Lots of Style Variety Under the Tuscan Sun

Lots of Style Variety Under the Tuscan Sun

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Tuscany is anything but monolithic in its style and tastes, and these 10 wines show it: There’s the Chianti sensitivities of Ruffino applied to an IGT or “super Tuscan;” the French-style Monteverro blends from the Maremma region; classic, fruity, yet somewhat-brooding Brunellos from Piccini; and affordable, mostly traditional Chiantis; one from organic grapes; and from Badia, a Coltibouono. We’ve even thrown in a white wine for variety.

2011 Ruffino “Modus” Toscana rosso IGT ($25) — An enjoyable and typical mix of Chianti and Bordeaux styles with merlot and cabernet sauvignon to give fruitiness and sangiovese to provide acidity and raspy tannins. Dark fruits, some chocolate, some coffee.

2010 Monteverro Toscana chardonnay ($100) — More California than European in style, this is a big complex wine with eau-de-vie notes and flavors of roasted apples, some caramel, and lots of toasty wood.

2010 Terra di Monteverro Toscana rosso IGT ($60) — Bordeaux blend with a fair amount of red fruit and a little lingering sweetness at the end — cherries, some caramel, some chocolate, dusty tannins, a tad chunky.

2010 Monteverro “Tinata” Toscano rosso IGT ($100) — My Pick of the Litter: An excellent syrah/grenache blend with some light smokiness, ripe and smooth cherry flavors, a little dark chocolate and a good rasp in the finish. Smooth tannins, nice savory notes and pleasant minerality.

2010 Monteverro Toscano rosso IGT (140) — Made from all Bordeaux grapes, the wine has a soft, almost powdery fruitiness — mainly cherries — but with good pecan-shell tannins at the edges and fair acidity in the finish. Toss in some chocolate shavings at the end.

2012 Coltibuono “Cetamura” Chianti ($10) — Very nice rounded cherry and red raspberry fruit with a little chocolate, good acidity and balance, and typical sangiovese raspiness in the finish. Excellent value.

2011 Coltibuono “RS” Chianti Classico ($15) — More lush fruit than most chiantis, with lots of cherries and cranberries packed in, but well-structured with a dusty, lean finish.

2010 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico ($20) — Made from organic grapes, it is fragrant and powdery in its tastes with juicy cherries and a fair finish — but a little sappy in the end. I tried this over several hours, and it seems to have some problems in knitting together.

2009 Piccini “Villa al Cortile” Brunello di Montalcino ($60) — Big and almost juicy with layers of complexity — rich fruitiness, barrel notes, raspy finish, firm tannins. Long on the palate.

2008 Piccini “Villa al Cortile” Brunello di Montalcino riserva ($80) — Very, very good, smooth and mellow, with dark cherry flavors, some balsamic and gamy notes, and a raspy sangiovese finish.

Read More on The World of Wine.

Forty 40th Birthday Party Ideas That Will Make You Downright Excited for the Big Four-Oh

Forty is the new 30. It feels good to be turning the big 4-0. You&rsquove accomplished so much, and you&rsquore right where you want to be. But the confusion of figuring out the best way to celebrate this milestone is bringing you back to the directionless chaos of your 20s (don&rsquot get us wrong, being 24 was fun, but Mountain Dew and mango vodka?). Fret no more&mdashwe&rsquove come up with 40 different 40th birthday party ideas that will make this year one to remember. (Pro tip: book your babysitter now.)

Under the Tuscan Sun

Cloven hoofprints were about the last thing I expected to see in Tuscany. But there they were, dozens of them, neatly stamped in the soft mud surrounding a puddle on a dirt road here in deepest Chianti.

"Worse," replied Tracee, a guide for Backroads, the adventure travel company. "Wild boars. If you surprise them, they might charge you."

In my extensive time in Tuscany, now rapidly approaching 24 hours, I had already been sucker-punched by its vineyards, cypress-lined roads, tufts of bright-yellow broom and restored stone villas that had me daydreaming of early retirement. As far as I could ascertain, the only thing remotely dangerous about the place was choosing a mediocre vintage of Chianti Classico.

