2015 → 2016

This past year will be quite a package to wrap. On the personal front there was love and loss, happiness and sorrow. They balance in the end, as life always tends to be right. The work front really shined though, as 2015 was the year where sharing my knowledge and passion for Italian cooking leaped to new depths.

My desire to turn the Bay Area in a hot bed of accomplished Italian cooks is still burning. Throughout 2015, I have taught classes at 18 Reasons in the Mission, the Italian Consulate in Pacific Heights and Cavallo Point Cooking School in Sausalito. In 2016, I will be expanding to the East Bay and Peninsula thanks to Draeger's Cooking School in both the Blackhawk and San Mateo locations. Email me to find out how to sign up for any of these classes.

My work as a very lucky ambassador for Perugina's legendary Baci chocolates continued. It started in January at the Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, then in February we represented at a fair for Central Market in Texas. In early June, at a high profile fundraiser in New Jersey I experienced my first event as a celebrity chef with a handler, in a group that included none other than the cannoli kit maker, real housewife of New Jersey Kathy Wakile. (She was the real celebrity of course, I was just playing the part). Lastly, In mid-November I was in Chicago's Eataly for Baci Day: on a sunny, nippy mid-western Saturday I cranked out almost 600 Baci during demos and classes, including one with 10 lovely children.

Another highlight this year was an invitation to be part of a panel on tradition and innovation in food production. The talk was organized and sponsored by PIB-Professionisti Italiani a Boston and held at MIT in Cambridge. It felt just like being there affected my rather modest IQ for the better. I discovered Fiorenzo Omenetto's technosilk and I got to chat with Caleb Harper, founder and director of OpenAG, one of the most brain stimulating initiatives I have had the luck to see up close.

I spent the rest of the summer and early fall traveling the foods of Central Italy and their systems. It wasn't only for my own exploration, but also because in September I led my first food tour of Italy, centered on Maremma, an area in Southern Tuscany where my family has vacationed since the 50's-yes long before I was born!! Save a brief return to San Francisco, just enough time to ease my child into middle school and participate in the judging of preserves for the Good Food Awards, and on September 15, I was in Italy until October 6.

At times I learned, and at times I taught, some with colleagues and some with students but by early fall we were all friends.

Scroll down for picture and details of my Italian travels.

The winter holidays are here now, a time of the year I love. And even though I fight it, as Christmas rolls in, I find myself gently and excitedly surrendering to all that is expected of it, the merry, the bubbles, the cards, the gifts, and of course the food.

My big food day is tomorrow, Christmas Eve. It often is, for us dedicated Italian cooks, and it's easy to understand why. On Christmas day we very rarely vary from what we've always made, our mothers have always made, our grandmothers have always made. But on the 24th, where fish is the mandatory menu, we have to deal with the whims of nature. We can spend days and nights planning something, but the sea might or might not decide that it'll give us the ingredient we need.

So today I am relaxing, fingers strolling through my fish cookery books, waiting for tomorrow morning's call from Chris at BiRite Divisadero, to find out what the oceans think we should all eat this Christmas Eve and then spend the rest of the day playing with food.

And, as always, for recipes and ideas check my blog.

Need holiday gifts inspiration for the cook in your life? Check out my sister's new cookbook!
My beloved older sister, Silvia, wrote a great book on the cooking and kitchen traditions of Umbria. 

Quello che le cuoche non dicono-What cooks don't tell you is a collection of anecdotes on family life, stories of friendship and observations on the traditions of the peasant culture of our region of origin.

If you can follow a recipe in Italian, it is available at the online US based Italian bookstore Libreria Pino.

She's also in the midst of translating since her publisher has partnered with another publisher who wants to publish it in both English and French.
My sister Silvia's new cookbook "What Cooks Don't Tell You"
My sisters and I at Silvia's book launch. From Left: Silvia, Maura (our hostess and friend), Camilla, me, Giulia, Matteo (one of our many nephews)
Panettone and pandoro also make great gifts, not to mention being perfect breakfast foods.

