Monday, July 25, 2011


I guess it is starting to become very obvious that I am missing home. Last night I made the personnel fried chicken for dinner. Of course I tried adding an Italian spin by frying it in extra virgin olive oil and adding dried oregano to the flour mixture. The result was tasty and they certainly couldn't get enough!

Italian Fried Chicken

4 Chicken Breasts

2 egg whites

1 cup flour

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tsp dried oregano

4 tblsp extra virgin olive oil

Slice the chicken breasts into strips. With a fork scramble egg whites until well beaten. In a different bowl combine flour, salt, pepper, and oregano. Dip the chicken strips one by one into the egg whites and then flour mixture. Once well coated, heat the oil in a non stick skillet. When oil is sizzling place chicken strips in oil. Let cook 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove from oil and place on paper towel before serving.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I board the train to Florence tomorrow morning to meet Mom and Dad! I can't wait, they are getting ready to board the plane in Atlanta right now. We will be in Florence for 4 days and then they will stay in Lucca, explore all of Tuscany and come visit me when I have afternoons off! We are going to see The David, visit the Uffizi, and shop at the Ponte Vecchio among many other things. We'll drink Chianti while sharing risottos. I can't wait to return to this magnificent city AND finally see my parents again! I'll be making another visit to Acque al 2 to enjoy another taste of that unbelievable balsamic steak! And then come back to blog about all my yummy adventures!

Celebrating the Sweet

Yesterday was Valentina's birthday. Valentina is the sweet Albanian pastry chef who speaks no English. She works her heart out making bread for each shift, preparing brioche and homemade cakes for breakfast, and creating each dessert during service. Everything sweet in the kitchen comes from her hands and I certainly can't get enough! To celebrate her birthday I made White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Banana Foster's Sauce. This is one of the first recipes I learned while working at Natalia's for my senior project in high school. If you've ever been to Natalia's and enjoyed this dessert you know just how rich and luscious it is. However if you haven't had the chance to taste this one way ticket to heaven, let me know, I'll make it for you. I made it twice, one for her to take home and one for the others' to eat. Everyone left the shift very very happy. This is what I love about cooking, it brings people together. Although we can't all understand each other, food defies the language barrier and bonds us in a way nothing else can.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Italian Sushi

The thought of eating raw fish has always repulsed me. I've never been a fan of sashimi, always having to douse my sushi rolls in soy sauce and cover them in pickled ginger. It's not that I don't like the taste. I think it's the thought of consuming a product that inevitably could cause some microbial disease if not prepared correctly that truly disturbs me.

Well, this mind set quickly had to change in Italy. During the service, one of my primarily responsibilities is making carpaccio. We have a shrimp carpaccio and a beef carpaccio. I would never think to order shrimp carpaccio when going to a restaurant, but it's one of our best sellers. Therefore I make it all the time, almost every single day. And with each time I make it, I must taste to make sure the seasonings are right. (One of the best parts of the job-sampling as you go!)

Surprisingly, I find it to be most delicious. Although you must get past the texture- it is raw shrimp after all- the seasonings make it the perfect summer appetizer. We flavor it with vanilla oil, a mix of spices, lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper. On top we garnish with a quenelle of fish tartare, a raw version of pesce that has been flavored with pesto, lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper. The flavors all come together harmoniously to create a very edible, very tasty dish.

Same goes with the beef. We season with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon (the acid from the lemon is what makes eating raw safe). Then pair this with a light fennel salad and parmesan shavings. It's an excellent choice for a primi piatti.

Lately we've been making a fish tartare as for the entreè , or amuse bouche. We've been seasoning it with a variety of ingredients. One unique version is with fresh berries and fruits. It's delightful and perfect for a light starter. Plus, it makes for a beautiful dish.

Perhaps I find eating the uncooked protein sanitary because I do it myself, or maybe it's the fact I am in Italy and everything just tastes better here. But most importantly I think it is understanding complimentary ingredients that really highlight the raw meat. It's finding the balance between acidity and seasonings that make the dish work.