And about the only thing I knew about wild boars, or cinghiale, is that they can be transformed into delicious sausages. But it turns out that in their presausage state, boars can be as aggressive as a hungover truck driver on the Autostrada. With their tusks, these 200-pound beasts look like a Tasmanian devil crossed with an exceptionally unattractive pig. Get caught between a female and her brood, and it's anyone's guess as to who becomes sausage first. Who knew that terror lurked in the rolling hills of Chianti? I was here for a good walk with Backroads, and I had a week to spare. So, apparently, do other Americans, because Backroads runs about a dozen of these six-day walks through Chianti country each year. In a land that's a byword for languorous days, it is Tuscany for the time-pressed.

Our motley group was picked up on a June afternoon at Santa Maria Novella, Florence's exquisitely seedy train station. Here, tired Fascist architecture greets rich Americans attired in spandex dutifully avoiding pickpockets. There were 15 of us, ranging in age from 38 to 75. Among us were academics recently sprung from the classroom, a pair of bankers, a guy who owned a handful of KFCs and a number of people in their 50s who no longer did much of anything but enjoy themselves regularly on trips like these, their profitable livelihoods a distant memory to be glossed over during cocktails. We were a well-heeled, well-tanned and well-traveled bunch who had vigorously shopped for Gore-Tex and would drop close to three grand for six densely packed days in Chianti.

Our guides, the aforementioned Tracee and the equally bright-eyed Erin, were lively and alert twentysomethings with the vigor, curiosity and unfailing politeness you need for this kind of job. None of us would have been up to their work.

Our taste of Chianti, a compact piece of real estate between Florence and Siena, would involve rural walks and explorations of towns like Castellina in Chianti, Radda in Chianti and Gaiole in Chianti. Our final walk would bring us to the promised splendor of San Gimignano.

After driving for 90 minutes southeast from Florence, we were deposited in Castellina in Chianti for a warm-up hike of less than four miles. This was calculated not for sweat but for stretching muscles and breaking the ice with a bunch of strangers in new boots. We were plunged into the brand-name Tuscan countryside of vineyards, rolling hills and stone farmhouses. The walk took us past fields of wildflowers like the purple Mediterranean pea, the pink convolvulus and fodder vetch that made it appear as if confetti had been strewn in the tall grass. The weather this early June week was ideal, warm 70s by day, balmy 50s by night.

The party line is that the Chianti countryside looks like the backdrop of a Renaissance painting. That was true enough, often enough. But obviously, there are modern aspects to this countryside that we weren't destined to see, like noisy bottling plants that send those fermented grapes all over the world and humdrum towns that are not living postcards awaiting tourist visits. Our seamless walk had been as carefully planned as a military campaign by the brains at Backroads.

As we walked up a stony path, we could spy the spires of Pietrafitta peeking over the trees. It looked and felt remarkably rural, with the sound of Pietrafitta's church bells wafting on the wind, waist-high grass on either side of the ridge. It was perfect pastoral bliss all the way to the hotel Vescine, our home for the next two nights.

This hotel near Radda in Chianti is a stage set of stone buildings linked by brick walkways overlooking the round, wooded hills. During our stay, the staff seemed to materialize out of those hills. Polite and helpful, I never once heard or saw them coming or going. The buildings, of ivy-covered stone with tiled roofs, were surrounded by roses and olive trees in what amounted to our own little Tuscan village. Dinner at the hotel's restaurant was less than stellar, but we more than made up for it with most everything else we ate.

The second day set the pace. The guides handed out printed directions, of the turn-left-at-the-fountain-after-one-mile variety. In six days of walking, no one ended up in Sicily.

The guides gave a "route rap," describing the difficulty of the day's walk, the sights we'd see and places they encouraged us to linger. They laid out snacks that we could stash in our day packs, from bananas to PowerBars. And there was a foot clinic for the newly wounded, where moleskin and bandages were artfully applied to feet unaccustomed to anything more strenuous than a brake pedal.

Today would be a day of "ups and downs," said Tracee. Rolling hills, in other words. And not too different from any other day in that regard. Today's walk was close to ten miles, though there was a shorter option less than two thirds that length. With the exception of one 14-mile day, succeeding days' walks were six or seven miles.

