Sanremo

As fall settles in and the weather starts to turn chilly and brisk in London, I’ve been thinking about warmer days spent in Italy and wishing the sunshine could last forever! Sadly I know that, short of moving to Los Angeles or some other sunny destination, this fantasy is unlikely to come true. So, I will settle in the immediate-term for posting a new blog entry on the Italian and my trip to Sanremo, Italy in August that was filled with warmth, beaches and, of course, some really excellent food!

Sanremo is a small Mediterranean town in western Liguria of north-western Italy. Just a short drive away from Monaco and the French Mediterranean cities of Nice, Cannes and Antibes, it is really an extension of the coastline and often labelled part of the Italian Riviera. The Italian’s parents have a very cute and convenient apartment in the city, and we’ve travelled there a number of times over the past years. Among our favourite things to do in Sanremo include: shopping at the local market for fresh produce and seafood, eating loads of focaccia, a regional speciality, and enjoying a refreshing gelato after swimming in the beach. This trip, we also wandered around the old city cente and got lost in the maze-like streets. Some of the buildings looked so old it was incredible to think they were still standing!

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Walking around in the old city

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Outside De Mattei – an amazing bakery that sold first rate focaccia, croissants, and other baked sweets. 

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Enjoying one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had – cappuccino with freshly made croissants. The bakery filled the croissant with gooey chocolate right in front of your eyes. 

One day, the Italian and I spent the day with some family friends of his who are also from Turin and have a place in Sanremo. After a nice relaxing lunch that involved white wine, good bread and a freshly made green bean salad (the produce was just so fresh and delicious there!), we joined them for a few hours on their boat where we rode along the coast and swam in the water.

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Fresh green bean salad with tomatoes and boiled eggs.

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Fresh produce from the local market

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Swimming pool from the apartment and view of the harbour

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Boat!!

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Also on the trip, the Italian and I did some cooking of our own. One of our favourite meals was grilled swordfish, bought straight from the fish market in the city centre. It was very easy to cook – we just grilled it outside and ate the meat salted and with lemon. Delicious!

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Another meal we cooked was Trofie con Salsa di Noce, a very typical dish from the Liguria region. Trofie are short, thin, twisted pasta from Genova that is typically served with a pesto, either of the typical green variety or the more unique walnut variety. The salsa di noce (nut sauce) is this walnut pesto, made with walnuts, cream, Pecorino Romano cheese, and fresh herbs. I have to admit the Italian and I cheated a bit with this recipe, as we bought the salsa di noce pre-made from the local grocery store. Thus, our cooking really just consisted of cooking the trofie in boiling water and mixing in the salsa di noce. However, the end result was fantastic and tasty. Another time when I’m feeling more ambitious I’ll try making the walnut pesto from scratch.

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Finally, I leave you with one last picture of the Italian and I basking in the sun in Cannes, where we went to visit some friends who have an apartment there. This image is going to have to get me through several upcoming months of cold, wintry London!!

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Bosnia and Herzegovina

Next up on the Italian and my summer travels was a stop in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This was part of our trip to Croatia where we drove a car along the Dalmatian coast, stopping in Zadar, Split, Dubrovnik and others before continuing on into Bosnia, where we saw the cities of Mostar and Sarajevo. Bosnia was an incredibly pleasant surprise – an interesting mesh of eastern and western culture, very agreeable prices, and best of all….food to die for!! It was also a great way to learn about history – the country has played a pivotal role in some of the most significant periods of time stemming all the way back to World War I and up to the Balkan conflict in the 90’s.

Počitelj

Our first stop on the drive from Dubrovnik was the small and quaint hillside town of Počitelj, located just south of Mostar and on our drive from Croatia. Located on the left bank of the river Neretva, the fortified town is thought to have been built by Bosnia’s King Stjepan Tvrtko I in 1383. Walking around the town you can see remnants from both the medieval and Ottoman periods. The town was conquered by the Ottomans in about 1471 and remained within the Ottoman Empire until 1878. The town lost significance during the Austro-Hungarian rule from 1878, which has been credited as a reason it has retained its original structures. What I enjoyed about the town was walking up narrow, winding pathways and weaving around old houses to reach the top of an old citadel and fortress, where there was a great view of the river Neretva and surrounding countryside. The old mosques added to the picturesque setting.

