Are we missing British food in Italy?

A recent article from an unmentionable UK paper gave a list of desperately craved food items by what the paper calls ‘ex-pats’, but who are best described as ‘immigrants from the United Kingdom’ and, probably, in around two years’ time, to be called as the Italians say ‘extra-comunitari’, i.e. those who still possess a passport showing that they are not members of the European Union, like Pakistanis, Nigerians, Bolivians, Russians etc.

This is the list the paper gave in descending order of yearning:


Crumpets Yes Wait for some kind soul from the UK to bring me a pack. I could, of course, learn to make them when I get a crumpet griddle.
Baked Beans



Not really Get a tin of Fagioli cannellini and make Tuscan Fagioli all’uccelleto. Much more delicious. (recipe at )
Organic First Infant Milk Too old for this Nothing
Gravy Granules


Not really Look for a small cardboard tin of ‘brodo granulare’ (both ‘classico’ and veg)
Tomato Soup


Not really Make your own tomato soup. Recipe at If lazy pick up a packet of powdered tomato soup at any large supermarket.
Crème Egg Absolutely not. Horrible sickly things. More vegolate than chocolate. Go for real quality Italian Easter eggs which come in all sizes and all qualities of chocolate. They’ve even got a nice ‘sorpresa’ when you crack them open.
Sage and Onion Stuffing


No Nothing
Branston Pickle



Sometimes A friend makes some home-made pickle for me. There’s also a recipe at


Ginger Nuts


Definitely. Put ginger powder into your cuppa and then dunk a frollino biscuit in it. (Or wait until some kind soul brings you a packet across from the UK)
Earl Grey and Vanilla teabags


Not really There’s some decent Earl Grey tea in Italy. What I do miss is PG tips, however.
Unsmoked Back Bacon:


Not really There’s some decent Danish bacon one can pick up at Tuodi’, Pian di Coreglia.
Blackcurrant Fruit Pastilles


Not really Nothing
Richmond Thick Irish Sausages


Not really There are some great Italian sausages, some quite spicy too. However, they do tend to be a bit too salty for my taste.
Steak and Kidney Pie


Definitely missed Make your own.  Recipe at

You can use ready-make pasta brisè (short-crust pastry) from any supermarket if you want to cheat.

Cream Crackers


Not really ‘Fette biscottate and crispy focaccie do the trick excellently
Jaffa Cakes Not really Eat half a digestive biscuit easily available here (thanks McVities!) with a slice of orange.
Salt & Vinegar Crisps


Not at all. Ghastly chemical concoction. Nothing
Mushy Peas


I miss these if I’m having ‘Pesce e patate’ (fish ‘n chips at the Barga sagra). It’s on from the end of July to the middle of August. Barga should include not just mushy peas but fried onion rings too. Make and bring your own. Recipe at


Cheese & Onion Crisps Not really. If you are desperate for chemically-flavoured crisps they are now appearing at Lidl in Lucca.


What I most miss, however, is not on the above list: strong farmhouse cheddar cheese. Ok, you might say what with all the amazing varieties of cheese in Italy: asiago, mozzarella, pecorino, gorgonzola (a great substitute for blue stilton), provolone, taleggio, ricotta, mascarpone, scamorza etc. why should I still have a craving for cheddar? Moreover, why can one obtain in Italy cheeses from France, Switzerland, Holland and Germany and not a single variety from the UK?

Has the anti-brexit revenge already started on both sides of the Channel? Will the benighted inhabitants of the British Isles be deprived of camembert while we’ extra-comunitari’ (as several Italians are already mockingly calling us) will still be dreaming of a cheddar cheese toast with a lump of butter on top, especially welcome in the often dark days of a Tuscan winter.

Actually, I’ve long since come to the stage where I’m missing decent (and decently priced) Italian food and eateries much more in the UK than I’m missing UK food in Italy. It’s hardly surprising when the UK has just 65 products with EU protected status and Italy has 267. I wonder how all this will be affected in the promised forthcoming Brexit negotiations after June 8th.

I really do wonder?  To end on a smiley note would you say ‘formaggio’ or ‘cheese’?


Italy’s Eel-Pie Island

In Italy, Pasquetta or Easter Monday is traditionally a time to go for a journey ‘fuori le mura’ – outside the walls, which here doesn’t just mean getting out of one’s house but out of one’s town which, like Lucca, is often surrounded by defensive walls.

