When I was living in Austin, Texas while going to college, my aunt and uncle lived just north of me. Being avid bakers and cooks (my step-uncle is Italian), I spent many weekends and Holiday breaks up at their house learning to make some tasty Italian treats!
One of my favorites (besides focaccia) is freshly baked biscotti. Biscotti, also known as cantucci, are long, flat cookies that are baked twice...once as a flat loaf and again when cut into slices to crisp them up on all sides. I already have a weakness for freshly baked cookies but these biscotti are another level...especially with the chopped almonds, I'll justify eating a dozen because there's protein in them.
Regardless of my addiction to sweets, these are easier to make than you might think and are great when paired with your morning cappuccino...or just after dinner as a quick dessert served with vin santo! They also make a great housewarming or hostess gift.
We picked this recipe up during our Lucca retreat at our cooking class with Leela from Abbaca-la.
Oh Bruschetta...how we love thee so, and all the various forms you come in! Bruschetta is one of those dishes that's ridiculously easy to make and so satisfying every time. Especially during the summer when tomatoes are at their peak! With some fresh bread and a glass of wine, you're ready for a deliciously quick aperitivo!
This recipe is from our lovely Villa hosts in Castiglion Fiorentino, Famiglia Buccelletti!
Oh Cortona...how I love thee so. Most people know of this town because of the famous book/movie from France Mayes (who still has her famed Bramasole Villa tucked up in the hills above Cortona), it's popularity shows on any day during the summer by the throngs of tourists cruising down via Nazionale.
When I lived in Italy during my internship, Cortona was one of the easiest towns to get to from Castiglion Fiorentino. It was a convenient bus trip away from the convent when we didn't have a lunch shift, but close enough that we could get back in time to work the dinner shift! Plus at the time, the bus picked us up at the top of our hill and dropped us off at the top of Cortona in Piazza Garibaldi! Win!
You'll hear quite a bit of English in this town too, not just from tourists. Cortona hosts a popular study abroad program for the University of Georgia. Similar to Castiglion Fiorentino, you'll find a many expats who met their spouses while studying abroad in Italy!
While it's a lot more crowded than it used to be, Cortona is still worth a visit for some shopping, dining and sketching!
We’ll be the first to admit that Italians have some bizarre customs and habits. It took us a while to get used to them and just accept them as fun Italian quirks! What’s strange to us is second nature to them. Here’s some of our favorite bizarre and fun customs you may encounter while in Italy!
Oh Panzanella...how I love thee so. After Farro Salad, Panzanella is my 2nd favorite go-to summer salad to make. Especially on a budget! When I was living in Lucca for a couple months during the summer, I'd bounce between these two salads all the time because they were tasty and made a LOT for not much money! Plus, making them in the summer has the added benefit of all the fresh seasonal produce that make them even more delicious.
They're actually really similar recipes too. Nearly identical actually except this recipe has the added tasty ingredient of fresh croutons! Traditionally, Panzanella is made with stale bread which is then softened with water to make edible again, then tossed with all the other ingredients. I like to make mine with day old focaccia which is a whole other level of YUM!
The first time I ever visited Lucca was the fall of 2011. I had been fulfilling my internship at the study abroad center in Castiglion Fiorentino for most of the year when my good friend Vanessa sent me a message. She and her boyfriend at the time were staying in Lucca and were shopping for apartments. I had a day or two free from work so I hopped on a train for this small town west of Florence. It was a quick train ride through Western Tuscany, an area I had only passed through as a student on our to the Cinque Terre. As the train rolled into the train station at Lucca, I spied a tower with trees growing on the top of it and wondered how in the hell had I never heard of this place before.
When people think of Italy, they usually think of the food, the museums and churches, the crazy drivers and, of course, the artwork. In particular, David...the giant, towering carved marble statue by Michaelangelo. This gigantic beauty is housed in the Accademia, one of the most visited museums in its home city Florence! Also known as Firenze, Florence is a bustling city that tends to be boiling hot in the summer, crowded as hell but almost always worth the wading through the tourists to enjoy the gelato, panini, and more hidden spots away from the well trod tourist paths.
It honestly took a while before I actually spent more than half a day in this crazy gorgeous and crazy crowded city. When I studied abroad in Castiglion Fiorentino, Florence as almost a weekly destination to visit museums (hello David), cathedrals, small churches and historic sites. Even when I lived an hour south after college, we'd often only go into the city to visit our favorite sandwich shop, do some shopping and sketching and then catch the train home to be back for dinner shift.
It took a few more years before I actually had a solid 24 hours in this city. The first year I ever did a retreat in Italy was actually based in Florence for a week! Showing our guests around a city I studied so much as a student really changed my perspective of this city and gave me a chance to finally discover Florence.
Written by Chelsea Ward, the host and founder of Wanderful Retreats