Tag Archives: Lunigiana

La Fortezza Cookbook, Winter photoshoot in the Spring

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Rosie Scott, our foodstylist, adding her final touches to the Chickpea Soup recipe on set

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Monitor showing the recipe for Bavette with Spicy Anchovy

Hi there. As you all know, I am working on my latest cookbook, La Fortezza Cookbook. It will be a cookbook based on my time here in the Lunigiana region in Italy. Obviously, this has been a challenging time to work on anything that involves a location.

We last shot the fall chapter in October of 2020 which was honestly less challenging. Now with all the rules, regulations, and protocols, it has been extra stressful. Our team is from London, so the lock-down in England postponed the shoot until last week.

I’ve been so worried since it is a seasonal book, and it is already full-on spring here, and we were shooting the winter chapter. But the gods smiled on us, and it felt like winter here last week: dark, grey and miserable. In all my of years of styling, I have never prayed for bad weather, but lucky for me my prayers were answered, and we managed to replicate winter to the fullest.

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David and Rosie needed a Covid Test for their flight back to London. It was quite easy.

Three out of 5 of us are fully vaccinated (including me), so it was easy to distance and much less stressful. Although we did not travel around as much to shoot the countryside this time or photograph portraits, it was really a nice week, even with all the extra precautions. Everyone had to get a Covid test to fly back to London, but even that was pretty seamless.

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The best part of the shoot, which was not actually part of the shoot, was the delivery of David Loftus Rosé. I had been working on it all winter, and it finally arrived with a beautiful label designed by David himself. David loves a good rosé, so I asked him last fall during the harvest if he’d like to develop one with me. Of course, he was totally on board. It seemed fitting to name the wine for this Rosé enthusiast. What a thrill to have him taste it for the first time. We agree that it has definite notes of strawberry, and he even tasted vanilla. It’s bright, not sweet, and quite enjoyable. We will be enjoying many icy cold glasses, the way David likes it, at the pool this summer.

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One more chapter to go which is spring. Then, we will be finished with the photography. La Fortezza Cookbook, Rizzoli NY, releases spring 2022. As you can imagine, there is plenty to do before it goes to the printer. I will never forget putting this book together in the middle of a pandemic. Who could forget?! Stay tuned for more BTS at the end of June with our fabulous crew. xx

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Classic Italian Recipe: Torta Pasqualina

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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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chestnut honey, mountain views, secrets things and places, and other sweet things about living in the Italian countryside

The only way to see Italy is with an Italian, or someone that has lived here for many years. We are still discovering secrets about Italy everyday.

As most of you know, Frank and I have lived in Italy now for over 15 years, enjoying our summers here with family and friends. You have also heard me say that Italy is like an onion. Most tourists only scratch the surface, so when reading all these travel guides, keep in mind the best stuff (just like the olive oil) is reserved for Italians.

The only way to see Italy is to see it with an Italian, or someone that has lived here for many years. We are still discovering secrets about Italy everyday. It’s actually one of the many things I love about Italians. Unlike Americans, Italians are not over-sharers. In Italy you have to earn trust, and then the world opens up to you like an exotic flower. The treasures here are endless, and the rewards of putting your time in will be the exquisite payback for your patience. Finally, right about now, I am starting to feel like I have a few Italian secrets of my own to share. It only took 25 years, LOL.

We lived on the Italian Riviera for 15 years, and now we are living the countryside in a very unknown region called Lunigiana. We live on 27 acres with a working vineyard and giant ancient fortress that has kept me on my toes for just about a year.

I will say country life agrees with me, and I can see growing older here watching the changing seasons in mountain range that is our view. The life is slower here, the people are authentic and friendly which is a big difference from living in a bustling vacation destination like Alassio where people only appear each summer.

People here stop by and drop off eggs from their chickens, chestnut honey from their bees, freshly jarred preserves from their fruit orchards, and olive oil from last fall’s harvest. It’s pretty much what I expected in my fantasies, but the reality is so much richer.

Everyone eats local here. Hell, we eat out of our garden: lettuce, eggplant, zucchinis and herbs. Tomatoes abound; they literally sprung out of the earth as soon as we planted them. We have sour cherries and figs, and our plum trees and grape vines are maturing as well. Unlike in the US, in the country here in Italy, it’s no big thing to eat off the land everyday. So yes, I love it. Milk comes from the cows and goats up the mountain, and beef comes from the steers down in the valley. You can smell the steers as you drive by the butcher/slaughter house everyday.

