Articles by: Natasha Lardera

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Panettone. Legends & Stories

    A slice of panettone and a flute of champagne (or prosecco)… there is no more Italian way to wish a happy holiday season. It’s a ritual in many homes where panettone is a welcomed guest after every meal. But this sweet bread can be enjoyed everywhere, anytime, even at office parties while exchanging gifts or in stores while shopping. Giving panettone is not a simple act of kindness but a gesture rich in history and tradition.

    Panettone is a traditional cake-like bread stuffed with dried raisins and candied orange and lemon peel from Milan that has been embraced by fans worldwide. Immigrants to the Americas brought with them their love of panettone.  When it is enjoyed on Christmas in many countries, it’s paired with hot chocolate, or ice cream, and even eggnog. Although the traditional recipe remains a favorite, producers are offering many variations with cream, chocolate chips and frosting, and even liqueurs such as limoncello.

    Italians consume an estimated two-and-a-half panettoni (5.5 pounds) per family per year, and its popularity is also growing beyond the Italian border, with seven to 10 percent of panettoni produced now exported to France, Germany, the United States, Canada, Britain, and Spain. Americans are adopting this pleasurable Italian food custom with enthusiasm. According to the latest figures from the Italian Trade Commission, pastry imports to the United States are always growing.

    Right after Thanksgiving, there are plenty of tempting panettoni on the supermarket shelves: from the tiny ornament-sized boxes to be hung on Christmas trees, to large ones sold in holiday tins and elegant gift wrapped ones, hidden in red and green foil with golden ribbons. Panettoni used to be available only at a few places like Neiman Marcus or Garden of Eden, but now you can find them everywhere.

    The name panettone can be explained in many ways: documents from the 1200s portrayed an early form of it enriched with honey, raisins, and even pumpkin. The writer Pietro Verri (1728-1797) called it “pane di tono” (luxury bread in Milanese dialect). Raisins are used for good wishes, as they are indeed known to bring fortune and wealth because their shape is reminiscent of golden coins.

    One of the legends of its conception says that the person who invented panettone was the Milanese nobleman Ughetto degli Atellani who lived in the 1400s. He fell in love with Adalgisa, the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. To win her over, the nobleman disguised himself as a baker and invented a rich bread in which he added to the flour and yeast, butter, eggs, dried raisins, and candied peel.The duke of Milan , Ludovico il Moro Sforza, encouraged the launch of the new cake-like bread: pan del Ton (or Toni's bread).
    Another story says that Toni, the young helper of a cook, was the real inventor. It was Christmas and the court chef had no dessert to offer. What he had prepared wasn’t good enough to be served. So Toni prepared something using everything he had available. Hence the name panettone, “il pan de Toni” (Toni’s bread). Just after the end of World War I, panettone became widely known thanks to a young Milanese baker, Angelo Motta, who gave his name to one of Italy 's now best-known brands. Motta revolutionized the traditional way of making panettone by giving it its tall domed shape by making the dough rise three times, before cooking, which is what makes it so light.

    Around 1925, the recipe was adapted by a competitor, Gioacchino Alemagna, who also gave his name to a popular brand that still exists today. The stiff competition between the two led to the growth of the industrial production of the cake-like bread.

    When purchasing panettone, be sure to check the ingredients. With almost 80 million pounds produced annually in Italy (as well as domestic versions), not all are of excellent merit. Read the labels and watch for lower-quality ingredients such as margarinerather than butter or powdered eggs instead of fresh.


  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    For the Love of Garlic

    The experts tell us that what makes it unique is the combination of large, compact, white cloves, a distinct, pungent flavor, and a long life span: Voghiera’s garlic isn’t only Italy’s most beloved garlic, but the true elixir for a long life - the heath benefits of garlic in the treatment of colds, cancer, heart disease, hypertension, infection and even impotence are more than often praised - that is about to be celebrated for three days in a special festival in the Castle of Belriguardo, in the province of Ferrara. In August , this special bulb that earned, back in 2007, DOP recognition, returns to flavor every type of dish, so that garlic-laced foods will be available for sampling.

     At the festival, in addition to sampling, people can participate in culinary competitions, one called La Treccia Perfetta (the perfect braid, as in garlic braid), seminars, a special dance show, called Bagliamo,  and a preview of a special program that will be featured at Milan's EXPO on August 21st. This is the opportunity for the Grande Mercato dei Sapori, a large local produce market, to introduce the public not only to this special garlic but to other products found in the area.

    The garlic produced in Voghiera counts for less than 1% of the national production, but quality counts more than quantity; its unique characteristics derive from the terrain and environment where it is produced, with its silty-clay soils, near the Po’s Delta. This garlic is cultivated in Voghiera, Masi Torello, Portomaggiore, Argenta and Ferrara according to specific rules and then it is certified by an external inspection entity, which is recognized as qualified by the Emilia Romagna region. 

    Aglio di Voghiera DOP is available on the market in different ways: fresh or green, meaning it has just been picked and its stems are still green; semi-dry, meaning its stems are white but not completely dry;  dry, meaning that the outer skin and the stems are totally dry. The garlic is dried in a completely natural way and then braided.

    During the summer months, another DOP garlic is celebrated, Aglio Bianco Polesano DOP hailing from Polesine, in Veneto. The "Festa dell'Aglio Polesano" was held in July in the Arquà Polesine Castle.