Then we walked. Now a walking trip is a lot like a floating cocktail party. You begin a conversation and then someone else joins you and then someone else has a stone in their shoe, so you don't hear the end of the anecdote about their philandering ex-husband until after lunch.

Or you can walk alone. I often did, because I like to walk alone. The better to hear the cuckoo. I had only heard the mechanical version, which is close. But the real one pays no heed to what o'clock it may be.

Chianti is best seen from a two-footed approach. It's not just the pace but the fact that those famed Tuscan hills are laced with a network of gravel roads that meander through oak forests and wheat fields, past impeccably restored villas and tumbledown ruins awaiting the touch of Frances Mayes. And this being Italy, they weren't put through by some Florentine developer with a renegade bulldozer a few weeks ago. Many date back to Roman times. As to why they're not paved, well, why should they be?

You wouldn't see any of this in a car or on a bicycle. As far as I'm concerned, forget any trip to Tuscany that employs two wheels. A bike requires you to keep one nervous eye on the photogenic landscape, the other on semiarticulated lorries, loose gravel shoulders and teens on whining Vespas who seem inclined to nudge you off the road. And the walking was aided by the use of lightweight telescopic walking sticks that Backroads provides. Useful going uphill, they saved our knees on the descent, even if we did resemble a small army of Pinocchios.

The discovery of the cloven hooves spooked us, and we started talking loudly, as you would in Wyoming bear country, to let them know you're approaching. But the day's picnic made us forget wild animals. We feasted on young and middle-aged pecorino fagioli, the Tuscan white beans, served with oil-packed tuna deeply flavorful sun-dried tomatoes fragrant artichoke hearts that boar sausage a salad of impeccably fresh tomatoes, arugula and basil and an array of Tuscan flat breads.

The setting was the arbor of a homey villa called Le Patrene, owned by Pietro Basile and his American wife, Cindy. I had expected to find hundreds of Americans and Brits in identically restored villas in Chianti, furiously composing their memoirs of restoring these same villas. Not here, fortunately. Their villa had casually displayed 15th- and 16th-century paintings and sculptures, while a soccer match buzzed on a TV with lousy reception. Now this was real life under the Tuscan sun. And the Chianti from their vineyard was nothing short of delicious.

In the late afternoon, we came to a hilltop borgo, or hamlet, called Poggio San Polo. Here was Podere Le Rose, a cooking school inside a rambling family home. For the next six hours, Paola Bevilacqua de' Mari taught us to make pasta and turn it into tagliatelle with porcini and ravioli with sage. Under her tutelage, we roasted and stuffed peppers with arborio rice and resuscitated that culinary cliché, beloved by devotees of Olive Garden, the humble tiramisu. But this "school" had none of your Sub-Zero airs. This was Nonna's kitchen, with a stove that might have come from Sears and plastic tablecloths. Fueled by liberal doses of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Chianti's white wine, and of Chianti Classico, this cooking school was about as disciplined as kindergarten.

Tasting Chianti was one of the joys of this trip. It is fondly remembered as the wine that you emptied as fast as you could from its straw-covered bottle: You needed that bottle to hold a dripping candle for purposes of seduction in your dorm room. But it's a wine that's long since been rescued from mediocrity and there have been a run of stellar years of late, including 1997 and 1999. And good Chianti is ridiculously cheap.

We moved on and spent two nights near Gaiole in Chianti, at Albergo l'Ultimo Mulino, where I had a large room that overlooked the outdoor pool. That pool was ice-cold and numbingly refreshing after our 14-mile day of walking. Dinner was stunning, with ravioli of spinach and ricotta followed by roasted pork in Vin Santo. It was made even more spectacular by a 1997 Rocca di Montegrossi Geremia.

On our final full day, we were driven to the town of Colle di Val d'Elsa and commenced a seven-mile walk to San Gimignano. Early on, we came to the crest of a hill and had the killer view of the trip. A few miles away were the 14 stone towers of San Gimignano on the horizon, the foreground a crazy quilt of wheat fields and cypress and poppies. If there had been archangels on the wing, it would have been only slightly improved.

Our view changed by the time we got to San Gimignano and found the narrow streets thronged with bossy groups of German tourists doing their best to eat every last spoonful of gelato in town. But around 5 p.m. there was a great sucking sound as the Teutonic hordes went through the city gates and back to their tour buses.

