Aglio e Scalogno

Aglio e Scalogno
Aglio e Scalogno: Garlic and Shallots at the Christmas Market in Florence

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Andiamo in Irlanda!

Ciao a tutti!  I apologize for being away from the blog for so long!  Something exciting is in the works, however.  In the spring of 2013, my husband and I will be traveling to Ireland, the homeland of most of our ancestors.  Much as I love Italy, I am not of Italian heritage, and I think this trip to Ireland will offer many special opportunities for us as we explore the country from where our grandparents and great grandparents emigrated. 

If you would like to follow the trip preparation, the journey itself, and my musings on all things Irish, please visit my new blog,

I'll be posting Irish recipes, book reviews, travel tips, links to Irish music and musicians, and comparisons of Irish and American gardening.  Once we're in Ireland, I'll post B&B and restaurant reviews, tales of our driving on the opposite side of the road, and a rolling count of how many pints of Guinness we've consumed.  Lots of craic, so don't miss out!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Fresh greens in the middle of winter? Why not?  Here is last year’s Swiss chard (bietola) still growing in my garden on January 21, 2011.  No, this wasn’t inside a cold frame or hoop house – they were buried under dead maple leaves and snow!  I was able to pick this whole colander’s worth of lovely, fresh bietola in the middle of winter! 
Swiss Chard is a relative of the beet, and its origins have been traced back to Sicily. This vegetable is very high in fiber, protein, and vitamins and is very versatile in the kitchen.There are many other varieties available, including a white-stalked Italian heirloom called “Lucullus,” named after the Roman general Lucius Lucullus, c. 117 BC–57/56 BC, who was renowned for his vast gardens, the Gardens of Lucullus, where the Borghese Gardens are now located.
In this photo, the variety with white stalks is called “Perpetual Spinach,” though it is not spinach at all. It is a relative of chard also known as “leaf beet chard,” and can be used just like chard (or spinach!). The orange-stemmed variety is “Orange Chiffon Swiss Chard,” from, and the magenta-stalked variety is called “Magenta Sunset Swiss Chard,” from I love the vibrant colors of these two chards, and their leaves are tender, especially when picked at this small size.


Chard is extremely easy to grow. Sow the seed in well-drained, loamy soil, about ½” deep, about 3” apart, in rows about 12” apart. If you follow the square foot gardening method, you can plant 4 per square foot. Chard usually takes about 7 to 10 days to germinate and 50+ days until it is ready to harvest. It is a “cut and come again” vegetable, meaning that you can harvest some of the leaves of each plant and leave the rest to photosynthesize and keep the plant alive so that it will grow more leaves. As you can see from my photo, chard will sometimes last through the winter, especially if it is protected under leaves or a frost blanket. If you have any questions about how to grow chard, feel free to email me at I try to respond to all emails within several days’ time.

Ricetta (recipe): Chard with raisins, shallots, & pancetta

Cooking Tip: In most recipes using chard, I chop the thicker stalks into small pieces and cook the stems first for a few minutes, before adding the shredded or torn leaves. This is because the stalks take several minutes longer to cook.


1 T olive oil
Several slices pancetta (about 2 or 3 T chopped)
1 large or 2 small shallots (about 2 T chopped)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½ cup raisins (I prefer golden raisins, but any raisins will work)
1 large bunch of chard (stems chopped and leaves shredded, keep separate)
¼ c. water
Salt and pepper


Heat skillet. Add olive oil. Then add pancetta and brown.  Add shallots and garlic and cook for several minutes.

Add raisins and chard stems.

Then add the water and deglaze the pan to scrape up the browned bits.
Cover the skillet and cook for about 3-4 minutes until stems are tender.

Add torn leaves and toss well with other ingredients in the skillet.
Cover and cook for 3-4 minutes until leaves wilt and are tender.


Season with pepper. Add salt if you like (pancetta is salty, so you may not wish to add salt).
Here the chard is served with baked salmon and lovely crusty bread with olive oil. 
This recipe serves 2 to 4 people.

