“I’m not a chef, I’m Italian”- David Rocco

Friday, December 27, 2013

Addio Italia

Well my friends, alas my two months in Italia are at an end…..for now. I catch my plane back home to NYC in a few hours. My time spent in Rome and Florence has really been a fantasy, a magical, wonderful experience that I won’t soon forget. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you in more depth. I am so sad to leave this beautiful country that I have considered my home these months. But, while I am sad to go, I have SO MANY exciting things coming up in 2014. I will be making some very special announcements over the next few months, I can’t wait to share this news with you all! I will be back in Italy sometime around September, so really, going back to NYC is just a long, LOOOOOOONG vacation before I come back home. Addio Italia, il mio tempo trascorso qui e stato davvero una benedizione.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Vigilia di Natale a Roma!!

Viglila di Natale..Or should I say, Christmas Eve. I feel very blessed to be spending Christmas in the beautiful, eternal city, Roma. Christmas in Rome is magical, from the beautiful lights that line every street to the Christmas tree in front of the Colosseum, the city is dressed to the nines. I also had the joy of standing in Saint Peter’s Square on Sunday and hearing and seeing Pope Francis. Every Sunday at noon he comes to the window of his apartment to address the people and recite the Angelus. It was a very special experience for me, one that I will not soon forgot. I thought I would share with you some of the beautiful photos I’ve taken over the past two months. Some are from Florence and some from Roma. I will be posting the second part tomorrow on Christmas. Buona Festa!!!



Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Feast of the Seven Fishes at Eolo, NYC

Ciao mei amici! Having been involved in the food world for not even two years, I have been fortunate enough to connect with some amazing chefs, restaurateurs, etc. One of them is Chef Melissa Muller Daka, Proprietress of Pastai and Eolo, both in NYC. I had the pleasure to first meet Melissa at a private luncheon at Eataly that she planned the menu for. You may remember she was one of the first interviews I ever posted, you can read it here.

At her beautiful restaurant, Eolo in NYC, she will be hosting her fourth annual “Feast of the Seven Fishes” on Christmas Eve, December 24th. For those not familiar with the idea of - The Feast of the Seven Fishes – referred to in Italian as La Vigilia – the tradition began in southern Italy and today is celebrated by Italians around the world. There are various myths about the significance of offering seven fishes. Some believe seven fishes refer to the seven days of creation, while others cite the Seven Hills of Rome, seven sacraments in the Catholic Church or the seven deadly sins.

Their five course menu will include: A welcoming dish from the chef, your choice of a cold appetizer, hot appetizer, pasta, entree & dessert. Each course ...will offer three dishes to choose from.
Wine Pairing will also be available with each dish. For reservations, you can call 646.225.6606. If you’re looking for a different way to spend Christmas Eve or if you just don’t want to worry about the cooking this year, this is certainly the event for you. The beautiful dishes you see here are Scallops, Swordfish, Halibut and Couscous and Pasta con le Sarde, listed in the order shown. For further information, be sure to take a look at the Eolo site. If you do go to Eolo, be sure to tell Chef Melissa that La Cucina Prima Donna sent you! Buon Natale a tutti!!


Friday, December 6, 2013

The Return of the Cioccolata Calda...HOT CHOCOLATE!!!

Ciao! Some of you may recall a post I did last year on Cioccolata Calda, or as it is referred to in America..Hot Chocolate! Last Christmas was my first time having Cioccolata Calda in Italy and I just fell in love with it. Italian hot chocolate is nothing like the American version. It is very thick, rich and not terribly sweet. In fact, it is usually served with a pack of sugar on the side if you care to make it sweeter. It’s practically like pudding, no lie. I returned to the scene of the crime here in Florence two nights ago and got to enjoy my Cioccolata Calda once again. The photo on the top of the page is the cioccolata calda from last year and the one right below this is the same one, one year later!! It was just as delicious. I’ve listed my recipes from last year plus a new one that I KNOW you’ll enjoy…it has nutella…nuff said? Buon Appetito!!

