The Tornesi Brunello Winery


About fifteen years ago we first visited the Tornesi winery on a Brunello wine buying trip. Since then we’ve been back every year. The owner, Maurizio Tornesi, has become a friend, and we’ve watched his winery grow and transform…always for the better.

On our visit last week we joined the family for lunch in their home. Maurizio’s almost ninety year old mother, Renata, showed us her chicken coop and introduced us to each of her chickens. Although she gets around supported by a cane she still manages to clean the chicken coop early every morning, and collect eggs for the family’s home-made pasta and scrumptious frittate. Renata made sure we knew that our delicious potato frittata served at lunch owes its flavor to the freshness of her eggs. I can hardly disagree; anything made with fresh eggs is distinctly better.

Lunch was simple and delicious: fave & pecorino, homemade pasta, potato frittata, fruit for dessert, and minestra for the nonna. All accompanied by some Rosso di Montalcino.




Fave just picked from the garden, with pecorino cheese:



Minestra for Nonna Renata:


Melon & strawberries for dessert:


Renata and I sat next to each other at lunch and she was curious to understand what I was doing with my iPhone and Snapchat story, so I gave her a lesson in Snapchat…bridging the generations! How fun!


Maurizio’s wife…also Renata…loves having guests with the family for meals and it’s something she’s used to. Renata comes from a family of six sisters, all with families of their own, and most of the time impromptu get-togethers happen at her house.
When we first met Maurizio his father was still alive, although frail, and Maurizio was taking over the full management of the winery. Years passed, and as Maurizio and Renata’s two daughters became adults, Maurizio pinned his hopes on their eventually taking over the family winery. Instead, they opened a coffee bar in Montalcino and it looked like the family-owned aspect of the business might be coming to an end.

Instead, daughter Elisa, has drifted back to the business, drawn by a lifelong love of winemaking that she has lived and breathed since she was a little girl. Maurizio is thrilled and is grooming her to take over every aspect of the business. The instinct and passion for producing great Brunello is something she has always felt, first with her grandfather and then her father, as she trailed them in hand-picking the grapes, the harvest, care of the vines. Elisa now travels with Maurizio to wine fairs worldwide, most recently to Los Angeles.

Elisa demonstrates a cleverness beyond her wine-making expertise. She designed these chairs made from old Tornesi wine barrels:


Bottling, labelling and boxing is done on site at the winery.


Tornesi wine-making has existed since the mid-1800’s, and Maurizio’s antecedents (I’m not sure exactly how many great-great-great grandparents ago) have been making wine for the past 500 years…half a millenium ago! Last week Maurizio shared his family story with us, dating back to the siege upon Montalcino in the 1500’s. I don’t think I know anyone else who can directly trace their family back so many years. In 1969 Maurizio’s father Gino was one of the first to register his vines as Brunello within the Brunello Consorzio. Later on in 1993 Maurizio began production and bottling with the first vintage of Rosso di Montalcino and then in 1998 with Brunello. Initially their wine was stored in a cellar beneath the family home, then in 2009 Maurizio built a much larger cellar with a gorgeous terrace overlooking the Montalcino hills and a tasting room for visitors.


The Tornesi family has five hectares of land and produce 60 quintals of wine per hectare. The vines are from seven to thirty years old. Only organic fertiliser is used and no herbicides. The harvest is done manually in October and November, mostly by Maurizio and a few local workers.

Maurizio’s winery produces Brunello Riserva, Brunello, Rosso di Montalcino, IGT (a step above table wine), Brunello Grappa and olive oil. The winery is walking distance from the town center of Montalcino; well worth a visit!



Secret Rome: Courtyards

The Palazzo Borghese trumps all other courtyards for its beauty; the photograph below features one of the many sculptures to be seen in this courtyard. The courtyard is enormous and majestic and is still owned by the powerful Borghese family, with the exception of some apartments that have been sold.


How often have you strolled through Rome’s historic center and wondered what’s behind the enormous wooden doors of each palazzo you pass? I often do, hoping to catch a glimpse of what’s behind these doors. During the day the doors are frequently kept open allowing resident’s cars to enter and exit. On the  weekends and during the porter’s off hours the huge doors are closed and access to each palazzo is through a smaller door carved out of the larger door.

When I first came to Rome and met my husband he lived in a palazzo just like this: Palazzo Ricci. It’s one of the most splendid palazzi in Rome and I was enchanted by the big door and the beauty that lay behind it. It’s as if you’re in a fairy tale and gaining access to a secret garden each time you enter. We lived in this palazzo for a number of years but each time I’m in the area I stop by and stroll through the courtyard, admiring the frescoes and the architecture.


When you’re visiting the historic part of Rome and find an open palazzo door take a peek inside. You’ll usually have the pleasure of glimpsing a gorgeous fountain, garden, frescoes and sculptures. And if the porter is there he may just let you walk inside to have a better glance at the courtyard. Most are hundreds of years old, owned by a powerful Roman family, so each palazzo is steeped in a rich history. These days many of the families have either sold or rented out apartments within their palazzi due to the high cost of upkeep.

Below is the Palazzo Capponi Antonelli courtyard.


Once a year there is a chance to see many of these courtyards open and accessible to the public. Cortili Aperti (Open Courtyards) takes place one weekend in May so if you’re in Rome in May you won’t want to miss this opportunity. During Cortile Aperti the participating palazzi also feature artisans at work, music and art shows so there’s much more to enjoy in addition to the courtyards themselves. There are hundreds of lovely courtyards in Rome and Cortili Aperti features only a few dozen courtyards. What’s open that weekend simply scrapes the surface of the vast treasures to be seen behind palazzi doors.

