Pasta Shapes and Schiaffoni

schiaffoni-001I love pasta shapes. I get excited at the thought of trying out new shapes of pasta and seeing if they become my new favorite.

It’s true, my favorite keeps changing. It used to be linguine, then penne, then rotini, then ruote (wagon wheels), then radiatori (yes, radiators), then risone (which means “big rice” and is what we call orzo in the US), then napellini, and then other exotic and strange names I have forgotten. Who knows what it will be tomorrow.

You can imagine my delight when I came to Italy and discovered that there is a whole aisle dedicated to pasta in the supermarket, and after all these years in Italy, I am still discovering new kinds of pasta.

Back when I lived with my family in the US of A, for some reason we usually referred to all pasta as spaghetti. A sacrilege here in Italy, I’m sure!

-What’s for dinner?


… but it was rigatoni.

We did make a distinction between the two major pasta types using the classy names “shorts” and “longs”.

I know my great-aunt referred to all pasta as macaroni just like my family used the word spaghetti. My grandparents called pasta pasta, and I thought that sounded funny.

As Shakespeare wrote, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Spaghetti, macaroni (the Italian word is maccheroni) or pasta…. it all tastes great.

I suppose I should make one confession: I don’t like bucatini. If you don’t know what they are, just picture spaghetti on steroids. They are very, very thick strands of dry pasta with a hole in the center that hollows them out.

They are too big to easily wind around your fork, and they are quite robust, especially when cooked al dente. Therefore when eaten with any kind of sauce, they never fail to splatter you and your surroundings before you get any in your mouth.

Thankfully my doghouse list of pasta is short- just bucatini (also known as perciatelli).

You’d think that since different shapes of pasta are made out of the same ingredients, they would all taste exactly the same. Maybe the physical taste is the same, but in my opinion, the whole experience influences the taste, and different shapes create different experiences.

I’m usually in the mood for different kinds of pasta at different times, irregardless of the sauce, which is probably another sacrilege here in Italy, since Italians will not tire of telling you that certain kinds of pasta must be eaten with certain kinds of sauce.

I agree with their reasoning, which has to do with the sauce sticking to the pasta and not pooling at the bottom of the dish, for example, but it’s not important enough of a rule for me personally to always follow. Besides (cover your eyes, Italians), I eat my pasta with a spoon (even the “shorts”), which solves the pooling problem.

All of the above was supposed to be a short introduction to telling you that I discovered a new shape of pasta. It is called schiaffoni.


schiaffoni-002It belongs in the “shorts” category, but I would put it in a category of its own called “comically gigantic”.

Schiaffoni means “big slaps” (yes, like slaps to the face). How could I not try it?


Schiaffoni originate in the Campania and Calabria regions of Italy and are associated with Neopolitan cuisine. The name comes from the word schiaffo (slap), and they are also called paccheri because pacchero is the Neopolitan dialect word for “slap”.

I looked online for the meaning of this name. I found two theories:

-When these large pieces of pasta are mixed with abundant liquid-y sauce, they make a noise that sounds like a slap when they are poured onto someone’s dish (I hope that someone is wearing a bib).

-The special characteristics of this pasta make it especially delicious when paired with a good sauce, and as a result the taster is stunned when they taste it, as if they were slapped.

Most importantly, how do they taste? I ate them the first time with a garlic, broccoli, and fresh cherry tomato sauce and the second time with red sauce. I wasn’t sure whether to dig right in or cut them in half. I did a little of both. I like them- they really are a mouthful and take longer to eat, so you experience the pasta and sauce coming together for longer. It was a different experience from eating regular smaller pasta. They remain firm and substantial even when properly cooked, and they have a nice feel to them- smooth but textured at the same time.


This pasta is full of opportunity. If people don’t behave themselves I’ll tell them they can expect a slap or two at dinner time.

Posted in Food | 4 Comments

Roasted Chestnuts and Memories of an Autumn Farm



chestnuts-005I took the above photos a long time ago when I spent a week helping out on a family’s small farm near Rome in exchange for room and board and cultural exchange. One of the things I did that week was gather chestnuts. It was fall and the family’s huge chestnut tree was dropping more chestnuts every day. I think I gathered them every other day to keep up with it.

