madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


spiced grape jelly

magnificent fall colors in Umbria

I love October in Umbria. Soon the winter sadness will descend on us, but right now colors are working full-time. Everywhere is golden and red. Everything seems to taste sweet, chestnuts, pears, grapes. There’s wonderful grapes everywhere.

We are the lucky owners of a 1/2 century old vine-arbor. We don’t make wine with the fruits, too much of a fuss. We just leave the bunches there to capture the last bits of sun. During one of those mellow afternoons, I go outside to harvest them and enjoy the technicolor.

a gorgeous sunset from our terrace

I pick the best bunches, put them in a large bucket, sit comfortably with (dog) Google at my feet and remove all the stems.

Then I pour the cleaned grapes in a cauldron and heat it until the grapes start bursting. I subsequently proceed to sieve the grapes through a mouli to remove skins and seeds.

Next, I transfer the filtered grape juice back into the cauldron where I bring it to slow boil and let it simmer until is reduced by half. Finally I can make the jelly.

For that, I use same amounts of sugar and reduced grape juice (weight), powdered pectin according to package instruction, the zest of 1/2 lemon, 2 cloves and 1 inch cinnamon stick per liter/quart grape juice.

The whole process takes several hours. A small mountain of tiny wine grapes only yields a few precious jars. Every year I think I am crazy. Every year I hope I have captured some of the last sun in the jar.

grape jelly made with green and red wine grapes


pears poached in Vin Santo

pears poached in sweet wine

pears poached in sweet wine

PERE AL VINSANTO.  Vin Santo, literally meaning “holy wine,” is a sweet dessert wine traditionally produced in Central Italy and some areas of the North using dried grapes. This is one of my favorite recipes  in Antonio Carluccio‘s book “Italian Feast”. It makes a perfect conclusion to a hearty Umbrian meal of lentil soup followed by  torta al testo with sausages and cime di rapa.


  • 4 pears, ripe but not too soft
  • 1/2 bottle of Vin Santo or other dessert wine like Malvasia or Passito
  • 100 gr sugar
  • rind of 1 lemon
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • optional: 1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese per person

Peel the pears, so they absorb the wine while cooking, but leave them whole or halved. Put them in a non-reactive saucepan and cover with wine. Add the sugar, lemon rind and spices and poach with the lid on until tender. Remove the pears from the liquid and place them into individual serving bowls. Simmer the remaining liquid until reduced to a golden syrup and just starting to foam. Pour the syrup over the pears, allow to cool and serve garnished with a dollop of mascarpone if desired.


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