French Riviera - sweep of Mediterranean shoreline


                     European Dinner Parties for Italy

Welcome to Polly Erickson's Italian Dinner

Polly EricksonEach region in Italy has a different style of cuisine, based on what is readily available in that area. For example, as Polly mentioned below, coastal regions are often known for their seafood dishes.

Central Italy favors olive oil and cheese. Beef is also available and used frequently along with cured meats. Stuffed pasta, such as Tortellini originally from Emelia, is famous in this region.

Southern Italian cuisine frequently involves tomato sauces and olive oil and citrus fruit is also popular. The area is famous for the world's first opened pizzeria in Naples.

Polly Erickson's menu comes from Northern Italy. It does not use as much olive oil as other regions. Rice is generally preferred to pasta for the starch of dishes with risotto and polenta being the most popular. Rather than tomato sauce, cream based sauces are more often used.

Polly was born in the USA but has many relatives in Italy that she visits frequently. Her first trip was a graduation present from her parents. They purchased a Fiat in Milan and drove to Pesaro on the Adriatic coast. As soon as Polly met her relatives, there was an instant rapport, and she felt as if she had come home.

There were family parties outside under the grape arbor where long tables would be set up and homemade bottles of wine brought out. There would be the big dish of homemade pasta followed by fish cooked outside over a wooden fire. Since Pesaro is on the coast, fish was always plentiful, fresh and delicious

Visiting relatives has been a wonderful experience for Polly and going to the beach to swim in the Adriatic an added bonus. The fine sandy beaches stretch forever, and since there is such a long area of beach, she could find a spot where very few people were.

Polly has continued visiting her relatives over the years. Her non-Italian husband used to accompany her and sit through three hour dinners not understanding a word that was spoken. So these days he’s happy if Polly goes alone.

Polly's relatives are very good cooks. Today they don’t make their own pasta since most of the women work, however, but cooking is still very important in the family. Cappeletti is a specialty, a little hat shaped pasta stuffed with meat and cheese and eaten in broth.

Since Italians don’t like sweet desserts they serve Crostata di Marmellata (see recipe) that contains only two tablespoons sugar in the crust.

As with the European Dinner Parties eating with family and friends is always a favorite thing to do, and through the generations cooking for people was something taught at home. Polly enjoys doing that today in Lexington…in addition to taking care of three grandchildren.

And talking about Italian food what famous Italian person said: "Everything you see I owe to Italian food." See the Italian Learning Experience listed below...
In January the festive menu comes from for this month say...
Buon Appetito!
Polly Erickson's Italian menu
Prosciutto e Fichi
Zuppa di polpettine - meatball soup
Chicken Marsala with zucchini sauté
Crostata di Marmellata

(download printer-friendly recipes)

Ingredients and cooking tips
Appetizer: Prosciutto e Fichi

12 fresh figs
12 slices prosciutto

Wrap a slice of prosciutto around a fig. Place on a large plate. Serve at room temperature. Serves 6.

Soup: Zuppa di polpettine - meatball soup (who says Italian does not sound like music...unlike meatball soup)


1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
5 3/4 cups chicken broth
2 cups chopped escarole or 2 cups chopped spinach
1/2 cup orzo pasta, uncooked
1/3 cup finely chopped carrot
Grated Parmesan cheese

In medium bowl combine, meat, egg, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, basil and onion powder; shape into 3/4" balls.
In large sauce pan, heat broth to boiling; stir in spinach, orzo, carrot and meatballs.
Return to boil; reduce heat to medium.
Cook at slow boil for 10 minutes or until orzo is tender.
Stir frequently to avoid sticking.
Serve with additional Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

chicken marsalaMain course: Chicken Marsala with Zucchini Saute

Ingredients: Serves 4

4 boneless chicken breast halves without skin
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried leaf basil
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 to 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup Marsala wine

Pound chicken to 1/4" thickness between 2 sheets of plastic wrap.
Combine flour, salt, pepper, and basil; mix well.
Heat oil and butter in a heavy non-stick skillet over medium high heat.
Dredge chicken in seasoned flour mixture.
Cook chicken until lightly browned on first side, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Turn chicken and add mushrooms around the chicken pieces.
Cook about 2 minutes longer, until lightly browned; stir the mushrooms.
Add Marsala wine to pan.
Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 10 minutes.

sauteed zucchiniZucchini Saute

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
salt and pepper to taste
4 zucchini, halved and sliced
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 tomato, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Saute onion with salt and pepper for 2 minutes.
Stir in zucchini and mushrooms.
When zucchini begins to soften, add tomatoes, garlic and Italian seasoning.
Cook until heated through.

crostata di marmellataDessert: Crostata di Marmellata


2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup butter, room temperature for hand mixing, cold and in small pieces for food processor
1 egg
2 tablespoons sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons chilled white wine
1 (12-oz.) jar strawberry jam or other jam
1 egg, lightly beaten

In a medium bowl using a pastry blender or in a food processor fitted with a metal blade, mix flour and butter until crumbly.
Add egg, sugar and wine; mix until dough is completely moistened.
Place dough on a flat surface and work into a ball.
Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate at least one hour.