Where to buy seeds:,

Friday, January 14, 2011

The 2011 Gardening Season Begins - Let's Talk Garlic!

Though the garden is sleeping and covered in snow where I live, the garlic and shallots are planted and will be ready to push up through their blanket of straw come early spring.  Nothing says "Italian cooking" to me more than garlic!  Garlic serves as the base layer of flavor for so many Italian dishes, whether it's something tomato-based, seafood-related, vegetable-only, a roasted meat... It's hard to imagine making something Italian without having some garlic on-hand. 

That's why, in my garden, I always plant lots and lots of garlic!  It stores well, and it's there whenever I need it all winter long.  I'd like to share some tips on selecting garlic for your garden, along with one of my favorite recipes using this indispensible flavoring. 

Not all garlic is created equal.  First of all, did you know that most garlic that's consumed in America comes from China?  If you're buying your garlic at the regular grocery store and it isn't labeled "local," it's likely been imported from China.  I'd personally rather consume garlic that's grown closer to home and with more oversight regarding pesticides, fertilizers, etc.  So, for the past ten years or so, I've just been growing it in my own backyard. 

Here is my garlic patch as it looks today, buried under straw and snow, in the middle of January.  In this single garlic patch, there are three different types:  a Rocambole, a Marbled Purple Stripe, and a Porcelain. Each type has its own individual characteristics with regard to size, color, & number of cloves per head, flavor (hot vs sweet, nutty, etc.), best use (raw vs. saute'), and how long they will keep after harvest. 

Within each type, there are many varieties or cultivars.  For example, French Rose, Italian Purple, Russian Red, and Spanish Roja are four different varieties of Rocambole garlic.  Rocambole-type garlics in general tend to be delicious raw, but they don't store as well as Porcelains (which many find too hot to eat raw).  And you thought garlic was just garlic!

My favorite garlic mail-order company is Ronniger's, which has now forged with Potato Garden (yes, they sell seed potatoes, too!),  If you're interested in shopping for garlic, check out all the varieties on their website.  Another great source is Seed Savers Exchange,  Most of the growing garlic sold by Seed Savers is Certified Organic, and they have a selection to make your mouth water:  Bogatyr, Chesnok Red, Georgian Fire, Persian Star, Lorz Italian, and more.  Don't the names alone make you want to start a garlic garden? 

The time to choose and order your growing garlic is in early fall for most of the United States.  Garlic must be planted sometime between about mid-September and mid-November, and certainly before the ground freezes.  When you receive your garlic, split the heads apart into cloves and choose the biggest and hardiest-looking cloves to plant.  Spacing and depth requirements are usually provided in the package from the shipper.  Once you have planted your garlic, cover it with a generous layer of weed-free hay or straw to prevent it from freezing over the winter.  To keep my straw from blowing away, I cover it with plastic trays and pin them down with metal stakes or top them with a few heavy rocks. 

When Old Man Winter retreats and warmer days arrive, usually in early March, it will be time to remove the layer of mulch.  I'm always surprised to see that the first green shoots have beaten me to it, and they are already poking up through the straw!  They know when it's time!  By about mid-June, you'll have garlic ready for harvest.  Stay tuned to this blog, because when Spring arrives, I'll be posting pictures of the sprouting garlic, and I'll describe then how to tend and harvest your garlic. 

In the meantime, here is one of my favorite winter recipes using garlic and another winter favorite - kale.  It's more delicious than you think and definitely worth trying!

Kale with Garlic & Herbs


1 to 2 bunches of kale, tough stems removed, and chopped or torn into large pieces

1/4 c. olive oil
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
1 can anchovies
3 to 4 cloves of garlic
fresh rosemary (leaves from about 3 sprigs)

1/4 c. balsamic vinegar


Immerse kale in salted boiling water (in batches, if necessary) and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes until limp but still brightly-colored.  Then submerge immediately in cold water to stop the cooking.  Meanwhile, add next 5 ingredients to a food processor and blend.  Put the oil/herb/garlic mixture into a saute' pan and bring up to temperature.  Add kale and toss to heat the kale through.  Add balsamic vinegar and toss again.  Serve immediately.  Makes a lovely and very healthy side dish. 

