Jun 052012

Regional diversity of Italian food is the result of many factors:

  • Climate controls what sorts of ingredients are available.
  • Migration of people from one region to another.
  • Geography ranging from cities on the sea’s edge to villages surrounded by mountains.

Compared to the cuisine of other countries, the regional differences across Italy are well pronounced.  This is in part due to the fact that Italy was only recently unified as a nation after having been a confederate of nation-states for thousands of years before. In this article, we explore the delicious diversity of Italian food and how it has evolved over the years. We have also included a few select recipes to help you fully embrace what we mean by YOLO.

The city of Turin is known for their crisp bread sticks which are called grossini.  Grossini are pencil-sized sticks of crisp, dry bread. A close cousin from the north of Italy is what we refer to as the baguette in French cuisine; and rosquilletas from Spain. Some people believe bread sticks had been invented sometime during the 14th century. Presently, historians have established the origin of bread sticks more than two centuries later by Northern Italian bakers. Grossini goes well with a side dish of prosciutto and mozzarella as a side dish. And when available fresh from the oven it’s really good when dipped in olive oil or pesto sauce.

And if sweet thoughts beckon your attention while visiting Turin, you must treat yourself to a bicerin at Caffè Al Bicerin (founded in 1763) and is the originator of this bittersweet chocolate flavor coffee with cream topping.

Next on this journey through regional taste of Italy is the classic pesto sauce from the city of Genoa.  Traditionally, pesto consists of crushed garlic, basil, and pine nuts. The dry ingredients are then blended with olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan cheese), and Fiore Sardo (cheese made from sheep’s milk). The name of the sauce derives the Genoese word pestare, which means to pound or to crush.  This is in reference to the original method of preparing the sauce, which consisted of using a marble mortar and wooden pestle to pound the ingredients into a thick and savory paste.

While pesto is commonly used on as a pasta sauce, it can also be served over sliced boiled potatoes, beef and tomatoes.

And if we had a few extra hours on this journey through regional taste of Italy, the Amalfi coast is only 5.5 hours away (at speeds of 70 mph+). Here you will find some of the best seafood at La Cambusa in Positano. The pesto from this restaurant is a close competitor to those you find in Rome and even Genoa itself.

Ossobuco is a Milanese specialty. This delicious dish is made out of cross-cut veal shanks. The meat is braised with vegetables, white wine and broth. Ossobuco is often served with gremolata (a condiment made out of chopped garlic, parsley, and lemon peel).  Ossobuco originated during the19th century. Ossobuco may have been a farmhouse dish.  Some also believe that it may have been invented in an osteria, a neighborhood restaurant of Milan.

Panettone is cupola-shaped sweet bread that originated in Milan. Traditionally, panettone is served for Christmas and New Year .This confection is considered to be one of the symbols of the city of Milan.

Panforte (a concentrated fruit and nut cake) is another classic dessert from Milan. It is traditionally served with a Vin Santo or sweet wine. It is possible that this cake dates back to 13th century Siena and was used as a tax payment to the local monastery during the 12th century.  The literal translation of panforte is “strong bread.” The original name given to this cake is panpepato (peppered bread), due to the heavy amounts of pepper called for in the recipe. Supposedly, the Crusaders carried panforte with them on their quests because of its durability.

Carpaccio is a Venetian specialty. It presumably started in Harry’s bar where it was first served in 1950. Carpaccio is the term that is used for raw meat or fish thinly sliced and flatted by pounding with a large terra cotta rack.  The dish was named Carpaccio by the bar’s owner in reference to the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio.  The colors of the dish reminded the owner of paintings by the artist.

Bolognese sauce is a meat-based sauce. It originated in the city of Bologna, and is customarily tossed with tagliatelle pasta. The sauce may also be used to prepare lasagne alla Bolognese.

Chef Pellegrino Artusi  included a recipe for Bolognese sauce in his cookbook which was published in 1891. Artusi’s recipe is believed to have derived from the mid 19th century.  During this time, Artusi spent a great deal of time in Bologna.

The term Capri refers to any dish that ends in the term caprese. Such dishes are likely to have originated from the city of Capri.  Caprese dishes usually contain the ingredients of fresh basil, tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. One Caprese dish is ravioli alla caprese, a simple ravioli made with fresh basil, tomatoes and mozzarella. Another similar dish is insalata caprese, a salad that is made with the same ingredients.