By 6 p.m. we had retaken the streets and the locals seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Early the next morning, we toured this town that had once boasted 72 towers, practically a medieval Manhattan. And there is much to see here, including the allegorical frescoes in the Museo Civico that look like a pastiche of the talents of Hieronymus Bosch and Larry Flynt.

It was shortly after the daily German invasion had begun that I finally saw a wild boar. He was not on a rampage, chasing panicked Bavarians as they dropped their dripping gelato and ran for their buses. The poor, dusty thing had been stuffed years ago and was now wheeled out every morning by a butcher whose shop was festooned with cinghiale sausage. Like my six-day stroll through Chianti, he was Tuscany tamed.

Podcast Episode #10: Grow An Italian Garden With Seeds From Italy


In April, Seeds from Italy received a shipment of tomato and pepper seeds that passed extensive testing for plant diseases required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Selection and quantity is limited, but most of the bestselling varieties are available at this writing, and more are expected to be certified for import in the future. Check growitalian.com (use code dreamgarden to save 10%) for current availability.

Transcript with Show Notes Embedded:

Will Nagengast: The Italians, I think probably as much or more than most other cultures really value heirloom seeds. I can think of very few other places where a specific variety of seed has been passed down from the hands of the Nonna or the Papa (nonno) to their kids, and the kids pass it down to their kids, and those kids pass it down, and everyone remembers the one famous eggplant, for example, or something that is really emblematic of their family or their city or the region where their family hails from.

Kathy McCabe: This is Kathy McCabe. Welcome to the Dream of Italy Podcast. You know me from the PBS travel series, Dream of Italy, and the award-winning website and publication. Join me as we explore the sights and sounds of Bell’Italia. From the canals of Venice, to the piazzas of Puglia. From the fashion houses of Milan- Ciao, Bella!- to the vineyards of Tuscany. Hop on. It’s going to be a great ride. Andiamo!

First, some words from our podcast sponsors. Are you dreaming of traveling to Italy? Read the award-winning book, Love in a Tuscan Kitchen: Savoring Life through the Romance, Recipes, and Traditions of Italy written by Sheryl Ness. The book takes you on a journey of discovery and love as her life is forever transformed by a trip to Italy. Find it on Amazon.

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Kathy: So I’m thrilled today to have one of our sponsors for our new special, Dream of Italy: Travel, Transform, and Thrive. I have Will and Lynn from Seeds From Italy (use code dreamgarden to save 10%) with me today to talk about gardening Italian style. And if any of you have had an Italian American grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle, anything, you know the garden is like the church of the house. So Will and Lynn, thank you so much for joining me today from Kansas.

Lynn Byczynski: It’s our pleasure.

Will: Thanks Kathy.

Kathy: So Lynn, I have a soft spot in my heart for you because I know that you are a publisher, as well as the farmer, and now you import seeds from Italy, so tell me how all of this came about.

Lynn: Sure. Well, I started market farming in 1987 with my husband, Dan. We grew about four acres of certified organic vegetables. And in 1992, I started a magazine for other market gardeners called, Growing For Market. And that has just celebrated its 30th anniversary. And we have subscribers all over the United States and Canada. We have digital, as well as print editions too. In 2010, one of the people who advertised in Growing For Market called me and placed his regular January ad and said, “I had hoped not to be doing this because I thought I had sold the business, but it fell through.” And when he said that, there was just this realization that this was the next thing that we were going to do in our family. I don’t know how I knew, I just immediately knew that this was where we were going. So we negotiated with him and we eventually bought the company from him and we took it over in July of 2011, and so it’s been almost 10 years that we’ve been doing Seeds From Italy.

Kathy: And anyone who follows me, or knows anything beyond the surface about me, knows that I believe in signs and serendipity, especially when it comes to Italy. So I love how you knew that this is what you needed to do. So Will, tell me about these seeds. And it’s an Italian company, correct? And you’re selling their seeds here in the United States.

Will: That’s right. Yeah, so we import seeds primarily from an Italian company called Franchi Sementi and they’re maybe eighth or ninth generation now.

Lynn: I think they’re in their seventh generation. They were founded in 1783.