Mangia, mangia!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Buon Natale!

Buon Natale !

Last year at this time, I was packing my bags for Italy, about to head off on the Italian Hilltowns Tour.  We spent 12 glorious days in Italy last December, taking special note of the lovely Christmas decorations displayed in piazzas and storefronts, like this Wild Boar Santa in San Gimignano.  How cute is he? 

And the food!  Though pasta is satisfying at any time of year, it seems to be especially warming and hearty in the wintertime.  Perhaps it's just that I chose more dishes prepared ragu' style than the lighter, fresh tomato dishes that I favor in warmer weather.  In any case, it's Christmastime once again, and I have wonderful memories of two tours to Italy from the past 12 months - a total of one month in the Bel Paese.  What a fulfilling year it has been! 

As I prepare to set up our tree and arrange our festive decorations throughout the house, I am serene, and I'm pleased that I'll be savoring this holiday season with my husband and dog instead of jetting about the world without them, but I also long for a touch of Italy.  The spirit of Italy at Christmas is so palpable, so personable, so connected, so.... flavorful! 

There is also news to share with you about La Contadina, the company with which I've been affiliated for several years.  Giuliana, the founder and owner, has created a new website for Tours and Events/Classes:  Her original website,, now features her handpainted Italian ceramics and includes an awesome video of her actually creating one of her handpainted specialities.  You've got to visit the website and watch the video!  If you live in Utah, you can now take ceramics classes with Giuliana and make your very own work of art!

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for information regarding Tours for 2011.  We will be repeating some customer favorites and introducing some new Tours!  In the meantime, hug someone you love, marvel at the sparkle in the snow, and do something kind for someone.  Enjoy the magic of the season, and Buon Natale :-) 


On the Piazza del Duomo in Orvieto, September 2010 

A lovely presentation of tiramisu' in Florence, Sept 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Travel Insurance - Some Tips and Helpful Info

Many people question whether or not to purchase travel insurance (also known as trip insurance) before going oversees.  Sometimes, the decision is made for you.  If you travel with me or with La Contadina, as with many other tour organizers and tour companies, you are required to purchase travel insurance, especially the type that covers repatriation expenses (the cost of getting you home if need be).  Independent travellers have more flexibility in deciding, and Rick Steves provides a helpful article on the factors involved in making this decision:

For those who are required to purchase some form of travel insurance, an easy website to use is  This site allows you to compare numerous plans, their prices and coverage options, in an easy-to-read table format.  In contrast, if you go through AAA, you are only offered the Access America insurance policy options, whereas Insure My offers Access America and many, many other companies' options.  The website also provides ratings for each of the policies (A+, A, A-, etc.). 

Another interesting link is from the Travel Blog Exchange:  This traveller offers three instances in which travel insurance 'saved the day.' 

TIPS:  If you purchase your insurance well in advance of the trip, it can be extremely affordable - a drop in the bucket relative to the cost of your trip.  The closer you are to your departure date, the higher the premium can climb, so shop for your insurance while you're shopping for your airline tickets! 

It's also important to note that in order to cover pre-existing conditions, it can be necessary to purchase your trip insurance within 24 or 48 hours of your initial trip payment (such as purchase of your airline ticket, or your down payment to a tour operator). 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Back from Italia After a Wonderful Tour

We are back from the September 2010 Oceans and Hilltowns Tour - 15 days total in Italy.  All that food!  All that wine!  And tiramisu'!  And all the sights, and shopping.... I'll be posting pictures of our meals and reviews of some restaurants and accommodations in the coming weeks. 

I also made lovely friends in Sorrento and am so thankful that we'll be able to stay in touch via Facebook until I visit again.  I tossed my coin into Trevi Fountain, so I'll certainly be back!