Butter a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Reserve 1/3 of pastry for lattice decoration.
On a lightly floured surface roll out remaining dough to a 12-inch circle.
Place dough in buttered tart pan.
Prick bottom of pastry shell several times with a fork.
Spread jam in pastry shell.
Roll out reserved dough 1/8 inch thick.
Using a pastry cutter or sharp knife, cut dough into ¾-inch strips.
Lay strips across tart to make a lattice.
Brush dough with beaten egg.
Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown.
Let stand at least 30 minutes before removing from pan.
Cut into thin slices…and...

Buon Appetito!
Wine and Food pairing suggestions by Joel Berman, owner of Berman's Fine Wines.

For the Prosciutto e Fichi

2012 Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
Crisp and very dry with excellent fruit and style. No wood. $12.99.

For the Zuppa di Polpettine
2011 Barbera d'Asti "Five Vines" - Lamorandina.

Full bodied with wonderful, deep spice flavors, this barbera blending grapes from 5 Piedmongt vineyards is outstanding. $19.99.

For the Chicken Marsala and Zucchini Saute
2010 Rosso di Montalcino-Uccelliera. From Andrea Cortenese, one of the greatest Brunello producers, the "Brunello" is all but name. Medium /full bodied, spicy and elegant, this 100% sangiovese wine is a great value at $24.99.

For the Crostata di Marmellata

Moscato d'Asti - La  Morandina. Slightly frizzante (sparkling), 5.5% alcohol, this wine has wonderful sweet, but not cloying apricot and citrus flavors. $17.99.

Tips for your friends with dietary restrictions by Shari Solomon, certified nutritionist and owner of Cocoa Plum Nutrition.

Once again the European Dinner Parties program has come up with a delicious meal.

As with all Italian meals there are many courses.  So for those of you that are trying to manage your weight just take small portions of each dish.  With these many tastes and flavors you are guaranteed to be satisfied.  

Any of you who are careful about how much saturated fat you eat, the best thing you can do is to have just the figs for the appetizer; limit the number of meatballs and keep the portion sizes reasonable.  Also asking the chef to use low-fat Parmesan and chicken broth couldn't hurt.

My mother-in-law just made the Zuppa di Polpettine for Thanksgiving. On my crazy diet I can not have gluten. I had to leave out the meatballs and it was just as delicious that way. If you are on a gluten free diet, then pass up the dessert. Why not ask for a couple more figs to end the meal.

And for those of you concerned about salt, you too, will have to stick with the figs only for appetizer and kindly ask the cook ahead of time to substitute low-salt chicken broth, unsalted butter and low sodium Parmesan.  

Bon Appetito!

The Italy Learning Experience and Travel Information
Italy Learning Experience

The goal of the Italy Learning Experience is to give you a better idea of the country and its citizens. Some items are listed on this page. Direct links offer more information. It's educational and fun.

Denmark Travel Information
The Travel Information also refers you to the European Travel Resource Center and its Italy section. Note that special European Dinner Party savings will be available from March 2014.

Both sections include many links to additional information. You can click the direct link or, if you prefer, cut+paste the web address into your browser. If you'd like to know other facts on each country, please let us know at the end of this page.
Italy Learning Experience
Quotes from from famous Italian people

The quote "Everything you see I owe to spaghetti" is from the Italian-born actress Sophia Loren.

Other Sophia Loren quotes
- Spaghetti can be eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner.
- Sex appeal is fifty percent what you've got and fifty percent what people think you've got.
- I'm like a giraffe. I even walk like a giraffe with a long neck and legs. It's a pretty dumb animal, mind you.

And here are two Italian "food" quotes from Lady Gaga, born as Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta

- I wanted to be a skinny little ballerina but I was a voluptuous little Italian girl whose dad had meatballs on the table every night.

- If your mother cooks Italian food, why should you go to a restaurant?

For other quotes from famous Italian people go to

Proverbi Italiani

Try out your Italian and see if you guess many other Italian proverbs at

Famous Italian people

Some like Leonardo da Vinci and Christopher Columbus are very well known.

Here are some other you may not be that familiar with

Italian Fairy Tales for children…and maybe adults as well…

Probably not as know as the Brothers Grimm (Germany) and Hans Christian Andersen (Denmark) but here's a collection of Italian folktales in "Il Pentamerone", a 17th century fairy tale collection by the Italian poet Giambattista Basile.