We chose a local coach firm, largely to experience this aspect of Italian traditional life.  We crossed the Apennines through Renzi’s greatest achievement – an alternative Autostrada del Sole route (variante di Valico) opened in December 2015. It traverses the mountain range almost entirely through tunnels and has cut the journey time from Florence to Bologna by almost an hour. It’s fine on speed, not so good on panoramas. Luckily the old autostrada route has been kept for more scenic travel.

We then travelled through the lush Emilia-Romagna lands with their rows of San Giovese grapevines and dramatic cloud formations.

Our first stop was Ravenna which should by all rights deserve at least a couple of days to visit decently. Although we felt short changed on mosaics we did, at least see some of the extraordinary sights of this city which, at one time in its glorious past, was capital of the Roman Empire.

Theodoric’s’ mausoleum dating from 520 AD is an amazing feat of engineering with a solid stone roof carved out of one stone block weighing tens of tons and originally transported to cap the structure via a ramp.

The Arian baptistery with its beautiful dome mosaic is unique in the world for being the only architectural evidence of a heresy which believed Christ to be literally the son of God i.e. born from the creator and, therefore, subservient to him without any hint of the Trinity as expounded in the Nicaean creed and which is recited by most Christians today. (There’s a tablet inscribed with the Nicaean creed in Bagni di Lucca’s ex-Anglican church, now library).

Dante’s tomb is surely the holiest secular shrine in the Italy and it’s a moving experience to see where the major formulator of the Italian language and the author of the Divine Comedy now rests.

Although bashed about a lot in the Second World War Ravenna retains many characteristic town corners including a lively main piazza.

The biggest event of the ‘scampagnata’, or Italian Easter Monday trip, is, of course, the lunchtime meal which in this case took place in a vast restaurant with no less than five halls. It was quite amazing how quickly and how well we were served with appetizing food. I sometimes think that if cooks and restaurateurs were elected to run the country Italy would turn out to be far better administered! Our lunchtime company was very congenial and remarkably well travelled too.

After lunch we headed for the valli di Comacchio which is an extraordinary area of wetland – probably the largest in Italy and one of the largest in Europe, approaching the Danube delta in dimensions. A continuation of the Venetian lagoon, the area is flat, often marshy, filled with immense brackish lagoons, canals, dykes, clearly a bird-watcher’s paradise and, above all, famous for its eels.

The main town, Comacchio is the centre of eel fishing and production and is a charming place in its own right with a highly photogenic triple bridge and some delightful traffic-free streets.

Half-way along what must be one of the longest porticoed streets I’ve walked along is the entrance to the eel manufactory where eels are dried and canned. The old factory is now a museum with interesting exhibits showing the boats and basket nets used. Among the photographs were stills from a Sophia Loren film I have yet to see, describing the romantic life of an eel-canner and appropriately entitled ‘La Donna del Fiume’ ‘(the lady of the river.’)

It was then time to return home. Since we’d joined the coach at 6 am in Fornoli by the time we reached Bagni di Lucca close to midnight we were ripe for bed-time, falling swiftly into a dream-world where Theodoric, Arianism, eels, lagoons and La Loren were collaged together in ever unbelievable sequences.


Cappiano’s Osteria Numero Uno

A delightful detour if one is taking the route from Altopascio to Empoli across the Arno valley on the way to Florence is to cut across to Ponte a Cappiano, a major engineering work carried out by Cosimo de Medici and replacing an older bridge on the pilgrims route known as the via francigena and once protected by the knights hospitaliers of Altopascio. I have described this area more fully in my post at

I’ll just add here that if one parks one’s vehicle in the main square of this truly laid back town and walks round to the right one comes across an excellent osteria appropiately called ‘numero uno’.

We ate well and cheaply there with excellent pasta first courses and brilliantly cooked manzo and involtini for seconds accompanied by some of the best mashed potatoes I have tasted.

The osteria’s facebook page is at

Booking is essential. We didn’t book but were lucky as the osteria filled up quite quickly. Helpings were generous and some of what we couldn’t eat was packed away for us by the friendly proprietors and served for our supper too!


