Italy has been my home for over 30 years and, being my home, I want to share what I have learned about this amazing country and what I am still learning every day.

The people are exuberant, warm, sarcastic but always living life to the fullest– carpe diem!
I will be taking you along my travels and introducing you to my favorite restaurants, hotels, and tours and the people behind the scenes who make it all possible – who make the tours and we plan for our clients such
a success.

Everybody loves Italian wine. Finding Giovanni and Giuseppina in an out of the way enoteca outside the walls of Lucca, was extraordinarily lucky. Giovanni was in the paper business all his life. When he “retired” he decided to follow his passion for wine. He is truly a great sommelier! Giuseppina, his “better half” as he calls her, is the chef at the enoteca and her cooking complements any wine which Giovanni selects for his “guests”.

Giuseppina’s spaghetti alla Carbonara will leave you cleaning your plate with a slice of bread which is what Italians do when they enjoy a dish; they call it la scarpetta.
Her antipasti are made by hand every day – her vegetable soufflé and her “polpettini” (small meatballs made with veal and yogurt) are remarkable. But the truly extraordinary dish from Giuseppina’s repertoire is her baked fennel.

She makes this dish with cooked fennel and layers it with her “secret” Pecorino cheese and into the oven it goes for about 10 minutes until there is a crusty topping.
I have tried to replicate this dish many times and have even passed on the recipe to clients who we sent to the enoteca, but, alas, the “secret” cheese seems to be what sets her dish apart from all others.

Depending on your taste and budget, Giovanni has wines from €5 to €5,000. Even his selections at the lower prices are high quality. His collection of wines include famous labels as well as those from small, unknown vineyards that do not produce enough wine to export.

A couple of examples of smaller vineyards are:

1) Palistorti di Vagliano, a lovely light red from the hills surrounding Lucca, comprised of 40- 70% Sangiovese and 30% of Canaiolo; a natural substance from the earth which goes back as far as 100 years ago in wine making, or Ciliegiolo and 15% merlot; it sells for €15 a bottle;

2) a very good red, produced organically, is Podere Concori Melograno, a still lighter red than its companion — it sells for about €13. This is 60% Syrah, Ciliegiolo 5%, Carrarese 5%, Pinot Noir 10% as well as other native grapes from the area.

When asked about his favorite red, at a higher quality and price, Giovanni doesn’t hesitate; Brunello di Montalcino from the Biondi-Santi estate. The 2005, a wonderful year for that wine, comes at a mere €70 a bottle.

This enoteca is a great find and one that this writer wants to keep secret for as long as possible, but sharing secrets is what Request Italy is all about!

Giuspeppina’s Fennel Recipe

For 4 people:

Take 5-6 fennel hearts and cut into pieces and wash thoroughly.
Put into a pan with enough water to cover the fennel.
Add salt and pepper and cook for 15 minutes.
Drain the water.
Add 2 ounces of butter and sauté the fennel making sure not to press them
Put the mixture in a pyrex dish and layer the fennel with strips of Pecorino making sure to have the layer of Pecorino on the top.
Put into the oven and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.