[Thoughts on the Table – 78] A Chat with Award-winning Author Andrew Cotto

Andrew Cotto is an award-winning American writer of Italian descent. His latest novel titled Cucina Tipica tells the fascinating adventure of a young American who falls in love with Tuscany and with the culture of its people. Naturally, food and wine end up setting the pace and become deeply entrenched in the story.

I was humbled to be contacted by Mr. Cotto who sent me a copy of the book for consideration as he thought it would fit with the theme of the podcast. After reading it, I couldn’t agree more! Please join us in this episode where we discuss the novel in its many aspects–from the significance of food in the Italian culture to the chemistry of taste, from culture shock and relocation to speaking a foreign language and what it does to interactions and introspection.

You can follow Andrew Cotto on andrewcotto.com as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and InstagramCucina Tipica is available on Amazon.


As an “appetizer” for the book, Andrew sent me a recap in the form of a Food and Wine Plot Menu with 24 tastes each corresponding to a food scene in the novel. Enjoy!

Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure
A Novel by Andrew Cotto

Food & Wine Plot Menu

Food and Wine Plot Menu

Novel Overview: Cucina Tipica is the story of a disheartened American who arrives in Italy on holiday and decides he never wants to leave. What follows is a wine-soaked, food-filled travel adventure about one man’s quest for an antiquated existence in the modern world.

Jacoby Pines – a forlorn young American with a “golden palate” and hopes of redemption in Italy
Claire – a travel writer and Jacoby’s fiancee
Bill – a septuagenarian ex-pat from Texas and Jacoby’s wingman in the “adventure”
Paolo – Jacoby and Claire’s neighbor and landlord in the hills south of Florence near the village of Antella
Dolores – Claire’s “outrageous” English cousin and “Chiantishire” resident
Helen – An Aussie/English ex-pat and Florence museum guide

1st Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: Excelsior Palace Hotel – Rapallo, Italy
Food: Prosciutto, cheese, olives, dried lemons, fresh figs
Wine: Prosecco
Additional Notes: They ate with their hands and drank from the bottle, leaving stains and crumbs on the bed sheets, which Claire attempted to clear before removing her bikini bottom…

2nd Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: A “hole-in-the-wall” seafood osteria in Rapallo
Food: a basket of lightly fried calamari, shrimp, bream and whole anchovy seasoned with salt and lemon; pureed and garlicky fish soup; steamed prawns dipped in aioli; grilled sardines; plates of pasta with pesto and plates of pasta with clams
Wine: Carafes of Vermentino
Additional Notes: They shared the meal of seafood by the seaside in the Rapallo back alley as completely as possible, holding hands under and above the table, kissing frequently, filling each other’s glasses, and laughing throughout the two hours of slow and utter indulgence.

3rd Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Paolo
Where: The terrace behind Paolo’s villa featuring a wood-burning oven
Food: Handmade pizza with olives, anchovy fillets, and fresh basil; “Misto Arrosto” – a mixed roast of lamb, sausage, rabbit, liver in caul fat, guinea hen, halved-potatoes, heads of garlic, caramelized carrot and fennel.
Wine: “Local Chianti” – DOCG Colli Fiorentini, Grappa
Additional Notes: Jacoby felt as peaceful and inspired as he had in months. Maybe ever. The best two meals of his life had been had over the first two days in Italy. The country itself was more beautiful than pictures could capture. The people spoke a lovely language and wore elegant clothes. It was all good. And he wanted in.

4th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: Comune di Norcia (Umbria)
Food: Porchetta sandwich for Jacoby; salad of wilted wild mushrooms atop bitter local greens for Claire
Drinks: Soft

5th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: An elegant agriturismo in Le Marche
Food: Charcuterie plate of house-cured meats; silky thick noodles topped with black truffles; lamb roast; Pecorino cheese drizzled with honey
Wine: Rosso Piceno
Additional Notes: After dinner, they roamed the silent grounds and made love on a pool-side chaise lounge after skinny dipping in the cool water that rippled with shards of silver moonlight.

6th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: The tiny piazza in Panzano-in-Chianti
Wine: Brunello di Montalcino
Additional Notes: Claire tucked into Jacoby’s side and put a foot up on the bench against the back of her leg. They silently swirled the wine and took small sips, staring at the valley beyond the village that burned gold with smoldering sunshine of a fading afternoon. Jacoby savored the apple smell of Claire’s radiant hair and the feel of her lithe body pressed into his. He thought that they, in that still pose, would make a great statue, like a modern Apollo and Daphne, frozen in marble so that their love would always last.

7th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Claire, Dolores
Where: Restaurant in Panzano owned by a young butcher (inspired by the auspices of Dario Cecchini)
Food: Bistecca Fiorentina, uccellini in brodo (white beans with tomatoes in broth)
Wine: Vecchie Terre di Montefili – Chianti Classico
Additional Notes: The flavor of the beef was as profound and complex as any Jacoby had ever tasted. Steak in the States was bland, in need of sauce, but this simply-prepared choice cut was perfectly grilled – seared on the outside, rare and warm internally – helped by hints of lemon and rosemary and coarse salt while letting the flavor of the meat itself dominate. Amazing. Transcendental. Good f****** lord.