The dishes Ribollita and Panzanella both derive from the city of Florence.  Ribollita is a hearty winter potage made with bread and vegetables.  Although there are many variations of this dish, the essential ingredients always include leftover bread, cannellini beans and cheap vegetables.  The soup has peasant origins dating back to the Middle Ages. During this time, servants would gather food-soaked bread trenchers from the feudal lords’ banquets and boil them for their own dinners.

Panzanella is a salad that is made of bread and tomatoes that is particularly popular in the summertime. Like Ribollita, one of the essential ingredients is soaked stale bread.  The day-old bread is tossed with tomatoes, and sometimes onions and basil as well. The salad is then dressed with olive oil and vinegar.

Pasta alla carbonara is a pasta specialty with a empirical pedigree because it comes from the city of Rome. The recipe consists of  the following ingredients: eggs, cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), bacon (guanciale or pancetta), and black pepper. Legend has it that Pasta alla carbonara was first made as a hearty meal for Italian charcoal workers. The dish was first introduced in the middle of the 20th century as a tribute to the Carbonari (charcoalmen), a secret society that was prominent in the unification of Italy. One of the best places to find pasta carbonara while in Rome is Trattoria Da Danilo.

The final stop on this YOLO journey through regional taste of Italy will be Naples.  A city known for its delicious pizza. The authentic Neapolitan pizza is generally made with San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. While the crust served in many restaurants tends to be thicker, my personal favorite is the one named after Queen Margherita (adding basil to the other ingredients described above). As you walk through the streets of Naples you will be able to smell the fresh scent of pizza emanating from the brick ovens onto the city street. For the best pizza in the world I recommend Pizzaria Brandi, which first opened in 1780 under the ownership of Pietro Coliccio, who become known as Pietro il pizzaiuolo (Peter the Pizza maker).  Cantanapoli is another restaurant famous for its pizza in Naples.

Has reading this article made your tummy long for some yummy Italian food? You should certainly add a trip to Italy to your bucket list. Once you return home we would be delighted to hear from you. Feel free to add impressions from your trip as a comment at the end of this article. If you are feeling even more bold and daring, please try one of the many recipes that we listed here. We would like to hear from you too.

This article was written by: Delton Henderson and Amber Perlmutter  © 2012 Solvere Group LLC.
Jun 052012

Paris: Scarfs, Berets and Unforgettable Gardens

Paris is not only known around the world as the city of lights, glamour, and romance. It is home to countless fashion trends in terms of accessories for both men and woman as well as more than 400 formal parks/gardens some dating back to the 17th century. It is a city that the whole world can take pride in.

Did you know Ancient Rome is one of the first origins of the scarf, where it was used to keep clean and called the sudarium or  “sweat cloth.”By the 20th century scarves became one of the most essential and versatile accessories. Printed scarves are now available internationally through high fashion design houses such as Burberry, Missoni, Etro, Lanvin, Hermès, Ferragamo, Dior, and Prada. And it is around this time that people started to name various stylized knots.

For instance, the Parisian Knot is perhaps the most popular way to tying a scarf around your neck. Fold the scarf over lengthwise; drape it around your neck; insert the loose ends through the loop hanging in front of you and pull them through. If too long, double it lengthwise first. Worn over a pullover or at bedtime, a scarf acts as an outer garment to protect you from winter’s chill. An old French tradition believed that wearing a scarf to bed would cure a cough or cold.

Another common method of knotting a scarf is called Once-Around Knot. This technique provides added protection against the cold without completely engulfing their necks in folds of fabric. The once-around knot requires you to position the scarf around the neck so that one side is longer than the other. The other side of the scarf is then loosely wrapped around his neck to allow room for your necktie or jewelry to be seen underneath. This knot provides a double layer of warmth around the neck and allows both ends of the scarf to drape over the chest. For more information on how to tie a scarf for men and women.

During a recent trip to Paris, I was on a mission to find an authentic Beret de Basque. I did not know when setting out on this journey that it would start at one end of Paris and end in one of the cities suburbs after three full days. But I did it.

Finding a Basque style beret was important to me because of its rich history and unmatched style. The vrai Basque beret, as it is known, was a traditional headgear of Basque shepherds in the Pyrenees, a mountain range that divides southern France from northern Spain. The commercial production of this beret began in the 17th century in the Oloron-Sainte-Marie area of southern France. Originally a local craft, beret-making became industrialized in the nineteenth century. Many of berets that can be found in retail stores across the world today have evolved into different sorts.

