Tag Archives: tuscany

Classic Italian Recipe: Torta Pasqualina

Torta Pasqualina 4 Torta Pasqualina 5

A few years ago, when DesignSponge was *the* blog, I contributed a unique classic Italian recipe: the torta pasqualina. This recipe comes from the Liguria region. It will remind you of a decadent quiche. Let me know if you give it a try for Easter.

Torta Pasqualina
Serves 6–8

For the Crust:

You will need:
– 4 cups all-purpose flour
– 1 cup olive oil
– 1 tablespoon salt
– 3/4 cups ice water

To prepare:
Make crust in a food processor. Put flour in the bowl and add oil and salt. Pulse until pebble-sized crumbs appear, and as you pulse, add water through the chute until dough comes together.

*Note: You may need to add a little more water to the dough — it should form a soft ball of dough. Set the dough aside and make the filling.

For the Filling:

You will need:
– 1/2 medium red onion sliced thinly
– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 6 cups chopped fresh spinach
– 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
– 3 cups fresh ricotta cheese
– 1 tablespoon dried marjoram
– 1 egg
– salt and pepper to taste
– 4 eggs + 1 for egg wash

To prepare:

Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

In a large sauté pan, add olive oil. Slice the red onion into thin slices, sauté with the oil. Once the onions have become transparent, add the spinach. Add salt and pepper.

Sauté mixture until spinach is wilted, about 10 minutes. Cook off as much liquid in the pan as possible. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine cheeses, marjoram and 1 egg.

When the spinach mixture has cooled for about 10 minutes, squeeze excess liquid from the mixture and add to the cheese mixture. Combine well and set aside.

Assemble the pie:

Divide crust into two parts, put flour on a board and roll dough out to 1/4 inch disk. Place this disk into a 12” pie form or a ceramic pie dish. Make sure the edges of the dough overlap the side of the dish. Fill with the spinach mixture, smooth the top and make four indentations into the spinach mixture with a spoon. These indentations will hold the eggs. Crack an egg carefully into each indentation.

Roll out the remaining crust and place on top. Pinch all around the edges and finish with egg wash on top.

Bake in a 375ºF oven for 1 hour.

xx Annette

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Our first Style + Photo Workshop at La Fortezza!


Well it happened. They came and went so quickly. Our first ever Style + Photo Workshop at La Fortezza at our new location in Northern Tuscany. We really had a wonderful time. The studio space has amazing energy, and our attendees got to experience it for the very first time.


We started our workshop with a wonderful dinner on the terrace overlooking the mountains and the quaint village down below. Our view is simply breathtaking. All of our attendees were truly delightful, and our planned events went off without a hitch.


We had a great time playing with props in the studio and learning about our cameras from super experienced and gifted photo instructor, Christina Wedge; she is truly an inspired teacher.


Our excursion to the local bread maker and to visit with mother daughter cheese makers was a hit.  We headed back to the kitchen with our chef, Leo, to learn how to make homemade raviolis, and of course, we took this opportunity to hone our editorial styling and photography skills. Chef Leo was a great subject; our in process photos were amazing.


Photo by one of students: Marisa Curatolo,

Photo by one of students: Marisa Curatolo

On Saturday we took an all day tour of Parma which was beautiful and of course delicious. We had lunch at a local trattoria and then were expertly guided by AJstyle team travel concierge Forrest Spears through the city. We ended up in the beautiful Teatro Farnese,


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Our farewell supper was lovely. I will always remember the first workshop, and of course all of the people that made it so special. Love to our attendees; you were such a pleasure to spend time with.

We are just about to announce our first Fall Style + Photo Workshop. Sign-up for the mailing list to get your spot first. If you’re interested in joining the Olive-centric Style+ Photo Workshop, with Emily Followill and Chef Alisa Barry Nov. 8th, email me (annette@annettejosephstyle.com) for a spot. We already have 3 people signed up, so spaces are limited. Website page launches mid July.


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House Hunting in Italy {Fall 2015} part six

House Hunting

Yep we are still looking; 2 years and counting…

This time I thought it was a great idea to house hunt in the fall. Why not, right? Enjoy the cool weather and see what else is out there.

House hunting in Italy is a real challenge, no joke. Here in the states, you give a great real estate agent your wish list, and they come up with a great selection. In Italy, there’s no such thing. Basically you tell them what you want, and they show you things that leave you scratching your head.