Traditional Cioccolata Calda con Panna
4 ounces of good quality dark chocolate (70% or higher, I personally prefer 85%)
1 ½ cups of whole milk
1 tbsp. of cream
2 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. corn starch
Add your milk and cream to a pot over medium heat, let it get warm, but do not bring to a boil. Add the chocolate and sugar and mix until melted and smooth. Add the cornstarch and continue to mix. Stir until everything is smooth and creamy. Pour into mugs and serve with a dollop of homemade whipped cream…
Whipped Cream
1 cup of cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Add the cream and vanilla extract to a small bowl and whisk with an electric beater until it looks like whipped cream!!
Paleo Cioccolata Calda
1 cup of almond milk or coconut milk
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 ounce dark chocolate (85% is better for paleo)
1 tbsp. chocolate extract
Add your milk to a pot over medium heat, let it get warm but do not let it boil. Add the cocoa powder and let it dissolve. Add the dark chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Add the chocolate extract and let heat until creamy. Pour into a mug and add a dollop of whipped cream.
Nutella Cioccolata Calda
4 ounces of good quality semi-sweet chocolate
3 tbsp. nutella
1 ½ cups of whole milk
1 tbsp. of cream
2 tsp. sugar
2 tbsp. corn starch
Add your milk and cream to a pot over medium heat, let it get warm, but do not bring to a boil. Add the chocolate, nutella and sugar and mix until melted and smooth. Add the cornstarch and continue to mix. Stir until everything is smooth and creamy. Pour into mugs and serve with a dollop of homemade whipped cream…


Friday, November 29, 2013

La Dolce Vita...The Sweets of Florence

Buongiorno!! The past few weeks in Italy have been absolutely incredible. From exploring the museums and piazzas to marketing for fresh fish and bread, it has been amazingl. And of course, I am learning so much. Today I’m excited to share with you all of the sweets that I’ve been making here at cooking school in Florence. Buon Appetito! 

Cantuccini (Almond Biscotti)

Biscotti means twice baked, referring to the way that the cantuccini is prepared. It is a very sticky dough that is shape into a loaf, baked and then cut into strips. They are very crunchy and the almonds add a wonderful flavor, they are served here in Italy with a cup of Vin Santo for dipping.

Soft Cantuccini Dessert

I would dare say this a new take on cookies n crème. Why? Well, I’ll tell you! These dessert is made up of a Bavarian Cream that has some cantuccini in the cream. It is filled with a Vin Santo gelatin and is topped with a foam made with cream, cantuccini and Vin Santo. It is then decorated with pieces of caramelized cantuccini. This one of my favorite sweets that we’ve made.

Soy Lecithin Cookies
I know, I know, soy lecithin? But, we want to know how to cook with all of the different products out there right? So if you want to enjoy a sweet treat but are watching the old cholesterol, this is the cookie for you! It is soft and has a slightly nutty taste, we served them with fig jam.


Oh, where to begin. These were so good, I could have eaten the whole tray. But I kept my dignity intact and just had three. These are a traditional dish from Sardinia. It is pasta dough that is shaped like a ravioli and filled with a pecorino, lemon filling and then fried. Yes, fried. We then topped with an assortment of honeys.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cooking in Firenze...GELATO DAY!!

Ciao mei amici!! The day that I was so, so excited for at school has finally arrived, gelato day!! Yes, a full class devoted to my favorite frozen treat. I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for me. For one thing, we made different bases (cream, milk and ice for sorbetto), made some sweet gelato, some unexpectedly sweet gelato (mint) and some savory gelato (parmigiana). It was a very, very fun day. Another dessert that I’m sharing with you all is one we made last week..wait for it….an Eggplant Mousse with Chocolate Ganache and Mint Syrup. I know what you’re thinking, but let me tell you, it was AMAZING!! The eggplant mousse was so light and creamy, you would never guess it was eggplant. Let me know what you think of all of these beautiful sweet treats! Buon Appetito!! Oh and for more pictures from my Italian adventure, be sure to follow me on facebook, pinterest and twitter. Grazie mille!