8th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Claire, Dolores
Where: Terrace behind the barn where they lived on Paolo’s property
Food: Eggs with prosciutto and sage, bread
Wine: Prosecco
Additional Notes: Jacoby loved cooking for people, then sharing the meal and the mutual pleasure of being together. Eating the same food; drinking the same wine; everyone on the same stage. It was like sex when sex was good and mutual. What people called “making love.”

9th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Claire, Dolores
Where: Mercato Centrale, Florence
Food: Margherita Pizza
Wine: Moralino di Scansano

10th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini, Antella
Food: Sausage and eggs with stewed tomatoes
Drink: Espresso
Additional Notes: “I’ve been an ex-pat for 35 years, and the only thing I miss about America is breakfast,” – Bill

11th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini
Food: Spring Minestrone (generous with pieces of artichoke, asparagus and carrots in a broth of pureed onions and leeks with a snap of garlic); fresh fettuccine with fava beans and Pecorino; rabbit loin wrapped in pancetta over polenta dotted with green olives
Drinks: Negroni, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Grappa
Additional Notes: Bill and Jacoby ate and drank and spoke of their looming adventure into Florence proper, in search of a matriarch holed up in a palace marked by a cat statue. They laughed at their dim prospects, which were soothed by the magnificent meal and flowing wine.

12th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: Florence, food stand near the Sant’Ambrogio market
Food: Lampredotto sandwiches
Wine: Chianti in plastic cups
Additional Notes: The aroma out of the stand was pungent; the sandwich warm in his hand, of tomato infused broth and hearty filling tucked between the bread. The taste was super savory to the bite, ample aromatics and a soft texture from the holy trinity of bread and filling and broth.

13th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Bill, Helen
Where: Florence, a gazebo in Piazza Signoria
Wine: Prosecco
Additional Notes: “Why, yes. Yes, I would,” Helen said. “There’s few things I prefer more than a glass of Prosecco.”

14th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Bill, Helen
Where: Florence, Il Teatro del Sale
Food: Gurguglione; artichoke sformato; polpettini; fried rabbit; zucchini stuffed with ground pork; roasted chicken & sausage with potatoes, flourless chocolate cake
Wine: House red, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Additional Notes: There was nowhere else in the world Jacoby wished to be. This was his Grand Canyon. His Hawaii. Mount Everest or Disney World. His paradise was a theater-cafeteria-commissary, sharing a table with two people he hardly knew but liked immensely, full of possibilities, in a room full of shamelessly happy people.

15th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Bill, Helen
Where: Florence, club Sriracha
Drinks: Negronis (many)

16th Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: The barn
Food: Steak & eggs
Additional Notes: Tears fell down Jacoby’s face as he continued to chew enough to swallow safely. The salt from the tears entering his mouth brightened the flavor, making it more clear what was happening even before Claire descended the stairs in the same clothes she wore before, a suitcase thumping beside her.

17th Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: Al fresco table at the cafe in Antella
Food: Ceci and bread
Wine: Chianti Colli Fiorentini
Additional Notes: “Ciao,” Jacoby called before tucking into his plate of oven-baked chickpeas that tasted as flavorful as anything he’d ever eaten, washing the legumes and bread down with the local red wine as he sat in the cool shadows of his own private dining terrace on a Friday night in a silent village as twilight settled upon him in what felt like the most important place in all of the world.

18th Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: Osteria in Pienza
Food: Pici with porcini; pappardelle with wild rabbit ragu
Wine: Argiano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Additional Notes: In a shaded osteria at the end of town, Jacoby couldn’t decide between two pastas… so he ordered both, taking the mushroom plate first, followed by the gamy second course, both washed down with separate, massive goblets of Vino Nobile, which he swirled and sipped with great delight.

19th Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: Enoteca la Fortezza, Montalcino
Food: A plate of Pecorino in three varieties
Wine: Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino (2007)
Additional Notes: When it was over, Jacoby felt a thread of sadness which he hoped to dash through the purchase of a case of the very wine he just drank.

20th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: A cantinetta near Antella
Food: mixed antipasti; tagliatelle with porcini; roasted pork ribs; cantuccini…
Wine: Colli Fiorentini Riserva, …Vin Santo
Additional Notes: “That was incredible” Jacoby said. Bill made a face of modest expression and flicked a wrist in the air. “Cucina tipica,” he said.

21st Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Helen
Where: Lo Sprone Vinaino, Santo Spirito, Florence
Food: Cacio e Pepe; charred octopus & potatoes; roasted pigeon
Wine: Martinis (in the piazza out front), white wine (unnamed)

22nd Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini
Food: Cinghiale ragu over polenta
Wine: Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino
Additional Notes: The meat was as tender as it was flavorful, filling his mouth with silky decadence buttressed by layers of flavor only attainable through days of preparation that precedes slow, slow cooking.

23rd Taste:
Who: Claire & Dolores
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini
Food: Cinghiale ragu over polenta
Wine: Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino
Additional Notes: “My f****** God!” Dolores’ voice shot from the kitchen. “This is the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life!”
Jacoby and Claire cracked up and parted their hug.
“Bring it in here,” Jacoby called.
“No f****** way!” Dolores called back.