Pictured: Amuse bouche of fish tartare, flavored with fresh berries.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lardo di Colonnata

Il Bottaccio buys all of their pork products from La Bottega di Ado. This well-known butcher shop is the best in the area. Specifically, they are experts for making the famous Lardo di Colonnata. Colonnata, one of the smaller towns in this area (only 5 km from my house) is acclaimed for it's marble and of course lardo. The lardo is a prized cut, and the process though which they cure it truly makes it one of a kind. The pure fat comes from the layer of fat at the back of the big and a cut of the belly.

Once the pieces of meat are cleaned, they are placed in a large marble basin, the marble of comes from the area as well. The basins have been rubbed with garlic and herbs, when the fat is placed in the tub then it is covered in a mixture of salt, pepper, garlic, sage, and rosemary. They layer the lardo in a tub like that until it is completely full: salt mixture, lardo, salt mixture, lardo, salt mixture, etc. The tub is sealed with a marble slab. The fat stays here for 6 months until it comes out full of flavor from the long process of seasoning and melts in your mouth.

When the lardo is finally ready, it can be taken home and used in a number of ways. It comes in a large slab, so it is important to use a very sharp knife or a meat slicing machine to cut it into thin strips. At Il Bottaccio we place it on crostini for bruschetta, wrap it around prawns, and also blanket filets that we serve with a red wine reduction sauce. I've also had it on a pizza at one of the local ristorantes. Any way you serve it, it is a delicacy.

It's unlike anything I've had before. The buttery texture, salty taste, and subtle hint of herbs truly makes it irresistible. Plus this is the only place in the world true Lardo di Colonnata is made, and it's only 5 minutes from my Italian home!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dinner in Massa

I can't believe I only have 2 weeks left in Italy! It's hard to believe how quickly this summer has gone by. Il Bottaccio gave me last night off so Marco and I headed to a pizzeria in the center of Massa. This trattoria sat us outside under a canopy lit with Christmas lights and lanterns. They served us such an incredible pie! Mine was covered in prosciutto crudo, stracciatella (a type of mozzarella), fresh tomatoes, and arugula. One of the best parts of being in Italy- it's socially acceptable (and pretty much expected) for you to order a single pizza and consume the entire thing by yourself. How could you not? The food is too good to leave a single bite! I already miss being here!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Favorite Things Friday

Mortar and Pestle
Williams-Sonoma Mortar & Pestle

Please excuse my personal pesto recipe. I've always made pesto in a food processor. This is wrong. The other day I learned Il Bottaccio's recipe (using the same ingredients as my recipe in approximately the same proportions). However, the procedure is quite different. They begin by using a mortar and pestle to break down the pine nuts, garlic, and basil leaves. The ingredients are crushed together making their flavors perfume almost immediately. Grinding in parmesan and then drizzling in the oil makes the pesto flavor much stronger than just using a processor. They finish it off in a blender, but that original step truly makes the sauce sing. So, if you don't have one already, add it to the shopping list!

Acqua Frizzante

It's starting to become extremely hot on this side of the Atlantic. Combined with the heat of the kitchen, it is extremely important to stay hydrated. I've always been a fan of club soda, La Croix, Perrier, and my sister's favorite Big K brand club soda. However in Italy it's become all I drink. We buy huge 2 liter bottles of the stuff to keep in the walk-in for the personnel. I think because I enjoy the refreshing bubbles I drink more of it! Whatever it is, I am hooked!


Fresh mozzarella was always a part of our antipasto platters in Rome. I cannot get enough of this unbelievably creamy handmade cheese. The large blocks they sell next to Kraft singles in America are a disgrace to the huge balls made freshly each day in Italy. Two days ago at Il Bottaccio we received a Styrofoam box containing two precious balls of freshly made mozzarella, made that morning in Naples, Italy. The balls were the size of cantaloupes that gushed out milk as you cut into them. Taking a bite of the fresh cheese was insane. I have never tasted anything so incredible. We served it with sliced Roma tomatoes lightly tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper. With only 2 weeks left abroad, I am crossing my fingers I can find a cheesemonger at home that can bring me that same satisfaction!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Walk-In

