Stuffed Tomatoes- Tuscan Style

Recipe from Signora Lella in Siena


4 tomatoes
Rice (2 spoons per tomato)
1 clove garlic
Tomato Juice
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper


1. PREPARE TOMATOES: Wash the tomatoes. Cut the tops off. Scoop pulp, seeds and juice into a bowl.

2. MAKE FILLING: Add mashed garlic, choped parsley, salt, pepper and washed rice to the bowl of tomato pulp.

3. The filling needs to be WET so the rice cooks, so add liquid as needed. Try 2 tablespoons –  1/2 cup water, tomato juice or white wine. To ensure that the rice cooks, it’s best to let the filling sit for an hour.

4. Spoon the rice into tomatoes, but don’t pack it in. It needs to get wet and juicy to cook!

5. Cook in the oven at 350 for 40 minutes.

Grilled Eggplant – Recipe – Salento-style grilled eggplant from Maria’s Kitchen!


1 big eggplant
(zucchini too if you wish)
balsamic vinegar
extra-virgin olive oil


1.Cut the eggplant (and zucchini) into thin slices.

2. Cook them on a grill pan, or grill, or directly over the flame on the stove until the little brown lines of grilling show up. Flip and cook on the other side.

3. Lay the grilled veggies in a large shallow dish, lightly season wtih the oil, vinegar, oil and salt. Taste the veggies before you season them, because usually they’re so flavorful they barely need seasoning. Enjoy!

Casilde’s Pepper Antipasto – Recipe

Bell peppers
Olive oil for frying (and/or mixed with sunflower or vegetable oil)
Bread Crumbs
White wine vinegar

What to Do:

1. Prep Veggies. Wash & dry peppers, cut in half and remove seeds and stems.

2. Heat oil in pan until nearly smoking. (It’s hot enough when something dropped in starts to pop or crackle.)

3. Fry peppers until skins start to blister. Remove onto paper towels to cool

4. Once cool, slice into strips. Add breadcrumbs, capers, chopped mint, a light sprinkle of vinegar and salt to taste. Toss.

Yum! Eat with crusty Pugliese bread or by itself. Great with a strong red wine like Primitivo (or its sister the Zinfindel), Negroamaro or any great Puglese Rosè.

Stories from the Road – Salento

Stinky cheese. Lunch with TWO Marias. Circular city plans. Sunkissed seaside. What else happened this summer in Puglia!?

Hello All!

I’m writing from the only air-contitioned cafè in Specchia. It’s 5pm and the sun outside is still strong and hot. The white stones reflect bright sun and heat, though a light breeze brings some relief, rustling the leaves of the peach and lemon trees growing in the courtyards around town.
The heat has finally cooled enough where people will venture out of their houses after the long Mediterranean lunch break. They are just starting to filter into the cafè. Normally we pass the midday heat with the shutters drawn and the house dark against the sun. After Maria’s wonderful lunches of garden veggies and pasta, Luigi sleeps on the couch, Maria watches TV and feeds the dogs, and I escape to this air-conditioned cafè for an espresso.
I’m looking through my photos. Wow! This is the fifth time we’ve done the Puglia Bike Trip, and it’s wonderfully different every time. There’s always a new mix of adventures, of people, of hosts, of guides, of places and activities. Steve who was on July’s trip concluded: “every day was so intense – each one had a beginning, a middle, and an end.” It’s true. As I think back, each day feels packed with activities, experiences, scenery, people; and each was vibrant and colorful in its own way.
I wanted to share some pictures with you.
Camera Tales

We started in Lecce with an explanation of the city’s Baroque architecture, its history, and its fascinating use of papier-mâché. In poor times, the people of Lecce didn’t have enough money to commission fancy statues sculpted from stone, so they began to make look-alikes out of straw, paper & glue: papier-mâché. They formed and painted with such detail, that, even when placed next to real stone statues, you actually can’t tell the difference!