24th Taste (in absentia):
Who: Jacoby, Claire, Dolores, Bill
Where: The cantinetta near Antella
Food: To be determined
Wine: To be determined (lots guaranteed)
Additional Notes: “How’s the food?” Dolores asked Jacoby. “Decent?”
“Oh, it’s way better than decent,” Jacoby said. “More like typical.”


Italian Words Gone Wrong – 6 Mistakes Native Italians Don’t Make

For a narrated version of this article, please check out: Italian Words Gone Wrong – Mistakes on the Menu

Even though Italian food is prominent in North America as well as other English speaking countries, restaurant menus often use Italian words in ways that are not even remotely close to what would sound natural to a native Italian. And it isn’t just because of spelling mistakes, the grammatical and logical use of Italian words is also frequently incorrect.

This post started as a chat with two Twitter friends, Cecilia Razelli (@cocci_ge) and Carlo Settembrini (@csettembrini.) Cecilia found it amusing that I titled one of my articles “Formaggio Cheese,” given that she had noted a similar trend with constructs like “salsiccia sausage” and “prosciutto ham” (if you don’t see why Italians can find this amusing, keep reading!) Then Carlo joined the conversation, expanding to other types of mistakes that English speaking people make when using Italian words. We kept chatting on Twitter for a bit, then we moved the conversation to a shared Google Document, which eventually became the outline for this article. I would like to thank Cecilia and Carlo for engaging in this collaboration – literally, this post wouldn’t have happened without you!

To help illustrate the variety of errors that are commonly made when non-experienced Italian speakers use the Italian language, we grouped the mistakes according to their nature into six distinct families. So, let’s get started!

1. Spelling

When native Italians look for authentic Italian restaurants abroad, they often assess their authenticity merely on the number of spelling mistakes they can spot on the menus. Since the Italian language is mostly phonetic (i.e. written as pronounced,) there are no spelling competitions in Italy – spelling is generally not an issue over there(1)! This is why spelling mistakes stand out even more to the Italians.

Some spelling mistakes seem to reflect the way Italian words tend to be pronounced by English natives. Take ‘focaccia’ as an example: its misspelled counterpart ‘foccacia’ is gaining popularity because it’s closer to how it sounds in English. At other times, alternate English spellings appear to reflect the dialect of the first Italian-Americans. Words like ‘Cappicolla’ and ‘Macaroni,’ for instance, bear clear signs of a southern Italian heritage as opposed to their national counterparts: ‘Capicollo’ and ‘Maccheroni.’ Other words, like ‘linguini’ and ‘zucchini,’ reflect a combination of causes: their dialectal origin and the way the correctly spelled ‘linguine’ and ‘zucchine’ sound when read with an English accent.

To a native Italian, it’s bad enough to hear a misspelled word, but things get even worse when the alternate spelling has a different meaning in Italian. For instance, ‘panini’ is sometimes misspelled as ‘pannini.’ Now, while ‘panini’ is a diminutive of “pane,” which means ‘bread,’ the word ‘pannini’ is a diminutive of ‘panni,’ which is equivalent to “items of clothing” or “rags.” So now you know why a native Italian may get a giggle when they read that the chef’s special is the “house pannini.”

2. Plural vs. singular

Even when spelled correctly, Italian words may be misused in the context of a sentence because of an incorrect “grammatical number.” A classic example of this mistake is using the word ‘panini’ (which is the plural of ‘panino’) to refer to a single sandwich. It’s not clear why the plural ‘panini’ entered the English language instead of the singular ‘panino,’ although one theory is that ‘panini’ is assonant with other Italian-sounding words like ‘linguini’ and ‘zucchini.’ Regardless, a sentence like “I’d like a panini” sounds to a native Italian as wrong as “I’d like a sandwiches.” And it goes without saying that the word “paninis” doesn’t make any sense to a native Italian since it’s a double-plural. The same mistake occurs when ‘biscotti’ is used to refer to a single cookie (in Italian it’s the plural of ‘biscotto.’) The word ‘gelati’ instead is often used interchangeably with the word ‘gelato,’ when in reality it’s its plural form and should be used when referring to two or more Italian ice creams.

When using the English language, however, nobody is expected to use Italian grammar. Therefore, words like ‘paninos,’ ‘gelatos,’ and ‘pizzas’ are perfectly acceptable. In fact, Italians do the same with English words: they adopt the singular form and use it interchangeably both as singular and as plural (“un computer, due computer” = ‘one computer, two computers.’)

3. Feminine vs. masculine

In the Italian language, nouns have gender. Moreover, articles and adjectives must match the gender of the nouns they are used with. Because of this, besides knowing if nouns are plural or singular, in order to write proper Italian one must know the gender of nouns. Luckily, most of the times it’s easy to tell if a word is masculine or feminine: if it ends in ‘a’ it’s feminine; if it ends in ‘o’ it’s masculine (this for singular words, for plural words it’s ‘e’ for feminine, ‘i’ for masculine.) So, for example, because ‘pizza’ is feminine, one should say ‘pizza classica,’ not ‘pizza classico.’ And it’s ‘pasta ai gamberi,’ not ‘pasta alle gamberi.’ Consistency is important!

