An Italian Feast with Pia

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Last fall I was out for my usual run, which starts down Main Street and round the corner at Zoll. Evening was just about to descend. Nancy and Mark were sitting on the little back porch out the kitchen door of their house there on the corner, cocktails in hand and crackers within reach. That looks great, I shouted. Then we got to talking, and I slowed down to a total stop when Nancy mentioned the trip to Italy they were about to make, a visit to their friend Pia and her husband on their vineyard, where they grow olives too and cook up the finest pasta carbonara in the world.

Nothing gives me a total tailspin of excitement quite like Italy, or talk of Italy, or even just a piece of Italian pottery in my hand. The Italians are our cousins, and how we love their colorful selves so.

That was that, until Christmas time when Nancy came up my snowdrift of a front porch and knocked on the door (no doorbell here on Main Street). In hand was a mason jar of the olive oil they brought back from Pia’s in Italy, suitcases full of big plastic bottles of oil. Grassy, peppery, herbaceous liquid gold, glowing brighter and warmer than the string of lights across the winter porch bannister.

The oil promised that summer does exist, a pact I needed right about then when our long, real winter had settled in and had no interest in leaving.

The olive oil kept me company those months and is still hanging on, for the reserve with which I use that particular jar. Then recently when I was out for my run and taking down the sidewalk in front of Nancy’s family floral shop, Pontius, a Main Street mainstay, Nancy shouted out something about a very small gathering, a cooking and eating opportunity with Pia of the Italian olive oil, who is here for the summer.

There is one answer to that, especially in a part of the country where we are bountiful in many, many things, but cooking classes are not one of them (I know, I should change that; it’s on my list). Here’s what I said yes to:

An Italian Feast with Pia

Espresso, homemade coffee cake
(Talk, while we sipped, of how delicious thick espresso is over rich ricotta. Ditto syrupy balsamic, rich ricotta)

Bruschetta con mozzarella and with the finally-here tomatoes of summer
Don’t you dare say brew-shetta or Pia will tisk you. Instead: brew-SKETTA.

Lasagna con ricotta e noci
Walnuts, ricotta, and a heaven I never knew.

Melanzane alla parmigiana
My eggplant, my passion. Stay tuned, my friends, for this one.

Pollo con peperoni
Chicken with green peppers. Even I, who avoids green pepper at all costs, enjoyed every bite.

Insalata di finocchi con arance e olive nere
A bright fennel salad with oranges that will resurface here come the holidays, count on it.

Pesche al vino con mandorle
Peaches, at their ripest sweetness, with white wine and almonds.

With that I leave you to continue on your run through the day, with an Italian feast backdrop to your thoughts. More photos, and a recipe to love, this week.


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  1. E.B. Rodriguez says:

    Oh, my! Those photographs made my mouth water, but my favorite is that last photo, those beautiful hands reminded me of my much-loved grandmother who was also a wonderful cook. I love this blog!

  2. Maureen | Orgasmic Chef says:

    I’m swooning over the olive oil and get to dinner with Pia. I’m trying to hide my jealousy.

  3. Bill B. says:

    You have totally ruined our dinner tonight. Nothing will compare to this. I am so envious!

  4. Diane Nassir (my maternal grandmother was an Abood (Jamileh) from Ammun Leb. says:

    Can never ever get enough eggplant–looking forward to your post with more beautiful pics Maureen, and, Jenny, fried eggplant was one of my Dad’s all-time favs–my Mother made it lovingly for him. Your recipe sounds divine also.

  5. Jenny Brower says:

    Looking forward to your eggplant post Maureen. We recently had a debate about how to prepare it … in my humble opinion, the key to eggplant is getting rid of the acidic tastes and while many people slice and salt them (it’s quicker) – I learned it the old fashioned way … you slide them – even slices – put them between 3 sheets of paper towel (on top and bottom) – then put newspaper (on top and bottom ) and stack heavy books on top of it all – press them for a couple hours

    You’ll be surprised at the difference in the flavor – it’s natural “nuttiness” comes out so much more.

    My favorite recipe is for an appetizer – like eggplant parmesan – but not in casserole form.

    You bread & fry the eggplant slices – just the same – and I use panko bread crumbs. then after frying and draining – put them on a cookie sheet into a hot oven with a bit of marinara sauce plus crumbled goat cheese on top – just to heat the sauce and cheese – take them out and sprinkle with chopped fresh basil and a drizzle of good olive oil

    it’s AWESOME

  6. kathleen McGrath says:

    Dear Maureen,

    Tom sent me this wonderful post. We are delightedly going back to Italy for 2 weeks this October. Your post conjured lovely memories and added to the excitement and anticipation of our Italian vacation.


  7. Geri Kalush Conklin says:

    Although eggplant has never been high on my list of things I love I’ve grown it for years, first because my mom and sister love it and second (very close second) it’s a beautiful plant to grow with it’s purple flowers and gorgeous fruit dripping off the stems. I’m just beginning to develop a taste for it so I’m looking forward to your upcoming post.
    I’ll be in Harbor this weekend, can I bring you fresh picked eggplant?

  8. Celine says:

    You, Nancy and Pia have sufficiently whet my appetite!
    Ciao Bella!