    Polesine's Gold, this is how the garlic has been nicknamed, is loved for its health qualities: it is a natural antibacterial, antiseptic, mucolytic and hypotensive that cures about everything! Aglio Bianco Polesano DOP has a characteristic aroma: it is delicate and more persistent with scents of freshly cut grass or sweet fruit. Its uses are endless, it all depends on personal tastes – it can be enjoyed raw, whole or crushed, dried or in dust. Aglio Bianco Polesano DOP gives dishes a unique taste.

    Garlic is an important ingredient in Italian cuisine but it is not used in everything, many still believe it is, as its distinctive taste can sometimes detract from that of other more shy ingredients. It is used in some sauces, stews, soups, salad dressings, pasta sauces, casseroles, breads and grains. An important rule: when sautéing, avoid overcooking because as the garlic browns it begins to exude a bitter aroma that will be a portent of its contribution to the final flavor of the dish.

  • Life & People

    Torrefazione, an Italian Art

    “Making coffee in Italy is like making coffee in the 1600s,” JWOWW of Jersey Shore said during the second episode of Season 4, set in Florence, on having to use a coffee grinder. The quote is so popular that there are talks of having printed on shirts and whatnot. Synonymous with Italian culture, coffee is an important part of daily life in the country that invented the espresso machine, although it is not actually grown in Italy but...

     If you do research on Italian coffee basically every single site or source of information that mentions it says something like this: “Italy has a particularly rich and vibrant coffee culture, and is the destination of choice for coffee lovers from all over the world. Italian coffee is some of the best in the world, with hundreds of large and small producers importing beans and producing coffee blends within Italy. Coffee bars and houses can be found all throughout Italy, where espresso coffee drinking is as much a ritual and a way of life as it is a simple drink ” .

     In the same sentence we see that Italian coffee is the best in the world and that beans are imported. Exactly! Italy does not grow any coffee, it is actually bought from other countries, then processed in Italy and that makes it “Italian coffee.” Italy has become a master in the art of torrefazione, it being the Italian name given to the toasting process, and blending. Torrefazione applies high temperatures in order to dehydrate, oxidize and, in some cases, partly char (depending on the toasting degree) coffee.

    The degrees go from unroasted, light, cinnamon, medium, high, city, full city, French and Italian. During the process the coffee bean undergoes a few transformations such as sugar caramelization, and cellulose charring, and the high temperatures cause a partial loss of caffeine. A roasted bean increases its size by 30% while its weight decreases because part of its water content evaporates. The most used qualities are Arabica whose caffeine content goes from 1,1% to 1,7%, while Robusta goes from 2% to 4,5%.

    The balance of a perfect toasting is the result of two variables: time and temperature.   In Italy toasting is crucial in making a very aromatic coffee that is relatively poor in caffeine if compared to coffees of other countries. The most common base for espresso blend is Brazilian coffee. Brazil is the world's biggest producer of Arabica, totaling more then a third of the world's total production with 5 billion plants and 300,000 producers. Right behind Brazil, with 10% of the world's production, we find Colombia and its sweet coffee.

    Guatemala has a more limited production but the quality is absolutely excellent – coffee is very sweet, with a balanced acidity and an intense aroma that goes from chocolaty to flowery. It is an ideal ingredient for coffee blends. African countries have also have a rather limited production but the quality is definitely superior. Kenya, thanks to its temperate climate, produces an acid and aromatic coffee and Ethiopia offers a really flowery coffee with caramel notes. India produces a full bodied coffee characterized by a touch of bitterness and a spiced aroma. 

    Coffees from El Salvador, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama and Honduras are sweet with some acidic notes and feature a light sweetness that is typical of Central America.   All blends we drink are made of coffees of different origins. Each origin brings its own aromatic notes, its doses of bitter and sweet and its unique body. Blending is a real art because it needs to bring together all different ingredients with harmony. Each blend can be prepared using a system with “set elements” meaning with a recipe that has been established over time (always same ingredients and same amounts) or it can be changed following new recipes and modulating quantities.  

    When buying coffee from another country preserving the quality of green coffee is essential. Transport is done via sea with the greatest care and extreme attention to detail. In order to get excellent coffee bags are carefully placed in containers where there is no mold, condensation or bad smells. Bags are placed in a way to allow air circulation between them.

    Then bags arrive at the toasting factory where the first selection is performed: “vibrovaglio” is a big sieve that gets rid of rocks leaves or pieces of wood. An aspirator eliminates small and light one while a magnetic separator eliminates metallic ones. Now the green beans are stored in silos. The final stage is assigned to bi-chromatic machines that “photograph” each bean and eliminate the unripe and fermented ones. Indeed just one imperfect bean among the 50 that make up a cup of espresso can totally ruin it.  

    During the production process beans are exposed to high temperatures (200-220 °C) while the are stirred. There are two main roasting methods: “A letto fluido” (fluid-bed system) where beans are subject to air jets of temperatures between 300-400 °C for a few minutes as they suspended in the toasting chamber, or “A tamburo rotante” (rotating drum) where the coffee is placed inside a metallic drum with “wings” used to continuously toss the beans in order to make the toasting uniform.

    The process, lasts about 15-20 minutes depending on the coffee type, the power of the machine and the desired flavor of the end product. The first system produces a coffee that is more toasted on the outside than on the inside while the latter results in more even product.   Each company has its tricks and secrets and produces unique coffee that makes Italy proud. Italian coffee culture finds its top expression in blending. By mixing together coffees from different origins, qualities and characteristics integrate and amalgamate resulting in final products that are more balanced and harmonious.  

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Abruzzo. Focus on Sulmona's Confetti

    When there is a celebration most likely colorful little things called confetti are involved. Now depending on which part of the world you are confetti can be totally different. In the US and most other nations they are tiny specs of colorful paper that are thrown in the air to make us cheerful, in Italy, they are sugar coated almonds that are given at celebrations, such as weddings, baptisms and anniversaries, in a wish for good luck (Odd numbers are considered lucky, therefore 5 is the right quantity).