4. Adjective vs. noun

Many Italian dishes bear colorful names also thanks to the use of descriptive adjectives. As an example, ‘Bolognese’ means “from the city of Bologna.” When native Italians use words like ‘bolognese’ to refer to the famous kind of ragù (a generic word for meat sauce), they say “alla bolognese,” meaning “in the style of the city of Bologna.” Although it’s acceptable to say “Bolognese sauce” (“salsa bolognese,”) it doesn’t make sense to say: “I’ve had pasta with Bolognese” (leaving out the noun.) The sentence: “I’ve had Bolognese pasta” is also likely incorrect since it means “I’ve had pasta from the city of Bologna” with no reference to its sauce. Worse yet, if you order “a Bolognese” in a restaurant, it will sound like you are ordering a person from Bologna – that would be a very dubious kind of meat sauce!

Similarly, ‘Parmigiano’ or ‘Parmigiana’ means “from the city of Parma” (referred to a masculine/feminine subject respectively.) As for the famous eggplant dish, however, it’s equally correct to say “melanzane alla parmigiana” (“parmesan eggplants”) or “parmigiana di melanzane” (“parmesan of eggplants,”) the latter using ‘parmigiana’ as a noun.

And to conclude this category of mistakes, let’s not forget that the word ‘balsamic’ is an adjective, and it means “curative,” or “having the same properties of a conditioner” (‘conditioner’ = ‘balsamo’ in Italian.) It makes no sense to an Italian to use ‘balsamico’ without a noun or a pronoun. So, you can’t have anything like “I’ll have balsamic on my salad.” Balsamic what?

5. Generic vs. specific

‘Formaggio cheese,’ ‘salsiccia sausage,’ ‘prosciutto ham’ don’t make sense to a native Italian because they are redundant. ‘Formaggio’ is Italian for cheese, ‘salsiccia’ is Italian for sausage, ‘prosciutto (cotto(2))’ is Italian for ham. So, in Italy, all you are saying when you say ‘salsiccia sausage’ is “sausage sausage,” or “‘ham ham,” “cheese cheese.” We know the prospect of Italian food is exciting, but just one term will do!

As for the origin of this construct, it may come from the North American practice to use generic product names combined with specific adjectives. For instance, people say “cheddar cheese,” or “tuna fish,” when really ‘cheddar’ or ‘tuna’ can’t be anything other than ‘cheese’ and ‘fish’ respectively.

Interestingly, however, ‘gelato ice cream’ is technically correct since gelato is not exactly Italian for ice cream: it’s a particular kind of ice cream (denser, less sweet, and less fat.) Because of this, it may be justifiable to use ‘gelato ice cream’ as a marketing strategy to indicate a specialty product (likely to be sold at a higher price.)

Also technically correct is ‘espresso coffee’ since ‘espresso’ is indeed descriptive of a distinct kind of coffee extraction. In Italian coffee bars, however, people just call it ‘espresso,’ or even simply ‘coffee’ since the coffee sold in coffee bars is almost exclusively espresso. When ordering a coffee, Italians also often shorten the name when they order an espresso variation, which comes with its own descriptive adjective. Examples are ‘corto’ (short), ‘macchiato’ (stained or spotted with steamed milk,) ‘corretto’ (corrected with liquors or spirits,) etc. Sometimes they even leave out the noun altogether and order directly a ‘macchiato,’ which ironically also happens in North America.

The construct: ‘ricotta cheese,’ instead, is completely wrong since ricotta is technically not even cheese (being it made from whey, and therefore considered just a dairy product, or ‘latticino’ in Italian.)

In the Italian language, the following are generic names as well:

  • ‘Panino’ is the generic name for ‘bread roll’ or ‘sandwich,’ whether grilled or not.
  • ‘Biscotto’ is the generic name for ‘cookie,’ though Italian cookies tend to be crunchy, rather than chewy.
  • ‘Antipasto’ is the generic translation of ‘appetizer.’ Not a particular kind of appetizer made of pickled vegetables, olives, and often tuna, or (worse) this “invention” from Kraft.
  • ‘Latte’ is the generic name for milk, cold milk to be precise – which is what you would get if you ordered a ‘latte’ in Italy. The proper name for the espresso-based drink is ‘latte macchiato’ (steamed milk stained or spotted with coffee.)

6. Food vs. preparation

To end the list of mistake families, we can’t leave out one of the most mysterious ones exemplified by the Italian-American dish called Shrimp Scampi. Scampi, plural of scampo, is a crustacean similar to a small lobster. For some reason, it also became the name of a preparation (based on tomato, garlic, and white wine) that is generally used for shrimp and other crustaceans. But if “Shrimp Scampi” makes no sense to a native Italian because it’s essentially “Shrimp Shrimp,” Olive Garden’s Chicken Scampi makes even less sense, since it’s like saying “Chicken Shrimp.”