In a small hallway, behind the dishwasher pit, is the cold domicile of all the ingredients at Il Bottaccio. From the farmer's hands to our shelves are the fruits and vegetables that come in almost daily. You'll find stocks, sauces, tomato juice, and herbs. Then in the back there are jams and jellies, chocolate ganaches, and vanilla creams. This walk in refrigerator is one of the most important parts of the kitchen. It must constantly be cleaned, organized, and checked so that ingredients are always fresh and not going bad. I usually spend at least 10 or 15 minutes in the walk-in each day rearranging so that new shipments have a place to go as soon as they come in. I also have to follow a strict protocol so that food is placed safely throughout the refrigerator. Basically it is arranged so if one shelf drips into the next, the food will still be safe to eat. It's a fascinating hodge podge of food. Everything you could ever think of from passion fruit to Red Bull lives in this igloo. It is also a nice escape when the heat of the kitchen is too much to handle!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The List

After I turn on the burners and get chef's station ready, I make THE LIST. I go through the reach in (the refrigerated box that stays on the counter) to see what essential ingredients are missing. These include tomatoes (prepared two ways), garlic, onions, grated parmesan, butter, and parsley. Then I check the contorni (side vegetables or decoration) which involves carrots, zucchini, gratin potatoes, and tomatoes. And finally I check the stocks and juices- we have vegetable stock, tomato juice (fresh and canned), mussel juice, and clam juice.

If we are running slightly low on anything it goes on THE LIST. I will also add other tasks like cleaning out the walk in or making food for the workers and personnel so that we are sure not to forget important parts of the job.

I've found that making this keeps us focused and more efficient. Understanding the big picture of everything that needs to get done during the shift helps for time management. Although sometimes I have to write it in half English half Italian, we always seem to get it all done at the end of the day. Plus, I love lists so why wouldn't I think this is amazing protocol!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A morning in Massa

I've always enjoyed mornings. In America, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, I can't miss Al Roker's weather report, and my favorite spin class starts at 9:30. However, in Italy mornings have become the most essential part of my day. I've gotten into a routine of waking up early so I have plenty of time to exercise, write blogs, catch up on emails, and of course enjoy my brioche and cappuccino. My mornings are primarily my only free time. I work from 11-3:00ish, then 7-whenever. Between the two shifts I head to the beach and nap. So, I have made mornings a priority for productivity.

This morning was a bit of an exception. I woke up early, went for a run, came back and got ready. Then I went to my favorite cafe across the street for their delicious brioche and cappuccino (I honestly can't get enough). After I finished my breakfast and a lengthy attempt at reading the newspaper (there was an article on Obama I tried to decipher), I headed on to my next adventure.

Tuesdays in Massa are market day. I have never been before, always forgetting that it is on Tuesdays. On my run I was reminded as I saw vendors setting up their various tents. I am so glad I went. It was fun to see the different merchants and all they were selling. They had everything from hardware to underwear. There were food, clothes, antiques, cookware, jewelery, and flowers. Anything you could think of was being sold. Although I didn't buy anything today, I am going to return next week and do some damage. After all you can't pass by a great pair of Italian heels for only 10 euros and not want to come back!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Art Gallery

In addition to the Relais & Chateaux hotel and restaurant, and being associated with the European School of Economics, Il Bottaccio is also an art gallery. A part of the Aria Art Gallery, Il Bottaccio features different artist's exhibits every 2 or 3 months. When a new artist is brought in they typically have a large event, inviting clients to wine and dine and then see and buy the new art pieces. I always knew art was an important part of the Italian culture, but living here has made me appreciate it so much more.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Ivy York Band

The past two nights, Il Bottaccio has held a live concert with a prix fixe 5 course dinner. Everything was to die for. Here's what we made:

Insalta di Crostacei con Frutti Tropicali
(Salad with marinated shrimp and tropical fruit)

Gazpacho con Gallinella Crocccante
(Tomato soup with crispy gallinella and mint pesto)

Spiedino di Verdure e Pesce Spada
(Swordfish and vegetable skewer and swordfish kebab with two sauces)

Tacchino al Latte di Cocco e Curry
(Turkey with coconut milk and curry)

Cheese Cake con Mango e Papaya
(Lemon cheesecake with white chocolate ganache, mango, and papaya)

Tuscan Travelers

Leaving Rome was a depressing moment to say the least. It was the 4th of July and the first time I started to feel homesick. Saying goodbye to Colin was hard after enjoying a wonderful week together. I also couldn't help but think about the hamburgers and hotdogs my friends and family were enjoying in the U.S.A!

