Dreaming of Christmas in Italy  
It's 15°C today in Positano, 60°F, and the roses in my garden are flourishing, along with just planted lettuce, escarole and  friarielli , broccoli rape.  Spring onions,  radicchio , and fennel were also just planted and are sleeping under soft soil slowly growing their way up .  Even though it's winter on the Amalfi Coast, the air swirls with scents of springtime.  However signs of Christmas, like panettone baked by Pasticceria Pansa, are already displayed on the shelf in my favorite pastry shop in Amalfi.
During my morning walks, Signor Michele chips away and assembles a presepe, Italian manger.  He diligently keeps watch over this entire village, recreating the scene of Christmases past.  The presepe is peppered with small houses, hand-crafted in cement and brushed with pastel colors and set in a natural grotto. Handmade Neapolitan dolls are dressed in traditional costume and are posed doing their daily chores like fishing, sewing, baking bread and sailing (there is even a small lake filled with running water).  As nighttime falls, small lights twinkle throughout this make-believe scene recreating Christmases past.
This month we travel toMilan,Venice, Siena, Naples, and Palermo, sharing traditions and customs, while collecting old world Christmas cookie recipes from nonnas and chefs.  We've kitchen-tested each recipe and gained a few pounds along the way - but our Christmas cookies are the best gift you can give to one and all.
And although it is off-season in Italy, we are excited to welcome several families to Italy over Christmas and Hanukkah.  They'll be cooking, and merrymaking and sharing Italian traditions with us in the kitchen.

As we commence upon the holiday season - starting December 8 with the Immaculate Conception, continuing to December 13 for Santa Lucia, on to December 24 and 25 for La Vigilia and Christmas, and then to January 6 for the Epiphany - we wish you and yours peace on Earth.

Buon Natale
Table Talk

Venetian Christmas Butter Cookies 
Venice, known as  La Serenissima, the most serene republic, is where I spent time in the kitchen with Chef Maria.  Chef Maria tells me at Christmas, the  Venetians start with risotto de Pevarasse, a creamy rice and clam risotto. Branzino al forno, baked sea bass, and anguilla, eel, follow. On Christmas day, Venetians treasure cappelletti in brodo, a ravioli and chicken broth delicacy, and capone, capon, boiled in water with celery, herbs, parsley and onion.

So whether you are strolling through Saint Marco's square on your way to Caffè Florian for a hot chocolate and dolci Natalizi, or to the Mercatini di Natale, artisan Christmas markets, Venice dazzles at Christmas.  Chef Maria shares her recipe for Christmas Venetian butter cookies in our recipe section below.  

Ricciarelli ~ Christmas Almond Cookies
Siena, the Medieval town in Tuscany, transforms into a winter wonderland as every bakery showcases ricciarelli, the power sugar covered Christmas cookies of Siena made with almonds, sugar and egg whites.
Ricciarelli, dating back to the 14th century, were brought to Siena by Ricciardetto Della Gherardesca after he had returned from the Crusades with
almonds. Almonds arrived to Italy during the Roman Crusades, when shipments began arriving from the Middle East, and since then, Italians have turned them into almost every type of Christmas cookie imaginable.

Panettone ~ Sweet Christmas Bread
The buttery bread called panettone was first created in Milan in a small bakery, for love! Nobleman,   Ugheto   Atellani , had fallen in love with the poor baker's daughter,   Adalgisa .  In order to win her love, he disguised himself as a peasant and offered to work in the bakery.  With his wealth, he added high quality butter and candied citrus fruit to the recipe and instantly, the simple   Medieval   bread became the most sought after Christmas sweet.  Word of mouth spread, and soon there was a long line of people around the small bakery, queuing for the golden-baked citrus-infused  panettone .  Eventually the baker,   Ugheto,   confessed what he had done, asked for   Adalgisa's   hand in marriage and the couple set their engagement.  The Duke of Milan,   Ludovico   Sforza, arranged the wedding and even Leonardo da Vinci attended.   Panettone   was served as the wedding cake and the couple lived happily ever after.
Struffoli ~ Fried Dough Drizzled with Honey
Although Campania is rich in history with so many Christmas desserts first made in the monasteries in Naples, the most popular one is struffoli .   Small pearl-size rounds of batter are flash-fried, placed on a platter in a cone-like shape, then drizzled with honey and topped with colored sprinkles. There were once considered a poor man's Christmas dessert. 
Biscotti di Pistacchio ~ Pistachio Biscotti
Pistachios are sprinkled on salads, tossed into homemade pasta and used as a garnish in all Sicilian pastry making. At Christmas time, every Sicilian mamma is busy baking up a storm declaring her biscotti di pistacchio are the best (not sharing her recipe with the next, and if she does, she'll usually leave out an ingredient or two). Pistachios are a very important staple in Sicilian cuisine, and not only at Christmas time. They were first grown in Eastern Sicily during the Middle Ages and continue to flourish near Mount Etna in the Bronte region, where the biggest and tastiest pistachios are grown.

