In Italy Overcooked Means Delicious

Stracotta is the Italian work for “overcooked”. Italians seem to have the ability to prepare (on purpose) something that is overcooked yet delicious as in a “stracotta” where all the flavors become concentrated and heightened. Some would call this dish braised beef or least of all a pot roast. Our Nonna prepared it this way using a ricer to make a rustic sauce to serve with this slowly oven-simmered beef.

You can also make this on the stove top as a stew using cut up chunks of beef. For an I’d Rather Be Out Riding My Vespa recipe use a jar of Tuscan Red Sauce from CosituttiMarketPlace for a RTE (ready to eat meal) that makes it easy to prepare the generational recipes of our Italian grandmothers. Just add the meat for a stufato (stew) and bring the rustic flavors of Italian casalinga cooking home.

Stracotta di Manzo  

Ingredients: for – 3 -4 lbs. of top round of beef

– 2-3 cloves of garlic thinly sliced
– 3 cut up medium carrots
– 1 large onions sliced
– 2 cut up celery stalks
– 1 lb. ripe tomatoes (peel, seed and cut them)
– 1 fourth cup extra virgin olive oil
– 1 and a half cup dry red Italian wine
– salt and pepper and rosemary leaves
– 1 cup of water
Roll and tie up beef and then make small holes to put the garlic in. Season with salt, pepper and rosemary. In a Dutch oven, heat the oil and brown the beef on all sides for a nice sear. Add the carrots, onions and celery and brown vegetables until soft. Add the wine. Boil until the wine has been reduced to about a half cup and add 1 and a half cups of water. Add tomatoes. Cover pot and transfer to the oven. Finish in a 350 degree oven for about 60-90 minutes. Remove vegetables and put through a sieve or ricer to make a coarsely textured sauce. Slice the meat and return to pan with sauce. Warm sliced meat in pan with sauce and serve with polenta.

My Friend Lui

Once when I was seeing and savoring Italy with a group of fellow taste travelers, someone asked me who my friend “Louie” was. They said I talked about him a lot. Not knowing the Italian language they didn’t realize that my friend “Louie” was actually spelled “Lui” and referred to the Italian personal pronoun for he or him. So when I would say “Lui mi piace” or “Mi piace Lui”, I wasn’t saying “I like Louie” as in a person by name but rather I was referring to someone of the male gender not necessarily named Louie.

Confusing? All the more reason for you to know a little Italian when seeing and savoring Italy. But knowing a little Italian can be a dangerous thing. Phrase book Italian is confining and is a little like speaking from a script. Learning vocabulary is good but limited. There is no “quick, easy, instant” way to learn the Italian language. A language has many dimensions and language without grammar and conjugation is a meaningless shell. Although an Italian phrase book is a good starting point for your first trip to Italy you will need to build on these rout sayings and idioms to carry on a conversation. Of course, many Italians do speak English but if you will be traveling to little known places in Italy, outside of the tourist “comfort zone” you will need to understand and speak some Italian. That way you can experience all that Italy has to offer.

However you decide to find your friend Lui; audio, video, textbook, flash cards or formal classes, begin and keep at it. Once when I was complaining to my Italian cousin, Ornella, about how difficult it was to study the Italian language she laughed and told me about the building of Milan’s Cathedral, the Duomo.It took 500 years to build. I sometimes feel that studying the Italian language is my Duomo but then again how else would I have found my friend Lui.

A Eco-Conscious Traveler’s Earth Day Resolutions

Today is like New Year’s Day for the eco-conscious. It’s Earth Day and for those who are serious about helping Mother Earth it’s time to re-commit to making some positive changes in our ecological life.  The least eco-friendly person on the planet makes an effort not to litter and recycles but a recent survey  by Element Hotels  found that even the most eco-conscious of us ignore normal environment habits when traveling including turning off the lights and using less water.

So today would be a good time to renew our Earth Day Resolutions not only at home but when we are a guest in another country.  The environmental impact of travel is significant. With more than 900 million worldwide travelers we are globally challenged to preserve and protect the culture, heritage and geographic character of sites we visit. To do less would be irresponsible. To do more would be a way to show your appreciation for a chance to see the wonders of the world.

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council web site has some tips. Here are a few others from the National Geographic Traveler web site to help lighten your ecological footprint when traveling.

A Taste of Honey

“From the land to the artisan’s hand from generational producers from us to you”



One of Italian’s most evocative artisan food products is honey.  Like grapes and olives it is a true reflection of the terroir of the region. The unique characteristics of the geography, geology and climate of a specific locale that influence production and impart a “sense of place” that makes the taste, look and appeal of the product like no other.  So valued were these products in the world marketplace that ancient amphorae would be stamped with the seal of the region they came from. So particular were the flavors that legends tell of monks going as far as “tasting” the soil. The designation honey is reserved only to products obtained from the work of bees without further intervention from the outside. Further designation is given to the floral origin, territory and country with additional information on the producer and site of production.

I experienced my first taste of honey in Italy at my cousin Lidia’s apartment in Sesto San Giovanni outside of Milano when she served pecorino toscano cheese and pears after dinner one evening. She passed around a jar of miele di castagno (chestnut honey) and told me to drizzle it over the cheese. The mild grassy flavor of this sheep’s milk cheese paired with the rich, wild flavor and molasses-like consistency of the chestnut honey was molto buono.

Cash Back Italy

Italian children were once told a story about a village with a pond of water lilies floating on the surface. Every day the villagers were boating, fishing and leisurely strolling around its borders. At first the lilies in the pond seemed small and so day after day the villagers decided to leave them to grow doing nothing until one day the water lilies covered half of the pond. So they decided to cut them back and bring the beautiful, fragrant white flowers into their homes to enjoy.