Gathering chestnuts is an excellent lower body workout- I was basically doing continuous squats to get them off the ground and into the basket. I remember the seed cases were really sharp so I had to watch out for my hands as well. I enjoyed that physical work outside.

Afterwards, we sorted the chestnuts and tossed the ones with holes in the shells, because they hosted worms.

I’ve never been a big fan of chestnuts but I think I’ve just never given them a chance. I bought some chestnut flour once and made a castagnaccio (a kind of simple Italian chestnut cake) and it wasn’t good at all. I think the flour had gone bad. But once my friend gave me some boiled chestnuts to taste and they were sweet and oh-so-delicious.

Last night I ate some roasted chestnuts after dinner and they were so tasty. I know roasted chestnuts are a popular food but somehow I’ve only tried them once or twice in my life. I have a feeling that that is about to change. I felt a little holiday spirit too, with “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” playing in my head on repeat.

I took a few photos of the roasted chestnuts:


chestnuts-002Eating chestnuts reminded me of my experience on the farm that I was talking about at the beginning of this post. I dug up some photos that I took at that time and I’m sharing them here on my blog. It was around this time of year. The family made an impression on me because of all the foods they grew themselves and the way they preserved them and made them into tasty things to eat and drink.

I enjoyed space and fresh air and outdoor work when I was there, and I admired their level of self-sufficiency. I live in a city apartment and not a farm, but I still enjoy preserving foods and making things from scratch. These photos are a reminder to me to learn more ways of doing so, which I’m sure I’ll share on my blog as they happen.















Posted in Food, Italian Life, Slowing Down | Leave a comment

Melanzane sott’olio

1This is a post I wrote two years ago that I’m finally posting. But eggplant never goes out of style.

I first discovered this melanzane sott’olio (eggplant preserved in oil) when a few jars of it arrived for my boyfriend in Torino in one of the regular boxes of food sent from his mother down South.

It was love at first bite. I remember I ate the slices of eggplant on bread as an appetizer before dinner and also used bread to mop up the remaining olive oil.

R’s mother regularly jars a variety of her own food, and when she found out how much I liked the eggplant, she offered to teach me how to make it when I was in Matera on vacation.

The recipe is not difficult, but the eggplant is prepared in stages with long waits in between steps, so it ends up taking a couple a days to finish everything. But while you’re waiting, you just leave it out on the counter and can go do other things.

I’ll tell you now that once you’ve finished, you then have to wait one week for the eggplant to be ready to eat. (Before you can eat another kind of preserved eggplant I learned how to make, in which the eggplant is cut into strips, you have to wait one month.) But I don’t mind. I value deliberate processes that produce homemade staples, rather than buying everything from the store.

We started with about 2.5 kilos of medium-sized eggplant (about 5.5 pounds).

melanzane-001The first step is to wash all of the eggplant, cut off the stems, and peel them with a vegetable peeler. You may not like to waste the skin, but if you leave it on the end result is hard and bitter.

melanzane-002Slice the peeled eggplant into about quarter inch (slightly less than one centimeter) slices. We used the slicer in the picture, but a knife works fine too.

melanzane-003Place the slices in a big bowl of generously salted water.

melanzane-004Continue until all of the eggplant is sliced and in the bowl. Cover the eggplant with a large upside down pot lid and put something heavy on top to press the eggplant down (we use a pot with something else inside).

melanzane-005  melanzane-006Let sit for at least five hours. We did that in the morning and finished around noon. Then we let it sit for a few hours until the late afternoon after lunch and a nap :) So it sat for around six hours.

Back to work. Pour about 2/3 of a liter of white wine vinegar and 1/3 of a liter of water in a large pot. That’s about three cups of vinegar and 1 1/2 cups of water- it doesn’t have to be exact. Add (what seemed like) a couple tablespoons of salt and bring to a boil.

Drain a large handful of eggplant slices (that were soaking in the bowl) in a colander and put them in the pot. When the mixture comes back to a boil, wait one minute and then take them out with a slotted spoon.

melanzane-008*n.b. If you plan to eat the eggplant right away, you can cook them longer- about a minute and half, but no longer than two minutes, and the final result will be softer. If you are planning to make a lot and conserve the jars for longer, just cook them for thirty seconds after the re-boil and they will last longer.