Now that I've recovered from the jetlag, all I can think about is the "Return to Sorrento" Tour in late April 2011.  Here is a beautiful instrumental version of the "Return to Sorrento" song: 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Great Women's Travel Pants by Isis

Check out these great travel pants from Isis!  These "Walkabout" pants will be coming with me on my September Oceans and Hilltowns Tour, and I'm looking forward to wearing them quite a bit while on tour with my ladies.  These pants have a flattering and forgiving fit, are made of a stretchy and quick-dry fabric, and have several discreet zippered pockets (great for holding passport, Euros, credit/debit cards).  They also roll up into capris for those warmer days.  I chose black because they won't show dirt and will match everything.  Thank you, Isis!

Note:  The picture provided by Isis (above, in khaki) is not terribly attractive.  These pants actually fit very nicely and offer a bit of "drape" without being too loose.   I also really appreciated the two discreet leg pockets for my passport and for extra cash.                                                                     Here I am wearing the black Isis travel pants at our cooking class in Italy in September 2010. They were very lightweight yet durable, could be "dressed up" to look quite nice for evening, and could be rolled up into capris, which came in handy for the very warm but rainy day in the Cinque Terre (below):

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Exchanging Dollars for Euros

There is always some confusion regarding exchange rates.  "How many Euros can I get for this wad of US Dollars?" 

Many currency exchange rate websites, such as and display rates that apply to international banking transactions.  For individuals who want to go to a bank to buy Euros with US Dollars, though, the rate is always less favorable, because the banks must acquire the Euros and also pay their staff to manage, process and exchange them.  Banks charge a fee for these services (no surprise there!). 

To get the daily foreign currency exchange rate that applies to YOU when you go to a bank to buy Euros, visit the website of a major bank, such as Wells Fargo or Chase, and look for their information on foreign exchange.  For example, you can visit this Wells Fargo website and click on "today's rates:"

By the way, the Euro hit a 4-year low in May and has been climbing again slowly ever since.  Today's rate (July 28, 2010) was 1.3706 dollars to the Euro.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Garmugia Soup Recipe from Lucca

For those of you who might have seen "Garmugia" on the menu below from Prosciutto e Melone and wondered what it was, this link will bring you to a recipe: Garmugia Soup Recipe from Lucca.  It is a hearty peasant-type dish believed to have originated in or around Lucca. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

56 Days Until Tour Departure!

It's hard to believe that we only have 56 days left until we depart for the Italian Oceans and Hilltowns Tour!  This summer is flying by! 

This restaurant may be the first place we visit once we arrive in Lucca.  Isn't it adorable?  I love the paint color on the plaster wall and the wooden gates that serve as doors.  Below are some of their menu items - every single one makes my mouth water!

The ladies and I are flying to Italy a day before the Tour officially starts so that we have a chance to acclimate just a bit.  We'll spend our first pre-Tour night in Lucca, and "Prosciutto e Melone" is a darling little restaurant right down the street from our B&B.  Check back in October to see what I thought of this dining establishment.

Below is the street view of Prosciutto e Melone (restaurant on the left) - it's tucked away on this tiny "via" behind the Piazza Anfiteatro, in the heart of historic Lucca. 

Friday, July 2, 2010

My Review of Teva Tirra Sandals

Here is my review for the Teva Tirra Sandals, which are coming with me to Italy this September:

Originally submitted at REI,

At home in the water or on terra firma, the Teva Tirra sandals mesh fun, feminine style and multisport performance for everyday, go-anywhere use.