Sometimes Shrimp Scampi is instead used to refer to a crustacean, possibly just to make a dish sound more mysterious, or “elevated,” and definitely more “Italian.” Dishes like “Linguine with Shrimp Scampi” from “Barefoot Contessa” Ina Garten are a clear indication of how mainstream this misconception has gone. It goes without saying that actual Scampi are nowhere in the ingredients.

To make matters worse, dictionaries such as the Merriam-Webster define ‘scampi’ as “a usually large shrimp; also: a large shrimp prepared with a garlic-flavored sauce,” also reporting ‘scampi’ as a singular noun with an invariant plural form. Fortunately, heroic bloggers like my friend Frank Fariello set the record straight by correctly explaining the naming issue behind this dish.

To end the category and this article, ‘Calamari’ is another example where non-native Italians may confuse an ingredient with its preparation. Whereas in Italian it generically means ‘squid,’ outside of Italy, and especially in North America, it refers to its deep-fried ring-shaped slices.

(1) In some regions of Italy, Italians make certain kinds of spelling mistakes due to how words sound in their dialects. As an example, those who speak a Venetian dialect tend to drop double consonants. In southern Italy, instead, double consonants tend to be added where they don’t belong (e.g. Carabbinieri instead of Carabinieri.)

(2) In Italy, there are two kinds of prosciutto: ‘cotto’ (“cooked” similar to ham) and ‘crudo’ (“raw, cured.”)

[Thoughts on the Table – 39] A Christmas Episode, with Gino De Blasio

I’ve always wanted to talk about Panettone, Pandoro, and other traditional Christmas food in Italy. When Gino De Blasio suggested that we should do a podcast on the subject, I got very excited. We then arranged the recording, and my excitement can fully be heard in the show 🙂

In this episode, Gino and I discuss the difference between Panettone and Pandoro, and how such difference very much divides the Italians. We also mention a savory preparation called Panettone Gastronomico, which is traditionally served as an appetizer before the Christmas meal. Finally, we talk about ‘cotechino con lenticchie’ the traditional Italian New Year’s Eve dish, and the superstitions that surround it.

Gino and I would like to wish you happy and safe holidays, whether you’ll be having Pandoro or Panettone 🙂 Thanks everyone for listening and in advance for your feedback!

You can follow Gino on his website, as well as on Twitter.


Two Years of Blogging

Another year has gone by, marking Quatro Fromaggio’s second birthday, and the time for me to look back at 12 more months of blogging!

With about 30 articles published, I managed to keep my resolution of posting at least once every two weeks, having failed my real resolution to post every week. Out of the 19 new recipes, a few became quite popular, confirming that people go to food blogs when they are looking for genuine recipes.

I presented an appetizer (Cannellini and Radicchio Crostini), a summer salad (Insalata di Riso), two second courses (Asparagi alla Milanese, Frittatona di Cipolle), one side (Polenta Taragna), two desserts (Caldarroste and Tiramisu), one soup (Summer Minestra), one risotto (Saffron and Leek), several pasta dishes (Pesto, Potatoes and Green Beans Pasta, Bell Pepper Pasta, Pasta alla Norma, Egg Pasta with Green Beans and Mushrooms, Baked Shells Pasta with Ricotta and Spinach, Tagliolini with Mushrooms, Eggs and Smoked Scamorza Pasta), and, finally, the interesting Canederli, the Italian version of Knödel.

As you may have noticed, Quatro Fromaggio has the “unadvertised feature” of containing all vegetarian (lacto-ovo) recipes, most of which being first courses. This is because my wife and I have a vegetarian household and because these are the recipes that I enjoy cooking the most. In the coming year, I would like to present more sides dishes, appetizers, and a few second courses.

By posting more new recipes, I had the opportunity to work on my food photography. I still have a long way to go, but I think I managed to make my recipes look at least appetizing, which is actually quite challenging. I invested a bit in the equipment, but I also followed a few important tips, such as the ones from Michael Ray and from Katherine Martinelli.

Still, recipes are not the main focus of this blog; the main focus is to talk about Italian culture and the difference between contemporary (continental) Italian food and its misrepresentations around the world. As I expected, having covered in year one all the basic Italian themes (and most of my pet peeves), I now have to dig deeper to find new topics and do much more research. This is the real reason why I have so many recipes this year, relatively to the number of articles – I keep posting recipes because the articles take longer to write! However, this also means that I’m learning a lot – instead of just comparing Italian products to their North American counterparts, I now need to understand the reasons of this difference. For the Italian Myths article, for instance, I discovered a lot about Italian-American cuisine, of which I admit I didn’t know much about. Other articles were about: Panini, Ravioli, Limoncello, Amaretti and Amaretto, Tomatoes, and Coffee.

This year I also ran one interesting experiment, the Pasta Calendar giveaway offered to all who participated in a Quiz on Italian cuisine. Many took the test, and I very much enjoyed looking at the results. Especially because they confirmed that there is still very much need for blogs like mine!

