Joie de Vivre

Marco surprised me for my recent birthday with a trip to Paris, a celebration of the Christmas holiday! Where better to celebrate my Bella Vita Italian lifestyle! In fact, just last night a local Parisian told us that the Italians love coming to Paris. “Dappertutto, come il prezzemolo” or they’re everywhere like parsley! Alas, the Italians know a good thing as Paris is one of the best places in the world if you love food, wine, slow strolls, beauty and art.

My parents turned us on to a new t.v. show on PBS called “I’ll have what Phil’s having”. Phil is a comedic writer from the “Everybody Loves Raymond Show” who travels to local places in the world to celebrate the food, culture, and life of each place. It is fun to watch and he has a unique ability to capture the essence of a place in a one hour episode. His episode from Italy embodies the Italian love of food, family and friends and the Paris episode captures the joie de vivre of this city of love.

Phil brings the viewers to what he calls the best croissant in Paris so we found it for ourselves. It is an 18 minute walk from our hotel at Blé Sucré. You can see it in the photo above and is a buttery flacky pastry of pure delectable delight! This pastry along with a café au lait and we are on our way until we find a restaurant that Phil tries out.

The restaurant was closed but we found a lovely bistro around the corner. 

Then, on to our favorite museum in the world, the Musée Rodin.

La vie e belle!

Risotto with speck, rucola, and smoked scamorza

So, I’m on a risotto roll! This week, it’s based on one of my favorites from a risotteria in Cremona, Hosteria 700 (click here). There, it’s called Risotto 700 and it is the house risotto with ingredients like speck, smoked scamorza, and rucola. Simply follow the basic recipe for risotto (click here) and add the ingredients near the end, ensuring that the cubed cheese melts. Once plated, drape a few pieces of thinly sliced smoked scamorza or any mild smoked cheese over the top.

We made this thanks to our new cheese store in Salem, The Cheese Shop of Salem (click here). They carry speck, which is a cured and slightly smoked meat similar to prosciutto that is local to northern Italy. It is a cultural wonder born from a German and Italian influence dating back to the 1200’s, a time when meat needed to be cured or smoked so that it would last throughout the year. It is made according to the rule, “a little salt, a little smoke and a lot of fresh air” (reference).

The combination of the three ingredients makes a nice salty savory bitter blend of flavors. The texture of the dish is creamy yet al dente so that each grain of rice and be felt “to the teeth”. And, the colors are beautiful with the reddish speck, the golden-yellow of the cheese, and the deep green of the rucola. As Julia Child said about the goal of fine cooking. . . “color, taste, and texture!”

Buon appetito!

Risotto with pear and Gorgonzola 

We are enjoying fresh pears this Fall. We buy them hard and let them sit on the counter for a few days until soft to the touch and ready to eat. And, we try to buy the ones that are grown locally. The pears are sweet and juicy!

In addition, with the Fall season in full swing and Winter days away, we prepare and eat more risotto! As I’ve mentioned before, risotto is a northern Italian rice dish. The short grain rice is cooked in a broth to a creamy consistency. Non-Italians have difficulty with the pronounciation. It should be ree-zough (sounds like thought)-tttt-o (an o like the letter o). I put several Ts there because anytime there’s two Ts in Italian, one enunciates the T in a more pronounced way! Marco likes to say that it is a little like standing up on your tip toes when you get to the T so that you pause for a second while on tippy toes, then descend to the floor.

This Fall, a piece of heaven moved next door to us! The Cheese Shop of Salem (click here) opened within a stones throw from our front door! The shop boasts numerous cheeses, wines, cured meats, and a diverse array of specialty gourmet foods. Our European bella vita life just became enhanced with this addition, neighboring our artisan bakery, A & J King (click here).

The other day, the ripe juicy local pears called to us desiring to be paired with a creamy sweet Gorgonzola cheese in a classic risotto! So, off to The Cheese Shop where we are able to speak Italian with the women in charge of purchasing the cheeses and wines. This time, we also stuck up a conversation in Italian with an older woman from Italy visiting her daughter, who now lives in Salem. 

This is, perhaps one of my favorite risottos! It is simple to make, has vitamins and fiber from the pears, protein from the cheese and chicken broth and the grain of the rice. The sweet of the pear with the pungent savory of the Gorgonzola dolce (sweet) make for a delectable and flavorful plate.

Simply follow the recipe from the previous post (click here) and add diced pears and Gorgonzola towards the end of the cooking process so that the cheese melts and the pears warm through.

Buon appetito!

Chocolate pecan pie 

Here’s a new twist on a traditional pecan pie that Marco made for Thanksgiving. It has chocolate, and, it actually has a healthy addition to it! We make it with brown rice syrup in place of the corn syrup that is typically used. Brown rice syrup is a made 100% from brown rice and, therefore, is a complex carbohydrate and not a refined sugar which means more vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. Complex carbohydrates are suggested as part of a daily diet and produce a longer lasting energy and not the quick high and crash of refined sugars.

The filling is a simple mix of the first 6 ingredients together.

Enhance the crust with a quarter cup of finely ground pecans.

Chocolate chip morsels layer the bottom of the pie.

Pour the rest of the filling over the top.

And now bake at 350° for about 55 minutes.

Crust ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup finely ground pecans
  • 1 T. sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold and cut up into small chunks
  • 2 T. ice water, plus more if needed


  1. combine flour, ground pecans, suar, and salt in mixing bowl
  2. add the butter and mix with a pastry blender or your hands until the mixture resembles course crumbs
  3. add ice water and work it in to bind the dough until it holds together without being too wet or sticky (squeeze a small amount together – if it is crumbly add more ice water 1 T. at a time)
  4. form the dough into a disc or ball and wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minuts

Filling ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown rice syrup
  • 1/2 cup butter melted
  • 4 eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 2 Tbsp. bourbon
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup pecans


  1. mix first six ingredients
  2. stir in pecans
  3. place chocolate chips evenly over bottom of pie shell
  4. carefully pour pecan mixture over them
  5. bake at 350 for 55 minutes or until pie is set


Buon appetito!