Spread them in a single layer on a cotton towel in a big pan or large baking sheet. Use a cotton towel because it absorbs the liquid- otherwise the eggplant will be too watery.

melanzane-009Continue the process of boiling batches of eggplant and spreading them out on the towel. When you use up one towel, put another one on top and make another layer of eggplant. We ended up with three layers. Cover the top with a final towel (or paper towels) and let cool about an hour.

melanzane-010 Take glass jars and put a little extra virgin olive oil in the bottom. Start placing the slices in the jars, layering them as best you can without spaces in between and keeping the level flat. Pushing them down every so often with a wooden spoon helps.

melanzane-011  melanzane-012Add a few fresh parsley leaves at intervals. (n.b. The parsely is optional and can be left out. I didn’t notice any change of taste with the addition of parsley.)

melanzane-013When you fill the jars half way, add some more oil.

melanzane-014You can use your fingers, too, to really get in there and eliminate the air spaces between the slices. It won’t be perfect.

When the jars are full, cover with more oil.

melanzane-015Then take a long thin knife and slide it in the jars between the eggplant and the wall of the jar- press it inward to get rid of air pockets. You will see air bubbles appearing and rising up and then the liquid will be still. Do that all around the jar. It’s necessary to get rid of the air or the eggplant will go bad.

melanzane-016Keep filling jars this way, the number will depend on how much eggplant you started with and how large the jars are. We filled two large jars.

Leave the jars open and let them sit for a few hours. This will let them settle a little more. Then top with oil to completely cover, wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth, let dry, and put on the lids (we let them sit overnight and put the lids on the next morning).

melanzane-017  melanzane-018Let them sit for at least a week and then they will be ready to eat.



I’ll end with a few notes about the process:

You don’t need to seal the jars with pressure or heat, and you don’t need to refrigerate the jars after opening. The oil is enough to preserve the eggplant.

-Only use a clean fork or other utensil in the jar to avoid contamination. After you eat some of the eggplant, push the remaining eggplant in the jar down with a clean fork or spoon until it is completely submerged in the remaining oil. It might be necessary to add more oil to cover them.

We used extra virgin olive oil to cover the eggplant in all of the steps of this recipe. In Italy, this type of oil is affordable. Your cost will go up in a place like the US where extra virgin olive oil is more expensive. You can use regular olive oil (instead of extra virgin) or seed oil (like sunflower) to save money. Just know that the taste will be different (R’s mom says it won’t be as good).

However, while a lot of oil is used in the recipe, it is not wasted. The oil comes out with the eggplant slices and is eaten along with it. If you add the eggplant to salad, the oil on the slices can be used to dress the salad. If you eat it with bread, the oil flavors the bread, or you can mop up the excess on your plate with bread. When you finish all the eggplant, the remaining oil in the jar can be used for anything you would normally use olive oil for.

As always, buon appetito!

Posted in Food, Matera, Slowing Down | 4 Comments

The Basilicata Landscape Never Fails to Impress

1Rivello, as seen from the road driving back to Matera from Maratea

Well I sure haven’t posted in awhile. I hope these pretty pictures from this summer in Basilicata will make up for it :) Basilicata, in southern Italy, is a very beautiful region. The flat countryside alternates with hills and mountains, and the ancient towns built on hilltops make for a striking landscape. If you look out from one of those towns, you can see the surrounding towns dotting the landscape in the distance at the tops of their own hills. Basilicata also has two coasts, on the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas in the Mediterranean. Warm water… gorgeous scenery… it’s quite a place.

2Maratea, on the Tyrrhenian (western) coast of Basilicata


Spiaggia Nera (Black Beach), one of the beaches of Maratea

4Sant’Ilario, a tiny hilltop town surrounded by characteristic countryside

5Classic Basilicata countryside, which is yellow and brown in the hot summer

5aLago di Monticchio (Monticchio Lake)

6A view of San Fele, one of the many many many small and ancient towns perched at the top of mountains/hills.

6aA view from near Carlo Levi’s house in Aliano.