But the most interesting initiative of the entire year is, without doubt, the introduction of the Cannolo Award, which has gained far more popularity than I expected by reaching several acclaimed food blogs, and by being proudly displayed by most of them. The inspiration came from the many awards that food bloggers give to other food bloggers as recognition for good work and to cross-link. I’ve always dreamed of some kind of “certification” for food that is presented as “Italian”, as for any other regional or ethnic food. Wouldn’t it be awesome to dine at Paolo’s Italian Restaurant, licensed and certified? Well, I thought, at least let’s certify food blogs! I would like to thank my wife Candace for coming up with the name (which then gave birth to the logo) – I think it played a big part in the award’s success.

As usual, thanks all for reading! Please contact me if you have any request or suggestion, or please post a comment. Feedback is always welcome.

Two Kinds of Crostini: Cannellini and Radicchio

Crostini (plural of: ‘crostino’, from bread crust) are rustic appetizers where toasted bread slices are used as a base for various toppings. In a way, a ‘bruschetta‘ can be considered a kind of crostino, but it’s generally not seen that way because of its stronger identity. Crostini may be also served as a snack or to accompany an aperitivo.

Most crostini share the same kind of base: a toasted bread slice, with fresh garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Countless toppings can then be added to this already delicious support. Here you will find the recipes for two of the most traditional ones: cannellini spread and stewed radicchio, both of which can be served either cold or warm.

Cannellini spread
The first topping is based on cannellini, a kind of white beans with a very thin skin, delicate flavor and a starchy texture. Cannellini are also used to thicken soups and in the famous Pasta e Fagioli.

Stewed Radicchio
The second topping is based on radicchio, an Italian vegetable that belongs to the same family of chicory, escarole, and Belgian endive, and with which it shares a bitter flavor. To counter the bitterness, radicchio is often generously salted and/or paired up with salty cheese (especially Parmigiano).

Two Kinds of Crostini: Cannellini and Radicchio

Yield: 8-10 crostini

Total Time: 30 minutes

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Two Kinds of Crostini: Cannellini and Radicchio


     Base ingredients

    • 8-10 slices of ciabatta or baguette, toasted
    • 1 garlic clove, pealed
    • Some extra virgin olive oil

     Cannellini spread

    • 1 Tbsp olive oil
    • 1 garlic clove, mashed
    • 1 sprig of rosemary, finely sliced
    • 1 can of cannellini (~400g), drained
    • salt and pepper
    • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

     Stewed radicchio

    • 1 Tbsp olive oil
    • 1 big shallot, thinly sliced
    • 1 radicchio, sliced
    • 2 Tbsp red wine
    • salt and pepper
    • 1 Tbsp of Parmigiano, coarsely grated or slivered


       Base preparation

      1. Toast or char-grill the bread making sure it doesn't dry out completely.
      2. Rub each slice with the garlic (the roughness of the toasted bread will act as a scraper).
      3. Drizzle with the olive oil.

       Cannellini spread

      1. Roast the garlic in the olive oil until golden.
      2. Add the rosemary and the cannellini.
      3. Cook for 5-10 minutes.
      4. Mash the beans coarsely by using a fork.
      5. Adjust salt and pepper.
      6. Spread on the crostini and then drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

       Stewed radicchio

      1. Roast the shallot in olive oil for a couple of minutes.
      2. Add the radicchio and keep roasting for 2 more minutes.
      3. Add the wine and allow it to evaporate.
      4. Lower the heat and cook for 5-10 minutes or until the radicchio softens.
      5. Adjust salt and pepper.
      6. Place on the crostini and then sprinkle with Parmigiano.



      Asparagi alla Milanese – The Incredible Pairing of Asparagus and Eggs

      Of simple Italian recipes that are almost unknown outside of Italy, Milanese-style Asparagus would probably rank near the top. This dish, traditionally associated with the city of Milan, is enjoyed all around Italy as a second course, especially in late spring, when asparagus is in season.

      Before getting to the recipe, let’s spend a few words on its main ingredient. Asparagus is one of the shoots of a perennial plant called Asparagus officinalis, harvested when it reaches a length of about 8 inches and hasn’t yet developed any branches. If allowed to grow, the shoots become inedible – they gradually thin out, harden, and develop fern-like branches, up to 1.5 meters tall. Indigenous of Eurasia, Asparagus officinalis was already known in ancient Egypt, when it was eaten raw. The Greeks and the Romans are credited for learning how to cultivate it and for discovering its diuretic properties.

      In North America, asparagus is mostly used as an appetizer or as a side dish (steamed, fried, or char roasted), as well as in soups and quiches. In Italy, it is also used to make one kind of risotto, in ‘frittate’, as filling for ravioli or just paired up with melted butter, eggs, and Parmigiano as in this recipe.

      Asparagi alla Milanese

      Yield: 2 servings

      Total Time: 15 minutes

      Prep Time: 5 minutes

      Cook Time: 10 minutes

      Asparagi alla Milanese


      • 1 kg of fresh asparagus, washed and with their bases trimmed
      • 4 tablespoons of Parmigiano, freshly grated
      • 2 tablespoons of butter
      • 4 eggs
      • salt


      1. Place the asparagus in a pot of salted boiling water, the spears above the waterline to be cooked by the steam. Cook for 10 minutes (15 if the stems are particularly thick). If using a large pot, the asparagus can be tied up to force them to remain vertical.
      2. Just before the asparagus are cooked, fry the eggs in butter, sunny-side-up, in a large non stick pan. Ensure the whites are fully firm, while the yolks are still runny.
      3. Gently drain the asparagus and assemble the dish in warm serving plates by layering the eggs, the asparagus (tips towards the center), and the grated Parmigiano.