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Mostar

Our first overnight stop in Bosnia was Mostar. The city was once one of the most ethnically diverse cities in Bosnia and saw some of the heaviest fighting during the Balkan conflict following the breakup of Yugoslavia. It was the most heavily bombed of any city during the war. Today much of it has been restored and it is now a popular riverside tourist destination.

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The old bridge (Stari Most) in Mostar, crossing the Neretva River in the center of the town. Originally built by the Ottomans in 1556, it was destroyed by bombing in November 1993 during the Croat–Bosniak War. It was rebuilt using some of the originally pieces that had fallen into the river during the bombing, and reopened in 2004. It is considered a standout piece of Islamic architecture in the Balkans and connects the two sides of the old town where winding roads feature bazaars selling good that could almost be straight out of Istanbul.

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Walking around the street and shopping in the bazaars

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börek

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In Mostar we first discovered börek, which is was pretty much one of the greatest things ever. It is essentially baked pastries made of a flaky phyllo dough filled with cheese, minced meat, or vegetables. So. Good. It’s popular in a lot of former Ottoman countries, and in Bosnia it came rolled up and presented almost sausage-like. We had at least one every day we were in Bosnia, no joke. Even once for breakfast!

Blagaj 

Blagaj was about a 20 minute drive outside of Mostar, and we stopped there on our way to Sarajevo. The town is situated at the source of the Buna river, which is located inside a cave of a mountain. The Buna river flows west for about 9 km and joins the Neretva near the village of Buna. The Blagaj Tekke (a Sufi monastery) is the main sight to see. It is an old historic structure located right at the mouth of the cave from which the Buna river flows. Trout are farmed in the river, and there are a number of great restaurants along the riverbank that serve fresh trout.

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The Sufi Monastery

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Trout at Restoran Vrelo, fished fresh from the river Buna and eaten at an an outdoor cafe along the water with a view of the Sufi monastery.

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Fresh-fished trout ceviche

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Bosnian desserts – Hurmasica (cookies soaked in sugar water) and Tufahija (walnut-stuffed apples stewed in water with sugar)

Sarajevo

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The drive to Sarajevo – stopping and swimming in the river. It was such a beautiful deep green blue. We drove up into the mountains to get from Mostar to Sarajevo, passing a number of lakes and mountain villages. Saw quite a few lambs skewered over a pit served at restaurants on the side of the road. There were also tons of fruit and vegetable stands selling fresh produce, all apparently organic which seems to be a feat in itself these days. The figs were outstanding.

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In front of the Latin Bridge, a historic Ottoman bridge over the River Miljacka. On one side of the bridge is the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Gavrilo Princip in 1914, which is often cited as the catalyst for World War I.  

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Winding streets with Baazars

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Main square in Sarajevo

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Miljacka River and the Academy of Fine Arts

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The Latin Bridge and the Cathedral of Jesus’ Heart (Sarajevo Cathedral). The Cathedral is the largest cathedral in Bosnia and Herzegovina, located on the main pedestrian street.

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Prayer rugs at the Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque in the old town of Sarajevo, just near the Cathedral

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Interior of the National and University Library, Sarajevo. It was commissioned during the Austro-Hungarian period, but the designer reportedly got inspiration from Egypt in order to pay respect to the eastern influences of the city.

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Sarajevo men playing chess

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Cemetary

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Building with bullet holes // Nargile and Bosnian coffee, served with rahatlokum (Turkish delight)

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Bosnian coffee and Turkish delight // Nargile and local beer from Mostar

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We found the best baklava place in Sarajevo’s Old Town, selling lots of different varieties of walnut, pistachio, hazelnut, and others. Very syrupy and delish.

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Nutella Baklava – can this get any better?!