So this time, I spent about 4 days scouring the internet and found some really great options for myself.  I enlisted an agent in the region (northern Tuscany) and took matters into my own hands, as one does in Italy. The other really really important bit is to know people in Italy, and by “know” I mean my friends “know people”; most real estate is sold by word of mouth. Most of my friends know the families of houses for sale, or at least can research the family if we are looking at something through an agent. It’s all about connections in Italy. If you’re interested in buying real estate in Italy, make sure you have an Italian friend in tow.

Heading Southwest in my trusty Fiat 500 with my best friend and partner in crime Forrest in tow, we again set our sites on finding thee properties for us to get out hands on and turn into the perfect location for style + photo workshops and many other retreats down the road.

(I was so excited!)

With my excitement contained, we ventured to see this tiny rustico (farmhouse)… like with all houses we’ve seen there are always pros and cons. In Italy there’s no such thing as the perfect package; EVERYTHING is a compromise. EVERYTHING. Money helps with the compromise part, but more on that later.

House 1 : Piccolo Rustico : This house was too small and too close to the road, but had an amazing view and new roof. Yes a new roof is a big deal ,as most reconstruction costs comprise of the roof. Great price, but you can only add 20% onto the house, so it’s still too small.

House Hunting House Hunting I love it when there is furniture left in the house; this house was obviously not set up or staged. Staging in Italy is not a thing. In most cases, you have to look around the mess and see if there’s potential.

House 2: Grey Gardens, Italian Style: The next house was what I named “The Grey Gardens” property. A massive family summer house, that was probably breathtaking in it’s hay day. Bustling with children, dogs, nannies, and parties and summer fun.

Now in disrepair due to the family falling on hard times (a family comprised of 4 families with about 24 family members). This family has put part of the property up for sale. BTW just because it is up for sale does not mean it would be an easy purchase; all 24 family members need to sign off on the sale. This is why it is daunting to buy property in Italy (one of the many reasons). Buying property in Italy is not by any means straight forward, or for the faint of heart.

This particular property we had looked at about 10 years ago. I remembered the amazing kitchen; the perfect location for cooking classes, food styling workshops and retreats. 7 bedrooms, grand sitting rooms, entrances and a killer location for a communal dining room.

I was really excited to see it again.  We navigated a very very curvy dangerous road to a mountain top village. As I had remembered it, the house was still pretty impressive. We toured it for a couple hours, the overgrown rose garden, and a perfect location for a pool in full sun with the most breathtaking mountain views (honestly so beautiful is literally looked like a painted backdrop). The 2 barns and grassy entry were simply charming.

House Hunting House Hunting

Super location for the pool….

House Hunting House Hunting House Hunting House Hunting House Hunting House Hunting The big down side…The family would still live in part of the property. Not a minor complication in Italy. Italians have a tendency to drop by, and they have opinions, especially about a property they still regard as their own, even though you plunked down your money for it. The property had many structural issues (cha ching) and mainly this property is located in a village that is very hard to get to. Let’s say that even though it had tons of potential, the down sides were undeniable. When looking at property in Italy, one must really be realistic about the final outcome. So Grey Gardens was a pass.

On to the next one… House 3: One Man’s Masterpiece is another Man’s Mess!
This house was situated in a beautiful place. The location, in a small hillside village, with a one of a kind marble staircase, frescos gorgeous trim and finishes, stunning original floors a chapel. We had high hopes. Even though we were concerned about the size, the price was right.

We walked into the courtyard and met the man that was selling it, the sole owner (unusual in Italy BTW). He bought the house as a passion project. He wanted to do the renovation himself as a GIANT DIY project. BIG mistake. At an overwhelming 6000 square feet, this house is not a renovation, it is a restoration that needed to involve professionals. This is what I call a “loving hands of home” project, meaning that the homeowner has taken on a project that he had no business tackling. Clearly he was in over his head, and the renovations he had done were not a plus; they, in fact, were a BIG fat minus. Everything he had touched needed to be ripped out. The expense of ripping out and restoring this home would equal the “money pit.” I felt sorry for this man. I know he had the best intentions, but his retrofitted unprofessional solutions made for a grande cassino (a big mess).