Traditions in Italy

Italy is a big country and Italians from Sicily, Campania and Veneto have customs that can vary widely from each other. Italian families celebrate traditions that run much deeper than the clichés you see in mobster movies and chain restaurants. This regional diversity makes it a little hard to make generalizations about Italian custom, but at the same time, the variations form a rich tapestry of cultural influences. For details on many subjects click this link:

Talking about Food and Italy…here are the 10 most common errors in Italian Food Traditions…

While Italian cuisine is one of the most famous in the world, it is also one of the most misunderstood. For instance, did you know that Spaghetti Bolognese, the world's most popular Italian recipe, is almost impossible to find in a restaurant in Bologna. As a "Foodie" you're probably interested in the others too…

The Culture of Italy

Think music, architecture, paintings, movies…Italy has it all. This Wikepedia article gives you all the details. Since travelers often want to attend a performance at one of the great Italian opera houses, the Italy Travel Information gives a list of all the major ones with websites for "looking at what is going on when you are there." (cut+paste)

Italy Facts…and Rome Facts

You or many of your friends may want to visit Italy…it's the most popular country in Europe for American travelers. Here are some facts you may not have been aware of…

62 Facts about Italy

93 Facts about Rome

Italy Travel Information

In this section you'll find special travel tips for Italy. For more information visit the Italy pages in the European Travel Research Center. Direct links to other useful sites are included. All pages will be expanded in 2014.

100+ Things you might want to know if you're visiting Italy

Vanessa DellaPasqua is the chief editor of Italy in SF. Born and raised in the culinary paradise of Italy, Romagna, she moved to the Bay Area in 2001.

She was born into a culinary family and grew up in the restaurant business, and she realized early on that her core passions were food and travel. She decided to make a business out of these passions.

She enjoys learning about the little idiosyncrasies that make a visit to Italy so interesting, the small traditions, the interesting customs… so, she offers you a cheat-sheet for Italy with the following link.

Driving in Italy - enjoy reading these three articles, and more importantly, benefiting from it!

Contrary to popular opinion, anarchy does not rule the roads in Italy except in Naples. Elsewhere, however, there is a certain joie de vivre, a live-and-let-live attitude (to a point) about road-sharing, a sense of creativity,  of endless possibilities for improvisation, an opportunity to think outside the box – in other words, a dystopian sort of order (even etiquette) to things. And being in sync with that order will make you right with the Italian universe of drivers, undetectable as a tourist, and able to rent cars without signing up for the collision damage waiver. (But that last tip I'm not sure I would follow myself!)

And here are a few more tips from the Lonely Planet Guide…with a listing of some "Top Drives." (cut+paste)

And from Once in a Lifetime…

Music performances in Italy

Even the Zuppa di Polpettine in Polly's menu sounds like music, and as a traveler you can decide to attend one of the spectacular events, such as the open-air performances in the Arena of Verona or the Bath of Caracalla in Rome. The link below offers a listing of the major Opera Houses in Italy (with links). (cut+paste)

And don't forget to look at the inside of the famous Opera Houses by using this Google link…are you ready to go? The Italy pages in the European Travel Research Center will show you where you can book the tickets in North America.

Art in Italy

The artistic tradition is deeply rooted in Italy and most travelers will enjoy visiting some of the many museums. Many regions of Italy have developed independently after the fall of the Roman Empire and now with the Italian Renaissance the next heyday of the art scene has been reached. Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci influenced the Renaissance while Bernini did it for the Baroque. For art lovers, Italy is a paradise with an invaluable wealth of works and places. Reservations are important for many, especially in Florence.

Important notes about visiting museums in Florence:

Reservations for museums in Florence:

Reservations for museums in Italy:

Unusual accommodations in Italy

Monasteries and Convents

Many monasteries and convents have rooms for rent. These rooms are often economical. Some may offer shared baths or kitchens and have curfew hours. If you're looking for a unique cultural experience with safe and quiet accommodations, consider this option. You can find these monasteries and convents with rooms for rent throughout Italy, in cites and in the countryside. Monastery Stays is a booking service for lodging in Italian monasteries and convent guest houses.


For a relaxing break from the intensity, traffic, and obligatory museums of mainstream Italy, head for the rugged hills and settle down in an agriturismo.

An agriturismo (farmhouse in English) is primarily a farm with a number of rooms and / or apartments available for guests. Most agriturismi produce wine or olive oil, and often grain, cheese, honey or jam as well. Stay in rustic, often recently restored, farmhouses on quiet and beautiful estates. Sometimes there is also a restaurant serving local specialties, often prepared with own products of the farm. Such restaurants are favored with Italians for a nice lunch with the family on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

In an agriturismo you will experience the authentic Italy amidst vineyards, olive groves, hills or mountains. For that reason, a car is essential if you choose to stay in one. The following articles offer additional information.

And here's a listing of some of the best places to stay…and why.

This link offers agriturismi all over Italy:

Stay at a trullo

A stay in a trullo, the unique conical structures found around Alberobello, Italy can be a nice experience. The trulli zone of Alberobello is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a fascinating place to visit. For more about trulli (singular trullo) and Alberobello, see Alberobello Trulli Pictures. The location of the trulli valley around Alberobello is shaded on the Puglia map. Trulli have been modernized but are generally fairly small inside so don't expect spacious living quarters.

Book a Trullo:

And to end the Italy Travel Information on this are Ten Non-Touristy things to do in Rome.

Enjoy Polly's Italian dinner and tell us what other information you would like to know for each country.