Comfortable enough to hike in!
By Mb on 7/2/2010
5out of 5
Gift: No
Sizing: Feels true to size
Width: Feels true to width
Pros: Breathable, Comfortable, Cute, Durable, Great heel comfort
Best Uses: Everyday, Walking, International travel
Describe Yourself: Casual
Got two pairs, one for daily use and hiking, the other for an upcoming trip to Italy. Wanted to try them on the trail to see how they protected against uneven surfaces, as the cobblestones in Italy can really make your feet ache. These sandals were GREAT on the rocky trail! I've never hiked in sandals and was a little dubious about how they would fare, but they were awesome! I will hike in these again and again and am so relieved to have found a great pair of shoes for Italy. The best feature is the cushion under the heel - supportive but soft and really comfortable.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Castello di Verrazzano, Greve in Chianti, Tuscany

Here is the Sassello Super Tuscan that we enjoyed the other night with our Italian meal.  It is a fabulous wine, aged 18 months in oak, made from Sangiovese grapes.  This wine is among many produced at the famous Verrazzano winery in Greve in Chianti, Tuscany.  Its website is  Once on the website, click on the little British flag to get the English version to appear.  

The vintner has this to say about the wine:  "Sassello represents the highest expression of the terroir-vine binomial, where Sangiovese creates a unique wine with a deep and impenetrable colour of an intense ruby red, enhanced by purple overtones. The fragrance is fine and intense, wide and persistent, and offers a variety of fruity notes including cherries, blackberries, raspberries underlined by hints of oak and vanilla. The taste is elegant and complex with closely woven tannins both smooth and pleasant joined to notes of fruit and spice, oak and vanilla, with an equally pleasant and long finish." 

No good wine tasting is complete without wild boar salame and bruschetta (above) !  We were made to feel very welcome, and the tastings were numerous and plentiful.

Simone, on the left, is the sommelier who led our wine tasting.  His personality is as vibrant as his smile!

I recommend a visit to this charming and refined establishment.  Visit their photogallery here: 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Italian dinner party

Why not host an Italian dinner party for your friends this week? I did last night! On our menu: Bistecca di Manzo con Rucola (steak with arugula), Creamy Orzo with fresh garden peas and asparagus, and Panzanella, served with a FABULOUS Super Tuscan that I got in December in Greve in Chianti, called Sassello. Amazing meal!  

The steak recipe is in the Rogers Gray Italian Country Cookbook, which I LOVE, and the Creamy Orzo is one of Giada DiLaurentis' incredible concoctions (not lowfat, but everyone goes nuts for this flavorful, creamy dish).  Her recipe calls for frozen peas, but I added just-picked snowpeas and tender asparagus from my garden.  And Panzanella, is of course, made most delicious by the freshest basil and the best-tasting olive oil.  This early in the season, it can be hard to find tasty tomatoes, but the little organic grape tomatoes are packed with sweet tomato flavor right now.  I toasted the ciabatta, rubbed it with garlic, salted it, and drizzled Viola olive oil aaaaallllll oooooover, before cubing it to add to the salad. 

Seriously, this was one of the best all-around meals that I've ever made.  And to top it all off, we savored the Super Tuscan.  After the first sip, everyone was wondering what it was and wanted to see the bottle.  We all thought it was fabulous!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My new favorite wine for summer

This is my new favorite wine for summer, Banfi's Sauvignon Blanc/Chardonnay blend called Fumaio.  You can read more about the wine on Banfi's link, here:  .  Lucky for me, this wine is on sale for the whole month of June here where I live - just 7.99 a bottle!  How crazy is that price?  For a wine that is easy to drink with such crisp and light fruitiness, this is an excellent price.  It pairs well with fish, and we've been enjoying it as an aperitif as well as with light pasta dishes (pasta with artichoke, pasta with asparagus, etc.).  When I was in Montalcino in December, we visited the Croce di Mezzo winery, whose vines are directly adjacent to the Banfi estate.  They share the same "terroir," or climate/soil/environment.  We didn't enter the Banfi estate, but one of these times, I'm going to have to stop there for a tour and tasting.  They make a lovely rose', too, in addition to their world-renowned Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino.  For now, I've got two cases of Fumaio in the house, and I plan to enjoy this lovely white wine all summer long!

Two Glorious Weeks in the Bel Paese!