Ponte a Cappiano was a truly welcome break on our journey towards the capital of the Grand Duchy during yesterday’s brilliant spring day.

A Sweet Start to Pistoia as City of Culture 2017

Pistoia has been elected Italy’s City of Culture for 2017. We dropped into this neglected Italian beauty of a city on our way back from Florence as we’d heard there was a chocolate festival on.

The festival itself turned out to be a slight affair but at least it provided a break in our journey. The amazing things Italians do with their hand-crafted chocolates!

We’ll certainly be spending more time in Pistoia this year and will also try not to miss its famous blues festival. There’s more information about visiting Pistoia at:


Let us be Thankful for Being Still Alive

Thanksgiving Day was celebrated yesterday with another gorgeous lunch at the spectacularly good Cantina di Carignano which I have already described in a previous post at

I was invited by the editor of that quintessentially good magazine for our Lucca area “Grapevine”. I doubt that few other “ex-pat” mags could ever match, let alone surpass, the high quality of this publication. Indeed, all back numbers should be treasured as they form the closest we’re ever likely to get to a compendium or encyclopaedia of life, credences, places, traditions events, trends, indeed of everything useful we’re ever likely to find in our promised land of Lucca province.

I realised that Thanksgiving Day is the one day in the American calendar that unites everyone regardless of creed or country of origin. It is also, thankfully, just one day’s celebration of joy and hope (unlike Christmas, which now apparently starts shortly after August Bank Holiday!) We can’t wish happy Christmas to everyone we meet these days when different belief systems run riot. Birthdays are spectacularly easy to forget. We could transform Easter into a pagan feast of spring’s reawakening as we could with Christmas’s rebirth of the sun but, again, there are still many people about who would object to being called pagans.

Thanksgiving should be an important feast anywhere in the world (and is), at least where English is spoken. OK, the UK has imported Halloween and now Black Friday makes a mark but it’s Thanksgiving which should really be given importance anywhere where English speakers meet.

For the first time in my life I think I have truly understood why Thanksgiving Day – that day which celebrates the Mayflower pilgrims from Plymouth survival through their first harsh winter in a completely unknown land – a planet even – means so much to Americans. It began to mean a lot to me too and I regretted that in the UK we no longer have a day which brings people together in one faith; in one God (whichever name may be given to the Deity) I see sadly a Britain divided as I see an America divided by a world changing into beliefs that we thought had long been declared dinosauric, a weary world battered into some sort of quasi-sense by two ghastly eras of mass destruction last century and a Middle Eastern sphere which is throwing the last vestiges of the Geneva convention out of the troposphere of our assaulted planet. Who can possibly stare unmoved at the scene of shattered classrooms and bombed hospitals in countries which formed the cradle of our civilization (if we by the skin of our teeth can so call it) and which border the same sea that gave rise to the great glories of Hellenism?

Yet we, too in Britain have do much to be thankful for – the international touch the Romans gave us during their three hundred year stay here, the great Northumberland monasteries for preserving learning and knowledge while the rest of the world was crumbling into barbarian ignorance, and, dare I mention it, the continuity which our constitutional monarchy has given us and the mother of all parliaments which still manages to protect us from the horrific excesses which so many parts of the world are today subject to and which today is dividing families, friends, acquaintances, associations, even football clubs because of the rant and rave of schicklegrubian-like imitators.

It is all so sad because when the infamous vote result for Brexit took place and the ignorant and the bigoted became faragian triumphalists, the more sensible of those in our area were truly worried about a kind of backlash from the local Italians. None of it. The Italians don’t behave like that. It’s not in their nature. The people we should worry about are those ill-informed brits who voted for the fourth major British political disaster in the last hundred years (the other three were appeasement, intervention in Suez and alliance with the USA in the 2003 Iraq war). Let’s try not to drink or even acknowledge the presence of these unfortunate individuals around us. We realise how this mess (or casino) could finish up as. Emotions could be roused by even a pint of that nice beer they serve down at a well-known local bar. The ignoramuses will leave us in due course and return to their island Kingdom (if it’s still United, that it) if they don’t reach enlightenment on the issue. Karma will do its good turn and we’ll merely ignore them. It’s quite pointless to discuss or argue with those who only believe in lies and have only dinosauric prejudices lurking within the vacuous space of their cranium. Hopefully, they’ll find out the truth soon enough….