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Ćevapi – this was a highlight of the Bosnia trip. It was so good we had it for dinner two nights in a row! It is a type of kebab/grilled minced meat formed into finger-sized sausages and served with a doughy flatbread, chopped raw onions, and crucially – kajmak, a salted cheese substance similar to clotted cream. It’s very cheap – I think we spent around GBP 5 pounds for dinner for two people, including drinks! We enjoyed the dish at both Zeljo 1 and 2, neighbouring restaurants that are named after the local professional soccer team and have long communal tables. Enjoy it with a salty yogurt drink called kefir (simliar to Ayran in Turkey).

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We drove up to the mountains surrounding Sarajevo where we could look down into the city and see all the colorful houses dotting the hillside. The hills are where the Bosnian Serb army deployed during the conflict in the 1990’s to enforce the siege of Sarajevo.

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View from the hills

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We went to the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics, much of which still carries the image of Vucko, the official Olympics mascot.

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The abandoned Olympic track

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Overall, this trip to Bosnia was an amazing experience. While we only stayed in two cities (Mostar and Sarajevo), we got to do some great side trips to smaller towns, get a feel for the old Ottoman architecture, witness an incredible mix of eastern and western culture, and visualize first hand the affect the Balkan conflict had on some of the country’s major cities.

Driving throughout Bosnia was also a treat – the countryside was beautiful and hilly and the various lakes and rivers were often of the most gorgeous deep aqua-green colour. And, best of all, we got to experience some classic Bosnian foods, favorites being the börek, cevapi and baklava. I would do another trip back just for another bite of cevapi – it was really THAT good!

Croatia

I’ve decided to add a new travel component to my blog. The posts will inevitably be related to food as one of the highlights of travel in my opinion is eating, so there will be plenty of delicious food pictures as well as recommendations and reviews of restaurants. I’ll also post lots of pretty scenery and probably some gratuitous swimsuit pictures because, well, why not? 🙂

To christen this new travel section I’ll commence with a review of the Italian and my recent trip in August 2014 to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. First up is Croatia, Bosnia post to come!

Zadar

The first city the Italian and I went to is Zadar, located in the Dalmation region on the Adriatic Sea. Zadar is fairly small but has a nice shopping centre with lots of good gelato places and a main square highlighted by the beautiful 9th century St. Donatus church.

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St Donatus Church in Zadar

The Italian and I happened to be in Zadar during the Moon Festival, which was marked with a plethora of food and craft stands selling goods along the seaside boardwalk. Clearly we had to try some of this street food, and we enjoyed two sandwiches with tuna and squid freshly fished from the Adriatic and served on plump rolls with Croatian Ajvar sauce, made of aubergine and red pepper. For dessert we had a yummy fried dough coated in chocolate sauce. It was quite good 🙂

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Cutting up the freshly fished tuna

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Grilling tuna and fish

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The tuna and squid sandwiches

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Making the fried dough

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Fried dough and chocolate – YUM

Just outside of Zadar, we went to the even smaller town of Nin where we discovered the long Kraljičina plaža (Queen’s Beach). Locals at the beach smear sludge on their bodies – the beach is rich in peloid mud, apparently a natural treatment for sore joints and muscles.

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Mud bath!

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Enjoying a cold beer and coke (in a glass bottle – my favorite!!) at a cafe in Nin

Plitvice Lakes National Park

The Plitvice Lakes National Park was about a three hour drive from Zadar and is the oldest national park in Southeast Europe. At the lakes, you can walk around following pathways and trails made of wood that cross over lakes and through layers of cascading waterfalls. There were dozens of different waterfall groupings to see while walking around the lakes. The water was gorgeous – a vibrant green-blue color that I’ve never seen before in a lake.

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Trogir

From Zadar we drove to Trogir, a small town on the Adriatic coast that is remarkably intact with a medieval core surrounded by walls protecting a castle and tower. One of the highlights in Trogir was the Cathedral of St. Lawrence, which has a beautiful lion statue at the entrance. We also enjoyed the many cafes in the city where one can have a coffee and people watch Parisian-style.