The chaos of the train station helped keep my mind off of things, but definitely instilled some panic as people were rushing in every direction. I had allotted plenty of time so I boarded the train and took my seat. I was seated next to an Italian couple, probably in their mid to late 70s. We said our "how-dos" realizing there was a language barrier, as my Italian is "poco" and their English is "little". But, once the train took off it was like we couldn't stop the conversation. Yes, they were speaking Italian and I was speaking Italglish, but somehow it worked.

They told me they lived in Pisa, but had to come to Rome for business, he's in hospital administration. I explained to them how I'm doing a stage (what European's call an internship) in Montignoso and working in a kitchen. I used my English to Italian dictionary and he used his Italian to English dictionary to tell me about their family and home. It was an absolute delight.

After awhile I dozed off, but awoke 45 minutes later to aromas of tomato and cheese. The wife had packed them a delightful picnic. She realized I was awake and offered me a taste of the zucchini parmesan she had prepared, I declined as I had just eaten the largest panini of my life before we boarded. She explained to me the recipe, also telling me of her what I would call lemon chicken fried steak. But of course, her recipe uses Italian bread crumbs and parsley.

They were so dear to me, it was exactly what I needed to cure the homesickness. I would adopt them as my Italian grandparents if I could. When they departed the train in Pisa they each gave me the traditional Italian kiss on each cheek. It's one of those moments I know I'll never be able to forget.

The Infinite Dinner

Taking advice again from Frommer's Travel Guide, we found this delightful restaurant in a side street near Piazza Campo de' Fiori. Luckily we had made a reservation as we bypassed a growing line outside the restaurant. We were greeted by the Paolo Fazi, the chef behind the magic. With her hair wrapped in a white turban she guided us to our table. Within seconds, plates of antipasto and pitchers of wine were before us. There were meats, tomatoes, olives, lentils, bread, and crispy lemon fritters. We enjoyed every bite while loving the atmosphere- a crowded front patio where conversation flowed as heavily as the wine. Our waiter never really talked to us, just asking us when we were finished so they could clear our plates and bring on the next course. The antipasto, was of course followed by pasta, a seemingly 100 cheese penne with a perfected cream sauce. I loved the challenge of determining what exactly it was we were eating as there was no menu in sight. Next came the secondi piatti (main course) of chicken, pork, spinach, and potato chips. Italian spinach is actually much more bitter than what we are used to in America. The mozzarella though was heavenly, I think I'll always say that about mozzarella. I'm in love. We finished up with a slice of creamy pie and a shot of some sort of juice also known as a digestif that helps aid digestion. We passed on coffee, but gladly welcomed a second pitcher of wine. The food and atmosphere was an amazing experience that concluded the trip well. And for only 25 euros a person, I'd go back in a heart beat!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Best Thing I Ever Ate

As soon as we saw it on the menu, we knew we had to have it. Grilled Pancetta with Arugula and Balsamic Reduction. We were dining at Osteria del Gallo, a restaurant recommended by Frommer's. We sat outside and began with a bottle of red wine. They brought out bread but we were waiting for their star primi piatti. When it came out the smells teased our noses making our mouths water and our stomachs grumble. The first bite was an explosion of flavors. The saltiness of the pancetta combined with the sweetness of the balsamic and peppery arugula made the dish sing. We couldn't get enough. We cleaned the plate and then used the bread to mop the remaining drops of reduction. It was so simple, and yet pure heaven. I can't wait to try and remake this once I'm home!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Favorite Things Friday


I loved these in America, but in Italy they seem to be on some sort of steroid. They line the entrance to Il Bottaccio and are all in full bloom. The blossoms are so much larger than any I've ever seen. They also come in a much greater variety of colors. Confession: I pick a little one every now and then to keep in my room, it always brightens my day!

Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Italians have somewhat of an obsession with this formaggio. Always referred to as Philadelphia (never cream cheese) they use it on bread, in pastas, or to fill celery like we do! Last night they made Seafood Roll Ups with smoked salmon and swordfish filled with Philadelphia, parsley, and my next favorite thing truffle oil. Delicious!

White Truffle Oil

The scent of this liquid makes me stop breathing. Lauren, Jenn, and I fell in love with it our first trip to Italy in March. After going to Rome I am now utterly obsessed. When we were at the Campo dei Fiora market they had hundreds of different kinds including a white truffle balsamic reduction. Once I'm back in the States I'm going to do some recipe testing to discover how to make this outstanding condiment.

Italian Casserole

Leave it to me to start making casseroles in Italy. Southern ladies know this is a go to when making dinner in advance for lots of hungry people. Recently, we have gained the responsibility of not only preparing meals for the restaurant/hotel staff, but also the construction workers. Il Bottaccio is expanding the hotel so that there will be 8 rooms instead of 4, and they are also adding a spa. There are 8 hungry workers that need meals twice a day. Feeding these men can be quite the challenge as you need something that not only fills them up, but also gives them lots of energy. Yesterday we made Nino's recipe for a pasta bake. It is similar to carbonara pasta including peas, ham, mushrooms, and tomatoes in a creamy tomato sauce. Today I made a different pasta bake that I know they will enjoy. Here is the recipe.

Pesto Pasta Casserole

Yield: 6-8 servings

Pesto Sauce*

3 cups Béchamel Sauce (premade is fine)
3 cups cherry tomatoes (halved or quartered depending on size)

1/2 cup Olive Oil
2 cups edamer cheese diced

1 box of penne pasta (cooked according to package)

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Heat béchamel
sauce over medium heat. Stir in pesto sauce until well combined. Set 1 1/2 cups of mixture aside. With remaining sauce toss in cooked pasta, tomatoes, olive oil and cheese. Toss until pasta is coated and cheese is melted. Season with salt and pepper according to taste. Put pasta into buttered casserole dish. Cover with pesto cheese sauce and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Enjoy!

*To make Pesto: 2 cups of packed fresh basil leaves. 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup pine nuts, 2 garlic cloves, and 1 cup olive oil. Combine in the food processor and turn on until well mixed.

Les Etoiles

We were thrilled to finally get a reservation at Les Etoiles, or "the stars" in French. Located on the rooftop of the sister hotel of where we were staying, it overlooks St. Peter's Basilica and gets painfully busy during high season. At first I was apprehensive about a hotel restaurant (even though I work in one) in such a tourist city. Luckily, my expectations were instantaneously exceeded as we were greeted with Prosecco and seated at the corner table, we had the perfect view of St. Peter's. The menu was fantastic, so many amazing options. We decided to split several courses. Beginning with marinated shrimp and asparagus tips, followed by pesto pancetta pasta, and finally a steak smothered in Chianti sauce and of course contorni (side of veggies). Each course was separately plated, with generous portions. By the time we finished our secondi piatti (the meat course) we started to worry that instead of splitting each course they had indeed doubled our order. Well, another miracle happened when the bill arrived allowing each of us to take a deep breath that we had NOT spent nearly $300 on dinner. It was amazing the amount of food and quality of the food for the price we paid. If we had been there another week I know we would have returned even if just to lick the spoon that served that amazing Chianti sauce.

My Kind of Picnic

Before we went to Rome, I heavily researched all that you need to do. One of the suggestions was to have a picnic in the Villa Borghese. Of course I jumped on the idea, especially when I found a restaurant that packs all you need for a picnic. We searched and searched for this place, but not a single map we found included that street. After walking the entire park, several kilometers, we gave up and decided to make our own picnic. Finding one of the many drink/snack stands we picked up a bottle of wine and 2 plastic cups. It was perfect. On the hot summer day, the cool white wine was refreshing and delightful. Even though I was disappointed not to find what Travel Channel called, "one of the most romantic and delicious daytime activities in the eternal city" I was perfectly content sipping on cheap white wine in my plastic cup.