Thanksgiving Day is about survival and the hope for a brighter future. Let us believe in it please!

It’s a National Holiday in Canada and the USA on the last Thursday of November, Thanksgiving associates a harvest festival together with the commemoration of the Pilgrim Fathers’ survival through their first days when they landed from the good ship Mayflower onto the shores of a ‘new’ continent

The fact that the Pilgrim Fathers survived at all was largely due (somewhat ironically as it later turned out) to the local native Indian population. It was Squanto of the Wampanoag tribe who taught the newcomers from England’s Plymouth where and how to find food. Thanks to him the pilgrims learnt how to catch eels and grow maize. They were also introduced to sources of nourishment such as turkey, pumpkin, cranberries and potatoes, none of which had been known in the country they came from.


Let us believe in Thanksgiving for to do otherwise would be to give way to dark forces. At the very least let us honour our harvest festivals.

We must believe and be true to each other as humans with genuine humanity can honestly be, for, as Mathew Arnold so eloquently and persuasively put it:

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

If we are not true to our own humanity then those ignorant armies will always clash whether they be in the plains of Iraq, the mountains of Syria or even in our own cities….

Let us be true to those values which we inwardly truly nurture, as a mother’s breast nurtures her baby, before we sink into a second barbarian dark age whose door is open and welcoming us in with its lurid promises.

Anyway, let’s get back to food which is love itself, like Dali’s loaf of bread (have you visited his great exhibition at Pisa’s Palazzo Blu?) which is the giver of life Himself.


Here is something of what we ate:

And here are some of a convivial family of guests at our table:


Full and hearty thanks are due to Norma Jean Bishop (far right in photo above), editor of our English-language Lucca magazine, ‘Grapevine’ and great organiser of events designed to further the cause of conviviality, exchange and harmony! We so desperately need more people like her to nurture the good qualities in us, to release our creative faculties and to celebrate our diversity with joy and not our differences with hate, that detestable word so mailed daily to too many people in the UK.

As George Herbert wrote in the seventeenth century:

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back

                              Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

                             From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

                             If I lacked any thing.


A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

                             Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

                             I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

                             Who made the eyes but I?


Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame

                             Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

                             My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

                             So I did sit and eat.

Mighty Senators of the Forest

On my way back from Vagli’s Tibetan bridge (see previous post) I came across one of Italy’s own noblest green-robed senators of mighty woods (to adapt a phrase from Keats’ ‘Hyperion’). This senator was a tiny seedling when the New World was just discovered, and has given hope and nourishment to generations of families in the areas of Roggio, Puglianella and Roccalberti. It still belongs to the descendants of those families. For me it is one of the loveliest living beings upon this earth and something to truly kneel before in awe and adoration. No wonder our ancestors worshipped trees (and some of us still do!) There are many religions and cultures which give praise to these verdant giants thankfully, for without them we would not only be deprived of their fruit and wood but, most importantly, of their life-giving oxygen.

The Bread of Life in our part of the world is not just the Divinity but the Castagno, the chestnut tree, which has supported so much of the population with the flour made from its fruit.  This magnificent tree, a little outside Roggio, is half a thousand years old and is truly an immense power emanating a mystic strength which I felt throughout my whole self as I touched it.

There are many other such colossal beings in your area and perhaps, if you live here, you may have your own favourite Castagno. Just feeling it and putting your arms round it will fill your whole existence with new life and energy because the tree is one of the highest manifestations of life itself.

Here are some of pictures of that ‘Castagno monumentale’ di Roggio taken the other day.It’s 86 feet high and its circumference is 33 feet.

Which reminds me – have you already been to your Castagnata if you live in this part of the world? Yesterday I was at the delightful one at Cascio. If you weren’t there you’ll have to read all about it tomorrow….

Beating Brexit with Food

That six-letter word starting with B, ending in T and with an X in the middle has clearly made inroads into many expats’ disposable income in various parts of the European Community.

In Bagni di Lucca there has been very roughly a 15 to 25 per cent reduction in the spending income of most people due largely to exchange rates between Sterling and Euro. (I’m not going to add the shocking increases in Rubbish tax – actually most taxes in my opinion are rubbish – and the water bill.)