Will: So 250 years old.

Kathy: That’s young. That’s young for Italy, right? Young for Italy.

Will: Yes, by Italian standards, but they’re a wonderful family. Giampiero Franchi is the owner still, so it’s really cool. They have been doing things for much longer than we have, so we have a lot to learn from them, but they’re a really well known seed producer in Europe. They distribute seeds all across Europe, and they’re widely considered one of the better seed companies in Europe so we feel really fortunate that we were able to bring their seeds here.

Kathy: And where are they based? Where in Italy?

Will: They are in Bergamo.

Kathy: Which is a beautiful, beautiful place. So what is it, if you need to summarize… What is it about Italian seeds that makes them so special?

Will: Sure. Well the Italians, I think probably as much, or more than most other cultures really value heirloom seeds. I can think of very few other places where a specific variety of seed has been passed down from the hands of the Nonna or the Papa (nonno) to their kids, and the kids pass it down to their kids, and those kids pass it down, and everyone remembers the one famous eggplant, for example, or something that is really emblematic of their family or their city or the region where their family hails from. So I think the Italians, they focus on vegetables more than most other cultures and cuisines.

Really, it seems like having the freshest vegetables and the highest quality vegetables is the heart of their culinary tradition, so that’s really important to them, and we find it translates really well with really high quality seeds and awesome produce that we grow here.

Lynn: One of the things that I like to hold up as an example of that is our selection of summer squash zucchinis. We have 24 varieties and almost every one of them is named for the place that it originated. And so we have a very dark green zucchini from Milan, and we have a very pale, pale green from Sicilia, and every place in between, and people recognize that. They like to grow vegetables from the region where their families came from.

Kathy: And cuisine in Italy is so town specific, so regional, and even Italians, since it’s such a young country, they really are more connected to the city they’re from, the region they’re from, then to even saying they’re Italian. So those very local stories are really important to Italians and to Italian Americans. Do you feel like you have a lot of Italian American customers?

Will: Yeah, definitely.

Will: We have a lot of people that don’t have Italian heritage as well too, but certainly, probably every other name on the customer’s list is very obviously someone whose family hails from Italy. So, it’s pretty cool.

Kathy: Well, for me, and when we’ve spoken about your involvement with our new PBS special, I think I shared that I spent every day of my childhood at my grandparents’ house a mile from my parents’ house. My parents both worked. They were my daycare. My grandfather had the most extraordinary garden filled with pumpkin, and sunflowers, and roses, and anything you could plant in the ground. And I had a worm farm in his garden, and so it’s not just the food, it’s the memories. It’s the connection to my heritage that if you ask me one of the number one memories of my childhood, it is this garden which seemed really magical. And I think that’s probably true for a lot of people with Italian heritage and without.

Lynn: We hear that all the time from our customers. People have such wonderful memories of time spent with their family and the garden as children. And it’s something that we really hope the next generation passes on to their children. And this has been one of the good things that’s happened in 2020 is that people returned to gardening in such a big way. Everybody wanted to have a vegetable garden. And it was such a solace for so many people to be able to grow these wonderful things that they remembered from their family histories and to spend time with family in someplace that was safe, and outdoors, and it was just a really good time for gardening.

Kathy: No, and I appreciate that. And in this special, we of course talk about Italians and their connection to the land, that the land has almost a life of itself in Italy. Also family, and I think it’s something like, you’ll appreciate this, 70% of Italian businesses are family owned and run. And so there’s so much more that goes into this idea of gardening, and also just being more in touch with ourselves and what we’re eating. I’d love to know, especially since I know you’ve had a great year, what are some of the most popular seeds from Italy, and why?

Will: Well, it seems like many categories have one incredibly popular product. We’ve got one Roma type of bean, called the Super Marconi, (use code dreamgarden to save 10%) which is maybe our best-selling product. And that one in particular, it’s the bean everyone thinks of when they think of a Roma bean.

Kathy: Yeah.

Will: Herbs are usually quite popular. The Genovese basil, which maybe you know this, unless it’s grown in Genoa, it has to have a different name and it can’t be called Genovese, so Franchi produces theirs in Bergamo, so it’s called Italiano Classico, (use code dreamgarden to save 10%) but it’s the same variety. That’s incredibly popular. There’s a gigantic parsley from Napoli that’s really incredibly popular as well.