    Their name, confetti, comes from the Latin word confectum, which is the past participle of the verb conficere which mean  “preserved/ confectioned.” During the Middle Ages it was used when talking about “preserves,” dried fruit dipped in honey. But the origins of confetti the way they are today is still unknown. Antique books describe them as “small sweets made of cooked sugar that hide a tender almond, hazelnut or pistachio heart. They come in two different forms: soft or hard. Traditionally the hard ones feature a peeled toasted almond while the soft ones are filled with almond paste, candied fruit or chocolate. There are many variations and even really tiny confetti that cover anise or fennel seeds that are used to decorate cakes and/or regional holiday sweets.”

    In Italy confetti are traditionally given at important celebrations, such as weddings, anniversaries and religious events, life baptisms and confirmations. Belief is that they bring good luck, so it is customary to give a nice bundle of these sweet treats to all guests (attending or not). This tradition is believed to have started in the 1400's when they were given to actors for good luck for the upcoming performance.

    Confetti come in different shapes, sizes and colors. Traditionally, white confetti are given at weddings, because they represent the pureness of the bride in small fabric bags as a good wish for each guest. The amount of confetti given has to be odd as it symbolizes the birth of a baby. At christenings confetti are pink for baby girls and light blue for boys. For anniversaries they can be of any color but for a couple's 25th they have to be silver and for the 50th they have to be gold. For college graduation they need to be red.

    Italy is the major producer of these special little sweets although Spain and Portugal are the main consumers. Sulmona, a city located just 90 minutes from Rome, in Abruzzo, that has a storied architectural history and is known for its medieval aqueduct which divides the city and for being the birthplace of Ovid, the father of the Latin language, is Italy's shining star in confetti production.

    The city has an abundance of quaint little shops where you can purchase fine leather, jewelry and regional crafts. It has an array of cafes, restaurants and trattorias that specialize in the rich regional “cucina d'Abruzzo.” Confetti are only one culinary specialty that this region has to offer and here they are made of all kinds, not just the regular ones with almonds or chocolate but some more unique like the ones filled with liquor or truffle paste, and even cannellini, long and skinny confetti filled with cinnamon.

    Sulmona's confetti are known globally for their unique flavor, traditional production methods and the usage of Avola almonds, which are some of the country's most cherished almonds because of their strong flavor that lacks any hint of bitterness. They are refined products that embody the pride of the Italian made.

    As far as productions is concerned, roasted almonds are put in rotating containers called bassine (these containers have different shapes and types of rotation). They are atomized with saccharine solutions that, thanks to the heat caused by the insufflation of hot air, evaporate leaving behind a uniform layer of sugar on the almonds. The entire process requires repeated phases of soaking and drying as many as needed to obtain the desired coating.

    What is also unique about Sulmona's confetti is that they do not feature any thickening ingredients, such as flour or starch... there is only pure, delicious sugar. After the final coating phase, confetti have a wrinkly and irregular surface so they go to a filing process, then a coloring phase and a final polishing. In Sulmona confetti are made of any color and they are used in the creation of beautiful flowers that are sold in stores as real flowers would. They are put together in colorful bouquets or sold alone, by color or by flower type... the choices are many.

    Sulmona and its confetti were represented at the Summer Fancy Food Show 2014 by Confetti Pelino Srl, one of Italy's oldest producers (indeed the factory opened its doors on May 1783). Since then they have produced confetti using only certified ingredients of the highest quality – such as Avola almonds, Hazelnuts from Piedmont, Sicilian pistachios and Belgian chocolate. Quality is not achieved only with great products but also by using traditional manufacturing processes “that preserve the integrity of the ingredients and grant the customer’s full organoleptic satisfaction.”

    Their confetti candy is available in the USA thanks to Confetti Pelino & Bomboniera USA , the exclusive provider of the entire line of Mario Pelino Italian confetti. “Our mission is to provide a shopping experience for our customers that mirrors the shopping experience in Italy,” representative of the company have said. “We work directly with the Pelino factory in Sulmona to ensure the highest levels of quality and customer satisfaction.”

  • Life & People

    Let's Talk Sports in Abruzzo

    Though Italians and international travelers alike traditionally think of Abruzzo as a remote, mountainous region, its eastern border is marked by vast sandy beaches stretching along the Adriatic Sea north and south of Pescara. They are exactly 133 kilometers of golden beaches, bays, and cliffs running along a sparkling coast lined with pine forests, dotted with towns, and backed by green hills.

    From the mouth of the Tronto River on the border with Marche, to the mouth of the Foro River just below Pescara, the coast is a succession of beautiful beaches graced by crystal clear water. All coastal resorts offer windsurfing, canoeing, fishing, diving and other water sports. On the beaches, outdoor gyms, swimming pools, and water parks give visitors the chance to meet people and have fun in the warm sun.

    Many entertaining events, such as open-air markets, and craft and food festivals take place in or around these seaside villages, so there is always something to do.

    The province of Teramo boasts hundreds of hotels and beach establishments, but its best features are the warm shallow water of the sea and the beautiful vegetation. This area is considered ideal for children, as it is safe and fun, with many parks created just for kids.

    One of the most popular and well-loves seaside areas in the region is Roseto degli Abruzzi. Set between the mouths of the Tordino and Volmano Rivers, it offers miles of golden sand and some interesting destinations, such as the medieval church of S. Maria di Propezzano. Old Pescara offers a nice day on the beach and a fun night in its taverns, wine bars, and restaurants. It is known as the home of the Dolce Vita, as it was the birthplace of Flaiano, the writer of Fellini’s famous work.