Of all the times I’ve visited Lecce, I have never had the opportunity to see the Masters at work. But this time our guide Simona walked us right into an open shop. “Hurry – the master’s dressing the statue!” We rushed in to find the master at work with wet, brown, thick sheets of paper, “dressing” the foot-tall statue in a paper robe.
Our first ride – through Lecce’s olive orchards on the way to the coast!
Rosa’s farm. She’s making fresh ricotta – the breakfast of champions!
We rode to Signora Rosa’s small farm just outside Uggiano La Chiesa. We found her stirring a pot of boiling milk with an old wooden stick. She greeted us and cut up a fresh primosale wheel just was minutes old, for us to taste. “Before the salt” primosale is a fresh cheese formed just from milk and rennet – no salt. It squeaks on your teeth. They rub most primosale rounds with salt and leave them to age on wooden shelves for 15 – 90 days. Then they get really interesting. We tasted all several different variations, and then the ricotta was ready. Strained from the reheated whey (ricotta means re-cooked) mixed with boiling milk, Rosa’s ricotta is so rich it tastes almost like salted cream & eggs – and gives you enough energy to ride to Croatia and back!
The grand finale was the powerful RICOTTA FORTE – a fermented ricotta cheese, stirred by hand every day for 90 days until smells like a hundred sweaty gym socks steamed in a jar. And it tastes like pure heaven. Really.
If you don’t believe me, check out the video: Ricotta Forte! (Reactions captured on camera!)
On the road to Otranto!
Learning traditional pizzica pizzica.
We stayed up late that night, dining and dancing at the farmhouse, and – oh the pain! – rose early the next morning to leave for Specchia. Well-known as one of the most beautiful villages in Southern Italy, it’s less known as home of some of the best cooks in the south!
Tricase Porto – meeting spot before the turnoff to Specchia
We rode up to a small green door of a simple house – parked our 14 bicycles outside – and the door was opened by dear Maria, who invited us in for cold drinks… fried dough balls… pasta-making… and an incredible zucchini-based lunch made purely from her homegrown veggies. Two Marias (neighbors!) presided over our lunch passing dish after dish of cooked peppers, zucchini-cream pasta, pickeled zucchini, toasts with zucchini pâté, strong red wine, then homemade limoncello and to finish…
…they each whipped out a cake!
“How’s the cake Bob?”
A picture’s worth a thousand words.
We wound our way to Leuca that night, and set out to visit the Adriatic sea caves by boat the next day.
Gelato at the “Academy of Flavor” in Gallipoli!
Views of the sea from the Ponte Ciolo
Gallipoli – the historical center actually on island with a fortified castle at its entrance and it’s own mini-beach below the the city walls.
Sailing in Gallipoli!

Then we hopped the train north toward the Valle d’Itria, an area that’s hillier, cooler and full of trulli!

We’ve talked about trulli before. They’re conical limestone houses with funky mortarless peaked rooves. People have been building round structures from piles of stones since prehistoric times, but they continue to use this technique even today in the Valle d’Itria. Legends also say that in the 1600’s a huge tax was levied on permanent structures, so every time the tax collector came by from Naples, the people dismantled their stone rooves, simply to build them up again as he rode away. The trulli are also recognized as World Heritage Monuments by Unesco. Read more on their site: Unesco World Heritage Center.

Trulli in the Valle d’Itria

Riding along the vineyards near Locorotondo

We stayed in one of the official “Most Beautiful Villages In Italy”(there is an Italian organization dedicated to categorizing and determining these): Locorotondo. A small, round, white-washed town where every street leads you back to the same place. It’s the perfect city for travelers because, having circular streets, it’s impossible to get lost here!

I feel so lucky to have been able to share Puglia with such a wonderful group of people. You can choose the trip, but you can’t choose the people. I’ve been continuously blessed to take such awesome travelers. It their presence, it was impossible not to have fun!

What a crowd!

I have more pictures & a collective photo journal on Flickr: September Adventures.

Cheers! Laura

Thank you so much for allowing me to use your beautiful photos! Photos of Road to Otranto, Diving from Boat by Steve Sundstrom, photos of Smiling Maria & her Cake, Gallipoli, Music in Uggiano, Cocktails in Locorotondo by Anna Morgan; photos Magda on Sailboat, Ponte Ciolo, and Locorotondo at Night by Sarah McIndoe.

