Monthly Archives: March 2015

What a sunday!

Everything spoke italian yesterday…..Ferrari…Valentino Rossi…Ducati….Andrea Dovizioso….Andrea Iannone….Yessssss!!!


Posted by on March 30, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Potato Tart

Ingredients per 4 servings

  • 2 lb potatoes
  • 3 oz butter
  • 3 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 oz ham, or salami
  • 3 ½ oz mozzarella cheese
  • 3 ½ oz Provola cheese, smoked
  • breadcrumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste


Boil the potatoes, peel while hot and mash with a potato masher, collecting them in a large bowl.

Add the eggs, salt, pepper, half the butter, grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and chopped ham (or sausage crumbled).
Stir everything until well-blended.

Slice the mozzarella and provolone and set aside. Butter a baking dish and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
Add half the potato mixture, level using your hands and arrange the slices of mozzarella and provolone on top.
Finish by adding the remaining potatoes and level off the surface. (I personally add sliced boiled potatoes here)

Sprinkle with breadcrumbs, top with a few knobs of butter and bake in oven at 400 °F, until the cake is Golden.

Serve hot or warm by letting it cool for 20 minutes.

A bit of history….The potato gattò – a savory cake commonly served as a main dish, given the richness of the ingredients – is a typical dish of Neapolitan cooking: its name derives from the French gateau, which means cake, and was Italianized into gattò or Gatò.
The name comes from the French word related to the reign of the Bourbons, at the time of the 1768 marriage between King Ferdinand and Maria Carolina of Bourbon.
The new Queen, sister of the famous Marie Antoinette, brought french chefs to Naples, to prepare dishes for her using ingredients typical of the Campania region.
For this reason, some preparations have taken traditional French names like gattò, crocchè (croquettes) and ragù (ragout).

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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in Uncategorized



Just pottery?

I visited the Netherlands just once, in august 2008. It was a terrific 15 days vacation, driving around and enjoying a beautiful country. We stopped for a few days in Delft, and we planned a visit to the Royal Delft. The Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles (its real dutch name) is the only remaining factory of 32 earthenware factories that were established in Delft in the 17th century. It is known for its Delftware production, which has been active for more than 350 years, without interruption.

Delft Blue started in The Netherlands around the 17th century when the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) brought the blue painted porcelain back from China. This resulted in an inspiration for the Dutch ceramists, because this fragile porcelain was not created or seen before. For Royal Delft, it all started in 1653 when David Anthonisz van der Pieth transformed his house into an earthenware factory. Unfortunately for Van der Pieth his son was far from interested in this business and therefore he had to sell his factory real soon. This was not extremely difficult because 42 years later this industry was booming in Delft! Royal Delft already had 32 competitors in that year. Of course this was made possible by the high demand for the product and because of the decrease in beer breweries that were suited for transforming into earthenware factories. However, the most important reason, was probably that in the 17th century China faced a civil war which decreased the import of porcelain. Though, this industry did not remain as booming as in the 17th century because in the 19th century (1840 to be precise) Royal Delft was the last factory standing. The reasons for this decrease are mostly to be found in the competition from the English Wedgwood and European porcelain industry; the eastern porcelain was cheaper and… a lack of innovation amongst the Delft potters. In 1876 Joost Thooft bought the factory with the aim to revive the production of Delft Blue. He was very interested in Delft Blue and made the factory be as booming as in the 17th century again. Thooft also worked together with Leo Senf, one of the most important designers of the history of the factory. In the 17th century, Royal Delft had several factories all over Delft. However, this was very inconvenient and in 1916 all the activities were centralised in the location which is still the current visiting address of the factory, at the Rotterdamseweg in Delft. Three years later, the company was awarded by the Royal Family the ‘Royal’ in its name, which is a sign of appreciation for the contribution of Royal Delft for the Dutch Delft Blue industry. Nowadays, the relation with the Dutch Royal Family is still close. In 2003 the company celebrated its 350th anniversary which it did by launching a new line called Jubilee.

Here a few examples of the beauty I saw there…..some items are really unaffordable!