    On the Pescara coast there are many hotels, campsites, agriturismos, and other major facilities, such as sailing clubs. Linked to Pescara by a road that hugs the coast, Montesilvano Marina is one of the most popular beaches with the locals as it is easy to reach and is close to the city. Lying at the foot of the Atri hills, we find Silvi Marina, a busy beach resort close to Silvi Paese, a lovely town with a beautiful 14th century church.

    Famous for its history and for its historic monuments (the Aragonese castle is a must see), Ortona is one of the best-loved resorts on the Chieti coast. Its commercial port is the most important in Abruzzo and it can be seen from the Passeggiata Orientale (the promenade), an impressive scenic road. There are the wide, curved, sandy white beaches of Lido Riccio and of Lido Saraceni, and the rougher rocky stretches and amazing inlets that are ideal for canoeing. So many beautiful places to see, the list is endless. They are so close to each other that the best bet is to have a car and just drive around.

    Driving along one can see small towns that like precious jewels dot the spectacular countryside. Abruzzo has been nominated the region with “the prettiest villages in Italy,” from Anversa degli Abruzzi, the village described by Gabriele d’Annunzio, to Carunchio, perched on a hill top like a mirage, to Guardiagrele, with its splendid Cathedral, and to Pacentro and its cave paintings. As we continue driving we arrive at the ski resorts, where the sun still reigns but the blue of the sea is substituted by the pure white of soft snow.

    The Gran Sasso, the Majella, Velino-Sirente, the mountains of the National Park, the Cinque Miglia plateau, the Carseolani, and the Simbruini Mountains form a dense network of ski resorts that are well equipped and cater to all the needs of snow lovers.
    The slopes of Mount Piselli wind down along the trail that divides Abruzzo from Marche, and near

    Corno Grande, the highest peak of Gran Sasso and of the Apennine range, Campo Imperatore reigns as the highest ski resort in the region. Sculpted by an ancient glacier, Campo Imperatore is home to one of Italy's oldest ski resorts, which began commercial operation in the 1920s and continues to thrive. The considerable altitude ensures good snow for most of the winter and the location is ideal for cross-country skiing.

    In addition, Campo Imperatore has been popular with filmmakers, a location used in more than twenty major films, among them The Name of the Rose, starring Sean Connery. Right below, there is the Monte Cristo basin, equally beautiful and fun for snow sports.

    In the province of L’Aquila stands Abruzzo’s most famous resort, Roccaraso. After the extensive destruction in WWII bombings, the small center is today completely modern, except for the district called Terra Vecchia (the ancient fortified borough). The whole ski area offers many miles of slopes of varying difficulty, and modern sports facilities. The flatter areas have challenging cross-country routes.

    At the foot of the western slope of the Majella, the lifts of Campo Giove go up to the Tavola Rotonda, the highest point in Abruzzo reachable by mechanical means. Furthermore, there are smaller skiing destinations, hundreds of routes, possible excursions, and endless possibilities of fun.

    No matter what, all over Abruzzo, at the seaside, in the mountains, in the hills and even beyond the protected areas, nature is always the protagonist. The sandy shores of the north coast contrast with the rocks and cliffs along the southern coast, while the unbroken rows of nearby hills conceal holiday farm centers and art towns full of authentic masterpieces. All of this is protected by its mountains, the highest summits of Apennines.

  • Art & Culture

    Art in the Garden: Hope by Laura Fantini

    “I am a hyper-realistic minimalist artist living and working in both Brooklyn, NY and Bologna, Italy, who specializes in life- size colored pencil still life. In my ‘Still Lives,’ pencils are my paint and paper is my canvas.” Laura Fantini is an Italian artist whose latest art is showcased in a solo exhibition at the Queens Botanical Garden. Hope (running through April 29th) presents a body of work that comprises drawings from her new series which is inspired exclusively by seeds.

    “In this collection the power of seeds plays a fundamental role,” Fantini has declared, “It is a positive and optimistic message because seeds represent hope and a new beginning. They are an integral part of who we are and emblematic of birth and growth. They are small, but complicated and mysterious, and what they do is extraordinary and magnificent. Without seeds life would be threatened, from human beings to plants and animals. Sometimes a seed is all that remains of a plant. It is the beginning and the end, but also the hope for the next generation. Through my detailed small drawings the viewer can realize how a pencil for an artist can be as powerful as a tiny seed in nature.”

    These drawings (10x10 inches – 16x16 inches, framed size) are based on seeds mostly found in the US and at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, but also in Italy.

    “In my artistic process, I start with the observation of what is around me. There is always a strict relation between my feelings, the surroundings and the objects that catch my attention. I adore observing nature. It is a source of true inspiration for my art and an escape from the chaotic urban life. I search for seeds, leaves and flowers and often take photographs to record the constant change of the elements I find. But my flowers, seeds or leaves are more than mere objects. My artworks do not only represent the reality of the ‘still life objects’ I paint, but also the unique and intimate interpretation of emotions, memories and human relationships.”

    For the past two decades, Fantini’s artistic practice has been completely dedicated to colored pencils. Her subjects are the rendering of simple still-life objects found in nature. Her style is smooth and her work appears to be almost photographic at a first look. However, a closer look reveals great intricacy of detail. From thousands upon thousands of precise, distinct, cross-hatched pencil-strokes, Fantini builds up rich tones and nearly a tridimensional execution.