One of my favorite Italian importers still has a few left. The maker is Loison, a small confectionery makerbaking in Vicenza since 1938.

If you are in the Bay Area and interested, email me and I will get you in touch with the right person.
Details of my Italian summer travels
Pasta in Abruzzo
The last week in July I was in Abruzzo, as a guest of the Peduzzi family, dedicated makers of Rustichella d'Abruzzo, hands down one of the best pastas you can buy off a shelf. This lovingly curated trip was both a discovery of a little known area as well as a continuous feast for the senses. Highlights were discovering that my friend Julia Della Croce was there, lunching at a fish tavola calda deliciously named "Le frit c'est chic" in San Vito Chietino, meeting Elizabeth, Dana and ChefEsther, visiting the Rustichella wheat transformation and pasta plants, dining in a wheat field where we watched the threshing and danced until morning, cooking with a Michelin starred chef on the last night. All and all, an unforgettable learning experience. My thanks to the Peduzzis for hosting, to the lovely Rolando Beramendi of Manicaretti Oakland for inviting me and to Giovanni Intilla, the indefatigable export manager of this great brand. 
Discovering Maremma
I drove all the way south along the Tuscan coast and made my way to Maremma, the magical area where I have spent a lifetime of summers. As always, I loved my time with siblings and cousins, but mostly I relished taking my nieces and nephews to various working farms I wanted to explore for my late summer Discover Maremma adventure.

It would take pages to talk about all the fun my group of passionate Italian home cooks had during our stay at Villa Il Patio between September 19 to 28, we had cooking classes, wine tastings, adventures in nature and even visited with a local noblewoman. I will leave the talking to the pictures. Some are below, but if you follow me on Instagram and/or Facebook (and if you don't, handy links to do so are at the bottom of this newsletter) you can get the full visual experience there. And do check out the posts of my colleague and the official photographer of our Maiden Voyage, Amie Pfeifer. She documented our adventures on Facebook as well.

Discovering Maremma was indeed so wonderful, I will be repeating the experience in 2016. I am scheduling two groups, one in late spring and one in late summer. If you are interested in coming along, email me for details.
Hidden Lucca
Next on the docket was time in the Lucca area, in Northern Tuscany, where I started exploring a collaboration with a local foundation to bring Lucca to the world and the world to Lucca.

Though Lucca is a well known town, its territory, known as Lucchesia is a hidden gem, whose vast spectrum of musical, cultural, gastronomic beauty appeals to the curious and the academic, the foodist and the outdoorsman. I am proud to say that the collaboration has come to fruition: the Bay Area will see a number of events highlighting Lucca in winter 2016 and in the late spring and summer I will be leading food culture tours to the area. In addition to cooking classes and other food related fun, we will enjoy markets, music, R&R, shopping, laughter and good times. Interested in a week of Tuscan cooking in an extraordinary setting? Email me for details.
Abruzzo Adventures
The view at night from the swimming pool at our hotel
Making spaghetti alla chitarra
Julia Della Croce, Elizabeth Minchilli and yours truly
 Riso alla pescatora
Maremma Milestones
Our group about to enjoy a magical dinner at Il Baciarino in Vetulonia
Gorgeous zucchini flowers perfect for frying
The bounty of the Tyrrhenian Sea provided by Pescheria Sant'Anna
Learning how to make pizza with my childhood nanny Maria
Lucca Loveliness
Torta d'erbi - wild greens crostata
Lunch of local cheese & salumi
Blue cheese from a small local producer at the farmers market.
Luccan delights from the farmers market.
Happy New Year!

All and all 2015 has been a year full with the three F's that rule my life: Family, Friends, Food. May 2016 hold just the same, and bring us all happiness and balance.

My favorite 2015 family photo
Copyright © 2015 Viola's Italian Kitchen, All rights reserved.

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