madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


market treasures

Antiques Fair in Arezzo, Southern Tuscany

My husband and I have an inordinate passion for flea markets. When we lived in Zürich in the mid 90s, we spent all our free time rummaging through dusty boxes of wonders.  “Normal” people would run home or to the café after a long day of work. We, on the other hand, would meet in some icy cold warehouse to try our luck with the day arrivals. A few times we even woke up at the crack of dawn for the opening of a liquidation sale.

Spring was particularly hectic, with all the outdoor markets, no time for a romantic picnic on the Alps. As a result we collected enough stuff to furnish and decorate our home here in Umbria as well as all the guest rooms of our B&B.  We probably have in storage enough stuff for another house!

For me, going to a flea market is like walking into a fairy tale. It’s a window open on the life and strangeness of others. It’s a study on the definition of beauty and necessity. I mean, who needs a rabbit shaped tureen? A porcelain octopus? A spare pair of wings?

But that’s how it goes: you throw away something which I find valuable and attractive. Still, there cannot be that much demand for the life-size ceramic dogs, can it?

The video below is about the Antique fair in Arezzo, probably the largest in Central Italy. It’s held on the first Sunday of each month and its’ a fabulous place for dreamers. Do go.  If you don’t buy too much you might have  enough money to see the splendid Piero della Francesca frescoes.  Really, a dream day.

PS. For more information and beautiful pictures on Arezzo please visit my friend Sandra’s blog


cooking on a sunny day

Over the years our guests have given us the gift of many beautiful images. Images of ourselves, of Umbria, of cooking classes, of fun and relaxation, of greetings.  Moments in which the lives of others have crossed ours here, atop our magical mountain. Moments for which I am grateful.



This video is a gift of Chris Honeysett, a very talented photographer who visited us 3 years ago, make sure to visit his fabulous website


from Umbria with chocolate

the Eurochocolate festival in Perugia is a good opportunity to sample new and fashonable products

the Eurochocolate festival in Perugia is a good opportunity to sample new and fashionable products

Every year around this time, mid October, I get vaguely annoyed. First of all it gets cold and wet for the first time after months of wonderful weather. It’s still beautiful all around, but one needs to get used to the sweaters.

Then, like every October in the last 10 years,  Eurochocolate comes to Perugia and so the traffic and a million chocolate wrappers.

Eurochocolate is a large chocolate festival, sponsored by the big chocolate brands. It brings more than 100 thousand visitors to our small provincial capital. The locals lock themselves up for 2 week-ends. There is not point in getting squashed when one can buy (most of) the same stuff in the supermarket.

It’s better to visit during the week if one wants to get any close to the stands.

fine Venchi chocolate from Torino

faboulus Venchi chocolate from Torino

Those who love crowds can go in the weekend to see the making of the chocolate sculptures in Perugia’s main street Corso Vannucci. Large blocks of chocolate are carved by energetic artists and all the trimmings are given out for free to the onlookers (video).

Altrocioccolato, held in Gubbio is the cozy, fair-trade, green alternative to the monster kermesse. There’s lots of organic stuff, hand knitted socks, good music and free theatre for the kids. It’s even possible to find parking space. Really, it is very friendly.

no sponsors and genuine children entertrainment at Altrocioccolato Festival in Gubbio

no sponsors and genuine children entertainment at Altrocioccolato Festival in Gubbio

As for myself, if I need special chocolate, I can get it year around, I have friends. I go to Barbara in Santa Maria degli Angeli*  or to Elena in Palazzo**  where I can find a variety of artisan chocolate at reasonable prices. I like to support small companies. I like to get suggestions and a bite to taste in peace, no queuing up required.

I am grateful to someone who makes the effort to trace good genuine products, possibly from another small company, and hands it with a smile. They know I’ll be back tomorrow.

