lent, they also are famous for their zeppole, the Sicilian fried doughnuts, which were superlative. We also tried another assortment of Italian treats including sfogliatelle and chocolate dipped cookies. Everything was tasty but the zeppole were standouts, and we really look forward to trying their Sicilian pizza!

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Colomba Pasquale / Colomba di Pasqua Italian Easter dove bread

ItalyItalians are all about festive breads for holidays: Christmas has Panettone, and Columba di Pasqua (“Easter Dove” in English) is brought out for Easter. Like panettone, this Milanese bread is made with yeast, and filled with candied citrus peel, however what sets it apart is its unique dove shape and a generous topping of pearl sugar. Also like panettone, it is a little hard and time-consuming to make, and requires a yeast starter. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth an effort, and King Arthur Flour has a great and detailed recipe. They are typically baked in dove-shaped paper or metal pans (though the King Arthur Flour recipe goes freeform), but if you don’t have those, you can buy your Easter dove at many Italian bakeries, Eataly, and even Trader Joe’s.

Colomba di Pasqua

Colomba di Pasqua by Nicola


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Real Italian Sandwiches, Real Old School, at Bari

ItalyBari (1120 West Grand Avenue #1, Chicago, IL) is one of those old school places that seems impervious to time. Bari sells, as you would guess, sandwiches, and has been open since 1973. These sandwiches come with a variety of meat and cheeses, including turkey, mozzarella, roast beef and prosciutto. You can also get sides like olives, pasta salad and Italian wedding soup. However, what really sets Bari apart is their quality ingredients, the low prices and the sheer enormity of the sandwiches. For example, my favorite go-to Bari sandwich is the prosciutto and mozzarella on focaccia ($10) – which comes on an entire round LOAF of focaccia. For 10 dollars you can easily feed 3 people on one sandwich (sandwich doesn’t even seem to be the appropriate word here…maybe platter?). The subs also come in a variety of sizes (9″, 12″ and even 3 feet), so you don’t have to be quite as gluttonous – though many of the 3 foot sandwiches are still under $20. We ordered Bari for lunch at work (it is on GrubHub and delivers to the loop FYI), and everyone at work brought home leftovers.

A single focaccia sandwich from Bario

A single focaccia sandwich from Bari

However, the sandwiches are only one component of the Bari experience. It is also a full Italian deli – you can get imported meats and cheeses by weight, homemade pasta sauce and sausages, along with olive oil, pasta and canned goods. If you are a fan of heat, don’t forget Bari’s famous extra hot giardineira, a classic topping for any Chicago sub. While waiting to check out, you can even get a copy of Fra Noi, the Chicagoland Italian newspaper or chocolates. Going to Bari is like stepping into the Grand Avenue of the past, and it’s a lot of fun! You certainly wont leave hungry.

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Old School Italian Grocery in Miami: Laurenzo’s

ItalyWe are obsessed with old school Italian groceries, and we absolutely pine for an offshoot of our gold standard, Tenuta’s to open in Chicago. Laurenzo’s (16445 W Dixie Hwy, North Miami Beach, FL 33160) is Miami’s answer to Tenuta’s, an old-school 1960s era supermarket with a little restaurant inside and a prodigious selection of olive oil and cheese. We were on our way to Hollywood beach for the day, so we decided we needed to pack a perfect picnic. Fortunately, Laurenzo’s had everything that we needed. We wandered the aisles, spending some extra time in front of the cheese counter, where we spied imported mozzarella and provolone. The baked goods selection was also pretty impressive, with a rainbow selection of Italian cookies and house-made cannoli. We could have piled up a basket or two of food, but we tried to keep our appetites in check. Check out the photos below of our wanderings through the store (and of course, we’ll definitely be back next time we end up in Miami). We ended up buying some crostini, buffalo mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes and prosciutto. These are our typical picnic fixin’s, but not typical beach food. We still think it pairs pretty well with the sun and sand!


The deli counter at Laurenzo’s


Pannettone and Italian Cookies


Stay and sit for a while at the cafe.


Cheese, cheese and more cheese.


Not your typical beach picnic, but delicious!

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538’s International Food Association World Cup: Results are In

We wrote a little bit earlier about 538 Blog’s International Food Association World Cup, where users could vote for their favorite national cuisines. While the World Cup of Futebol has been over for a while, the Food Cup just ended. The four teams making it into the semi-finals were Italy, USA, Thailand and Mexico, which seems like a pretty solid match-up. The final round was between the USA and Italy, and Italy eventually prevailed. Not too surprised with the result – who doesn’t love Italian food?

Varieties of Rum Baba (and friends) in naples

Italian Pastries – just one of the country’s many culinary delights

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Farm Fresh in Naples: Agriturismo Tre Piccioni

Tre Piccioni
Via Tre Piccioni, 73
Pozzuoli, Italy

ItalyWe love going to countries and experiencing a wholly new restaurant genre. The kilo restaurant was one of our favorites in Brazil; but in Italy we first encountered the Agriturismo. Agriturismos are restaurants run by local farmers. Typically open only on weekends, their owners prepare fresh, ingredient-forward meals based on whatever is in season at the farm. You just sit back, tell the owner how many there will be in your party, and see what you get served.

Our friends Maya and Chris, temporary expats from the US, lived near agriturismo Tre Piccioni (“Three Pigeons”), in the town of Pozzuoli, just west of Naples proper. Definitely off the beaten tourist path, you can only get there by car, and if you blink you might miss it. Maya and Chris were also good friends with the amiable proprietor, Paolo. Paolo’s menu changes constantly, though it seems he puts it on the website as well. Maya and Chris warned us to come with a full appetite: Paolo typically serves an antipasto, a primo and segundo piatto, a dessert, coffee and a carafe of house wine – all for the very reasonable price of 20 euros a head.


When we arrived we were heartily greeted by Paolo, who promptly given a  carafe of house wine, fresh bread and a fresh ball of mozzarella. The mozzarella was a show stopper, and we could have eaten 2 or 3 more. For our antipasti we were served sliced prosciutto, eggplant parmigiana, fried zucchini and chickpea flour fritters (crocche); a nice little taste of some of the street food we also enjoyed in Sicily.


For our primi, we actually were served 2 pasta dishes for the table. First was gnocchi alla Sorrentina. This consisted of tiny gnocchi (much smaller than we had seen elsewhere) covered in a red sauce and sprinkled with cheese and a hint of fresh basil. We also enjoyed a pasta with broccoli sauce – a new dish we had never tried before. The pastas came out family-style on a big plate, but don’t worry, there was MORE than enough for everyone. However, we are still kicking ourselves for letting the waiter take away the gnocchi plate while there were still gnocchi to be consumed.


For our mains we were served a hearty plate of pork cutlets and sausages, with a side of somewhat limp fries that we mostly picked over. There was also an unusual side salad seasoned only with salt, and accented with lime juice. Perhaps a little too much salt for L’s taste, but M enjoyed the simplicity. Either way, good to have some veggies!


For dessert we had a light raspberry panna cotta, which was extremely tasty, though it almost pushed us over to the point of bursting. The meal was finished up with a glass of homemade limoncello (very strong), and tiny cups of espresso (what else?). We were so stuffed we couldn’t believe it! All this for 20 euros apiece. If we lived nearby there’d barely be reason to cook at home, since everything was nice and fresh, and just like eating at a friend’s house. Now let’s work on bringing some of these agriturismi to the US!

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