    “The essential elements of my artworks are composition, drawing, contrasts and symbolism, but also realism and simplicity. I love the poetic potential of simple objects. The arrangement is modest and minimalist: few objects can stand alone to make a complete composition dominated by a critical use of shadows. My art is defined by strong contrast values and highly theatrical compositions with dramatic lighting and abstract symbolic backgrounds. From thousands upon thousands of precise, distinct, cross-hatched pencil-strokes, I build up rich tones.”

    Laura Fantini was selected by Profilo d’Arte – Banca Profilo among the most interesting emerging Italian artists. Her many exhibitions include those at the Museo della Permanente in Milan and Galleria Forni in Bologna, at the Staten Island Museum in New York, at the Schweinfurth Art Center in Auburn, at the Museum José Malhoa in Portugal and Denise Bibro Fine Arts in New York, among others. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Hunt Institute – Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, at the Monaco Government Tourist Office in New York, and in numerous private collections in Italy, UK, US, and Japan. Ms. Fantini is a member of the Salmagundi Club in New York and a Signature/Merit Member of the Colored Pencil Society of America.

    Fantini has won various awards including First Prize in the First Annual Sylvia Glesmann Floral Exhibition and the Jane Peterson Memorial Award at the Salmagundi Club in New York. She also received The Canson Paper Award for Excellence and the Award for Exceptional Merit from the Colored Pencil Society of America.

    Hope by Laura Fantini at the Queens Botanical Garden

    January 9 - April 29, 2018

    Artist Talk and Horticulture Walk – Sunday, March 25, 2-4pm

    Closing Reception – Saturday, April 14, 2-4pm 

    For more information on the exhibit click here >>>

  • All photos by Jonathan Slaff
    Art & Culture

    The Folly of “Follies in Titus”

    “Am I a man who cures, or a man who needs to be cured?” These are the words of Titus, words that bring to mind another Shakespearean soliloquy, uttered as he is lying in a clawfoot bathtub while holding a vial full of pills. His bandaged head, the rags he is wearing, reminiscent of a straitjacket, and his isolation immediately make the audience think of a violent prisoner or mental patient. As his hands shake, the noise of the pills becomes rhythmic as it is transformed in actual music accompanied by percussions and a multitude of sounds.

    As the rhythm becomes more pressing, thus solemnly enter all the other characters of  “Follies in Titus,” the retelling of “Titus Andronicus,” Shakespeare's bloodiest and most violent tragedy, told through the voices of the patients of a psychiatric hospital.

    The play, conceived and directed, by Dario D'Ambrosi, originator of the theatrical movement called Teatro Patologico (Pathological Theater) founded for people with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities, stars Paolo Vaselli, Cristiana Saporetti, Emanuele Antei, Marco Antonazzi, Fabio De Persio, Andrea Ferrari, Nicolò Fronticelli Baldelli, Paolo Giliberti, Sara Naso, Silvia Sorcini, Andrea Scrimieri, Claudia Terracini and Daniele Tortosa. The performers hail from La Magia del Teatro (The Magic of Theater), a Drama Academy for disabled people directed by D'Ambrosi himself, whose goal is to stimulate the students' creative freedom by giving them the theoretical and practical means to help them express themselves on the stage. “The school isn't so much a form of therapy as it is an amazing chance for them to express both artistically and emotionally, a place where they get to socialize and form important life skills, a serious vehicle of fun and a way to make the students feel and be the main actors.”

    “Remember while you are watching” D'Ambrosi told the audience at La MaMa before the performance, “that you are not watching a show, you are seeing a miracle. They were in a mental hospital, now they are acting. I'm so proud.”  The director is one of Italy's most distinguished theater artists, who has made a career of plays and films that are with and about people with psychiatric disabilities, creating productions that portray their unique perspective on life. “I think Titus is perfect to tell the audience of this conflict between power and medicine,” he continued to explain.

    “Titus, is it better without medicines? Don't you find it even a little bit funny that it is in my control to decide when to drive you crazy? Who do you have left? I have the power, I have my sons. What do you have?” Tamora, who has been invited to a banquet prepared by Titus himself, asks. “But please, do eat, or it will get cold. Eat, there's enough. As much as you want.” The general urges his invited guests.

    Shakespeare's 16th century tragedy is the fictional story of Titus, a general during the late Roman Empire, who engages in a cycle of revenge with Tamora, Queen of the Goths.Titus' murder of Tamora's eldest son in a ritual of war leads to the rape and mutilation of his own daughter, Lavinia. As his revenge, Titus murders Tamora's remaining sons, bakes them into pie, and serves them to her at a feast.

    In "Follies in Titus" the focus of  D'Ambrosi and his collaborators  is not on Shakespeare's mixture of horror and vengeance, but rather on the alternation of true and feigned madness. The play also explores the relationship between body and language, breaks the barrier between stage and audience, combines English and Italian (only in the initial monologue), and alternates pounding music performed live by Francesco Santalucia and Papaceccio with disturbing silences. 

    The creative process behind the production involved the creation of a "canovaccio" (a plot outline that consisted only of a list of acts and scenes but dialogue was left to the improvisation of the actors. It comes from the tradition of Commedia dell'Arte). After being assigned their role, the performers were asked to "let the characters speak" and that is how the script, made up of original and devised text, was born. The crude events and vicissitudes of Shakespeare's tragedy fade in the background thus giving space to the creativity of the actors who retell the story in their own voice. A voice that many of them kept silent before their breakthrough; an accomplishment made possible by the work of D'Ambrosi who, through his plays, investigates people with mental illness by grasping its vital artistic and creative aspects, and therefore creating productions that portray their unique perspective on life. And now the question returns “Is he a man who cures or a man who needs to be cured?”

