Shiva, Matza Balls, and the Morpurgo Family

Ghetto Entrance Bologna

A few months after my husband met his business partner, Silvano, who is originally from Venice, he told him about my family connection to Italy. Silvano’s eyes got big and he said, I think your wife and I might be related. After checking with his mother and an aunt, sure enough we are related by marriage.

Shift to six years later, and Silvano came and ate with Mr BT and me during the shiva of my mother-in-law. Silvano and I started talking about Italian Jewish holiday dishes and got to the subject of Pesach and matza balls. I told him that my family made unusual matza balls,  and I haven’t met a lot of people who are familiar with them. So, he asked how we made them. I explained we make them with whole matza and add nutmeg….. he looked at me and said very casually, “What is so special about those?! Those are the Morpugo matza balls and I haven’t met anyone else who makes them that way.” We both laughed and I paused for a minute. “Wait a minute.”, I said, “we are related on my paternal grandfather’s side of the family, but this recipe comes from my paternal grandmother’s side!”

He called me a few days later to say that he called one of his Morpugo aunts to tell her the story and she said, “Who needs a DNA test, the matching matza ball recipes confirm we are family!”

Italian Vacation

Italian Reds

It is hard to believe that Mr BT and I were in Italy almost two months ago. We had planned a beautiful two week vacation, but sadly we had to leave five days into the trip due to my mother-in-law taking a turn for the worse.

Italian Savories

As I took the photos in Bologna of the beautiful food market and food shops, I was so looking forward to the numerous posts I planned for the blog. However, when I looked back at pictures this past week, I realized our hearts weren’t really in it. Mr BT and I were constantly worried: had we made the right decision to listen to the doctor and go ahead with the trip, wouldn’t your mother love walking through the streets with us, wouldn’t your Dad have loved this fish restaurant, wouldn’t my Dad love this museum…..

Cafe in Ferrara

When I called the owners of the farmhouse in Le Marche to tell them we had to cancel our stay, they said, “We are sorry, but don’t worry, we aren’t going anywhere, come stay with us next spring.” And that is exactly what we are going to do, go back and do it all over again.

Hankering for Tuscany

I can’t believe that it has been over a year since our trip to Verona, Tuscany, and Umbria. We are constantly talking about that trip and are longing to go back, so much so, that we hope one day we can buy a vacation home in Italy.

I have been meaning to finish blogging about our trip to Italy, but other events have distracted me. So, I am going to try and finally finish writing about our trip in the next few weeks.

Mr. BT and I did not spend a lot of time in Tuscany this trip because we concentrated most of the trip on Umbria. However, since neither one of us had been to Siena, we decided to make a detour on our way to Umbria. Siena was founded by the Etruscans and later refounded as a Roman colony. It grew to be one of the major cities of Europe and used to be as big as Paris was. It is really hard to believe that it was once that large and prosperous. Prosperity and innovation came to an abrupt halt with the Black Death, which reached Siena in 1348. The population went from 100,000 to 30,000 and never recovered. Today, it has a population of approximately 60,000.

The center of Siena is its great square, Piazza del Campo. Over four hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne described it as the most beautiful square in the world. I am not sure it is the most beautiful, but it is surely something to be seen. It is massive, you can see that this was the center of life for the Sienese. It was the  location of the city’s marketplace for produce and livestock, the scene of executions, bullfights, communal boxing matches, and the Palio. The Palio is a traditional medieval bareback horse race that is still held today, with all of its pomp and circumstance, one day in July and August.

The Duomo di Siena in its current size was built around 1215. Had it been completed, it would have been the largest cathedral in Italy outside Rome. Unfortunately, the expansion of the Duomo was halted due to the Black Death and lack of funds. But, it is still an awesome structure. It is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic architecture made of black and white marble. The striped, almost zebra-like design is modelled after buildings in Pisa and Lucca. Walking in the cathedral with all of the inlaid marble floors and striped walls puts you in a trance.  Donatello, young Michaelangelo, Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni, Arnolfo di Cambio and Pinturicchio all contributed to the mass of beautiful art in the cathedral.