6bDusk on one of the beaches in Maratea


The sea at Maratea, as seen from the road


Night falls on Aliano.

11Maratea twilight

Posted in Photography, Travel | 4 Comments

Everyone’s on Vacation


The photo says: We are on vacation from 8/14 to 8/18.

Happy Ferragosto! Ferragosto, August 15, (which is also the Catholic holiday of the Assumption) is a major summer holiday in Italy. EVERYTHING is more or less closed and Italians traditionally head for the sea.

In case you don’t know, August is traditional vacation time in Italy and many people are off for the whole month. If not the whole month, the people I’ve asked told me they at least have 2-3 weeks in August, depending on when their company closes. And Italy is on vacation again at Christmas time. Of course, people in the tourism business work all summer and take off at another time.

On August 15, however, cities look more like ghost towns with everything closed and many people gone off somewhere. I was in Naples one year on this day and it was very strange to see the empty streets.

In the space of a five or ten minute walk down a street in downtown Matera, I photographed these signs on store windows. Then I stopped, even though there were a lot more, because they were more or less the same.

Make sure to get your shopping done before store owners go on vacation!

8We are at the sea. We reopen on 8/17/15.

3Closed for vacation from 8/14 to 8/22

4The office will be closed for vacation from 8/10/15 to 8/21/15.

5Closed for vacation

6Closed for vacation from August 14-24

7Closed for vacation from 8/9 to 8/16


Closed for vacation. This pharmacy will reopen on August 17, 2015.


Closed for vacation from 8/5/15 to 8/16/15

11On the other hand, this place will be open. The sign says Open Saturday August 15.

Posted in Italian Life | 2 Comments

Another Stroll Through the Sassi of Matera

Here are a few photos from a walk around the Sassi of Matera, which is always an interesting experience.

I discovered that my point-and-shoot camera has a square photo function, so I was super excited to continue my square photo project that I started two years ago in the Sassi (you can see it here) but without carting around my professional equipment.

I love the square format. Before Instagram existed I used medium format film cameras which took square 6x6cm photographs, so that is what the square shape brings me back to.

squares-01 squares-02 squares-03 squares-04 squares-05 squares-06 squares-07 squares-08 squares-08a squares-09 squares-10 squares-11 squares-12 squares-13 squares-14 squares-15 squares-15a squares-16 squares-17

Posted in Matera, Photography, Travel | 6 Comments

Turin Epicurean Capital Event

EN: Turin Epicurean Capital, an event celebrating Piemonte and its culinary traditions and way of life, will open on Tuesday, July 21 at Collegio San Giuseppe. There will be round tables each morning and other events in the afternoons. I will participate with a photo exhibit that opens on Tuesday and which will last for three days. Please see this link for the complete calendar.

IT: Martedì il 21 luglio inizia Turin Epicurean Capital, un evento letterario a tema culinario organizzato per condividere con il mondo la cultura culinaria e lo stile di vita in Piemonte. Io parteciperò con una mostra fotografica che inizierà martedì pomeriggio al Collegio San Giuseppe e che durerà tre giorni. Vedete questo link per il calendario completo.

Turinepi15 progr Eng jpg TurinEpi15 progr ITA jpg



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On Shopping Small

I bought an iron the other day. I like to sew and make clothes, and the old iron I was using finally kicked the bucket.

The first place I thought to go for a new one was a gigantic store like Carrefour or MediaWorld, which sell everything. But I really didn’t want to patronize them if it wasn’t necessary. One thing that’s great about Torino is that it’s chock-full of small independent stores, and my neighborhood is full of them.

When I was riding my bike back from an errand that morning, I saw a small store selling small appliances (piccoli elettrodomestici) right on my street.

I went there and asked about the irons, telling the woman working in the store that I was looking for an iron that produced a lot of steam for pressing dry cotton fabric. She helped me understand the differences between the steam output in grams of the various models.

After I made a decision, she took the iron to the counter and opened the box and took the iron out. She explained all of the features to me, made sure the paperwork was in the box, and even plugged the iron into the wall outlet to make sure it worked!