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Split

Split is a beautiful town, also located in the Dalmatia region. We stayed in an apartment in Diocletian’s Palace, a Roman ruins in the centre of the old city. The tiny, winding streets were like a maze with new restaurants, bars and cafes to be discovered around each corner. There are four grandiose gates leading into the palace walls, while inside is an abundance of marble from Italy and Greece, and columns and sphinxes from Egypt.

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Beautiful square in Split

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View of Split from the top of the Maryan hill

For dinner in Split we tried out Konoba Marjan, located just outside the palace walls. We had an amazing fish platter for two with tuna, sea bass, mussels, scampi, among others. Everything was fresh and paired with white Dalmatian wine.

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Seafood platter

The second night we tried the Wine and Cheese Bar Paradox, which had a good selection of cheese from Croatia and wines from the Dalmatian coast. The wines were excellent – dry just as I like them and with a unique almost tangy flavour. The atmosphere was also very cute atmosphere and there were live musicians playing guitar and singing classic songs. Really fun environment.

From Split we took a two-hour ferry to the island of Vis. Said to be one of the more natural islands off the coast, we rented a motorbike and drove around to different beaches.

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Brela Beach

On our drive from Split to Dubrovnic we stopped for a break at Brela Beach. Forbes magazine has rated Brela Beach as the 6th best beach in the world and the best beach in Europe! The water was indeed very beautiful, greenish blue and crystal clear. It was a bit rocky for my taste, but the swimming was divine! We also rented a jet ski – the choppy waves of the Adriatic were quite the departure from my previous jet ski experiences on the calm waters of Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri!

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Ston

Lunch at the restaurant Kapetanova Kuca, famous for oysters, in the small village of Ston. Delish! We also had mussels, fish pate and fried calamari. It was indeed a seafood feast.

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Dubrovnic

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Driving into Dubrovnic

Our last stop was Dubrovnic. Dubrovnik was a commercial and naval power with a medieval structure dating back to the 13th century. I can’t say enough how beautiful the old town was. The old city, filled with hundreds of charming red rooftops and number of statuesque churches, is surrounded by perfectly maintained medieval walls. The Italian and I walked on top of the walls (a feat that took some 45 minutes and was not effortless in the intense heat) where we had a perfect view of the seafront ahead and the old town shops and villages below. They city is very touristy – it’s almost like a Disneyland for travellers with the theme of old world charm – but it is so picturesque and historic that I didn’t entirely mind the frequency of fanny packs and American accents. Indeed, I took about three dozen pictures of the same red rooftops to prove it!

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Dalmatian cheese in olive oil

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Black risotto with seafood

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Napoli e La Costiera Amalfitana (Naples and the Amalfi Coast)

To kick off the summer, the Italian and I did an amazing trip to Naples and the Amalfi coast. Here are some pictures of the highlights, both scenic and culinary.

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View of Amalfi

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At the hotel in Amalfi. These gorgeous lemon trees were everywhere! Ripe and ready to be made into limoncello, or lemon liqueur, one of the many culinary specialties of this region that is served after dinner as a digestivo (digestif).

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Even more impressive – these gigantic lemons. These were the size of a baby’s head! The sun on the Italian coast just grows things differently…

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The Amalfi town centre featuring the Cattedrale di Sant’Andrea. I love all the cafe seats where one can stop and have a rest and an espresso. (Or in my case, an affogato – which is a scoop of gelato with espresso poured over it.)

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Buildings in Amalfi

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We rented a gommone boat to help us explore the Amalfi cost. First stop – the stunning island of Capri!

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Disembarking at Capri amid a bunch of cute fishermen’s boats.

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On a rented vespa and driving around the narrow streets of Capri.

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Gorgeous view from the top of Capri.

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Colorful buildings in Capri

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Walking around Capri and discovering the amazing pasticcerie

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And the incredibly cute selection of historical vespas.