      Insalata di Riso

      ‘Insalata di Riso’ (rice salad) is an informal Italian dish that is especially popular in the summer as an appetizer or as a refreshing first course, particularly for lunch. Its main component is Parboiled rice, which is the most appropriate for this preparation as its grains remain firm and separated when cooked, and stay soft when they get cold. The cooled rice is lightly dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and flavored with a variety of add-ins, according to personal preference, but also following the tradition.

      Insalata di Riso

      Yield: 3-4 servings

      Total Time: 45 minutes

      Prep Time: 45 minutes

      Insalata di Riso



        • 1 cup parboiled rice
        • 2 eggs
        • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
        • 100 g mild cheese (Fontina, Montasio, Raclette, Gouda), cubed
        • ½ cup Italian pickled cucumbers (no dill and no garlic!)
        • ½ cup Italian mixed 'sottaceti' (vinegar-preserved vegetables, e.g.: peppers, corn, capers, carrots, olives, fennel, artichokes)
        • ¼ cup sliced olives
        • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
        • the juice of 1 lemon
        • salt


        • pickled 'cipolline' (small onions), halved
        • pickled bell peppers, cut in small pieces
        • tuna in olive oil, crushed
        • ham, diced
        • cold roast beef or chicken, cut in small pieces


        1. Boil or steam the rice then spread it over a cloth and let it cool down, by the end the rice should be dry and fluffy.
        2. Meanwhile, hard boil the eggs and cook the peas, then let them also cool down.
        3. Move the rice into a bowl (fig. 1) and gently mix in the olive oil. Gather the pickled veggies (fig. 2).
        4. Gather peas, eggs (fig. 3) and diced cheese (fig. 4).
        5. Mix all of the add-ins together with the rice, then stir in the lemon juice.
        6. Adjust the salt and let the salad rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.


        The Italian Courses

        Italians like structure in the way they eat. To them, the balance between the different courses of the meal is as important as the balance between the ingredients of each dish. In Italy, eating is far more than nutrition, it’s a moment of aggregation where families, friends, colleagues get together, relax and participate in the dining ritual. This article describes a typical everyday meal (at home or in an informal restaurant) and compares it with the bigger and fancier meal reserved for special occasions (a wedding, for instance).

        What is the correct pronunciation of “bruschetta”? Check out this and other often mispronounced Italian words.

        In Italy, even the most informal meals commonly include multiple courses. This doesn’t mean that people eat more food – the various courses are a way to break down the meal into different sections, add variety and create a progression. Appetizers and first courses come first because of their delicate flavors (and textures); second courses follow with their stronger elements; desserts, coffee, and liquors are reserved to end the meal. The subdivision into courses also introduces pauses, which in some cases are intentionally extended to give the diners the necessary time to rest their palate, and socialize.

        In this article we will be referring to both lunch (“pranzo”) and supper (“cena”), as the mid-day meal and the evening meal. As for the early-day meal, please see the post on breakfast (“colazione”).

        Everyday meals

        Everyday meals generally only include a first course (“primo piatto” or simply “primo”) and a second course (“secondo piatto” or “secondo”), plus possibly some fruit (“frutta”) and coffee (“caffé”).

        • The first course is usually based on dry pasta, gnocchi, ravioli, or rice (“risotto”). First courses don’t need any sides and they are not accompanied by bread. Mostly during winter, and especially for dinner, the first course can take the form of a soup, which may contain pasta or rice or may be served with croutons (“crostini”).
        • The second course is centered on a protein – typically meat or fish, but also cheese or eggs. Second courses are normally served with one or more side dishes (“contorni”), such as salads or roasted vegetables. They are usually eaten with bread, polenta (boiled cornmeal), or boiled rice.

        The structure of everyday meals may seem somewhat similar to North America, where it’s common to have soup or salad as a first course, a main course, and dessert. The difference is that the Italians put a lot more emphasis on the first course, so much so that the second course loses the title of ‘main’.

        Formal meals

        Italian formal meals always begin with a starter course (“antipasto”), and continue with one or more first courses, one or more second courses (meat or fish, sometimes interleaved with a lemon sorbet as a palate cleanser), a cheese course (“formaggio”), desserts, a fruit course, coffee, and liquors. One or more second courses may be replaced by a “piatto di mezzo” (a soufflé or a “torta salata”, similar to a quiche).