    “Follies in Titus” is playing at La MaMa through December 9 in its Ellen Stewart Theatre, 66 East Fourth Street.

  • Art & Culture

    Art is Too Powerful to Stay in One Place

    “I wanted to create a movement of change thought art. After creating my installation “2nd Amendment” (an anti gun violence art piece and the T-shirts inspired by it), I had the need to do more. I believe in the artistic process and its ability to bring social awareness. Our most powerful weapon to express what we are going trough, and/or what society is experiencing, is Art! And, as Nina Simone once said “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”

    Inspired by her community and her engagement with the social environment, NYC- based mixed media public artist, Annalisa Iadicicco, created the Blue Bus Project, a living, breathing mobile art gallery that takes this conversation to the streets of NYC and beyond. This is her speaking.

    “In times where our art funds are being cut, our governments are poisoning us with lies, putting our children’s future into jeopardy, and our technology of the “eternally connected” is actually, if not used properly, disconnecting us from our selves, I wanted to create a platform, a safe space for artists and communities to merge, interact, explore and stimulate discussion that will lead them to action and social change. And what a better place than the streets! A venue suited for artistic intervention, where people don’t expect to find art but they are organically drawn to it.

    With all these ideas brewing in mind, one day I saw this school bus parked a few blocks from my house. At the time, I was working for a sculptor, whose project was mobile; seeing the effect that his artwork was bringing to people, I decided that a bus, a school bus, would be perfect for my BIG idea to change the World!

    So day after day I kept biking there just to check if this bus was moving and/or functioning but I would always see it parked in the same spot. One day I put a note on the window that said: 'If you are selling the bus, give me a call,' and after 9 months I got the auspicious call.

    Suddenly I found myself with this big bus, an insurance to pay, a mechanic to deal with, and a colossal  dream waiting to become reality. With the help of some of my patrons, I was able to fix it up and put it on the road. I’m now driving around NYC, with the desire to reach different parts of the world and, one day, to end up in my hometown; Naples.”

    Founded in May 2016, the Blue Bus Project is a platform for participants - neighborhoods, artists, students of all ages - to contribute to their community while enhancing its beauty and cultural identity. Since its inception, The Blue Bus Project has reached out to several communities, held different programs and was commissioned workshops for the youth in public parks and neighborhoods, in Harlem, Governors Island, Socrates Sculptor Park, Williamsburg, Jamaica Ave, and Rockaway. Said workshops were ranging from the creations of sculptures, painting, and dance performances to Food&Clothing drives for the needy.


    This past summer, the Citizen Committee for New York City gave the Blue Bus Project a Neighborhood Grant for its series of workshops called RE(F)USE ME! Held in the Rockaway, the workshops focused on the three R’s of the environment: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The goal was to help broaden the ability to value discarded objects while cultivating self-worth, self-expression, imagination, and creativity, but mostly, while being socially conscious (in this particular case by keeping the ocean and the beaches clean). Participating artists, Iadicicco herself with visual artist/educator Maria Liebana, sculptor Daniel Valle, writer Natasha Lardera and musician Ivan Dalia, mingled with local kids and made art together. For example, you can craft your empty plastic bottles into something awesome, instead of just leaving them on the sand. The PET plastic that most beverage bottles are made of is a fairly useful material – it's resilient, flexible, transparent and food safe. You just need some paint, scissors and imagination. Sculptor Daniel Valle showed kids how to turn these bottles into colorful fish, a cute sculpture for any room or classroom.   

    “To wrap things up, we are a collective of artists driving our own mobile art gallery into any community. With our white walls, hardwood floors, and gas in our tank, our bus is a fully equipped alternative art space that crosses all barriers. The bright blue color of the bus's exterior cultivates curiosity, creativity, and joy and serves as a bridge to connect people with their community. All the antiwar, civil rights, and feminist movements of the past, have showed us that together we have strong power and together we can do a lot. And we need to get to the streets, that’s a real powerful place: the streets!”


    Follow the Blue Bus Project:


  • Orecchiette with cime di rapa
    Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Let's Eat Healthy! Let's Eat Apulian!

    As the summer reaches its end, an Italian region that is not complaining about a bad season is Puglia. Thanks to the weather, beautiful beaches and unique food, Puglia can say that it is loved by Italians and foreigners alike. The organization called Spot (Sistema Puglia per l’Osservatorio Turistico), a local regional agency recording tourism affluence, reports that tourism has increased considerably.

      Puglia is a region little known to Americans but one well worth discovering for the gourmet traveler. Its sunny location provides the ideal conditions for the cultivation of flavorful fruits, vegetables and viticulture. Apulian cuisine is healthy, based on homemade pastas and cheeses, fresh vegetables, seafood and local olive oil.

    The cuisine from Salento, an area in the south-eastern extremity of the region, is characterized by a wide range of vegetables, main ingredients of the local traditional diet: cima di rapa (broccoli raabe), cabbage, thistle, peppers, eggplant, artichokes, all types of legumes, from beans, to chickpeas, peas and fava beans.  Author Micol Negrin writes in her award winning book Rustico: Regional Italian Country Cooking: “The Apulians are avowed vegetable addicts. They even have a saying ‘of all vegetables, the fava is queen, cooked in the evening, warmed in the morning.’ Every year in Puglia 33 million pounds of fava beans are harvested and transformed into antipasti, side dishes, and soups.” The traditional country dish par excellence is a puree of fava beans served with sautéed wild chicory called ‘ncapriata.