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Back on the boat, we rode past the quaint and picturesque village of Positano.

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Climbing some pretty adorable steps in Positano

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Church in Positano

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Moving on to the narrow, crowded street that runs through the historic old centre of the city of Naples – Spaccanapoli.

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And the colorful laundry that flies overhead, decorating the streets.

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And now we move on to the highlight of the trip – the food. This is a pizza from one of Naples’ most famous pizzerias – Da Michele. Da Michele’s is a simple place, offering just two types of pizza: Marinara and Mozzarella. We ordered double mozzarella and were not disappointed. The place was even featured in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Love, Pray, and her vividly written description of eating the soft, yet chewy dough, salted sauce of fresh tomatoes, light, oozing mozzarella and the infusion of fresh basil is enlarged and framed on the walls in both Italian and English. It really was cool to first read the description of her experience and then taste the pizza itself with her words in mind. Her description definitely did the pizza justice. As she writes, “I love my pizza so much, in fact, that I have come to believe in my delerium that my pizza might actually love me, in return.” So did I, Elizabeth, so did I.

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Wanting to get the most out of pizza napoletana during our brief stay in Naples, the Italian and I also went to a competitor pizza place – Da Matteo. it was also very good, although Da Michele would have been the clear winner had there been a competition. Da Matteo offered more selection and we ordered two pies, one with vegetables and one with ham and cheese.

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We also got to try some traditional Neapolitan appetisers at Da Matteo. The appetisers are all fried “in carrozza“, which rough translates to “in a carriage”, and are best enjoyed with chilled Italian Nastro Azzuro beer. Above we enjoyed golden-crusted fried mozzarella, eggplant, pizza dough, and rice balls (arancini).

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Walking around Naples – despite its reputation for chaos, trash and crime, it is really a beautiful city full of grandious buildings with rich, decorative details and bright colors.

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Residential buildings in Naples.

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Enjoying some delicious pastries from the famous Café Gambrinus. It is the city’s oldest café, and since it opened in the mid-19th century it has welcomed royalty, artists, and celebrities, among them Oscar Wilde and Mussolini. The elegant cafe is located at the corner of the grand Piazza Plebiscito, and features marble, decorative ceilings, fine china and a bright interior. We sat at the patio outside to make the most of the sunny day and enjoyed people-watching and the liveliness of the city.

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A selection of our pastries enjoyed at Café Gambrinus. A berry tart, a chocolate sfogliatella and a rum baba with cream.

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View of Mount Vesuvius overlooking Naples

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Prior to our trip to the Amalfi Coast and Naples, the Italian and I spent the weekend in Turin to attend a friend’s wedding. Here are a few pictures below.

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My handsome Italian

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The Italian and me in front of the Gran Madre di Dio church in central Turin

Baked Tilapia with Vegetables

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I was in Washington DC last week visiting my sister, who lives there, and my mother and brother who flew in from Colorado and California, respectively. We had a great time catching up, shopping, visiting DC, and of course – eating! We went to a few very nice restaurants, of which Le Diplomate on 14th St. was a personal favorite, and we also did some great cooking on the rooftop of my sister’s very nice apartment building, which has a swimming pool, lounge chairs and grills for residents to use.

This recipe for baked tilapia turned out amazing. We wrapped everything up in foil and put it inside the grill where it baked inside the foil for about 12 minutes. Without easy access to a grill, this recipe could also be made in an oven heated to about 200C (390F). The recipe was pretty simple without exact measurements, so I’ll do my best to approximate what we did. But really any number of combinations of vegetables, herbs and sauces could be added to vary it up.

Directions:

Place array of cut and washed vegetables and herbs (spinach, red peppers, onions, parsley and basil) on a large piece of tin foil

Place tilapia fish on top of the vegetables.

Put two or three slabs of butter on top of the fish. Squeeze fresh lemon over the fish and place the rind of another lemon slice on top of the fish.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Can also add any combination of: cayenne pepper, rosemary, white wine (1 T), teriyaki sauce, or other sauces/herbs if feeling creative.