Lynn: There’s a lot of specialty items that you don’t see in the normal American seed catalog. The first one that comes to mind is the Cucuzza (use code dreamgarden to save 10%). You may remember the Louis Prima song about my little Cucuzza. A Cucuzza is actually a vegetable, and it’s a kind of like a cross between the summer squash and a winter squash. It’s also known as the Pergola Vine because it climbs up pergolas and creates dense shade. It’s a beautiful, beautiful plant, and we love to grow that one, but that’s not something that’s very common in the United States.

Kathy: So if somebody is interested in starting a garden, and they’re not well versed in it. And obviously, most of our listeners are in the United States, when do they start? Give us a timetable of the year. What’s a good time to get started? I know people… We’re talking, and it’s the winter, people are ordering their seeds now, right?

Lynn: Well, I just posted on our blog, which is on the homepage at growitalian.com,(use code dreamgarden to save 10%) a list of when you should start your seeds indoors based on the frost-free date in your area. So the frost-free date is kind of the benchmark around which you measure everything, and so you’re going to want to back off as many weeks as these plants should be indoors before they’re planted outside. So if you’re going to plant onions, you can plant those three weeks before your frost-free date, but you want to start them eight weeks before you plant them out, so that gives you a way to just kind of look at what your frost-free is, and then back off whatever I just said, 10 or 11 weeks to start them at that time.

Will: But maybe a more…

Kathy: Wonderful.

Will: … answer for that would be, for new farmers in particular, people who want to grow at home and haven’t grown before, there’s a lot of vegetables that you do want to start indoors and then transplant outside. That’s kind of an extra step, and maybe adds a slight bit of complexity, so I think for a lot of people, if it’s their first time and they’re just dabbling, there’s also a lot of things like lettuce or basil, or-

Lynn: Arugula (use code dreamgarden to save 10%)

Will: … arugula, or spinach. And those would all be planted outside, straight in the ground in the early spring, usually after the frost date, maybe for most places, April or something like that, March or April. And then that heralds the start of the spring and summer gardening season. That’s when you’re planting most things that you want to have grow throughout the summer. And then late summer, usually around August, is the time when you might consider starting fall crops and grow through the fall season. Many things will survive until November or something like that.

Kathy: I was going to ask, and people who watch the show know that I can be sort of klutzy and sometimes I don’t cook that well, what is the fool proof for people who are new gardeners? What’s the easiest thing to not mess up, or it really depends on the frost?

Will: Yeah. Yeah.

Kathy: You can get that right.

Will: Mm-hmm (affirmative). There’s some really great lettuce, or chicory, or-

Lynn: Arugula.

Will: … arugula mixes that are all quite easy to grow, and a small packet usually has 6,000 or 7,000 seeds so you have room to make some mistakes. But arugula in particular, you just scatter it, and it will almost certainly come up.

Kathy: Is it a weed? No.

Lynn: It’s a weed outside of Rome apparently, and it will become a little weedy if you let it go to a seed in your garden, but it’s not a bad weed to have, it’s a good weed.

Kathy: It’s delicious. It’s absolutely delicious. And I’m pretty intrigued, if you will humor me, there’s a couple of seeds you can’t get from Italy. Which ones are those and why?

Will: So this year, this has been a major headache for us, the USDA… Actually, this was in fall of 2019 is when this started, but the US Department of Agriculture heavily restricted the import of tomato and pepper seeds, which is something that many people think of Italy when they think of tomatoes or peppers, so that’s a big loss for us, but it is what it is. The USDA is really worried about a tomato and pepper virus called the Brown Rugose virus, which they think has the potential to just decimate commercial tomato production in the US. And so to protect commercial agriculture at large, they’ve more or less banned the imports of those, and that is not an uncommon theme. I think five or six years ago, we weren’t able to bring fava beans over anymore, which is another classic Italian-

Kathy: Oh, definitely.