    In addition to these, a lot of wild vegetables are widely used: we are talking about chicory, asparagus, paparine (poppy plants before the flower blooms), ripili, also known as finocchietto marino (plants that grow on wet sea rocks) and the famous lampascioni (bitter wild onions). “In lean times, the ability to turn a handful of field greens into a meal surely came in handy; today, it forms the basis for a unique cuisine,” writes Negrin.

    Vegetables and legumes are mostly consumed with bread or pasta, both preferably home-made. Among the most famous dishes we then find orecchiette (ear shaped pasta) with broccoli raabe, ciceri e tria, pasta with chickpeas, and minestra maritata, a vegetable and legume soup with bread and pecorino cheese.

    Back in time, meat was considered a luxury, so it doesn’t really appear much in Apulian menus, except in dishes that through the years have been re-adapted by the local cooks – so ground beef is mixed with bread for flavorful meatballs; horse meat, which was cheaper, is served stewed and in other variations, such as in pieces with tomato sauce. Lamb is also loved and a classic recipe is called turcinieddhi (lamb meat rolls stuffed with innards).

    The sea, of course, provides tons of fish, seafood and crustaceans, that are unbelievably fresh and delicious. Among the most known fish based dishes we find purpu alla pignatta (octopus cooked in a terracotta pot with onions and tomato), scapece, the word derives from the Spanish and can be applied to any dish, usually fish, marinated in a sweet-and-sour sauce, pupiddhi fritti, fried fish, tajeddha (baked rice with potatoes and cockles), and pasta with sea urchin.

    The production of cured meats never really took off because of the warm climate and the lack of means to age the meat properly. Proteins found their way into the local diet through cheeses, cheeses that are simply amazing now as they were back in time.  These are ricotta, giuncata, fresh cow milk cheese, cacioricotta, salted ricotta that is shaved over pasta, ricotta forte, fermented ricotta, with a very strong taste, scamorza, and aged pecorino. 

    Bread deserves its own paragraph as it is simply unique and amazing – made with different ingredients and in numerous shapes.

    Writer Carole Kotkin of TravelLady Magazine talks about bread this way – “Bread in Apulia is given almost reverential treatment. If a piece of bread is dropped on the floor, peasant people will pick it up immediately, kiss it, and return it to the table for eating. Apulian bread is not made with commercial yeast, but from yeast produced in households that has been in use for generations.

    Dough made with this yeast is slower to rise than that made with commercial yeast and has a chance to develop a better flavor.” Carol Field, author of The Italian Baker remakred "The tastes and shapes of Italian breads are fragrant reminders of a tradition of baking that is older than the Roman monuments and Romanesque cathedrals that we rush to Europe to see." Altamura bread is possibly Italy's best bread: “large heavy wheels with burnished brown crusts baked in a 300 year-old oak wood-fired oven from centuries-old sourdough starter," but this town is not in Salento but on the Murge plateau in the province of Bari. Among other baked specialties we find frisella, a traditional hard barley bread, the size of a donut that is dipped in water to soften and then seasoned with olive oil, salt and tomatoes, and taralli, a snack food, also doughnut shaped but about 3 inches across. Taralli can be either somewhat sweet or slightly salty, and some people sprinkle their surfaces with anise seed, pepper, or whatever.

    The most common desserts from Salento are cakes and pastry made of ground almonds; cartellate are ribbons of pastry twisted into circles and covered with either honey or mulled wine; pittule (or pettole) are small balls of pastry fried in olive oil (eaten at Christmas or Easter), diavulacce are made with almonds and coco, dried figs dressed with toasted almonds, sometimes coated with chocolate and quince jam.

    In Salento, a traditional meal could begin with eggplant stuffed with Pecorino, or raw cocomeri, short and fat cucumbers believed to prepare the stomach for the upcoming meal. First course choices might include fava bean puree with sautéed chicory and olive oil, or a nice plate of orecchiette or other home-made pasta such as frusciuddati, short, hand rolled cylinders. The menu would then include lamb or kid roasted in a wood oven or fresh fish such as braised cod with tangy black olives from local trees. Cheese and dessert would finish off the meal…for whoever still has an appetite!

  • Rock guitarist Simon Hanes
    Art & Culture

    Tredici Bacci and the Obsession of Italian Soundtrack Music

    “Things to do on a Tuesday night,” as I was reading this article on USA Today that mentioned how “weekday nights are a good time to experience what the city has to offer” I realized that my calendar has a one of a kind event marked down for next Tuesday, January 10th, when Tredici Bacci will be playing a showcase at The Standard East Village Penthouse (25 Cooper Square). The concert, which is free of charge as long as you RSVP at [email protected], has already been defined “an Italian soundtrack-obsessed evening of music” led by a 28 year old classical composer and punk rock guitarist named Simon Hanes. Simon’s obsessed with all things Morricone, Spaghetti Western, and classic Italian film soundtracks from the 1960’s/1970’s.


    Consisting of close friends and fellow classically-trained musicians, the Tredici Bacci band is an ambitiously sizeable 14-piece ensemble based in Bushwick who are playing clubs throughout BK in 9 - 14 piece configurations.  Cited by Rolling Stone in 10 New Artists You Need to Know: November 2016, Tredici Bacci has just released its debut album, Amore Per Tutti, “a record of colorful pop explorations that are rooted in musical timelessness, but are also steeped in modernity through the spirit of collaboration, checking all pigeon-holes and categorizations at the door. Hanes’ depth of knowledge of music is made apparent through the wide variety of styles, techniques and moods that he is capable of utilizing alongside his highly talented band, together showcasing true, unbounded musicianship.