Rather than moaning about it all there are, in my opinion positive actions to take to reduce the pain in one’s purse. I’ll concentrate just on food this time.

  1. Shopping for food. It’s of course possible to grow much of one’s own and, frankly, scrumping among abandoned fruit trees is as acceptable as blackberry-picking. It’s also worth using discount stores with own-brand names.
  1. The other day I was amazed at noting that the price difference between famous brand names in non-discounts and own-brand in discounts was as much as 40% in favour of discounts. Italy appears to have the greatest price differential of any products in relation to many other European countries. One might think that the difference in quality between expensive cat food in a non-discount store and an own-brand name cat food in a discount might be noticeable. Laboratory tests have, in fact shown, that usually own-brand names are of an equal quality. I am at this moment testing how effective lab tests are on my three cats and so far have noted that for them texture of food is often more important that brand name. Napoleon goes in for paté-based cat food and Carlotta and Cheekie rave for gelatinous sachets.
  1. It’s Italian law, in keeping with avoiding food waste, that when you buy a meal in a restaurant and can’t finish it you can ask what in the UK is known as a ‘doggy bag’ but what in Italy is known more accurately as a ‘family bag.’ (After all how much of that delicious arrosto really gets to the dog?). The problem is that many Italian families think that it’s shameful to ask for a family bag. Nothing of the sort! You’ve paid for all your food whether you’ve eaten it or not. Families with American origins are much more forthright in asking for left-over food to be packaged for them. If any restaurant refuses to give you a doggy bag then avoid them for they are truly breaking Italian law, no matter how ‘high-class’ they are.
  1. Income spent on food. It’s been worked out that an Italian  family with two children spends around euros 8,000 on food, that couples spend 6,000 and that singles spend 4,000. It’s also been calculated that with wise shopping i.e. discount stores, own, brand, loyalty cards and special discounts these figures could be reduced by at least 30 to 40 %!

If there’s a will there’s a way. Beat the bloody Brexit effect on your income by trying these shopping tips if you don’t already do so.

I could go on about clothes but women are much dabber hands about this than men. I just head for Primark when I’m in the UK (although there are real moral qualms about the far-eastern sweat shops where so many of their products are made).

There’s another test to be done on food – at least cat food in my case. Here are some examples of my cats enjoying a four-mile walk on discount own-brand cat food. Would they fare any better with expensive ‘superior’ brand cat food from non-discounts I wonder?  I’ll let you know the results of that test in due course.



An Amatrician Dinner at Bagni di Lucca Villa

Last night’s dinner to raise funds for the victims of the earthquake that has hit four regions of Italy and, particularly, the areas of Amatrice and Accumuli was an unqualified success. The whole of Bagni di Lucca Villa’s high street was pedestrianised and long tables placed along it. The attendance was superb and participation was most convivial.

Bagni di Lucca has sometimes been accused of lacking solidarity but I was completely convinced that if (God forbid) any such terrible natural disaster to our area should happen then that natural Italian community spirit will be here to help and support all those affected.

The big meal (at just 15 euros) included, of course, the dish that has made Amatrice world-face – spaghetti alla Amatriciana.


Let us hope that in the not too distant future Amatrice will be known primarily again for its great food rather than for the terrible disaster which has devastated it.

Incidentally, do follow Val di Serchio resident and friend Richard Burnett’s facebook page at to see what conditions are like on the ground at Amatrice. Richard is doing a great job volunteering to use his telecommunication skills to restore essential internet, cell-phone and satellite links.

The message of our evening, which also include a raffle and night-spot, was, “we are all behind you people of Amatrice and the surrounding area in your heroic struggle and patient resilience in finding a way forwards with a strong hope that one day you’ll be able to return to as normal a life as possible in your beautiful area. We, people of Bagni di Lucca, will give all we can, knowing that we too live in an earthquake area.”

Incidentally, ‘our’ earthquake, with epicentre at Villa Collemandina, in 1920 hit with a magnitude of 6.4 and left 300 dead. Frighteningly, coincidentally it hit with the same magnitude as that of the central Italian one and with nearly same number of deaths (around 300).