Delftware, or Delft pottery, denotes blue and white pottery made in and around Delft and the tin-glazed pottery made in the Netherlands from the 16th century. Delftware in the latter sense is a type of pottery in which a white glaze is applied, usually decorated with metal oxides. Delftware includes pottery objects of all descriptions such as plates, ornaments and tiles. The earliest tin-glazed pottery in the Netherlands was made in Antwerp where the Italian potter Guido da Savino settled in 1500. The manufacture of painted pottery spread from Antwerp to the northern Netherlands, in particular because of the sack of Antwerp by the Spanish troops in 1576 (the Spanish Fury). Production developed in Middelburg and Haarlem in the 1570s and in Amsterdam in the 1580s. Much of the finer work was produced in Delft, but simple everyday tin-glazed pottery was made in places such as Gouda, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Dordrecht. The use of marl, a type of clay rich in calcium compounds, allowed the Dutch potters to refine their technique and to make finer items. The usual clay body of Delftware was a blend of three clays, one local, one from Tournai and one from the Rhineland. Delftware ranged from simple household items – plain white earthenware with little or no decoration – to fancy artwork. Most of the Delft factories made sets of jars, the kast-stel set. Pictorial plates were made in abundance, illustrated with religious motifs, native Dutch scenes with windmills and fishing boats, hunting scenes, landscapes and seascapes. Sets of plates were made with the words and music of songs; dessert was served on them and when the plates were clear the company started singing. The Delft potters also made tiles in vast numbers (estimated at eight hundred million) over a period of two hundred years; many Dutch houses still have tiles that were fixed in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The admission fee to the museum allows also a visit to the workshop where you can see artists painting all kind of objects, being able to witness all the phases of the manufactoring, and to the factory itself, to see how everything is made…

The Royal Blue Cow, a big replica of the original cow creamer from 1700

In the oldest part of the building, the museum tells the story of the brand, its memorable works, and presents a selection of old items bought back from the original owners for display….The location in itself it’s a gem…

the most beauitful piece (to me) a Tiles replica of The Night Watch by Rembrandt….

and the exact replica of Vermeer dining room….

Want more? A break at the cafè enjoying the view….


I wrote about Delft here and here ……….if you wanna take a look.


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Posted by on March 28, 2015 in Uncategorized


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An Abbey and a Saint with a sword

We’ve been there twice, and it’s been a pleasure, always….Chiusdino is located in a magnificent Tuscany location, overlooking the Merse Valley and the Metalliferous Hills amid woods and pastureland. The position and structure of the fortified mediaeval castle demonstrate an evident defensive strategy. Chiusdino was governed by the Bishops of Volterra and subsequently (13th century) by the Commune of Siena. Here you can admire the suggestive Abbey of San Galgano, now completely ruined. (Some pics are mine, some by my friend E who was there with me each time).

The Abbey of San Galgano was founded by Cistercian monks from Casamari Abbey. They dedicated the new foundation to St. Galganus (d.1181), a hermit who lived on the hill above the abbey. The abbey was constructed around 1224-88. The monks of San Galgano were exceptionally powerful and played a major role in the affairs of nearby cities. Their many duties included resolving disputes between such cities as Siena and Volterra and even overseeing the construction of Siena Cathedral. The richness of S.Galgano and the good relationships with Siena attracted on it the incursions of the Florentine armies that, together with other political events, carried to a rapid decadence of the abbey since from the first half of 15th century: in the 1550 only five monks were in the abbey and at the beginning of 17th century only one old and poor monk still lived between its walls, already in ruin. On the 6 of January 1786 the bell tower, with its 36 meters high, collapsed sweeping up great part of the roof of the Church. In the 1789 the great Abbey was definitively abandoned and become an enormous quarry of stones and columns for all the buildings of the zone. Fortunately, from the beginning of this century, many jobs of restoration and maintenance have been undertaken, so that today the ruins of Saint Galgano, by now without more traces of the roof, are one of the most visited medieval monuments in Tuscany.

Modeled on the mother house at Cîteaux (France), San Galgano Abbey is a prime example of Cistercian architecture. Like most Cistercian abbeys, it is austerely Romanesque in style, except for the graceful pointed arches that would become a hallmark of Gothic architecture. The wide west facade, made of brick with stone cladding on the lower half, has three portals and two lancet windows. The east end is in the unique Cistercian style, with a flat facade rather than a round apse. The east end has round window above and small pointed lancet windows below. The walls of the abbey church remain fully intact, with only the roof open to the sky. The capitals of the nave are finely carved with simple foliage designs, some of which include a small bird or human face.

The original nucleus of the monastic complex Cistercian of Saint Galgano (Galgano Guidotti 1148-1181) is constituted by the hermitage of Montesiepi, built in Roman style as mausoleum of the Saint between the 1182 and the 1185. Its greater particularity is the so-called ‘the Rotunda of Saint Galgano’ with a unique, for the constructions of that time, plan. It encloses, beyond to the tomb of the saint, the famous rock with the sword. Although at a first look it can seem an emulation of ancient Etruscan tombs of Populonia, Vetulonia and Volterra, the architect responsible of its construction inspired itself to Castel S.Angelo and the Pantheon of Rome. In the following centuries the Rotunda was strongly manumitted, but the perfect restoration of the year 1924 brought it back to the original aspect. The dome is constructed using alternated rows of white stone and bricks. With the growth of the interest in the cult of Saint Galgano many rich nobles wanted to contribute to the embellishment of the Rotunda, in the year 1340 was begun the construction of a Chapel on the north side, then frescoed by the great artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti, he’s paintings are still today in part visible thanks to a careful restoration work that has arrested their degrade.