The Elizabeth Berg Boot Camp™   
Mill Valley, California ~ January 27 to 29, 2017
  Pack you bags and don't forget your pen!

Learn More

 What's Cooking
Florence, Bologna & Verona

Our newest program welcomes you for a fabulous week of Kosher cooking just minutes from the Florence Synagogue. Choose from two accommodations, both with views of the Synagogue's green dome, that are within walking distance of the historic Jewish Museum. Nearby, too, is your professional Kosher kitchen, where Chef Gabri has been creating fabulous meat and vegetarian dishes for over a decade.  This special Kosher Cooking Florence program immerses you into Italy's most treasured art city, with authentic, hands-on Kosher cooking bringing each masterpiece to life. Join us! 
Step into the Medieval walls of Bologna and into the artful hands of your host Federica, who invites you to experience all of Bologna's gastronomic delights. From the charming landmark's city center at Piazza Maggiore to the rolling countryside hills, this one-of-a-kind cooking program takes you through the 'city of arches' and then onto its countryside, revealing Bologna's love affair with food. Join us for a week of hands-on cooking from the old city center to the Bologna Hills
We invite you to Chef Massimiliano's kitchen for hands-on cooking in the heart of Veneto in Valpolicella. Stay in a beautiful 15th-century villa set in the lush green countryside of the Amarone vineyards. Learn about local cooking, flavors and extraordinary wines while participating in hands-on cooking classes that immerse you into treasured family recipes. You will taste, sip and swirl, the best way to learn about flavors, while preparing local recipes and dining on exquisite cuisine!  

Happy Cookers At Cooking Vacations  


Recipes From Our Kitchen

Veneto, Venice 
Biscotti Natalizi Veneziani
Panettone ~ Italian Christmas Bread

Ricciarelli ~ Italian Almond Cookies

Struffoli ~ Fried Dough Drizzled with Honey

Sip & Swirl 

Tuscan Ricciarelli ~ Tuscan Almond Cookies   
Paired with:
Falchini Casale Vin Santo Toscano Podere Casale
Choose Tuscany's famous Vin Santo to pair with just-baked ricciarelli,almond cookies. The wine's complex nutty taste and dried fruit aroma match perfectly with the salty almond based cookie.

Sicilian Pistachio Biscotti
Paired with:
Florio Fine Sweet Marsala   
Dark amber in color and rich in date and apricot aroma, Florio Marsala is the perfect dessert wine to pair with our sweet and salty pistachio biscotti.

Panettone from Milan
Paired with:
Valdobbiadene Prosecco 
The light and bubbly Valdobbiadene Proseccois dry and refreshing when paired with sweet buttery panettone, Christmas cake.

Neapolitan Struffoli
Paired with:
Mastroberardino Passito 
This semi-sweet red bubbly offers strawberry and delicate floral notes that pair perfectly with the honey glaze struffoli.

With Love From Italy

Pasticceria Pansa 
Words cannot describe the passion that goes into each pastry, nor the high quality ingredients that Pasticceria Pansa uses.  The family Pansa has been baking and creating since 1830 and continue to dazzle us every season with Panettone, roccocò, sapienza, dense marzipan, candied citrus dipped in chocolate, torrone, along with teas and double dense hot chocolate to keep you warm.  The award-winning pastry cafe is my favorite!  Located in the main piazza in Amalfi, Pasticceria Pansa is a must!  
Visit them at www.pasticceriapansa.it 

Neapolitan Presepe   
Italians go to great lengths to decorate and celebrate the holiday season with their
presepe, mangers.  It's an Italian tradition that every family participates in.  Celebrate a truly Italian
Christmas and build your own presepe with Gambardella at San Gregorio Armeno, Naples.
The renowned maker of mangers creates each one by hand for an old world Christmas Italian style.  