Fold the side of the tin foil in so the fish is completely sealed. Put inside grill or oven and let cook for 12-15 minutes.

Enjoy!

  • We also cooked asparagus with the fish in a similar manner – placing the asparagus in the tin foil, covering with olive oil, salt and lemon, closing the foil and placing in the grill. It turned out great!

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View of the Washington Monument from my sister’s balconyImage

The balcony and DC streets

 

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View of the Washington Monument from the Jefferson Memorial

Borough Market Magic

This morning the Italian and I went to Borough Market in London, the most amazing food market I’ve ever been to. Located in Southwick near the South Bank and London Bridge, it is renowned for its fresh, high quality produce and meats, fancy array of cheeses, and traders selling local British and international foods. I try not to go too often because it is fairly pricey and I can’t seem to help but spend what seems like half my paycheck on each visit, but when I do go it is always a treat!

The Italian and I made the trip today in order to buy lobster and shrimp for a seafood dinner we are cooking (another post on this here), but once we were there we had a bit of breakfast and walked around and enjoyed looking at some of the delectable items. Here are a few of the highlights.

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Croissants from an adorable French bakery on the outskirts of the market. The almond croissant was the best I’ve had outside of Paris!

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Cupcakes

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Macaroons

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Breakfast at the French cafe – my favourite type of breakfast!

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Mediterranean olives

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Olives with pesto

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Fancy mushrooms

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Monkfish. The Italian said they are known for being really ugly and in Italy they are usually sold without the head because of this.

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Not sure exactly what these are called – some sort of overgrown shrimp or mini lobster. But they look great!

That’s it for now. There’s plenty more amazing sights to be seen and eaten at Borough Market (some other favourites include the oyster stand, the fresh pastry and bread shops and a really great gelateria) but will save those for next time!

Viaggio a Torino II (Trip to Turin no. 2)

The Italian and I spent another few days in Turin. This time around we mostly just relaxed, spent time with his parents and ate some amazing home-cooked food. I’ve captured a few of the highlights below, although I won’t be providing recipes because I wasn’t participating in the cooking – only the eating!

ImageCarciofi con Caperi in Padella, or Sauteed Artichokes with Capers – This was delicious and simple, served with capers and parsley. The table setting is typical for how the Italian’s family eats – there is always bread and grissini (breadsticks) on the table to eat with each course.

ImageFarinata – This is a thin, pancake-style bread made of chickpea flour. The Italian and I have actually made this before in London, although I don’t think our version came out quite this good! It’s fairly simple to make – mix chickpea flour with water and olive oil to form a loose batter, and bake it in the open oven. Serve with salt and pepper.

ImageCarciofi Fritti, or Fried artichokes – one of my favorites! The Italian’s mother is a pro at battering and frying a variety of vegetables and meats. Delicious!

ImageMostarda Frutta Mista, or Fruit Mustard – This is an interesting one, and the first time I’ve tried this. It is essentially a condiment made of candied fruit and a mustard flavored syrup. We ate this with boiled meats, or bollito misto, which is a northern Italy specialty that sees a variety of meats simmered for several hours in vegetable broth. The sauce is somehow sweet, spicy and tangy mustard-y all at the same time, but does go quite well with boiled beef!

ImageCachi – In Italy, these interesting fruits are called cachi, but in English we know them as persimmons. I’d never had one before and tried my first caco on this trip. It was good, very sweet and fiberous, almost similar to a mango but much softer and more soup-like.

ImageCioccolata Calda – Lastly, we come to what may have been the culinary highlight of the trip: Italian hot chocolate. We went to an amazing place called Baratti & Milano that has been making some of the best chocolate in Piedmont since 1858! The cioccolata calda is dense, rich and thick with almost a pudding-like consistency. The panna on the side is a great addition and makes the whole thing even more decadent. This is one of my favorite winter desserts and has been since I spent a year studying abroad in Bologna, although I don’t think I’ve found anywhere that makes it as good as Baratti & Milano!