What did You Eat and Drink for Dinner Last Night?

What did you eat and drink for dinner last night? An exercise at the UCLA Writing Success Program asked students to explore Leonardo da Vinci’s inquisitiveness about life and the patterns and connections in the world around him to answer that question. Here’s what they came up with using a bowl of linguine as an example. The mind map of the journey from producer to table with thought given to how the ingredients were grown and converted into the masterful presentation on the plate encourages students to look at their interconnectedness of all things and improve their creativity.

Connessione, the Italian word for connection, association, joint, juncture or link and one of the seven principles of thinking “allo Leonardo” has been used by life coaches and consultants to encourage and inspire an innovative way of thinking to accelerate learning, improve organizations and maximize personal potential. Popularized by Michael Gelb’s book How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci the ideas and exercises associated with his “phenomenal systems thinking” has provided modern Renaissance thinkers a road map for improving their brain power, investments, career search, even their wine drinking.

As a teacher and author who writes about taste traveling in Italy, I could immediately see the connections between a style of travel that pairs the pleasures of eating with the history and art of the region; a travel experience way beyond a show and tell tour where travels are influenced by what and where you have eaten and the artisan producers and purveyors of the food. With a degree in the biological sciences I taught about the “web of life”, the connections within an ecological community that show how the actions of one organism affect the outcome for all. Now I began to see how this scientific principle could be applied to re-defining how we travel with lifestyle itineraries that speak to the richness and abundance of the different components and individuals that make up the experience of travel. Traveling with a sense of connectedness to the physical environment, the cultural and culinary landscape of the country, the historical traditions and the warm hospitality of the Italian people creates a travel experience that maximizes the infinite potential of Conessione.

After all there’s no better place to ask what did you eat and drink for dinner last night then in Italy.

Matrimonio at McDonalds

McDonalds in Italy, it sounds almost sacrilegious. Isn’t fast food one of the seven deadly food sins and isn’t Italy the gastronomic epicenter of the world? I know it sounds unusual but some of the best food I’ve eaten in Italy has been fast food including a sandwich at McDonalds called the matrimonio. McDonalds in Italy is not like McDonalds in the States that is to say il menu in Italy is slightly different. Different enough to take it out of the realm of typical “fast food” into the realm of pretty good food made fast often using locally grown and homemade ingredients. Referred to as the “McItaly menu”, the hamburgers are made with “100 percent Made-in-Italy meat” from Italian cattle breeders in northern Italy, near the town of Modena. Other suppliers carry IGP and DOP status and include leading Italian agricultural consortiums and cheese producers from the province of Asiago.

McDonalds’  il menu items feature Italian products such as extra virgin olive oil, regional cheese, bresaola (air-dried salted beef), speck, artichokes, onions, smoked pancetta and Italian pane. There is a definite Italian imprint on the menu selections. You can order a Parmigiano-Reggiano burger, insalata Bresaola e Parmigiano and my personal favorite, the Matrimonio a perfect marriage of a burger with pecorino cheese and arugula. A close runner up would be the new Adagio Burger, a hamburger sitting on a “mousse” of eggplant with tomato and ricotta salata cheese, more mashed eggplant topped with a bun sprinkled with chopped almonds.

Udderly Italian

Behind every cheese there is a meadow, of varying green under a verying sky . . . There are different herds with their stalls; And transhumance; There are secrets of works transmitted  over the centuries    (Italo Calvino)

A wonderful way to see and savor Italy is through Italian cheese. Each regional variety reflects  each Alpine pasture, each field of wildflowers; the ash, leaves or hay used in ripening, the animals and artisans who make it.

An Italian cheese flight paired with regional Italian wines is a great  party invite. I have done this and it has always been a big hit. Every cheese has its own story and a cheese tasting is a great way to learn about and appreciate the culinary and cultural history of Italy. Every time I’m in Italy I make a point of visiting a caseificio (cheese factory or dairy farm). It will give you a true taste of Italy. You will need a car and a sense of adventure as most are off the tourist radar but well worth the effort.

At almost every grocery store in the States you can find popular varieties of Italian cheese like Mozzarella, Provolone, Ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Asiago but try to find something different like a Tomino cheese from Piedmonte. Here is a recipe for a cheese cartoccio. The word cartoccio means  a paper bag or cone shaped container (cornet). There are several variations of this recipe and you can substitute Fontina if you cannot find Tomino. Tomino cheese can also be found packed in olive oil with herbs and spices. If this is the case, use olive oil in the jar to spread on slices of eggplant.  Serve with a Piedmontese wine such as Nebbiolo d’Alba.

Academia Barilla


2 tomini (soft cow’s milk cheese)
– 1 small eggplant
– 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
– 2 stalks thyme
– 1 jar of La Favorita Black Olive Crema

Preheat the oven grill. Cut the eggplant in thin slices, brush the slices of eggplant with extra virgin olive oil and place them on the grill rack with baking paper to be grilled on both sides.     Let cool. Pre-heat the oven at 350 F.Wrap the soft tomino with two slices of eggplant. Spread with a thin layer of black olive crema. Secure with kitchen string or wooden skewer.

Put the filled cartoccio in a baking dish, drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and  sprinkle with thyme. Place into the oven for 10 minutes.
– salt and pepper to taste

Serves 2-4

Valentine’s Day Graffiti

Graffiti is an ancient Italian tradition that began in Rome with the “scratching” of slogans, notices, curses and comments on the city’scolumns and walls. To this day graffiti writing is practiced throughout Italy often to the shock and dismay of tourists who don’t understand the social, political and romantic implications.

In Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, thousands of star crossed lovers have written their names on the entrance walls to Juliet’s house which at one time were completely covered with graffiti. It is a long standing tradition that is now confined to panels placed at the entrance with sticky notes and torn sheets of notebook paper replacing the graffiti. Although not completely condoned by the Italian establishment graffiti writing is actually encouraged during the Valentine’s Fair in Verona. 

On the two days of the Valentine festa the front door of Juliet’s house is completely covered in love letters which on 14th are taken down and judged. The Cara Giulietta (Dear Juliet) prize is awarded for the most beautiful love letter which is archived together with those from past celebrations.