The inside of the domed roof is constructed with 24 concentric circles of alternating white stone and terracotta.

Dating back to the first half of the 14th century and very deteriorated, the fresco was detached during a restoration in 1966. Under that, a sinopia was discovered, quite different from the final picture. This preparatory drawing is a typical scene of conturbatio. The Virgin looks so perturbed by the apparition of the angel, that, instinctively, her arms clasp a near column. In the finished depiction, Mary’s hands are folded on her breast, to signify a full assent to her exceptional lot.

Galgano Guidotti was a knight born to rich parents in 1148. Galgano led a ruthless life in his early years, but later abandoned it in favour of a pious hermitage in the place now known as Rotonda di Montesiepi. His mother Dionigia reported that Galgano had two visions, both involving Archangel Michael: in the first vision the Archangel told Galgano that he was going to be protected by the Archangel himself. In the second vision, Galgano was following the Archangel and they arrived to the hill of Monte Siepi where they met the twelve Apostles and the Creator himself. After the visions, Galgano’s horse refused to obey his orders to leave the top Monte Siepi where his vision happened. Convinced that this was a sign, Galgano decided to plant a cross. Since he had no way to make one of wood, he planted his sword in the ground. Immediately the sword became one piece with the ground so that nobody could remove it. Later on, he performed some miracles and died in 1181. He was declared Saint in 1185.
It has been assumed that the Tuscan “sword in the stone” is a fake, made to echo the Celtic legend of King Arthur.
But a study by the medieval historian Mario Moiraghi suggests that the story of St Galgano and his sword was the origin of the myth of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, embellished by medieval troubadours as it spread from Tuscany.

In the spring of the 1181 Galgano visited the Pope Alessandro III visited probably to get the approval of his congregation. During his absence three envious men, that the tradition beginning from the XIV century has identified with some monks of the near Abbey of Serene, carried on an attack against him, destroying the hut and breaking the sword. For divine intervention all and three men were punished: two of them died, to the third one a wolf tore the arms, so to give him time to repent him and to tell the prodigy. The arms are still preserved in the hermitage of Montesiepi.


Posted by on March 26, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Quote of the week

 “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.”

(Andrew Carnegie)

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Posted by on March 25, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Fish soup

Ingredients: Per 6 servings

  • 1 ½ lb mussels
  • 1 ½ lb clams
  • 3 ½ lb mixed fish for soup
  • 8 cups fish broth
  • parsley
  • canned tomatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • pepper
  • bread slice
  • extra virgin olive oil


The best fish for this recipe are: monkfish, John Dory, sole, baby squid, prawns, clams and mussels. Clean and fillet the sole, bone it and cut the other fish into pieces. Peel the prawns, sauté the mussels and clams in a casserole, and filter the resulting liquid with a cloth soaked in cold water and well wrung out.

Pour the oil into a crockpot, lightly brown the chopped onion in it, add the baby squid, mix in some spoonfuls of the filtered mussel and clam cooking liquid, and leave to cook with a lid on. After some minutes, add the chopped tomato, cook for two more minutes, and add all the fish, mussels and clams, prawn tails, the garlic cut into fillets, a generous twist of pepper, the stock, and a little salt.

Bring to the boil and then continue cooking over moderate heat for about 10 minutes. Put slices of bread into individual soup dishes, arrange on top the fish and seafood, cover with a little stock, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

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Posted by on March 23, 2015 in Uncategorized


Pallavicino – memories from the past

From our day out following Verdi footsteps, a name came up often: Pallavicino. The Pallavicini, Pallavicino, and sometimes Paravicino, Paravisini, or Paravicini, were an Italian noble family descended from Oberto I (died 1148). The first Pallavicino fief was created by Oberto II, who received it from Frederick Barbarossa in 1162. A number of lines descended from Guglielmo (died 1217), possessor of a series of fiefs between Parma and Piacenza and a descendant of the Lombard Obertenga family (along with the Este, the Cavalcabò and Malaspina). They are:

  • The Pallavicini of the Latin Empire
    • descendants of Guglielmo through his sons Guy (also known as Galdo) and Rubino
  • The Pallavicini of Lombardy
  • The Pallavicini of Varano
  • The Pallavicini of Polesine
  • The Pallavicini of Busseto
  • The Pallavicini of Ravarano (today part of Calestano)
  • The Rospigliosi Pallavicini of Tuscany and Rome
  • The Pallavicino of Sicily

A second main branch of the family (or perhaps a separate family) was formed by the descendants of Niccolò Pallavicini (alive in 1154), whose origins are doubtful—probably he belonged to the Genoese patriciate—and whose links with the Obertenghi are uncertain:

  • The Pallavicini of Genoa
    • patricians of Genoa

Of the Varano Castle I wrote already at the end of this post. Another Villa bought by the Pallavicino family in mid-1800 is now available for rent, and I had the opportunity to see it when my cousin L. got married. Of Busseto I wrote on my previous posts of last week.