It is really hard to take it all in in one visit. We were under pressure to get to Umbria before dark, so we didn’t get to spend as much time as we would have like. This church is a definite must-see.

You cannot leave Siena without trying some of their specialties, such as pici. This pasta, which looks like spaghetti but is about twice as thick, is usually served with a wild boar ragu, but we made it with pesto in our hideaway on a mountain in Umbria.

Some of their other specialties are pappa col pomodoro (bread and tomato soup), tortino di carciofi (artichoke omelette), and salsicce seche (dried sausages). They are also famous for delicious sweets, such as panforte and ricciarelli. The best place to try these are at Pasticceria Nannini , which has been selling its delicious panforte, ricciarelli, and other Sienese delights since 1909.

Ricciarelli (pictured above, upper left corner) are classic orange-laced Sienese almond paste cookies that were once a Christmas delight, but are now enjoyed year-round. We bought a couple of these and wished we had bought some more. But our waists thanked us half-heartedly for not doing so.

Panforte contains dried fruits, spices (such as black pepper) and nuts. Some say that an authentic panforte should contain 17 ingredients to coincide with the number of neighborhoods (contrade) within the city walls.  Documents from 1205 show that panforte was paid to the monks and nuns of a local monastery as a tax or tithe which was due on the seventh of February that year. Literally, panforte means “strong bread” which refers to the spicy flavour. The original name of Panforte was “panpepato” (pepper bread), due to the strong pepper used in the cake. There are references to the Crusaders carrying panforte with them on their quests. It is thought that the original panforte was made by nuns.

We tried a slice of the Panforte Margherita, which is made of sugar, almonds, hazelnuts, flour, orange zest, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla. It was absolutely delicious.

All-in-all our short trip to Siena was well worth it. More to come….

The supermarket had a very good deal on an inexpensive cut of meat they called “Hamin”, which means a cut of meat for a slow-roasting Moroccan version of cholent. I really dislike cholent, but I figured I could find some other interesting slow-roasting recipe for this good deal. I remembered a wonderful beef and polenta dish that I had years ago in Firenze and I knew this was the perfect recipe for my cheap cut of meat.

Brasato al Chianti is a Tuscan slow-cooked beef dish that is typically made with Chianti wine, but I used a nice Israeli red table wine instead because Chianti does not cost 4 Euros here. For the Piedmont version of this dish, substitute a Barolo wine. A sangiovese or any light-bodied red wine can also be substituted.

The result was excellent: you wouldn’t have guessed that this was about the cheapest cut of beef they had in the supermarket, because it came out tender and full of flavour.

Brasato al Chianti

Serving Size: 4-6

(Italian beef braised in red wine)

1/4 cup olive oil

1kg (2 pounds) beef rump roast

2 onions, chopped

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 cup mushrooms, sliced

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 bottle Chianti wine

1 cup stock or water

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1 spring fresh oregano

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 bay leaves

6 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick

Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and refrigerate for 8-24 hours.

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high flame. Remove the meat from the marinade, drying it off before searing. Brown the meat on all sides. Add marinade and vegetables to the pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to low, cover and bake at 150C (300F) for 4 hours. Add water as necessary to maintain liquid so it covers about half of the beef. Remove the meat to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and set aside to rest for 10-15 minutes.

While the meat is resting, strain the pot liquid through a colander. Discard the sprigs of herbs and puree the vegetables in a food mill, blender or food processor. Stir the pureed vegetables back into the strained liquid and adjust the seasonings. Slice the beef and place it decoratively on a warm platter.

If you like a lighter sauce like I do, you can serve the sauce and vegetables as is or remove the vegetables and reduce the liquid by half, adding the vegetables a couple of minutes before serving.

Serve over polenta or gnocchi, or make polenta cakes, like I did, by make polenta according to the directions on the package. Let the polenta cool, form patties, and fry them in a little olive oil.