The beret compliments the bourgeois-bohème look which has always been associated with Parisian lifestyle. And at one point it was used as way of identifying your political association; the larger the diameter would cause the beret to slant over your head. This was a sign of more liberal persuasion.

Did you know that knotted scarves and berets are the most essential Parisian accessory? And there is perhaps no better place to witness their stylishness than while touring one of several hundred public parks/gardens around Paris. This fact should come as no surprise when you consider the government’s annual budget of 2.5 million Euros (approximately $3,073,900 US) to maintain all the public parks around the city. Here’s a list of my personal favorites:


Prior to the French Revolution only members of the royal court would be allowed access to this park, which is the second largest public park situated in Paris. It is also the known as the playground for the French senate because they maintain their offices in the bordering Luxembourg Palace. This is probably the most popular park in Paris. Adorned with statues, it features a romantic fountain, the Fontaine de Médicis. Métro: Odeon or Cluny La Sorbonne (Lines 4, 10). Bus: Lines 27, 38, 82, 83, 85, 89.


It is here that you will find the world famous “The Thinker,” “The Kiss,” and “The Gate to Hell” sculptures among more than 6,000 others on permanent display and surrounded by a strolling green lawn and trees. It is here that I met former First Lady Hillary Clinton while performing with a Gospel choir made up of a few friends who were living in Paris during the same time as me. YOLO right? Métro: Varenne or Invalides (line 13). Bus : Lines 69, 82, 87, 92.


This is an elevated garden park in the northeast section of the city. It is a favorite among romantics. There is even a 30-foot tall waterfall. But the main attraction is the Belvedere (Temple) of Sybil resting at the edge of an island in the center of the lake. In September, this park hosts the annual Silhouette short film festival. Métro: Buttes-Chaumont or Botzaris (Line 7 bis).


One the most famous romantic parks, it is best known are a rotunda at the edge of the park, a small pyramid and a picturesque Corinthian colonnade. This wonderful garden and park has been the inspiration for numerous painters. Built in 1778 by an amateur landscape designer, Louis Carmontelle, for Philippe Egalité who was the cousin of Louis XVI and the father of King Louis-Philippe I. The designer himself used Rousseau’s words in explaining his concept “to bring together all ages and all parts of the world in a single place. Métro: Monceau.


This was once a clay quarry between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde which first became a garden in 1664.  It is now one of Paris’s most popular gardens with a large pool and statues.  It epitomizes Parisian style. This intricate landscaping is the oldest public garden, situated between the Louvre Museum and the Place de la Concorde. And was a favorite hangout for my classmates and I because the café would offer the most generous pichet of wine at a discount. It is also the places where I started my regular walk along the Seine, crossing each bridge that I came to while singing my favorite song.  YOLO right? Métro: Tuileries (Line 1). Bus: Lines 42, 68, 72, 73, 84, 94.


This very beautiful garden park is hopping with urban culture and sport, ranging from jazz concerts to zip lining. It’s design fancies a liberal interpretation of a Japanese style garden. Métro: Château de Vincennes. Bus: Lines 46, 112.


This garden is the on the grounds of the Museum of Natural History. This is the oldest garden in Paris and it was created in 1626 as a royal botanical garden to cultivate herbs for medical purposes. It is still the country’s prime botanical garden and is even home to a botany school. The ancient labyrinth makes exploring this garden especially stimulating. Metro: Gare d’Austerlitz (Lines 5, 10). RER: Gare d’Austerlitz (Line C). Bus: Lines 24, 57, 61, 63, 67, 91.


An enormous park at the western edge of Paris, this was commissioned by Napoleon III in 1852 who wanted to create the equivalent of London’s Hyde Park. French nobility once used this park as their hunting grounds. It has also provided inspiration to several great painters like Van Gogh and Monet. The almost lyrical expanse of greenery and calm makes this a superb place for cycling too.  Métro: Porte Maillot, Les Sablons, Porte Dauphine, Porte d’Auteil (Lines 1, 2, 10).
RER: Porte Maillot (Line C).


This is a large park created in 1860 at the eastern edge of Paris. It boasts of a large castle – the Château de Vincennes (dates back to the 14th century) – and a beautiful park, the Parc Floral. The man-made Daumesnil Lake at the wood’s west end features two islands and makes this the perfect place to take out a boat and picnic. Métro: Chateau de Vincennes, Porte Doree, Porte de Charenton (Lines 1, 8, 12). Bus: Lines 46, 56.
Built in 1994 on top of the Montparnasse railway station. This garden features a playground, sports facilities and thematic gardens.  One of its themes is that of a ship; the lamposts resemble the masts of sailing ships, and there are two elevated walkways on either side of the garden which resemble the bridges of ships. Métro: Gaîté.