I probably would not have gotten that kind of attention at a big box store, where you are lucky when you can chase down an employee. It was a nice experience and I was glad to give my money to her rather than to one of the big boxes.

Earlier that morning, I went into the shoe store on my street since my sandals are falling apart and I don’t know if they will make it through another summer.

I saw a pair I really liked in the window so I went in and tried them on, but the largest size they sold was too small. Many Italian shoe stores carry shoes up to size 40 (about a 9 or a 9 1/2 US size) but that doesn’t help me.

I had to wait for the person at the register to finish a transaction with a customer, and then he came over to help me. I asked to try on the sandal and he took it out of the box and unbuckled it. When I said it was too small, he said, “piccolino?“, and I thought it was funny how he added the diminutive -ino to the word “small” in reference to the shoe. (I had the same reaction in my sewing class when my teacher showed me how to hold the skirt I was making in order to sew the zipper on, and she said to place my manino on the back of the skirt [manino = mano (hand) + ino (small, cute, etc.]). It’s just something Italians say.

When I left the store, I decided I liked the personal attention salespeople give you in small stores like this. They usually know their products and can help you find something if you’re unsure of what to choose. For example, the woman told me about the steam output of the irons, and I know it’s not rocket science but I had no idea about that before. Another time I bought boots (go in January when everything is 50% off), which I wouldn’t have tried on because I didn’t see my size, but the saleslady knew they ran large and so I found a great pair and could stop shopping.

Since the customers are not handling the merchandise themselves and putting it back however they feel like it, the store is neater. The experience is also quicker and more precise. For example, there are a lot of small hardware stores in the city; I just walk up to the counter and ask for what I want and they produce it. I don’t have to wander around huge aisles looking for something specific.

I was a little afraid to shop in small stores in Italy when I first came here, mostly because I had to talk to people. It wasn’t only the language barrier. My shopping experience in the US was much more impersonal, and I had gotten used to browsing around for as long as I wanted without asking for what I wanted or having someone wait for me to make a decision.

It’s not just about personal comfort though. I like to patronize small business owners who are making a living with their local businesses. I can also develop relationships with the people in my neighborhood and contribute to the community. And small stores are often unique with their own personalities, whereas large chains are meant to be the same no matter where they are located.

I remember how sad I felt as a child when the corner pharmacy in my grandparents’ neighborhood, where my dad used to drink ice cream sodas when he was a kid, and where my cousins and I used to gather our change and buy candy, was torn down and a 7-11, a chain convenience store, was built.

I liked the sewing machine sales and repair shop I visited that morning when I first looked for an iron (they only had professional ones with boilers). There were old and new sewing machines throughout the room, some in various stages of repair. My great-grandmother always said to spend more on something of quality and it will last a lifetime. I’d like to add, and if it breaks, which will probably happen less often, have it repaired instead of throwing it away (causing more resources to be wasted and where it might end up in the ocean).

These experiences are certainly still possible in the US, though less so than in the past since many independent stores have gone out of business. And I see that in Italy, there are now many large shopping malls and big box stores which are full of customers.

I may have fallen into a little nostalgia with this post, but my practical point is that I have the opportunity to choose with my wallet, so to speak, and make choices to keep a little diversity alive.

Posted in Expat Life, Italian Life, Slowing Down | 4 Comments

New Blog for Photo Shoots


I’ve decided to start a new blog for my photo posts for my baby, children, family and wedding photography shoots, rather than continue to post those photos on Simply Italiana. I’ll only be posting those posts on my new blog, and I moved a copy of all the old photo shoot posts that I already published here to the new blog, but the original old posts are still here in the Simply Italiana archives. Readers of Simply Italiana who are interested in Italian life, food, and travel might not want to see photos of babies, for example, and vice versa, so I wanted to keep the two separate. You can visit my new photo shoot blog here:


Posted in Baby Photography, Battesimi - Baptism Photography, Dolce Attesa - Maternity Photography, Matrimoni - Wedding Photography, Prematrimoniale - Engagement Photography | Leave a comment

Finding Authenticity as a Foreigner in Italy

I’ve joined the Blogging Piemonte group after being invited by Diana of The Entire Pizza and I’ve already met a small group of friendly bloggers who live in the Torino area and write about their experiences with the region and its food and drink. We’ll write on a common topic every month and the first topic is “authenticity”. I’m looking forward to seeing how we approached this topic in different ways. Links to the group’s posts are at the bottom of the page. Follow along with the hashtag #BlogPiemonte.