Baroness' Hometown – Verona – Part I

Well, not exactly my hometown, but it was the home town of my ancestor, the Baron. However, after visiting Verona, I wouldn’t be ashamed to call it my home; it is a beautiful city. You won’t see any pictures referring to Romeo and Juliet because I avoided that trap. The city has much more to offer that fake balconies and possible houses of Shakespeare’s ill-fated lovers from his famous and beloved play. My only complaint about Verona is that it is very difficult to navigate around the city. The street signs have either not been replaced since the Roman Empire ;-), which means you can’t find them because they have faded on the facade of a building or there is no street sign. It is very frustrating.

We did not stay at a romantic hotel in Verona. We stayed at a Holiday Inn about 15 minutes drive from the old city because I had enough Priority Club points for two free nights. It was a decent Holiday Inn that had been recently renovated. The breakfast buffet was included and was not the best Holiday Inn breakfast buffet, but certainly not the worst.

Verona became a Roman Municipality in 49 B.C. So, the layout of the old city is based on the typical Roman military grid. Originally the Arena and Piazza Bra were on the outskirts of the city.

One of the most impressive pieces of architecture in Verona is the Roman Amphitheatre, called the Arena, which means sand and refers to the sand that was spread in the middle of the amphitheatre to absorb the blood and cushion the gladiators falls. It was built at the beginning of the 1st century AD, some 50 years before the Colosseum of Rome and was the third largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire. It could hold approximately 30,000 people, which was more than the population of the city itself. In the Middle Ages, it was used as a fortress and its arches became workshops, shops and bordellos. In August 1913, a performance of Aida was held at the Arena on what would have been Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday and it has been hosting the summer opera festival ever since. It is an impressive structure and a real testament to Roman architecture.

Verona is a walkable city, with new surprises around every corner. Buildings with frescoes, like the ones above.

And, beautiful brickwork. This is the inner courtyard of and the Scala della Ragione or Steps of Reason leading up to the Scala family’s palazzo. The Scalas were one of the rulers of Verona in the 17th century.

There are also beautiful piazzi to walk around and dream about another time.

I guess you are wondering about the food…..

Since this was the beginning of our trip, we were trying to behave ourselves and believe it or not we didn’t buy any sweet treats. It is true!

We did have some decent food in Verona. Nothing fancy, just nice simple meals.

Our first evening in Verona we decided to go some where near the hotel and the front desk at our hotel recommended Osteria Mattarana. This was a nice and simple restaurant that was full of locals. We were the only tourists in sight and since we both speak Italian, we fit right in. We were a bit shy about taking pictures, but everything we had was delicious. We had the following:

Il tritone – we shared this

An antipasti consisting of carpaccio of smoked swordfish, triangles of polenta with smoked pike and smoked salmon with  rocket (arugala) butter

Il fettucine di pasta fresca ai porcini tartufati – my husband

Fresh fettucine with porcini mushrooms and a sprinkling of black truffles

Pizza Misto Bosco – me

A pizza with sauteed wild mushrooms

The food was delicious and not too expensive. I would definitely eat there again. They are famous for there inhouse cured meats and their steaks.

Stay tuned for Part II 


The medieval walled town of Bergamo is a charming town with piazzas, palazzi and frescoed churches that owes much of its beauty to 370 years of Venetian rule.

We decided to stop here on the way to our first stop of our trip, Verona. I had been to Bergamo about 14 years ago when I was living in Lugano and I remembered it as a charming town. It was still as charming as I remembered and it was a perfect stop on the way to Verona.

Bergamo is made up of Bergamo Basso (Lower Bergamo) and Bergamo Alta (Upper Bergamo). Bergamo Alta is high above the lower town and can either be reached by taking the funicular or driving up and parking in one of the public parking lots that are hidden in the narrow cobble-stoned streets of the old town.

The main sites in Bergamo Alta are:

  • Piazza Vecchia (old square)

  • Palazzo della Ragione. It was the seat of the administration of the city in the communal age. It is now the site of exhibitions. Erected in the 12th century, it was rebuilt in the late 16th century by Pietro Isabello. The façade has the lion of St. Mark over a mullioned window, testifying to the long period of Venetian dominance. The atrium has a well-preserved 18th century sundial.

  • Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (Saint Mary Major). It was built from 1137 on the site of a previous religious edifice of the 7th century. Construction lasted until the 15th century. Of this first building remains the external Romanesque structure and the Greek cross plan, while the interior was widely modified in the 16th and 17th centuries. Noteworthy are the great Crucifix and the tomb of Gaetano Donizetti. The dome has frescoes by Giovanbattista Tiepolo.

  • Cappella Colleoni (Colleoni chapel), annexed to Santa Maria Maggiore, a masterwork of Renaissance architecture and decorative art.
  • The Rocca (Castle). It was begun in 1331 on hill of the Sant’Eufemia by William of Castelbarco, vicar of John of Bohemia, and later completed by Azzone Visconti. A wider citadel was also added, but it is now partly lost. The Venetians built a large tower in the Rocca, as well as a line of walls (Mura Veneziane) 6,200 metres long.

  • Palazzo della Ragione and the nearby Biblioteca Angelo Mai (Palazzo Nuovo), designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi.

One of Bergamo’s famous son’s is the famous opera composer Gaetano Donizetti. He was most famous for writing the opera Lucia di Lammermoor.

Bergamo is also famous for its polenta and cheeses. Unfortunately, we did not have time to try either of these, but I have fond memories of eating polenta with taleggio cheese and a wild mushroom ragu. The soft, creamy polenta mixed with taleggio cheese and sage and served with a delicious wild mushroom ragu. It was the perfect meal for a cold day. Of course the cold didn’t stop me from having gelato. I had some at the same gelateria with my husband and the pistachio gelato was a good as I remembered it.

Soft Polenta with a Wild Mushroom Ragu

Serving Size: 4 to 6 as first course

For the polenta:

1 cup polenta

4 cups water

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

3 tablespoons finely grated parmesan Reggiano

For the ragu:

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon fresh, minced (¼ teaspoon dried) thyme

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

1 teaspoon virgin olive oil

1 cup small cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed, and quartered

1/2 cup assorted wild mushrooms, cleaned and, if large, sliced

2 medium shallots, minced (2 tablespoons)

1 small clove garlic, minced (1 teaspoon)

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley

Place the polenta and water in a heavy-bottomed 2 ½ quart saucepan (preferably one with fluted sides) and stir to combine. Set the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the grains are soft and hold their shape on a spoon, about an hour. Whisk in the salt, pepper, butter, and parmesan. Cover and keep warm. (The polenta may be transferred to a bowl, covered and set over barely simmering water. If necessary, thin the polenta with hot water before serving.)

While the polenta is cooking, pour the cream into a second heavy-bottomed saucepan and simmer over low heat until it is thick and reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Whisk in the thyme, nutmeg, and parmesan. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat a large skillet over high heat, 2 minutes. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat. Add the cremini mushrooms. Sear and stir intermittently until the mushrooms release their juices and begin to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in the wild mushrooms, shallots and garlic and continue to sautée over high heat until the mushrooms are tender, 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and pepper. Add the reserved cream and parsley and stir to coat. Taste for seasoning.

To serve: Scoop the polenta onto warm appetizer plates, leaving an indentation on the top. Spoon the mushroom ragout over. Serve immediately.

Bella Italia


My  husband and I just returned back from 11 glorious days in Italy. We flew to Milano and stopped in Bergamo on our way to Verona for two nights, then we drove to Bologna for a few hours on our way to Colle di Val d’Elsa for one night, then to Siena for the day and then went to Monte Santa Maria Tiberina in Umbria for a week where we drove around the beautiful region of Umbria and saw Citta di Castello, Umbertide, Montone, Gubbio, Perugia, Spoleto and Assisi.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing about the places we visited and providing a recipe to go along with the blog entry. Hope you enjoy the trip.

Long Break

Sorry for the long break.  I just returned from a wonderful trip to Italy and I have plenty to show you. I will be writing a full report in the next few days.

 For now, here are a few teaser photos:


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