The castle in Ravarano reminds me when I was a little girl and with my family we used to have picnics on summer sundays at the foot of the castle, ancient and picturesque stronghold of the Pallavicino family preceding the 13th century……

There’s another palace in Zibello (not far from Busseto) owned by the Pallavicino, that now houses offices, shops and a very good restaurant. Zibello, site of Prehistoric and Roman settlements , came under the Pallavicino family in the 14th century, who kept control until the Napoleonic era, even if there was a relationship based on servitude with the Visconti family and the Sforza family of Milan (14th and 15th centuries), the Farnese family and the Borbone family (from the 16th to 18th centuries).
The Pallavicino Palace, which rises up from the town’s main square, is based on a square plan with a central court and main portico with polygonal pillars and buckler capitals.
The most ancient part reveals itself in its wide arches and lively decorations in terracotta and limestone, typical of gothic at its height. The clay tiles that adorn it date this part of the palace to the first decades of the dominion of Giovan Francesco Pallavicino (1460 / 70).
The other part of the building that had once served as the public oven, the local restaurant and the main custom office might have been built in the first few years of the 1500s at the time of Clarice Malaspina , widow of Federico Pallavicino.
The terracotta decorations on the 16th century part of the palace are from the De Stavoli kiln of Cremona active in Zibello starting from 1470. In 1804, with the decisive intervention of Marquis Antonio Pallavicino, a theatre hall was created in the palace open to the public. The property remained under ownership of the Pallavicino and Rangoni families until the time of feudal suppression during Napoleon’s reign, and the building was purchased by the town administration in 1905.

But the most cherished memories of the Pallavicino family is from the early years of my working career. In 1986 I was working for a private management consultant, owned by a man who numbered the best names in town as close friends. One of them was the late Marquis Pier Luigi Sforza Pallavicino. He owned dozens of properties in town, and for about two years I was in charge to collect the rents from private leases. So, once a month (and occasionally more than once) I knocked at the door of the Marquis to check the takings. He and his wife, Marquise Maria Gabriella (now a retired literature teacher at the local University) were always so kind to me, every time offering me a seat for a littlle chat, a drink, from time to time a book from their huge library….too bad back then I never took a photo of the interior (I remember a stunning, huge golden mirror in the Marquis study – no cell phones at the time!). So I have to rely on the web to show you what I’m talking about (and there’s not much, they were very private persons). The Pallavicino palace in Parma is located about 500 mt from where I work right now…..

Alfonso Pallavicino , of the Zibello family branch, gave the go-ahead for the construction of the current Pallavicino Palace in 1646, above an old palace from the end of the 1400s and beginning of the 1500s once belonging to the Sforza family of Santafiora (the name of the square in front of the palace is the same, Santafiora).
 Since 1977, the palace has been the main office of the Regional Administrative Law Court (now rumored to ble closed soon).
The palace’s façade, built over a long arc of time, is presumably from 1705 and characterised by windows of various sizes and designs framed in marble. The perspective of the windows creates an incredible relief with the balcony held up by brackets over the portal.

On the interior there is a Baroque courtyard, a three-ramped stairway in the Bolognese style from the end of the 1600s adorned with large statues; various rooms with Austrian marble fireplaces with mirrors above; a Chinese living room with a multi-coloured inlaid marble floor from the 18th century; and a large hall decorated and frescoed by Sebastiano Galeotti .
Giriamo Donnini , from Reggio Emilia, created four ceiling paintings and decorative paintings above the doors in the second decade of the 1700s.
There are also paintings from the Bologna-native Aureliano Dilani and other mounted door panel decorations from Bresciani .

The photos below are from one of the rare interviews the Marquis allowed, just a couple of years before his death (2003).

Here he is in the rooms loaned to the Regional Administrative Law Court

And here the Marquis and the Marquise at their last public event together. After his death, the Marquise Maria Gabriella gave all the private documents of the Pallavicino family, dated back from mid-1400, to the Cassa di Risparmio Foundation in Busseto, a unique example of well preserved and complete collection of local history data.

At Christmas they were always so thoughtful, I received a silk scarf by Hermes (now in my mother’s closet) a pair of silver napkin rings, a pair of silver and peridot earrings, and when my daughter was born a white gold pendant for her…..

Obviously, what they said it’s true……”la classe non è acqua”….It means that class (referred to a person, being classy) is a rare quality, not common like water which instead you can find everywhere……


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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


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