Category Archives: Italian Food and Drinks

Lasagne Fiorentine

Lasagne is one of Italy’s most famous dishes and retains a huge popularity around the globe, with people using the traditional recipe all the way through to cooking vegetarian alternatives with spinach. The dish has its origins in the Tuscan city of Florence and the traditional recipe, as always, is among the best.

To make the dish, you first need to boil some water with a little salt and olive oil added to it, and gently place around 7 or 8 sheets of pasta in it, leaving them to boil for 3 minutes. Remove the sheets of pasta and place them onto a tablecloth where they can dry out a little before you place them in the oven dish. Place one or two sheets (enough to cover the bottom) in the oven dish before layering a spoonful of ragu, made from mince, and half a spoonful of béchamel sauce on top.

Once this has been done, add another layer of pasta before repeating the process with the ragu and béchamel. This process can be repeated until all of the pasta has been used up, or the oven dish cannot hold any more food! Ensure that there is a layer of pasta on the top and then generously sprinkle grated cheese, such as parmesan on top. (Parmesan can be added to each layer if you are not on a diet).

The lasagne is now ready to go in the oven. Pre-heat the oven and then place the oven dish in for around 35-40 minutes. The last five minutes of cooking can be done in the grill. Once ready, serve with salad.

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Italian recipes: Pollo alla Milanese

A real classic Italian dish is Pollo alla Milanese, which reminds so many Italians of their childhood. Covering boneless chicken breasts with breadcrumbs, the recipe normally suggests that one chicken breast is needed per person.

These chicken breasts are often wrapped in cling film and beaten with a rolling pin, or mallet, until they are thin and spread out. The meat is then dipped in flour and beaten egg yolk before being covered in breadcrumbs. The egg and flour help the breadcrumbs to stick to the chicken breast. This covered chicken breast is then heated in a frying pan in olive oil, until each side is a beautiful golden brown colour.

Preferably, the chicken breasts will be taken out of the pan and patted down with kitchen roll, which removes and excess oil. Traditionally Pollo alla Milanese is served with a tomato sauce, with parsley and chopped garlic, in addition to a side dish, such as vegetables or salad.

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Italian Coffee Culture

Italian coffee culture is popular around the world, from London to San Francisco, yet we have not acquired all the local habits when drinking coffee abroad. There are a few extra rules Italians follow religiously.

In Italy, milky coffee is very popular in the morning, which is the time to enjoy a Latte or a Cappuccino. However, for the natives, this is the only time of the day to drink milky coffee. A milky coffee after a lunch or dinner is almost unheard of, as, if you have had a nice meal, the Italian’s are convinced that this should only be complimented with ‘un caffé’, an espresso.

Un espresso macchiato

Un espresso macchiato

Italians are also keen on drinking their coffee in a certain manner, for example, if you are ordering an espresso, it is traditionally drunk standing up and in one go. For this reason, coffee tends to be served at a temperature at which it is possible to drink it straight away.

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Italian Pasta Recipes: Spaghetti alla Pescatora

As you would expect from a country which is surrounded by the sea, Italian cuisine offers some of the most delicious seafood dishes imaginable, and Spaghetti alla Pescatora is no exception.

The food is prepared simply, with the spaghetti boiled in salted water, chopped tomatoes with garlic cooked together in a pan and the seafood added on top of this. Many people add some lemon on the fish and it can be served spicy with the addition of an Italian favourite, spicy oil with cayenne pepper.

It’s not hard to see why this is one of the most popular Italian pasta recipes around the World. The dish is simple, yet delicious, mixing a nice tomato sauce with plenty of seafood. There is no specific recipe to follow and many variations can be found, specifically in terms of the seafood used, as it often depends on what has been caught that day. Possibilities include mussels, scallops and shrimp or prawns; yet this is not an exhaustive list, as many people include squid and other types of seafood. So feel free to change this recipe to suit your tastes as well as your “catch”!


20 clams and 20 mussels, cleaned (note: some people prefer taking the shells off)

40 rings of squid, cleaned

16 king prawns, peeled and cleaned

extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup of good white wine

4 chopped tomatoes

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

parsley, basil, salt and red pepper to taste

100 grams spaghetti per person

To cook:

Saute the garlic and chopped tomatoes on the olive oil for 30 seconds. Then add the seafood and parsley and cook for 3-4 minutes or until all seafood is cooked. Add basil, salt, pepper and wine. Let some of the liquid evaporate and add to your drained spaghetti – cooked al dente, of course!


