Turns out, they’re inspiring, too

A handwritten list of “Culinary Desires” and a pen on a woven rug next to a calendar turned to the January page.

In 2021, I’m looking forward to a tentative trip to Italy in July. Or maybe a birthday party with more than one guest in March. I guess just a martini at home next Friday.

Though we’re nowhere near close to being able to make post-Covid plans, What I can do is march purposefully into the kitchen and make an amaretti crumble with mascarpone cream. Or stir-fried celery with peanuts and bacon or something with the ‘nduja I bought on sale.

These are my only plans for the foreseeable future. I am so excited by them (and by my ability to…

More Americans can embrace the Italian go-to snack

Bread, butter, and anchovies, geometric-style. Photos: Sara Cagle

Anchovies are key to umami notes in a Caesar dressing or salsa verde. They’ve whispered their flavor into sauces while olives and capers get all the credit. It’s high time they had their solo — ideally, on a piece of crusty bread slathered with nothing else but cultured butter.

The first time I had bread, butter, and anchovies, all other snacks ceased to exist. My mom and I were so taken with the antipasto at La Loggetta in Cortona, Tuscany — with its homey white-bread toast triangles, knobs of softened butter, and just-opened tin of Spanish fish — that we…

An Italian alternative to stuffing

Tuscan coccoli
Tuscan coccoli
Coccoli with prosciutto and stracchino. Photos: Sara Cagle

There might not be a more perfectly named food than coccoli, which translates to “cuddles” in Italian and refers to Tuscany’s favorite little balls of fried bread dough. Warm, pillowy, and torn in half to hug a salty piece of prosciutto crudo and a creamy dollop of Stracchino cheese, they really do taste like bite-size snuggles.

“Coccoli is something you know from when you are born if you are from Florence,” said Cristian Casini, a pastry chef at the Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence. He grew up eating his grandparents’ homemade coccoli, served as an antipasto before pasta…

Use greens, beans, nuts, and broth to make beyond-satisfying vegan sauces

Scroll on to learn about the kale-almond pesto coating these lumache.
Scroll on to learn about the kale-almond pesto coating these lumache.
Scroll on to learn about the kale-almond pesto coating these lumache. Photos: Sara Cagle

When people ask me about the best thing I learned in Italian culinary school, I’m tempted to hit ’em with a showstopper — like the beef-tongue ravioli with carrot-ginger sauce or the seared scallops with a quintet of vegetable purées. Those were great, but if I’m being honest, the thing I’m most happy to have learned is much more practical for daily cooking: The sheer number of pasta sauces that are astoundingly delicious without meat or even cheese.

The secret? Combining ample extra-virgin olive oil and salt with one of five “bases,” which can be greens, nuts, greens and nuts…

Marino Ristorante’s Giro d’Italia menu is a taste of Italy from Sicily to Lombardy

Cyclists race during the early days of Giro d’Italia 2020
Cyclists race during the early days of Giro d’Italia 2020
Cyclists race during the early days of Giro d’Italia 2020. Photo: Giro d’Italia

You can think of the Giro d’Italia as a 21-day crash course in Italian biodiversity. Known as Italy’s Tour de France, the cycling race starts at Mount Etna of Sicily, climbs north along the coastal farmland of Puglia and Emila-Romagna, and winds through the lakes and snow-capped mountains of Lombardy and Veneto before finishing triumphantly in Milan.

From a cyclist’s point of view, it’s a dreamscape of challenging and ever-changing terrain. Through a chef’s eyes, it’s a fascinating opportunity to explore the wildly different and well-preserved culinary traditions of 10 Italian regions.

Through a chef’s eyes, it’s a fascinating opportunity…

Florence, Italy (Photos: Sara Cagle)

I’m back home in the U.S. after spending a little over a year in Florence, Italy, where I fulfilled my dream of going to culinary school in a foreign country.

The experience was such a varied set of adventures — nine whirlwind months of cooking classes, 57 transformative days of the strictest coronavirus lockdown in Europe, and a pinch-me summer spent on a farm in Tuscany and the beaches of southern Italy.

A lot of people ask me what I’ve learned about life, how the adventure affected me personally, or some other form of that big “How was it and…

From how Michelangelo ate to an eggplant-intensive course, there’s one for everyone

An array of pasta fresca shapes
An array of pasta fresca shapes
Fresh semolina pasta from a Domenica Cooks Pasta 101 class. Photo: Domenica Marchetti

For those of us missing Italy, sipping Chianti or gesticulating with Duolingo might soothe withdrawals, but a cooking class led by an Italian professional could work even better. Here are a dozen virtual food and drink experiences — from a course about Michelangelo’s eating habits to a two-day eggplant intensive — that bring a bit of Italy to you.

1. Pasta and preservation with Domenica Cooks

The multi-part Pasta with Domenica Cooks series, taught by Virginia-based Italian cookbook author Domenica Marchetti, is well underway, with workshops on stuffed, hand-pulled, and whole-wheat pastas, plus more. Some classes have sold out as of this writing, but the series…

It seems so obvious

A plate of wide pasta topped with fried pasta and chickpeas.
A plate of wide pasta topped with fried pasta and chickpeas.
Ciceri e tria at Le Zie Trattoria Casereccia in Lecce, Puglia. Photos: Sara Cagle

Meat was once scarce in the southern Italian region of Puglia — but that didn’t mean that its classic dishes lacked in heartiness.

Just look at ciceri e tria. In true cucina povera fashion, the Pugliese enriched the flavor and mouthfeel of this brothy pasta dish, consisting of fresh tagliatelle and whole and mashed chickpeas, with what they had on hand: more pasta — this time, deep-fried into crispy, golden-brown ribbons called frizzuli. These fried filaments contrasted with the chewy pasta and smooth chickpea sauce so satisfyingly that the primo piatto is famous to this day.

The frizzuli are just…

Eating in the streets of Bari, Puglia, can be magical

Pasqua, wearing a blue-and-green floral dress, peers around thin white curtains next to pasta laid out to dry outside.
Pasqua, wearing a blue-and-green floral dress, peers around thin white curtains next to pasta laid out to dry outside.
Pasqua, a ‘pasta lady’ in Bari, Italy, takes a break from making orecchiette. Photos: Sara Cagle

“Mangia, mangia!” (“Eat, eat!”) said Porzia Petrone, the nearly 90-year-old Italian woman I’d met an hour earlier. We were eating lunch in her home in Bari Vecchia, the historic center of Bari in the Puglia region of southern Italy.

Porzia’s daughter, Rosa, busily refreshed my plate with tuna-and-tomato bruschetta and fried cod, my glass with red wine from a plastic jug, and, later, my bowl with homemade stracciatella gelato and juicy plums. I could barely keep up with the family’s conversation in the unfamiliar Barese dialect, let alone focus on the constant influx of food.

Meanwhile, the granddaughter modeled her…

It’s not the most delicious thing I’ve eaten, but it is the most rewarding

A panino al lampredotto in Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, Florence. Photos: Sara Cagle

I will never forget my first panino al lampredotto.

It was a hot Saturday morning in July at Da Nerbone, a famous stall in Florence’s Mercato Centrale that has specialized in simple primi piatti, herby porchetta, and panini al lampredotto, the city’s famous sandwiches of boiled cow stomach, since 1872.

I ordered my panino piccante and received a hot plastic sack of meat with that particular offal smell and bread soaked in its juices. I ate with my elbows on the counter, sweating from the spiciness of the chile sauce and the searing summer heat. Cooking broth dripped down my…

Sara Cagle

Freelance food and travel writer. Living in LA and usually thinking about Italy. Work at saracagle.com and food pics @caglecooks

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