Like the village with the lily pond there is a hidden reward in the routine of everyday living that you may be able to take advantage of to travel to Italy. Every day you’ve been wishing and hoping to find a way to make your dream trip to Italy come true. You’ve being saving up but the daily expenses of life always seem to keep you from relaxing under the Tuscan sun. Well let me tell you that in over 15 years of traveling to Italy, I never have once paid full fare for an airline ticket and neither should you and it’s all because of the expenses of everyday living.

If you eat, breathe and exist in the world there are perks to be had and one of these is earned airline miles. You can get a reduced fare or even a free ticket to see and savor Italy by doing no more or no less than what you do in the course of everyday life. You buy groceries, gas for your car, go out to lunch, dinner, buy a gift for your mom’s birthday etc. You can use the dollars you’ve already spent to leverage your purchase of an airline ticket and suddenly the price is right for your dream trip to Italy.

According to Inside Flyer magazine, there are more than 35 credit cards that offer earned airline miles and they in turn are linked to over 90 partners; companies that allow you to apply miles when you purchase from them. I know that conventional wisdom is to cut the plastic and follow the disciples of Dave Ramsey and I agree that rewards should be deferred for those attending the Financial Peace University. I also believe that paying for a free airline ticket by using credit card rewards is not for everyone. Ramsay characterizing credit card rewards as “brownie points, cites the following statistic from Consumer Reports – 78% of all credit card airline miles are never redeemed. Che peccato! It is like turning your back on the law of attraction. If you are not willing to potentiate the use of a credit card then by all means do not use a credit card for any purpose.

However if you are willing to think about using your credit cards not as a substitute for cash but as an alternative form of payment and you have the discipline and financial responsibility needed to pay off your balance each month you can use the plastic in your pocket to can get a measurable return on your investment and achieve your travel goals.

Here are a few things savvy travelers consider to see and savor Italy using earned credit card points.

  • Before signing up for an air mile credit card, be sure to study the details. Where can you fly with your air miles? Will they take you to your dream destination? People have earned thousands of miles on a card only to learn it won’t take them to the place they want to go most
  • Miles on generic cards may not be good for international destinations. Be sure to check this out, especially if you have your heart set on a free trip to Italy ( I use earned airline miles from my AMEX Gold Card to fly Swiss Air to Milan)
  • Many cards require an advance notice with trip vouchers sent in the mail so be sure to plan ahead
  • Be prepared to pay off your credit card charges as they become due. Many air mile credit cards tend to have higher-than-average interest rates. There is absolutely no reward to incur additional debt
  • Do not use credit cards to substitute for money you don’t have.  Look at your financial situation. If you are not spending enough money on personal and/or business expenses to qualify for free earned travel miles the price will never be right




Seeing and Savoring Italian Coffee

No trip to Italy would be complete without at least one stop at the local caffe’ bar to see and savor the taste, aroma and culture surrounding the pleasure and passion of Italian coffee. Just like everything in Italy, coffee is an art with various interpretations and devotees. Espresso, normale, cappuccino, corretto and the play-it-safe caffè Americano (American-style coffee, but stronger and weaker than espresso, served in a large cup) are just a few of its forms.

Italians take their coffee drinking seriously (14 billion espresso coffees are consumed each year in Italy). Coffee bar sales in Italy average 230.3 cups a day with 59.8% sold as espressos so the beans and blends must be spot on to ensure that deep, dark shot of flavor.

Italians hold their coffee to a higher standard than most cultures. The unique taste of Italian coffee relies on the quality and roasting of the Arabica bean grown between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Held to be the incubator for the perfect cup of coffee, it’s here that coffee berries ripen into coffee beans full of aroma , low on caffeine content, strong and flavorful, rich and robust. Here the climate, altitude and soil combine to create the optimum environment for the beans to grow and thrive.

The roasting cycles used by Italian coffee makers like Lavazza and Illy are specially designed for espresso blends to yield a creamy beverage, fragrant and sweet with  a unique flavor – a true Italian work of art.


Horses, Jesuits and a Garden of Perfect Clarity

I once ate at a Chinese restaurant in Italy. It was late, I was tired and it was on my way back to the hotel.  To me the food wasn’t very good but the Italians eating there seemed to enjoy it. Since 1260 when Venetian travelers first reached the court of Emperor Kublai Khan there has been a fascination and interest between East and West.  Marco Polo, on behalf of the Emperor, sent a message of friendship and goodwill to the Pope at Rome with a request for one hundred learned priests and oil from the lamp burning over the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem.

The exotic opulence of the East and arts and sciences of the West would come together through an unlikely pairing between the court of the Khan and the Jesuits traveling to China on a mission of Faith. These Men of the West were appreciated in the Forbidden City because of their skills in various fields of learning, arts and sciences, geography, history, music and architecture.  Arriving in 1715, the Milanese Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione (1688 – 1766) found favor with Emperor Kang-hsi because of Castiglione’s painting. Although the Chinese were wary of foreign intrusion (at one time Castiglione was put under house arrest) the palace court was impressed with his talent for decorating enamels and painting in oils and watercolor. Castiglione and his fellow Jesuits were instrumental in designing the Baroque inspired Yuen-Ming Yuen, (Garden of Perfect Clarity) in Beijing with marble staircases leading to pavilions filled with remarkable works of art.

Castiglione was part of a group of little known European missionary-court painters whose traditions and techniques reflected both East and West.  He was known for his paintings of animals and horses which were made into a series of stamps by the Chinese postal service. When he died Castiglione’s talent, dedication and faith were respected by the Emperor who erected a tombstone in his honor flanked by two dragons.