Spaghetti ready to eat!

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New Year’s Eve food in Italy

If you are still stuck over what to serve your guests for dinner tomorrow, when the last night of 2013 will mark the celebrations for a New Year starting, here we are to help you with some ideas straight from Italy’s collective cookbook!

Did you know that, in New Year’s Eve, one of the main ingredients of the lavish dinner will be…lentils? Lentils symbolise wealth, money and good fortune for the year that starts and are part of probably the best-followed traditional New Year’s Eve food in Italy.

Many parts of Italy also include as part of their dinner pork produce, such as cotechino (a large spiced sausage which boils on low heat for hours) or zampone (pig’s trotter stuffed with sausage). The richness of the pork dishes also simbolises the richness of life in the year that just starts; when these dishes are sliced, you can imagine each slice to have the shape of a coin. Sometimes these dishes are served with polenta and…more lentils!

Cotechino with lentils and polenta  *Image: Wikipedia

Cotechino with lentils and polenta
*Image: Wikipedia

Some regions prepare their own traditional dishes when it comes to this special night. For example, in Piedmont, risotto in bianco (white risotto) is served, with rice representing coins.

For desert, raisins are eaten for good luck  and having grapes ensures that your guests will be careful with their money-spending in the New Year. Italians would also ensure there is a cake on the table to symbolise hope and prosperity.

We hope we have helped you with some New Year’s Eve food ideas for your festive menu tomorrow!

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Christmas food in Italy

We hope that everybody has had a lovely Christmas Day and Boxing Day with the whole family! You might think that by now the last thing you want to hear about is Christmas food (turkey leftovers, anyone?) but we are sure that you will change your mind when we tell you more about the delicious items Italians will have eaten in the last few days as part of their stylish celebrations.

In Italy, as elsewhere, many traditions are kept and followed throughout the country, with some room for manoeuvre between different regions. One of the most important days in the calendar for Italians is Christmas Eve, which centres around the Christmas Eve meal. In Rome and many of the towns and cities to the south of the capital, the tradition is to eat a seafood-based dinner on Christmas Eve, for example a roulade of swordfish or salmon. This meal is shared by the family and is a very important custom.

Christmas Eve

The food is followed by the giving of gifts amongst family members. The children open the presents that they find under the tree, before the final act of the evening, which is to take a trip to church for midnight mass.

On 25th December, once all of the previous evening’s food has been digested and the family has woken up, it is time for another important meal. This one is eaten at lunch time and often involves a visit to the nonni (Grandparents), who put out their best silverware and find their biggest table for the event. Traditionally Christmas lunch is meat, such as beef or roast chicken, but of course customs and the exact dish that is eaten vary around country, in typical Italian style.

Next week we will tell you more about festive Italian food, including the delicacies eaten for New Year’s, so stay tuned!

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Torrone is just one of a series of delicious Italian treats that are traditionally savoured around the holiday season and is eaten from Christmas Eve until 6th January. It is best described as a type of nougat, as the mixture is made from egg whites, honey and sugar heated in a pan and then sliced into individual bars before being baked for a short time in the oven. Almonds are found in the centre for added flavour.

In typical Italian fashion, there is a slight debate over where Torrone originates from and which region has the best type. All that can be agreed on is that it is a very old type of sweet, which may have been brought to Italy from another country, such as Spain or North Africa, where it is also popular. There is variety in its preparation, as some regions make a soft and slightly creamy version, whereas in other areas Torrone has a hard and chewy texture.

It is argued that the best Torrone is found in the South of Italy, where they hold regular competitions between towns to judge who makes the best version of the treat. As with most matters, it is a question of personal taste, as there are so many different types and variations on the treat, including some that are covered in chocolate

However, this is surely the best part of it, as the existence of so many variations ensure that everybody will understand why the Italians are so in love with this mouth-watering treat.