This borders the famous Champs-Elysées avenue. Was created in the 17th century but remodeled in the 19th century as an English garden with fountains, flowerbeds and several pavilions.
This garden was originally the site of the Ranelagh Dance-hall which opened in 1774. It has a merry-go-round and several other attractions for children. Métro: La Muette (Line 9).


This houses Paris’s largest fountain, the Trocadéro Fountain. The fountain is surrounded by modernist sculptures, mostly in stone.


Citroën opened in 1992. This is near the Seine and offers a great variety of things from modern water sculptures, dense bushes and pretty garden area. Métro: Balard.


This garden opened in 1994 near the Bercy Stadium, which is where I first saw Whitney Houston perform live in Europe. This park has three gardens. One of which is called the ‘romantic garden.’  Métro:  Bercy.


This is popular science museum. Its IMAX theatre is housed in the Géode, which is an enormous eye-catching sphere. The park has ten thematic gardens and a playground with a large slide in the shape of a dragon. The Prairies are a vast open space perfect for sport and games. The open-air cinema is guaranteed to provide a memorable experience. Métro:  Porte de la Villette or Porte de Pantin (Lines 7, 5).


This was created in 1975 at the site of an old abattoir. The central tower in the park was the bell tower of the market hall. There is a special place for the blind which has Braille signage.  Métro: Convention

[photo gallery under construction]

Jun 052012


Imagine the excitement of arriving in the only city in the world to straddle two continents – Istanbul. Exploring Byzantine and Ottoman treasures in a series of short walks through a maze of narrow streets and scents of spices that engulf you. Enjoy the wonders of the Hippodrome Square, St. Sophia Church – the largest Christian church of its era and the Royal Topkapi Palace or relax with a tea and massage at one of many traditional Turkish baths (or Hamman). If bargain shopping is your thing, you must stop by the historical Grand Bazaar, which offers everything from exotic spices to exquisite rugs.

Bound for the Greek Islands, you can take either the Wind Spirit or Wind Star (pictured above) and set sail for Kusadasi port.  Here you have a chose between a self-guided tour of the bustling city or ramble among the Greco Roman ruins of Ephesus, which are believed to have been the place where the Virgin Mary spent her last days. This is also home to The Temple of Artemis one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Your next destination is the island of Patmos where you can either lounge on the beach or take part in a guided tour to the sacred place where John The Apostle is believed to have received his Revelation. By the next day, your cruise moves from a small island settlement to mainland Greece – the prestigious city of Athens.

Once at the Piraeus port, the trip to the hotel by taxi carries you through the oldest section of Athens in the shadow of the Acropolis. Athens, a center for the arts, architecture, learning, philosophy, politics, and it widely referred to as the cradle of Western civilization – the birthplace of democracy. The city also offers a bustling nightlife, which would not be complete without live music performed the most casual dining situations imaginable, an area of the city known simply as “ Plaka.” This area is also well known for some of the richest archaeological sites and museums in the world. You will have two go easy on the retsina because it’s back to sea in the morning.

Cruising from Athens to one of many Greek Islands will be chalk filled with memorable events. For me, the island of Hydra is one of my favorites. I discovered it on a weekend trip there with my first love. We arrived and were pleasantly surprised that there are no motorized vehicles on the entire island. Our bags were taken from the dock to our hotel by donkey. We immediately set out to discover why Jacqueline Onassis wanted to own a home here but was denied. It only took a few minutes to see why.

The first night of sleep on Hydra was something special and things only seemed to get better. I’ll never forget the experience of watching a movie projected against a building near Hotel Hydra under a star-lit night; and munching on pizza which was topped with feta cheese and olives.  After dinner we hiked over what seemed like forever, landing on the other side of the island. While gazing at the stars and into each other eyes the whole world stood still.


You can book a cruise on the Mediterranean at the last minute thanks to travel sites like www.cruisecritic.com  and www.directlinecruises.com. My personal favorite resource is the ever so indulgent people at Windstar Cruises, which offer a variety of deals at less than $2,000 per person  www.windstarcruises.com/mediterranean.