One of the things that surprised me was that when we lived in Alassio, there was so much pressure to dress in the latest fashion and look presentable everyday. I would never go out on the streets without the “right” look. Here it is easy, and the feeling of fashion pressure is gone. It’s more laid back and therefore much more livable. I have slowed down. Enjoying nature is something that is a daily routine. What’s in my closet is an after thought.

I will continue to write about my experiences here in the Italian countryside this summer.

As you know, I am in the middle writing a book of our story here in Italia.

Stay tuned for more updates, and for now I will relish all the gifts from my surroundings, the people that live here, and all the secrets Italy has to show me. The secrets I have patiently waited for.

ciao xx

Photo credit: Frank Joseph MD

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The Cheese ladies of Metro, Lunigiana, Italy

C H E E S E !!! … full disclosure I could live on it. In our region, we have many local cheese makers. Goat cheese and cows milk as well. Sydney and I (if you read the last post you know Sydney is our son’s girlfriend; she’s studying nutrition here in Italy for the summer as she gets her degree to become a registered dietitian) traveled high above the mountains of Metro to meet and try local cheese made by a mother daughter team of cheese ladies. The Mama is about 90 and still works actively in the processing kitchen. In her white wellies, she scoops the whey and makes the pecorino, the ricotta, and the mozzarella. We had the pleasure of touring their tiny but immaculate facility in the back of their small but well-stocked cheese and salumi store.

The aging room was my favorite part. Neatly stacked cheese just waiting to be picked from the shelves to be enjoyed.

We went home with a new pecorino, aged for 4 months, and a more pungent pecorino aged for 2 years. Mama tossed in a mozzarella ball as a gift to be discovered when we unpacked everything for lunch at noon. What a enormous treat, and you know I will be back to buy more….once we’ve polished off the wedges that we took home.

Thanks to my friend Davide for taking a minute to show us this delicious place.

xx Annette

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House Hunting in Italy part five

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Everyone has been asking me since I returned from my summer in Italy if we found a house.??!??

If only it were that easy. As I have said in past posts, finding a house in Italy is a mission, it’s like the holy grail. My friend Heike and her husband looked for 15 years before they found their dream home. This is not Under the Tuscan Sun folks, this is real life! In Italy one might fall in love with several homes only to find that after spending money time and emotional energy the house of their dreams is not for sale, because 2 of the 12 siblings that own it are not interested in selling.

It’s true, Frank and I were sure that we were buying the most amazing house in our town last year! Only to find out the man showing the house, one of the owners I might add, did not have the permission to sell it to us, from his sisters, brother in laws and cousins. They had no idea he was showing us the house. So buyer beware is how one proceeds in Italy.

Not only are the laws complicated about buying property but one must make extra sure who is selling the property, plus if it’s all the parties who own the house interested in selling. Since everything worth having in Italy is passed down to many generations. As Americans it is impossible to wrap our head around this complicated process. Even after living in Italy for 7 years having bought property there I’m still surprised by how daunting it is.

Even finding a real estate agent the is kosher and motivated in Italy is a challenge. Here in the states if you put the word out that you want to buy a home, agents will be showing you homes until you drop. In Italy you have to beg them to take you to look at properties. It’s so chill that at times I wanted to throw in the towel. So it’s not like in the movies. I did see many properties this summer, just none that really felt like home. So to answer your question, no we did not find a house this summer, so the search will continue next year, for now a little break is welcome.

Here’s the last batch of photos I took, the first property is a small borgo (village) of 4 buildings, the owners really let it go, and the only thing that was well cared for is their horse that grazed on the property. I was really put off that the poor horse had to hang out day after day alone on this abandoned property, it really put me off, and the only thing I wanted to buy was the horse.

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The second property was the Villa I had already looked at, I went back to see the second floor which was not opened last time we toured the home. Typical the house is owned by 2 sisters, who hate each other, and so when we came back we met the other sister and she unlocked her side of the Villa, I am serious everything plays like an Italian soap opera when you start delving into real estate.

I am still not convinced that the Villa is not wonderful, Frank and I will visit again in the spring. One thing that does make house hunting pleasant in Italy is that since the agents are chill, property does not move quickly and chances are Frank and visit every single property I did this summer.

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I am optimistic it’s out there, our Italian Farmhouse…it’s waiting for us…When we find it you’ll be the first to know. Ciao for now xx

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