Here are artisans at work restoring paintings in the Palazzo Sacchetti courtyard.


Take the time to explore Rome, its palazzi and courtyards. In many ways they are the key to Rome’s rich history and culture. I’ve captured only a few photographs of what is in store for everyone who slows down their pace, and takes in every gorgeous building in the labyrinth of streets in Rome’s historic center.

Here are a few more photographs of the magnificent Palazzo Borghese and its courtyard:




Many of the palazzi boast lovely fountains within their courtyards, such as this one at the Palazzo Cenci:


I’ve walked by the Palazzo Taverna dozens of times and had no idea what a beautiful courtyard lay behind its unimpressive entrance. The palazzo is not one, but five separate buildings attached together. It’s almost large enough to be considered a small village of its own. Below is a detail of the ivy-laden castle within the palazzo complex.


Just to the left of the castle, in the center of the courtyard is a lovely fountain:


A sculpture in the Palazzo Malvezzi Campeggi courtyard:


Piazza Mattei’s Fontana delle Tartarughe was designed by Giacomo della Porta and built from 1581-1588. It features four bronze youths and four dolphins, sculpted by the Florentine sculptor Taddeo Landini. Four bronze turtles are on the upper basin, quite probably sculpted by Bernini.


Palazzo Costaguti is also located in Piazza Mattei. The palazzo was built in the 16th century and then purchased by the Costaguti family. The courtyard is filled with exquisite frescoes, like the one below, and were painted by various artists including Guercino, Domenichino, Cavalier d’Arpino and Lanfranco.


Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Fresh Berries




Pancakes, even when they’re as fluffy as can be, take a back seat to these lemon ricotta pancakes. Fluffy isn’t even the word I’d use; these are delightfully creamy. The lemon zest shines through beautifully, and of course you can’t go wrong smothering these masterpieces with honey and fresh berries. They’re sinfully delicious but given the ingredients you could almost say these pancakes make for a healthy breakfast or dessert: eggs, fresh ricotta, berries, milk and honey.

Gabriella (snapchat: gabriellaottima) is giving flavorofitaly a jumpstart on everything to do with broadcast media, and turns out she can dazzle in the kitchen as well! This is a recipe of her own, that she’s developed from recipes she’s found in cookbooks and online, along with her own tweaks and numerous trials. The end result is pretty amazing, one you can’t help but enjoy. Here’s the recipe…


Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Fresh Berries

Serves 3-4

Delicious for breakfast or dessert. Makes about 10-12 medium pancakes.


Zest of two large lemons
Juice of 1/2 large lemon
Flour, 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces / about 3/4 cup)
Baking powder, 1 teaspoon
Salt, a generous pinch
Eggs, 4 large, whites and yolks separated
Ricotta cheese, 300 grams (10 1/2 ounces)
Sugar, 30 grams (2 tablespoons)
Vanilla, 1 teaspoon
Milk, whole, 125 millileters (1/2 cup)
Butter, softened, 2-3 tablespoons for spreading on the pancakes, plus additional butter to cover the bottom of the cooking pan (about 1/2 tablespoon)
Honey, for drizzling on the pancakes
Mixed berries: raspberries, blueberries, and sliced strawberries

Cooking Instructions

Whisk the egg yolks, ricotta, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla together until creamy.


Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together.
Beat the egg whites until stiff.
Add the dry ingredients, alternately with the milk, to the egg & ricotta mixture, stirring until combined.
Stir one third of the egg whites into the batter.
Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the batter until fully combined.
Cook the pancakes on a hot, buttered griddle, turning once bubbles form.

Spread a small amount of butter on each pancake just before serving.
Drizzle the pancakes with honey and top with assorted berries.




Baked Fresh Anchovies with Capers & Parmesan Cheese

It’s time to toss away all your preconceived notions about anchovies and give them a second chance. The anchovy in your Caesar salad or on top of a pizza..packed in oil and salt…is not the same thing as a fresh anchovy. A fresh anchovy is a tiny, delicately flavored oily white fish. And there’s more….

Fresh Fruit Photographs

A compilation of fruit pictures: from our garden & orchard, and what I pick up here and there at Italian markets. I love to share fruit photographs so I’ll be adding to this post over time. You’ll also find fruit recipes on this blog, and much much more on Italian food, wine, travel & culture. With lots…

Chicken with red & yellow peppers


Traditionally this is a summer dish; it’s one of the wonderful ways to use the abundance of red and yellow peppers from the garden. It happens to be great just about anytime of the year…warm & hearty, it falls squarely into the great comfort food category. This dish is usually served as a main course,…

A glance at the FloraCult Plant & Flower Market

It was my first time to attend the annual FloraCult plant and flower show. I was expecting something more formal, elaborate and extensive but instead it was more like a country fair. A beautiful, thoroughly enjoyable country fair! There were flowers, fruit trees and plants from throughout of Italy. A Sicilian producer was selling delicious oranges, avocados…

Radiatori Pasta with Zucchini, Cherry Tomatoes, Ricotta & Fresh Mint

We’re moving into late spring and pasta dishes are already starting to take on a light and fresh twist. Not too terribly far south of Rome there are already some luscious tomatoes and tender zucchini available. And our mint plants are exploding with leaves, just begging to be used. I picked up some fresh sheep’s ricotta…