For Mediavalle and Garfagnana are united with Amatrice and Accumuli, not just by solidarity but by the fact that both areas are connected by the same system of tectonic plates that formed (and continue to form) the Apennines. If our social ties have been strengthened by the wonderful evening last night then let us hope that we can both work together to learn more about the amazingly beautiful but so awesomely unpredictable  parts of the world we live in. Let us constantly remind ourselves that we are but children of nature and not its masters and that we must obey its rules and heed its advice.

Here are some pictures taken towards the end of the event. I’m sure there will be plenty more appearing on our Bagni di Lucca facebook pages. It was an unforgettable evening of enjoyment, friendship and solidarity where every part of our small community joined in – Italy truly at its best. Over 400 diners were present and the contributions amounted to well above Euros 5,000. Every little bit helps, as they say.

PS Vito, our Deputy mayor and family doctor, is a great reader-aloud. He’s now got an edition of ‘Pinocchio’ in English and Italian and that evening read to us the chapter which describes Pinocchio’s encounter with the three doctors. (It’s chapter 16 and it’s one of the most hilarous bits of writing I know).

Saint Bartholomew’s Fair

Saint Bartholomew’s fair on August 24th seems to signal the start of the close of the summer season at Bagni di Lucca. Yesterday the high street was closed to traffic and filled with stalls. The scene was enhanced by the overhead display of coloured umbrellas.

These umbrella displays have appeared in several other world cities and the idea was suggested to bring them to Bagni di Lucca by a counsellor from Iglesias, Sardinia. For me the significance of these umbrellas, apart from their brightening up a part of the town centre, is to suggest harmony in our multi-coloured and multi-cultural world and also to encourage one to look more frequently at the beautiful sky and hills above us instead of gazing down at the pavement. Some, too,  might wish that the umbrellas are a charm to bring us some rain: the land is becoming increasingly drier and forest fires are breaking out with alarming rapidity.

Incidentally, London too had its Saint Bartholomew’s fair from 1133 to 1855 when it was ordered to be closed because of raucous and riotous behaviour. That fair famously inspired Ben Jonson’s play of 1614 which vividly depicts the highs and lows of London society of the time with its gallants, cut-throats, swindlers, pick-pockets and ladies of pleasure (much the same as today, surely?) Shouldn’t the fair be reintroduced to London again now!

At BDL there was an atmosphere of vivacity, yet somehow muted by the horrifically unexpected news of the central Italian earthquake when we first thought there had been around 13 deaths. Now the figure is much higher approaching three hundred-plus like L’Aquila’s 2009 earthquake, with hundreds more injured and thousands without a shelter. We had to wait until our return home and watch the evening news to realise how much the death toll had multiplied during the day.

Today some of the quake’s survivors are being allowed to enter those houses which still stand in order to collect essential belongings.

What would you call essential belongings? For many of us in this digital age it would be a computer or a storage device with our favourite photographs, writings or music. I would also naturally think about our pets and some of our favourite clothes, special prescriptions and books. Sadly, for most of those affected in the earthquake it’s above all a matter of finding family, relatives and friends who may still be alive under the rubble.

The emergency services in Italy are highly equipped to deal with these all too familiar situations when the earth shakes. So what can one do? Tent cities (tendopoli) have been set up but many people prefer to sleep in their cars, or as near home as possible to prevent pilferers. Yes, unfortunately scavengers take advantage of other people’s miseries and misfortunes. In my case, when the terrible twister of a tornado devastated our area last winter I found not only my orto (allotment) shed flattened but also two bush cutters and my water pump stolen from it as well. Hyenas are everywhere, it seems.

What can we do to help? The best thing is to offer to give blood but this must be done in a planned way as blood will not keep beyond a certain time. Today, I’m off to the local Red Cross to see whether at least I can help in that way. The hospitals at Barga and Castelnuovo are organising blood donation.


There is a strange eerie atmosphere over our part of the world. The weather remains stunningly wonderful with true blue skies swept clear by a gentle wind. Yet we all seem to be waiting for something. Let us hope that it is the arrival of faith, love, help and courage in sufficient quantities to cope with the dreadful situation so many people in Italy now are having to face…


Imposing Pitigliano with its ‘Little Jerusalem’

Pitigliano keeps its first vision a secret until the very last bend of the road from Manciano and it is a truly spectacular one: a cliff top rather than a hilltop town of considerable length built on a crest of that particular volcanic rock called tufo which characterises so much of southern Tuscany.