    The album's first single wasNessun Dorma,” which brings Simon’s dreams to life as he joins forces with eccentric Italian multi-instrumentalist and composer Vincenzo Vasi to reinvent this classic Puccini operatic aria. “Vasi’s exuberant singing and Italian lyrics would feel right at home with motorbikes zipping by through a narrow cobblestone Roman street, while the band’s accordion and piano lines dance perfectly in stride with the mid-tempo percussion and flawless brass punctuation.

    Over the last few years, Simon has worked tirelessly to channel his deep love and infatuation with 1960’s/1970’s soundtrack music into his own personal vision and homage to the style through dedicated songwriting, and the integration of the totality of his musical influences. After graduating from the New England Conservatory and spending time playing bass in the then-Boston-based No(ise) Wave unit Guerilla Toss, Hanes started working as an arranger, composer, conductor, and guitarist, and went on to assemble a band of epic orchestral proportions. But let's learn more about Tredici Bacci directly from him.


    You've been inspired by 1960/1970 soundtrack music. Are there any specific films and scores that have influenced you the most and why?

    “I’d like to take a trip down memory lane if that’s alright, to the early days. In the house where I grew up, the heating system was as such that there was a vent on the floor, in the corner by the kitchen table - this was my happy place every winter. I remember distinctly a very specific day - having just acquired a CD copy of the soundtrack to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - sitting on the heater vent, staring off into space, and listening to that music again and again on repeat for weeks to come.

    But that was quite some time ago, and the years I’ve had to explore since that formative experience have led me to discover hundreds scores that have inspired and influenced my own work. There are two that stand out very strongly in my mind - Bernard Hermann’s soundtrack to Vertigo, perhaps the richest soundtrack to a film ever composed, in terms of harmonic language, orchestration, and emotional content - A real masterpiece!

    The other is Nino Rota’s score for Juliet Of The Spirits, which will come into discussion more later - Rota’s work, particularly for this film, contains a very specific kind of magic, an imaginary ensemble of pawn-shop organs, surf guitars, squealing winds and operatic voices, supported by an incredible amount of orchestrational know-how.

    You particularly like Morricone, have you ever met him or seen him play? What would you tell him if you had the chance to speak to him.

    “Every person who takes influence from the linage of Italian soundtrack-pop recognizes Morricone as its consummate master; the trailblazer of the genre. He's the maestro! And since the period of the maestro's work that I love so deeply took place quite a few years ago, my connection to him is as a representative of the past - each time I sit down to write a piece for Tredici Bacci I am symbolically calling out to Morricone for inspiration and guidance. This, at least, is what I tell myself when the thought that I have never seen the maestro in person, and perhaps never will. The unhappy reality is that the true blossoming of my admiration for the man coincided with his being less and less able to tour, something he has been doing for many years, despite the fact that he could have retired about 25 years ago (the love of music clearly flows in every fiber of his being). When I close my eyes and imagine our meeting, I begin to well up with tears of joy.”

    How was Tredici Bacci created and where does the name come from?

    “The name of the group was inspired by the number of people who I had initially roped in to start the project (13 of my closest music school chums) - I wanted to kiss each one for agreeing to embark on this adventure with me! also, it had a certain sexy ring to it...

    But at the time, my understanding of the Italian language was severely limited, and as such, somehow my research led me to serendipitously (and inexplicably) add another C to "Baci" - turning it into something akin to "kissses." When we realized our error, we discussed it and decided that it somehow was an accurate reflection of the band - a kind of metaphor for our path to this music as Americans (and Canadians) who weren't alive to experience the heyday of Italian film soundtracks from the 1960s/70s, but love it deeply all the same.”

    Aside for film composers are there other Italians that have inspired you? Amore per tutti is a reference to Fellini.

    “Yes, Fellini is definitely a huge inspiration for me - and “Amore Per Tutti” is a somewhat thinly veiled homage to his film “Juliet Of The Spirits” which has had an utterly profound effect on my life. In fact, most of my non-musician Italian influences are actors and directors- Anna Magnani, Franco Nero, Elio Petri, Marco Ferreri and Italo Calvino. And even though she’s a musician, I have to mention Mina - she’s an absolute legend.”

    Tell us about your Nessun Dorma and collaborating with other musicians, in this case with Vincenzo Vasi?

    “There was something very magic about collaborating with Vinenzo Vasi, particularly because we’ve never had the pleasure of meeting face to face! But true artists would never let that get in the way of a beautiful partnership! I knew that doing my own arrangement of a complete classic like Nessun Dorma would be a great way to connect to the full heritage of the music that Tredici Bacci is referencing - but immediately there was a question about who would be the perfect voice to fit the track - We needed somebody who would simultaneously pay homage to what is the quintessential version of the song (Pavarotti) while still taking an entirely new approach to the music. We found that with Vincenzo, and when he sent me his version I was so happy I could hardly contain myself! Someday I would love for the two of us to make an entire record - I feel that our time of working together is only in the beginning stages. That is a special thing about all the collaborations on this record - each one has its own story, and I feel that each one could lead to a great deal more music in the future!”

    Click here to listen Tredici Bacci "Nessun Dorma (featuring Vincenzo Vasi)"

    Other shows:


    January 25 @ TREDICI BACCI at Sunnyvale (1031 Grand Street, Brooklyn):


    February Residency at The Stone (Corner of Ave C and E 2nd Street, Manhattan):


    February 3 TREDICI BACCI PLAYS AMORE PER TUTTI W/ SPECIAL GUESTS! Featuring Jg ThirlwellCharlie Looker, Ryan Power and more!