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Italian Christmas Sweets and Desserts

There are so many delicious Italian Christmas sweets, cookies, cakes and desserts that we couldn’t pick just one for today’s post. If any of you are lucky enough to have spent Christmas in Italy, we are sure you will be feeling hungry just for thinking of all the delicacies and yummy treats that Italians eat on the holiday season! We have already talked to you about panettone, possibly one of the most famous Italian Christmas sweets, but here are just a few of the most famous ones:

– Pandoro: Milan has Panettone, and Verona couldn’t be any lesser… so Pandoro is Verona’s traditional Christmas cake, which never contains candied fruit (and some people prefer it for this reason). Pandoro really is almost too pretty to eat, with its generous dusting of powdered sugar making it look like a true Christmas-sy snowy mountain.



– Struffoli: these fried dough balls are first dipped in a rich honey syrup, then put together into the shape of a wreath and sprinkled with diavolilli – delicious! It is believed that this dessert probably dates from Roman times, as the use of honey as a sweetener dates way back!

– Panforte: originary from Siena, this rich mixture of honey, spices, candied fruit and almonds has been developed in many different ways over the centuries, and some of the most popular nowadays are Panforte Nero and Panforte Margherita, without forgetting the less traditional but delicious chocolate version!

– Caggionetti and Susamielli: both these types of southern cookies can be found anywhere south of Naples. Caggionetti are fried cookies and Susamielli are S-shaped and traditionally made by nuns. Both delicious and totally irresistible!

– Ricciarelli: these orange amaretti originary from Siena really are not to be missed if you are in the area for Christmas this year!

– Cartellate and Buzzolai: these cookies, from Altamura and Dalmatia respectively, are produced in different shapes and taste variations, and you won’t be able to stop yourself from having at least one of each!

And last but not least, we would like to recomend you try Ginetti if you visit Sicily in Christmas; they are some of the yummiest cookies you will ever eat!

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Christmas in Italy: Panettone

During the next few weeks, and as everyone is starting to get excited about Christmas, Cottages to Castles will be bringing you inspiration, information and ideas about what is like to spend Christmas in Italy. We are real Christmas enthusiasts and love all things festive, so what better way to get into the spirit of the season than sharing with our lovely readers some of our beloved Italian Christmas traditions?


You might have spotted it in the supermarket already; Panettone is one of the most popular Italian sweets that you can get your hands on in shops around the World. But did you know that Panettone is original from Milan, and one of the symbols of this city? It is so popular, that you can find it in different shapes and sizes, although the traditional cupola shape of 12 to 15 cm height is still the most widely spread around the World.

This fluffy cake contains candied orange and lemon zest as well as raisins, all of which give it the fruity taste that’s so characteristic. Other varieties, such as plain, or with chocolate chips, are also available.

We are sure that, by now, you will really be craving some delicious Panettone (we sure are!). And if you fancy eating it as a true Italian, we recommend serving it with a hot drink, or sweet wine if you are feeling a bit naughtier! Cut it vertically, in slices, and make some crema di mascarpone by mixing mascarpone, eggs, candie fruits and some amaretto. Enjoy!

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Dario Cecchini, the butcher in Panzano

Although normally we use Thursdays to talk to you about our villas and provide you with some different inspiration for your next holiday to Italy, today we are bringing you a piece of Italian culture, something so special and unique that we just can’t wait to share it with all our readers!

We have recently talked to you about the wonders of Tuscany (don’t we all the time!) in our post on Villa dei Famosi, last week. This villa sits just 3 kilometres away from Panzano, where the subject of our post this week lives. Dario Cecchini is the butcher in Panzano. But if we only said that, we would risk missing out on so many wonderful aspects of his work and personality. Dario is a bit of a celebrity in the area and if you look on the Internet you will find so much information about him!

Dario’s family have been butchers from 8 generations. From father to son, the knowledge and respect for the animals and the cuts of meat have been passed on in this extraordinary family. Dario has now been a butcher for 38 years, and in his Macelleria, where on his own words “hospitality is sacred”, you can buy beef, pork and lamb in the season.

Image: Solociccia

Image: Solociccia

According to Dario, all animals should have four things: a good life, a good death, a good butcher and a good cook. So throughout his career Dario has researched not only the best cuts of meat but also the best way to cook each cut.

Dario also has opened different restaurants in which you can eat the best cuts of meat cooked to perfection. Dario is considered a bit of a “showman”, as well as a man who has worked hard to actively promote traditional food.

You can find more information about Dario Cecchini, his philosophy and his shop by clicking here. And if you are in the area, we would definitely recommend a visit to this amazing man, a living, breathing piece of Italian culture.



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