        • For starters, a selection of appetizers is a must. They may be in the form of pre-assembled platters, or, more informally, they can be brought to the table in serving dishes, or even presented in a self-service buffet (see the article on antipasto).
        • First courses have elaborate preparations and sometimes make use of expensive ingredients (e.g.: truffles, seafood). When more than one first course is served, the portions of each become smaller. In some cases, a sampler of primi containing 2 or 3 dishes on the same plate may be offered; this, however, is becoming more and more uncommon.
        • Second courses also have a refined presentation and sophisticated ingredients. With respect to North America, the meat portions are smaller to compensate for a filling first course. In restaurants, for some meat or fish dishes, a chef may plate each portion in front of the diners by working in a carving or plating station set up next to the dining table. If both a fish secondo and a meat secondo are served in the same meal, it’s customary to serve them in that order and to interleave a sorbet (usually lemon) as a palate-cleanser. If all second courses are based on meat, or if there is only one second course, then a sorbet may be served between first courses and second courses.
        • Formal meals often have an entire course dedicated to cheese, either in the form of pre-assembled samplers, or where a selection of cheeses is presented on serving trays. In some cases, aged cheeses are paired up with jams (especially figs and pears jams), aromatic honey (e.g.: chestnut tree honey), or mostarda.
        • Desserts are also a must in formal dining. In restaurants, a daily selection of cakes, pastries or tarts is often presented on a serving cart for each diner to choose from.
        • The fruit course may be prepared in a salad (called “macedonia”), and optionally served with ‘gelato’. In winter, a combination of dried fruit and fresh fruit might be offered.
        • Coffee is always served. In restaurants, it’s in the form of espresso; at home, it may be from a home-espresso machine or a ‘Moka’.
        • Liquors often conclude the meal because, like sweets, they quench the appetite. They are normally digestive bitters (“amari”). However, grappa, Sambuca, amaretto, nocino, and especially limoncello are also common.

        Note that the aperitif (aperitivo) – an appetizer drink generally accompanied by a light snack – is not part of the courses as it’s usually had some time before the meal, possibly even in a different venue.

        Bread and wine

        In both informal and formal setups, bread is very important to the Italians (so important that any food that comes with bread is generically called “companatico”). Individual buns and sliced loaves may be served in a basket, or set directly on the table. Butter is not part of the tradition, though in some cases unsalted butter curls may still be served. Bread may be had as a snack before the primo – sometimes in the form of breadsticks (“grissini”) – and it always accompanies the second course. In informal setups, it’s acceptable, after the primo, to use a few bread chunks to wipe up any pasta sauce that may be left on the plate. This practice, called “scarpetta” (little-shoe) is however never used after eating risotto, as its cream (made of starch) is not technically a sauce.

        Wine, somewhat common in everyday meals (especially for dinner), becomes mandatory in formal dining – and it must be of high quality. First courses, “piatti di mezzo” and fish courses are paired up with white wines or light reds. Meat-based second courses, instead, require stronger red wines. See the article on wine for more information.

        Further Readings

        For more information, check out 10 Facts About Italian Food, an interesting article on some of the less known misconceptions about Italian food.


        More featured articles

        Bruschetta, Properly Pronounced :)

        Bruschetta , plural ‘bruschette’ (brus-ket-teh), is a very popular appetizer born in the 16th century in central and southern Italy, which then spread to the entire country and eventually followed the Italian emigrants around the world.

        Classic bruschetta can be made in several ways, but it’s always based on a salad of fresh diced tomatoes on a toasted slice of rustic bread. The name bruschetta, in fact, derives from ‘bruscare’, Roman dialect for the verb to toast. Traditionally, a hint of garlic is added by rubbing a peeled garlic clove onto the char-roasted bread. However, it can also be added in small amounts directly to the tomato salad.

        Bruschetta can also be made with other toppings (e.g.: cooked beans, stewed mushrooms or bell peppers, tuna salad). In Italy, however, these are substantially less common than the classic tomato topping. Unless otherwise specified, the term ‘bruschetta’ refers to the tomato version and always to the whole preparation (bread plus topping), never to just the topping. So, no bruschetta burger, please!

        For the best results, the bread has to remain crunchy. To this effect, the topping should be not too soggy and it should be put on the bread only a few minutes before serving. Some restaurants even have do-it-yourself bruschette, where a tomato salad is served in a bowl along with toasted bread.

        This recipe describes a variation of the classic where a few extra ingredients are added.


        Yield: 2-4 servings (as an appetizer)

        Total Time: 25 minutes

        Prep Time: 25 minutes



        • 4 Roma tomatoes
        • (optional) ½ shallot
        • 1 ½ cloves of garlic
        • 3-4 leaves fresh basil
        • 1 T olive oil
        • ½ T balsamic vinegar
        • ½ tsp salt
        • 4 slices of artisan bread
        • (optional) some ground black pepper


        1. Gather the ingredients. Wash and prepare the tomatoes for peeling by removing the bottom and by cutting a cross on the top. Slice and toast the bread.
        2. Blanch the fridge-cold tomatoes by dipping them in boiling water for 30 seconds, and then cooling them off quickly in cold water. The skin will come off easily.
        3. Remove the seeds and the cores, then dice the tomatoes.
        4. If using shallot, cut it into small dices.
        5. Cut the garlic into small dices. Slice the basil leaves by first rolling them up.
        6. Dress the bruschetta topping with balsamic vinegar, salt and olive oil.
        7. Place a generous amount of tomato salad on each bread slice. If desired, sprinkle with ground black pepper. This appetizers goes well with a full-bodied white wine, such as Malvasia Bianca, Soave, or Vernaccia.