Authenticity. The truth is, I struggled when I heard this topic. Authenticity seems like a popular word people are throwing around these days, but what is authenticity anyway? And what am I supposed to say, something profound about “real” Italian life? What seems obvious to me is the question, isn’t everything authentic just because it exists?

When I started thinking about the topic of authenticty, the first thing that came to mind was, how can I live an authentic life in Italy? When I first came to Italy, I thought that in order to have an authentic expeirence here, I had to try to be as Italian as possible.

I worked hard on that. I studied Italian and insisted on speaking Italian with everyone I could, even if they knew English. I only read Italian books and tried to make the best of my immersion experience to learn about Italian culture. I came to Italy for fun, not for a reason like work or a relationship, and so I did this because it really interested me and I enjoyed it. At the same time, I hoped I wouldn’t stick out in Italy like a sore foreign thumb.

During my first year in Italy when I was traveling in the south, I had a short conversation with a man at a water fountain and he asked me if I was from up north. Yes! I thought. The ultimate compliment… passing for a native.

I’m now living a regular life here. I speak the language, I have Italian friends, I work and go about my daily business, and I’ve adjusted my schedule to the Italian way of doing things.

I like learning what makes Italian people tick, and I’ve naturally adopted many Italian habits and customs myself, which I think is crucial in order to have a good experience living in a foreign country. My ways of thinking and seeing the world have changed, and I have a more open mind.

I’m even Italian-American; my blood is 7/8th red, green and white and I have an Italian passport to prove it.

Despite that, I’ll never be a “real” Italian. My accent, for example, has definitely improved since I first started learning the language, but it’s also definitely still there. And I still do strange things that raise Italian people’s eyebrows. More importantly, nothing replaces being born and raised here.

Even though I have changed a lot since coming here, I still do many things differently from the general Italian way of doing things, and that’s because I grew up and lived somewhere else.

People will never forget that I’m a foreigner, but it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

I eventually came to a new place where I relaxed and embraced my origins more. Instead of only speaking and reading in Italian, I now like to speak and read in English too and have a chance to not think so much about it. I used to try to only spend time with Italian people to soak up as much as I can, but now I like to meet people from America and different countries, and I like the familiar feeling of talking to another American with whom I have experiences in common.

I don’t have to try to be Italian, which I think would be un-authentic anway. My individuality is what’s authentic about me.

I’ve found a personal meeting place between adopting new habits and keeping old ones, between embracing new things and remembering where I came from. That’s an authentic life in Italy to me. Just being me.

It would be boring if we were all the same. That leads me to another question: what is authentic in Italy anyway? There are so many different kinds of people in the country.

For one, Italy has attracted foreigners for a long time. My story is nothing new. And there are currently a whole lot of us here. I’m sure many Italians would not agree with me, and others would, that authentic Italy is a reality that contains may kinds of people, including foreigners.

Italians themselves are diverse and famous for not being unified as a country but being loyal to their region, city, or soccer team.

Authenticity is difficult to define. I gave up chasing an authentic Italian life, but I found an authentic life in Italy.


Read up on what the others have to say about authenticity (check later in the day if they’re not up yet):

Eptrad: “That’s an Authentic Start!”

Turin Epicurean Capital: “Living Turin style”

Turin Mamma: “Why I Draw the Line at Using the Word “Authentic””

The Entire Pizza: “Forced to Live Authentically in Piemonte”

Wine & Truffles: “Authentic Living in the Alta Langa”

Living in the Langhe: “How to Become Authentically Piemontese in 5 Easy Steps”

Texas Mom in Torino: “Authenticity: The evolution of this Texas mom to an Italian mamma”

Simply Italiana: “Finding Authenticity as a Foreigner in Italy”

ItaliAnna: “Piemonte = Authenticity”

Bailey Alexander: “Save Yourself by Saving the Planet: the real benefits of growing a garden”

Posted in Expat Life | 11 Comments