*Terra Umbra. Via Patrono d’Italia 10, Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi
**Pasta fresca e non solo, 43, Viale Michelangelo Palazzo di Assisi

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children's carnival in Spoleto, South Umbria

children's carnival in Spoleto, Southern Umbria

Its’ Carnival and -if I close my eyes – I can make winter go away. The glory and glamour of Venice and Rio de Janeiro are far away. Here in rural Umbria Carnival is a mostly a celebration for children. It’s all about being curious of the costumes of your school friends. It’s about stuffing yourself with all sorts of deep fried sweets bathed in sugar or honey, strufoli, frappe, castagnole.  It’s about running in the village streets under a rain of confetti.

typical Carnival party goers

typical party goers

Most villages organize Carnival festivals in February. The different districts of a village or town work throughout the winter to make themed floats which are paraded in the streets on Sunday afternoons.

decorated floats parading in the village

decorated floats parade

Floats are sponsored by local business, like the butcher, the baker, the hair dresser, the cafe, the tractors shop.

serious business

There is music and dance and everyone has fun. There’s candy for the little ones and wine for the grown ups.

no wine? No party

no wine? No party

In the end there is always someone too tired after the party. Hopefully she will not have a hang over tomorrow.

too much!


twenty four thousand sausages

Animal lovers have peculiar behaviors sometimes.  Like, for example, eating 24000 sausages in one day.

On the third week-end of January the village of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi celebrates the feast of Saint Anthony Abbot . The Egyptian hermit is the patron  of domestic animals, especially pigs, as well as of butchers.  He has been invoked by farmers against a number of diseases including pestilence, herpes and , of course, various skin rashes.

Our local celebration originates from somewhere  in the XIX century when the end of a pestilence  decimating the village’s horses was attributed to a miracle of the  Saint. From that time on, the people of Santa Maria degli Angeli commemorates the miracle with a procession, the distribution of  the Piatto di Sant’Antonio (see below) and the blessing of domestic animals.

This year's

This year's proession was proudly preceeded by the Carabinieri cavalrly

People comes to watch the procession and to bring their pets for the blessing.  Pets are clad in  red to honor the Saint.

pets on the way to blessing

Pets on the way to be blessed

Animal lovers find all sorts of implements to carry their pet s.

a rabbit trolley, dog and rabbit pouches

A rabbit trolley, dog and rabbit pouches

Some are impeccably dressed.

dressed up for the eventDressed up for the event
The celebration is organized by a group of local men, the Priors, who carry the Statue of Saint Anthony during the procession.

The Procession of saint Anthony, his statue is carried by the Priors

The Procession of Saint Anthony, his statue is carried by the Priors

In addition, the Priors collect funds so that virtually everybody in the village can afford to go out and eat the “Piatto di Sant’ Antonio” a plate with pasta, meat and fruits that was originally distributed to the poor.  The plate is a carnivore feast including by regulation 4 pork sausages , two slices of roast and 2 meatballs.

So, with approx. 6000 participants, the local butchers have had enough work. The pets have been dressed up and blessed.  As in the best Italian tradition, everybody went home well fed and happy. Well,  may be not the pigs, but at least thay have been put out of their misery.

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If our everyday meals were low profile, holidays were an entire different experience. In fact,  a gastronomic extravaganza.

Half of my extended family is Sicilian and most of them live in Umbria. For Christmas or Easter, it was not unusual to have large parties of 15-20 people.

a family gathering on Christmas 1977

a family gathering on Christmas 1977

At each of these occasions, not only my mother, but all my Sicilian aunts and some uncles embarked in a sort of food contest. The contest functioned as follows:

1) each day of a holiday would be spent at a different house, i.e. Christmas at our house, New year’s Eve at zia Ida’s, New Year’s day at zia Anna and so forth

2) each day there would be a multicourse lunch or dinner

3) each meal would be different from the previous

There was no winner to the contest as all were wonderful cooks. These celebrations happened throughout my childhood and I remember them as an almost magical experience. There was no separate food for us kids. No junk food, no sodas. We were served a feast of elaborated dishes, all homemade, the results of the hard work the  week preceeding the holiday. Images of crostini with chicken liver paté, lasagne, pasta incasciata, cardoons, veal rolls, stuffed pigeon, all sort of roast meat, big bowls of fresh salad, piles of sliced panettone, baskets of mandarins and nuts, all is impressed in my mind as a dream. Good, good food.


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