For long a lonely and largely unknown place Pitigliano has become increasingly popular with visitors now that (together with such places as Barga) it is designated  as one of the most beautiful towns in Italy  but it still retains its identity as one of the oldest settlements of La Maremma. Part of the town is actually excavated into the tufo and if you don’t want to go all the way down south to Lucania to see that doyen of cave cities, Matera, then Pitigliano is where you should be.

We parked our car near one of the garages excavated in the volcanic tufa which once may have been used as wine cellars and entered the imposing gateway into the city.


We enjoyed the local life in the main square dominated by the Orsini palace and truly felt the inhabitants still owned their town rather than being swamped (like regrettably so many others) by hordes of tourists.

The Orsini palace, dating back to the 11th century but restructured by Sangallo the younger in the 16th century, has nothing of exceptional interest except a wooden statue sculpted by someone who is very familiar in the Lucchesia and San Cassiano: Iacopo della Quercia:


It’s very pleasant to walk around the twenty-odd rooms and delight in the interior decorations and secret galleries and enjoy the views from them onto this truly golden city.

At the far end of town are the monolithic remains of the Etruscan walls, for this settlement dates at least that far back.


We returned and took a look at the baroque cathedral before descending into one of the most interesting aspects of Pitigliano – its Jewish heritage. From the Medici onwards and until the horrific deportations of World War Two there was a sizeable Jewish population. Now of the old guard only three remain.

We were issued with a skull-cap for respect (normal hats can be worn if one has one at the time) and visited an interesting museum of Jewish religious reliquaries, the ritual bath excavated in the tuft, other underground chambers and then ascended into the beautifully kept synagogue itself. In the ghetto there was also a shop selling kosher food (including wine), matzo unleavened bread and the characteristic Pitigliano sweet called sfratto. The only sad note were the couple of Mauser machine-gun wielding soldiers in their protective bullet-proof shelters outside – a reminder of the constant threat of terrorist attacks even in such a seemingly out-of-the-way and safe-sounding place as Pitigliano.


We had lunch in a characteristic trattoria where we feasted on a typical Maremman poor person’s dish, ‘acqua cotta’, literally cooked water, a delicious  soup made out of traditionally stale bread, various vegetables and an egg. With our ‘pici’ the previous day we felt we had touched the heart of the cuisine of this area.


This was one of the most delicious soups we have ever tasted and fully justifies those famous lines from ‘Alice in Wonderland’:

Beautiful soup, so rich and green,

Waiting in a hot tureen!

Here’s a recipe for the soup if you have tasted it and are languishing for it in some place far from Italy:


  • 1 large red onion or 1 leek, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 pound Swiss chard, cleaned and torn in half, or 1/2 oz. porcini mushrooms, soaked and drained
  • Half of a pepperoncino or any hot red pepper, fresh or dried
  • 1/2 cup tomato pulp (seeded, juiced, and chopped if fresh or drained and diced if canned)
  • 3 cups simmering water
  • sea salt
  • 2 eggs (preferably organic)
  • 2 slices rustic, country-style bread, lightly toasted
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Tuscan pecorino cheese


    1. Place the toasted bread in two soup bowls.
    2. Place the onion and celery in a 3-quart, heavy-bottomed, pot. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and stir to coat. Cook over a medium-low heat, or until the onion is translucent but not brown. Add Swiss chard (or porcini mushrooms) and stir briefly. Add hot pepper, tomatoes, and simmering water. Season lightly with salt and simmer over a low heat (for 20 minutes, until vegetables are very soft.
    3. As vegetables are cooking, bring about an inch of water and a half teaspoon of salt to a boil in a deep skillet. At the end of the vegetables’ cooking time, turn the skillet heat down to a gentle simmer. Add the parsley to the soup.
    4. Break the eggs into a small bowl, one at a time, and slide them into the simmering water. Cook for about 3 minutes, until the whites are set, but the yellow is still runny. When done, use a large slotted spoon to place one egg on each toast slice in bowls. Ladle broth and vegetables over each egg and top with a generous sprinkling of the cheese.

Pitigliano deserves a full day and more to fully savour its delights. The surrounding country is also great for walking and is filled with mysterious Etruscan sites. We decided we should head for one of the more spectacular ones.