Parmigiana Gelato with Balsamic Vinegar and Toasted Walnuts

This “gelato” was not a traditional gelato at all, as it is not made without an ice cream machine. It is a base of cream and parmigiana with a clove of garlic and nutmeg to just flavor it. It is then mixed until completely smooth and put in the refrigerator to set. It’s a wonderful savory dessert or appetizer for something to really impress your guests. The texture of the gelato is a perfect balance between a soft cheese and a hard cheese.

Strawberry Sorbet

This sorbet was made with a classic sorbet base in the ice cream machine and then an Italian meringue mix was added in the middle of the process. It made for an incredibly light and fluffy sorbet.

Basil Gelato

The basil gelato was made with a mix of milk, cream and sugar. I would be curious to try making this with the basil without any sugar for a more savory version.

Fiori di latte Gelato

A classic made with a milk, cream and vanilla. So light and creamy, this is the perfect base for any flavors of gelato that you want to make!

Vanilla Gelato

This gelato was made with milk and cream but had the addition of a few egg yolks and glucose. It was a richer taste and texture then the fiori di latte but would also be a great base.

Chocolate Gelato

This was made using the fiori di latte gelato base. We then made a chocolate ganache and added it the base. We used a dark chocolate bar, which I love, as I like my chocolate gelato very rich, as this was.

Eggplant Mousse with Chocolate Ganache and Mint Syrup
Yes, again, eggplant mousse!! The eggplant was cubed and seeped in milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon, strained and then pureed. It was topped with a chocolate ganache and mint syrup. This was amazingly delicious, I can’t wait to make it for friends!


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Fish...glorious fish in bella Firenze

Ciao a tutti! The past week at Giglio Cooking School has been incredible. I spend three and a half hours every morning doing what I love…cooking!! But I’m doing so much more than just cooking. I’m learning completely new things, different techniques and preparations. The other day I cleaned and gutted a fish for the first time. I know I shouldn’t be as excited about that as I am, but I can’t help it. I love all aspects of food, from the prep to the final product. Next week we’re doing a full class devoted to one of my favorite pastas…GNOCCHI!! This past week we did a lot of fish so I wanted to share some of the lovely dishes we’ve made. Ciao ciao for now!!

 Steamed Shrimp with Shrimp Sauce

his is a lovely preparation for shrimp. The sauce is made with garlic, onion, olive oil and the shells and heads of the shrimp. Wine, a little water and parsley are added, as well as a little starch to thicken the sauce.
Risotto with Shrimp

A very classic dish, beautifully made risotto with some butter, wine, garlic, parsley and shrimp.

Shellfish Soup

If you grew up in an Italian household, odds are, at some point you had a take on this dish. Mussels and clams served in a light tomato broth served with crunchy, grilled bread.

Raw Marinated Salmon and Celery Root Soufflé
I have to admit, this take on salmon was completely new for me. I’ve never tried raw fish in this form, but I’m on an adventure and this is all part of it. The flavor was delicious. The salmon was marinated with oregano, fennel, salt, sugar, orange zest and peppercorn. I just don’t care for the texture of raw fish. This was served alongside a lovely Celery Root Soufflé that I can’t wait to add to my usual repertoire.

Sea Bream with Artichokes

This was a perfect fish for me, not very strong, just the way I like it. The fish was sautéed with olive oil, salt, parsley, garlic, white wine and artichokes which were cooked to perfection. I think I have learned the trick to preparing and cooking the perfect artichokes, I promise I will share it with you all soon!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

You guessed it, more PASTA from school in Florence!

Ciao a tutti!! Another day of classes at Giglio Cooking School in Firenze and boy do we get a lot done in those three and a half hours. Today we made pasta again…but oh boy, this was not just “pasta.” This was real deal homemade stuffed pasta. We had so much fun making the dough, then using the machine to roll it out, making all of the different fillings and stuffing them. Here is a menu of what we made.