October 2010 Puglia Bike Tour – photos of rooftop gardens, Baroque Lecce, making pasta!

Over the 10 days we visited many cities, slept in 5 different places

We arrived in beautiful Lecce for a light lunch in the garden

Before going out to explore the city

beautiful piazza Duomo

Lecce at dusk

Margaret’s daily gelato!

Chiara made us 4 kinds of pizza that evening!

Sam & his new pajara

an old shephard saved the day

the castle of Acaja


Ooohh yes!

Carlo lent his shirt so Steve could wow us with his good looks

our first dinner!


Otranto’s cathedral

the mosaiced floor of Otranto’s cathedral

Our magical farmhouse in Uggiano La Chiesa

The owner of our farmhouse took us to meet his mother,

a 90 year-old woman who still sews incredible tablelcothes,

bedcovers and doilies by hand

Some of her work

then they offered us caffè

Next stop: the cheesemaker!

try some primosale!

It’s that good!

Riding back from Otranto that day

And the next day was SPLENDID!


group pic

Santa Cesarea

The sparkling sea near Tricase

We arrived in Specchia just in time for…

…our Cooking Class!

Maria taught us to make sagne and orrecchiette by hand

Sam was good at making it..

So was Judy

And we were all good at eating it!



We continued our tour of Specchia

And visited the underground oil mill

And arrived in Leuca at sunset.

…And more!

That evening Fabio kept calling my phone. He told me a time and a place, but would tell me nothing more. Our B&B hosts drove us to the location, handed us a plate of homemade pepperonata and potato pizza, and said goodbye. In the distance we heard the fast rhythms and melodies of traditional pizzica music. There was a path that led through the old stone walls of an ancient farmhouse. Following the trail, the music grew louder, huge candles appeared to light the path. We rounded the final corner and saw- a party! An old wooden farm cart, a big table laid with food, and under a cabana two groups were playing the pizzica!



The happy end to our surprise party!

Fabio greeted everyone and I translated. Then we watched the band and tried to get everyone to dance!

the girls

The local and traveling girls all had fun dancing at Fabio's surprise party.

And last but not least, the icing on the cake (literally!), at the end of dinner, Fabio unveiled a cake! Made by a friend of his, especially for us:

the cake

Yes...and what a cake!





Our Cooking Class: from the field to feast!

The next few days were filled with activities and friends. Our cooking class took on new proportions as this year we began, not in the kitchen, but in the fields themselves. Daniele took us to his plot of land in the country and we picked early tomatoes, onions and green beans.

Annie & Ontion

Annie picked a huge onion for our cooking class.

Back at his house he showed us how to transform them into the delicious dishes we’d all grown to love. After all these wildly abundant meals someone asked the question: “Eating like this, how are you all not obese?”


Our cooking class "from the field to the table" was a smashing success!

The question brought out an interesting discussion about the eating habits in our respective countries. Their first response was that they don’t really eat such big meals everyday, just when company comes! But they also eat a lot of vegetables in the south, most of which are homegrown or local and therefore very fresh. And, Daniele’s wife continued, they also cook almost exclusively with olive oil and not, we began to laugh, with peanut butter like the Americans do! So we clarified a few things. That in California we make our own olive oil, grow a lot of veggies and many of us are pretty darn health conscious.

a work of art

A beautiful plate of orecchiette al sugo!


She wondered if all we really ate in America were hamburgers, french fries and peanut butter. I’ve encountered this a lot traveling in rural Italy. The pictures they have of America really are of burgers, hot dogs and fries; of obesity; and of blond beach Hollywood. But then they meet us- a group of fit, healthy people from California, only two of six were actually born in the United States, and hopefully we bring them a better picture of the diversity and lifestyles found there. I explained to them about California cuisine, about the love/obsession with vegetables, and the art of salads which I believe California has perfected. And that we don’t haphazardly cover everything in peanut butter!