It's official!  I've bought my airline tickets to Italy!  I'll be there two weeks in September with the ladies on tour.  The tour is 11 nights, but I arrive one day early and stay on two days at the end.  Having a trip like this to look forward to changes the way you experience every day, every moment....  It gives you an added zest, a hopefulness, a serene happiness that pervades everything you do...  It's one of my most favorite things about travel. 

Film Internship Photos

Giuliana and Steve are posting their photos from this month's ongoing film internship o their blog (  Here is the link directly to their photo slideshow:  They all appear to be having a fabulous time!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Giuliana and Steve's New Film Internship Blog

I am so excited to share the news that Giuliana and Steve, who are in Italy this whole month with University of Utah film students, have started a new blog!  Please visit to see wonderful photos of the gang hard at work doing lots of filming, and to read their heartwarming stories.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lucca's Buccellato

When I got to Lucca, I couldn't wait to try their famous Buccellato, and I knew I had to visit Taddeucci's to get the very best sampling. 

You can visit Taddeucci's website to learn more about the history of Buccellato:

Borrowing from, "Buccellato is a famous sweet-style bread from Lucca. As the old Lucchese saying goes: “Chi va a Lucca e non mangia il buccellato รจ come se non ci fosse stato” (Going to Lucca and not eating the Buccellato is like never being there). The Buccellato is a cake shaped like a doughnut or long loaf of bread and has an average weight of approximately 1 pound.  Its main ingredients are flour, sugar, anise seeds, yeast, raisins and egg white.  The Buccellato is a bread-like cake that stays fresh for several days, even if it eventually becomes very hard. When it hardens, it is usually consumed the Lucchese way, cut up into thick slices and dunked in wine (such as the sweet Vin Santo wine). It can also be toasted and served covered with sugar and strawberries."  Read more:

Believe me, your Buccellato will get as hard as a baseball bat after several days, and if you're traveling without a toaster, you'd better get yourself some sweet wine to dunk it in!  I recommend getting as small a loaf as they will sell you, or else plan to share it with several people while it is still fresh.  :-)  The anise flavor is quite pronounced and makes this a very distinctive treat.

Montalcino Wines

Do you know the difference between Rosso di Montalcino and Brunello di Montalcino wines?  They are both made from 100% Sangiovese grapes, but Rosso di Montalcino wines are aged only 1 to 1.5 years and never have to go in oak, whereas Brunellos must be aged for 5 years:  2 in steel, 2 in oak, and then the final year in the bottle.  Oh, and don't buy any 2002 Brunellos - it rained too much that year and the wine made from grapes harvested in 2002 isn't as good as wine made in other years.  Try to find a 2004 vintage - even though it is still "young" for a Brunello, 2004 was apparently a very good year for the grapes, and the wines have come out very nicely.    Here I am with Brenda at the Croce di Mezzo winery in Montalcino taking a tour of their cellars (Dec 2009). 

Want to share this blog about Umbria - you will love it!

If you are interested in an insider's view of Umbria, check out Gabriele and Federica's blog:  You will love it!

Don't Just Dream It - Do It ! Let us take you on a tour of a lifetime!

Don't Just Dream It - Do It !   Let us take you on a tour of a lifetime!
L to R: Marybeth, Giuliana (owner/founder) Steve (filmmaker)

Giuliana, owner of La Contadina Travels and Tours

Giuliana, owner of La Contadina Travels and Tours
Giuliana, on the right, leading a tour in Umbria

Steven Robert McCurdy, documentary filmmaker and my fellow tour guide

Steven Robert McCurdy, documentary filmmaker and my fellow tour guide
Steve taking a self-portrait in Italy

Another self-portrait of Steve, who is co-leading the tour with me

Another self-portrait of Steve, who is co-leading the tour with me

Italian Club of Salt Lake

If you're in Utah or coming for a visit and are interested in events related to Italian culture, music, or food, check the Italian Club of Salt Lake (ICSL) website for information: .

The ICSL also offers wonderful Italian language classes in a fun and comfortable setting at Raw Bean Cafe', at 611 South West Temple (great access off I-15). I'm the coordinator of the classes as well as a student, and believe me, the classes are great!