Visit them at
Christmas Cheer In A Cup
Antico Caffè Greco, or Caffè Greco, is an historic landmark caffè which opened in 1760 on via dei Condotti, Rome, and is still delighting Romans and tourists alike.  Whether you need a break from holiday shopping or you're on your way to a Christmas concert, step inside Rome's most historic caffè. Coffee, teas, hot chocolate and winter warming delights for all!

Vist them at www.anticocaffegreco.eu 

aly On A P late

Flavors Of The Season
By Germaine Stafford

Germaine continues her roundup of what's happening in the culinary world in Italy and gives you her chef of the month, book recommendation, and a list of seasonal foods for December.
What's In Season?  
         * Oranges
         * Red Beets
         * Broccoli
         * Artichokes
         * Carrots
         * Chestnuts
         * Cauliflower
         * Brussels Sprouts
         * Cabbage
         * Chicory  
         * Turnip Greens
         * Endive
         * Persimmon
         * Citrus Fruits
         * Pomegranates
         * Potatoes
         * Jerusalem Artichokes

Mercato Centrale Rome

Mercato Centrale Rome, a new addition to Eternal City, is set in the Rome train station.  Brainchild of Florentine businessman Umberto Montano (of Mercato Centrale in Florence), the food market, café, wine bar, and restaurant showcases Italy's most prized food purveyors.  The food emporium is open every day of the week from 7am to midnight.
Mercato Centrale includes:
Gabriele Bonci , kneading and baking breads and pizza daily.
Savini Tartuffi weighing in and slicing truffles, where the family has been forging since 1920.
Cheese maker to the stars, Beppe Giovale of Beppe e I Suoi Formaggi, Piedmont showcasing artisan formaggi like you've never tasted before.
Luca Veralli of Gelateria La Romana scooping gelato and semifreddo 12 months per year.
Slicing and dicing the freshest meats and cured meat products is Roberto Liberati of Bottega Liberati
Peddling fish and shellfish is Antica Pescheria Galluzzi - a Roman family who has been purveying fish since 1894.

Flash-frying artichokes in boiling oil is Alessandro Conti of Da Maria in Campo de' Fiori . Although selling fresh produce, artichokes will be his specialty.
Kneading, rolling, twisting and stuffing since 1919, Egidio Michelis, a family tradition of pasta makers. Pick up your favorite pasta!

Oriolo Funghi's Gabriele La Rocca, purveyor of fresh, dried and frozen mushrooms will keep your kitchen pantry full of these delicacies throughout the year.
Mondicaffè - the Franco Mondi family is roasting and brewing high quality beans and brews.
Marcella Bianchi , vegan and vegetarian pioneer in Italy churning up endless vegan and vegetarian specialties.

Enrico Lagoria, is slicing and grilling prime cuts of Chianina meats.
Carmelo Pannoccietti of Arà showcases authentic high quality Sicilian foods from the isola.
Rolling, twirling and baking in less than a minute is pizzaiolo, Romualdo Rizzuti

Trapizzino makers, Stefano Callegari and Paul Pansera, of Trapizzino are stacking, layering and wrapping trapizzini, layered Italian sandwiches for travelers and businessmen on the go.

Book Corner  
Dolce: Italian Sweets
By Francine Segand    
Francine Segan provides a fun holiday gift for the home chef who wants to learn and bake delicious traditional Italian sweets.  Her recipe book features the classics from the 20 regions of Italy including cannoli, zuppa inglese, chocolate eggplant and licorice granite, all with easy-to-follow recipes with food notes too.

Ms. Sepan spanned the Boot collecting family recipes from nonnas, bakers, food writers and chefs, making this a comprehensive guide to Italy's best loved dolci

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Lauren is always cooking & writing from Positano, Italy,
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