House Hunting House Hunting House Hunting

House 4: The Mill and the River I was super excited to see this property…It’s in a sunny location, flat, and at the edge of a vineyard. With a river running through it, this former Flour Mill was a contender. With all properties in general, you have to walk around the site, but especially in Italy you have to see the lay of the land. The fist thing that struck me is that this was a flood plan. Super bummer. The gardener confirmed that the land was amazing to plant in. Yes of course it was because it was “moist”; not a good thing for a home. Upon inspection of the inside, we found black mold everywhere. The water issue is a non-negotiable.The physical plant was a amazing, but the river was a BIG minus. So this one, as beautiful as it looks, the truth revealed … it is a NO.

House Hunting

I will say that I think we did find THE property this trip. I am going to keep that one in my back pocket because in Italy anything can happen, so first things first: an inspection, the results, and then decisions will be made. Piano piano (slowly slowly) in Italy; that’s the way we do it. No grand announcements, you will know as this plays out…patience is a virtue, and patience is something we have; we are in it for the long haul….we will keep you posted. xx

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Heading to Florence, Italy?

Le Menegerie

A few weeks ago I headed to Florence to meet a virtual friend. I have been following “Girl in Florence” for many years, and Georgette Jupe is one of my favorite Italian blogger girls. If you don’t know her, head over to her blog right now.

Le Menegerie

We made a date, set a meeting point, and made it happen. It was a very hot day in Florence, but that did not stop us from walking the distance with Georgette pointing out her highlights along the way.

Georgette had made a reservation at a brand new Florentine restaurant Le Menagere (it literally opened a week before). She touted it as a stylist’s dream, and she was not over selling it. When I walked in the door, it was swoon-worthy for sure. A beautiful “concept” restaurant which included a gift store, flower shop and coffee/sandwich bar, and a beyond beautiful restaurant. The communal table ran about 100 feet which was something I had never seen. Set in an old building, the owners vision was to leave the patina as is, which for Italians is something quite unique when doing a restoration project. The effect is magnificent. The untouched walls add to the over-all texture and ambiance. I took note as we are in the process of buying and renovating a home in Italy.

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The menu was very unusual for Tuscany. Most Tuscan restaurants offer the traditional fare, but Le Menagere, takes the standard Tuscan dishes and offers their twist. One of the highlights for me was the “hot and cold caprese salad”. Served in a glass, this delicious course was layered with warm tomato coulis and ice cold mozzarella foam, topped with a basil leaf, sun dried tomato and crushed pistachio. What can I say? Every bite was a surprise. We ordered, eggplant caviar with fig endive and sprouts, cold tomato soup with vanilla poached prawns, and salmon with honey glaze served with fennel salad, along with fresh peaches and an arugula salad to share. A crisp cold Tuscan rose wine rounded out the flavor profiles to perfection.

Le Menegerie

Le Menegerie

It was delightful to finally connect with Georgette; she’s a delightful, bright and warm person. I loved hearing her story as an American living in Florence.

Next time you’re in Florence, make a point of having lunch dinner or aperitivo in this exquisitely designed space; the floating orchids in the main dining room will make a lasting impression. Oh and did I mention the wait staff is excellent, and so well dressed?

Le Menagere

Ciao until next time! Bon appetito.

Big thanks to Georgette; you’re an amazing host!  xx

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Pienza, Tuscany quick fix


statue Tree Last week we briefly ventured deep into the heart of Tuscany. About 4.5 hours south of our house, it’s a tiny bit of heaven as most Americans know. I rarely make this trip, truly about once every 5 years, but I could not resist since it’s the week of Palio which is honestly one of my fave events in Siena, about an hours drive from Pienza. Pienza is one of the few planned communities in Italy. Read about it here.

An early morning stroll to grab an espresso provided me with the fuel I needed to explore the town. To be honest, without a proper espresso in the morning, I am useless. I admit that I have an addiction, but that’s the first step right? Admitting it? So after 2 shots I was in business.

We strolled the deserted streets, a treat since Tuscany this time of year is jammed with tourists and one can hardly move. Avoid Florence starting in July- August. I always tell friends Florence is perfect in the fall. Admiring the Tuscan vignettes along the way, our morning walk proved visually beautiful as only Tuscany can be.



Needless to say, I am in love with the food stuffs here mainly the salamis and breads. Not to mention that Pienza is home to Percorino cheese. How could I go wrong? Buying a hefty supply to bring back to the Riviera made the drive worthwhile. Read about Pecorino here.

If you have a chance, put Pienza on your list, and make sure to make it an early morning adventure before the crowds dominate the city.

Tuscany is so Tuscany-ish. It never disappoints. xx


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