Spinach Ravioli filled with Artichoke in a Pecorino and Thyme Sauce


Tortellini in Brodo

Agnoloti alla Piemontese (in a butter and sage sauce with thin slices of white truffles)

Ravioli al Consomme (stuffed with a meat gelatin) with Zucchini Cream, Carrot Petals and Fried Parsley

The spinach ravioli was stuffed with a creamy artichoke filling, the tortellini was made with a stuffing that had pork, chicken, mortadella, prosciutto, cheese and seasoning, the agnoloti was stuffed with a mix of brasato and roast pork and the ravioli was filled with Broth. These were all just amazing, different techniques, a lovely combination of flavors and textures, just perfect. Ciao ciao for now!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cooking School in Firenze, Tagliatelle and Orecchiette and Sfrappole, Oh My!!

Fresh tagliatelle.

Sfrappole, garganelli & orecchiette Emiliane.
Buongiorno! Though, I actually should say bounasera since it is already dark here in Florence. I had my first day of classes today at Giglio Cooking School owned by Marcella Ansaldo. It’s only been one day and I can’t wait to get back to class tomorrow. Not only is Marcella a lovely woman, but she clearly knows her way around a kitchen and her passion for food and cooking shows. These courses are not just demonstration, so if you’re looking to get your hands messy and do some work, then this is the right place!

I am here for the month long course, Italian Cuisine Across Time and Space, from basic traditional recipes to innovative techniques.  It’s three and a half hours every morning. As many of you know, I am a self-taught cook, but I recently starting working with a company called Feast on History as their sous chef for dinners and private events, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get some real training. And oh yeah, spending a couple of months in Italy doesn’t hurt either. 

Our first day was fresh and dry pasta. We made two basic pasta doughs, simple pasta with semolina and a pasta with mixtures of 00 zero and semolina. From the pasta with semolina we made tagliatelle, garganelli, orecchiette emiliane and sfrappole and from the pasta with the 00 zero and semolina we made orecchiette pugliesi. Marcella also gave us a wonderful lecture on the history of pasta, which for someone as interested in food as I am was very useful. These are the dishes we prepared, all from scratch:

Garganelli with Zucchini and Shrimp

Sfrappole with Baby Calamari and Arugula

Oricchiette Pugliesi with Cauliflower

Orichiette Emiliane with Ragu alla’Bolognese

Tagliatelle with Basic Meat Sauce

Ciao ciao for now!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Pizza con Radicchio and Scamorza

Ciao mei amici! The other day my mother and I had been walking around Rome for hours. We were only in Rome for three days before leaving for Florence we decided to wait to go to all of the museums until we get back in December. By this point we have been walking for a looooong time and were originally planning on going to one of the restaurants a friend had recommended, but it was on the other side of the river and we were right by Fontana di Trevi. Our feet aching and our tummies growling we decided we just had to sit and eat. We came upon a little unassuming outdoor café right off the fountain a couple of streets down. My eye immediately went to the Pizza with Radicchio and Scamorza. The combination of the slightly bitter radicchio and the smokey scamorza is insane. So simple and incredibly delicious. The crust also had a slight chew but was nice and thin, just the way I like. I posted a picture of a slice of the pizza the other day on my facebook account and I couldn’t believe it, everyone seemed to love this idea of the pizza, the flavors, the colors. So, here it is…the famous shot of this lovely, lovely pizza. Ciao ciao for now!


Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ciao Roma!!

Ciao mei amici!! I finally arrived in Rome and let me tell you, it feels like I never left. I feel like I'm home. I know my way around, I understand and speak some of the language, the people at my hotel remembered us from last year, it's just perfect. The weather is STUNNING. The past few days I've just been settling in before I leave for Florence tomorrow. We've been spending our time just wandering. One of the amazing things about Rome is you can you just wander and you never know what you're going to come across. A lovely piazza, a stunning fountain, a little café, musicians in the street, etc. I thought I would share some photos with you from the past few days. Once I get to Florence where I'll be attending cooking school, I will start posting recipes that I'll be making in class and at home.  I will also be posting on my facebook and twitter daily and will be sharing lots of beautiful pictures on my pinterest, so please be sure to follow me the entire way. And of course, I will posting here..recipes, photos, journals, you name it. Ciao for now!

They have different versions of nutella like we have peanut butter!

I have to tell you, I got a small mozzarella at the supermarket for 1 euro that rivaled most mozzarella sold in gourmet shops in NYC.

Yes, Baci Yogurt is a thing in Italy.