Will:… thing. They were worried about a pest that can live inside the fava bean. And so usually, there’s some sort of pest or disease concern and that makes the ruling bodies enact restrictions on the importation. And so we’re always dealing with that, and trying to find ways to get our tomato seeds tested and found free of the virus so that we can hopefully import them, and things like this, but it’s… You solve one problem and then there’s another problem next year with something else, so you can just jump around.

Kathy: So let’s cross our fingers for next year for tomatoes, because there’s nothing like Italian tomatoes. How much does the soil… Obviously, we talk about San Marzano tomatoes or tomatoes that grow on the side of Vesuvius as they’re truly the most delicious in the world. How much does flavor change because of the soil?

Lynn: Well, a lot of the things that people think about with regards to a specific tomato, like the San Marzano, or the Vesuvio, are really dependent on the soil and that’s why they have that status in Italy that you can’t call it something unless it’s actually grown in that area. But for the most part, all of these varieties that we import from Italy grow just fine all over the United States, certainly as well as anything else in the same variety. If you can’t grow artichokes in Minnesota, you’re probably not going to have any luck with the Italian artichokes. But if you can grow them in California, they’ll be great for you. So, it’s a regional difference in what people can grow under any circumstances. And there are products that we’re bringing in from Italy that do just great pretty much everywhere.

Kathy: And Lynn, I know you’re famous as a flower farmer.

Lynn: Right.

Kathy: And we’ll link, in our notes, some articles about you and the publication that you run, but give me an idea of some special Italian flowers and seeds that people can get from you.

Lynn: Well, our sunflower collection is really nice, and they’re all branching, open pollinated sunflower varieties. So you can save the seeds from those, if the birds will allow you to. Generally, the birds hop in and get them first, but those are really nice. We also have some beautiful Zinnia (use code dreamgarden to save 10%) seeds that are open pollinated. We have a Cactus Zinnia that produces these great big fluffy heads in gorgeous saturated colors. Those are probably my two favorite things to grow because I’ve always been a cut flower grower, and those are both long stemmed flowers that are wonderful to bring inside for bouquets.

But we have lots of other kinds of flowers too, that are nice in pots and containers. You can grow Geraniums (use code dreamgarden to save 10%) from seed. I don’t know if you have noticed that in Italy, pretty much every doorway and window box has Geraniums spilling out of it in the summer. And to grow that many Geraniums, you pretty much want to grow them from seed because it would get very pricey if you went down and bought the fancy ones at the garden center. So they’re actually very easy to grow and certainly give you a lot of rewards for your efforts.

Will: And Poppies-

Kathy: That’s amazing. Oh, Poppies.

Will: … Poppies too.

Lynn: Poppies are big.

Kathy: Oh, God.

Will: And red Poppies that are so iconic, that they do very well.

Kathy: They are incredible, and also the sunflowers in Tuscany. I brought my dad… Unfortunately he’s since passed away, but I brought him in June of 2019 and we took photos. There were just Poppies everywhere, everywhere, everywhere in Tuscany. And one of my favorite things of course, and people who follow me know, are sunflowers. And my grandfather… I mean, maybe I was little, but those sunflowers were 10 feet tall that he had on the side of his house. And I think something we talk about in this special as well is the Italian appreciation for beauty, that even the color of the vegetable, the flowers, to cut flowers and have them at the dinner table on a regular day, is something Italians do that I think Americans don’t do as much, and something that you can add to your life, not just seeing them in the garden.

Lynn: And it’s so easy to add that to your life, and it benefits your vegetables too because flowers attract the pollinators that you need to pollinate your crops, especially things like your zucchinis and cucumbers and so many of those cucumbers, so they need to be insect pollinated. So if you have a little row of sunflowers in the back of your garden, you’re attracting all kinds of bees and other pollinators.

Kathy: It’s amazing, and it’s amazing how nature works and nature regenerates. And in this special, I know you’ve seen a preview of it, talks about how you give to nature, and nature takes care of you, and regenerates, and they replanted their vines, and it’s something that lasts well beyond us. Is there anything else you could share with our audience that… Some of the common questions people ask when they call, some tidbits that you can give them if they’re thinking about starting an Italian garden, or even if they’re experienced and they’re looking for something new and different?

Will: Sure. Well, we do get a fair amount of people who wonder, “Will these Italian seeds grow here?” And in general, as my mom was mentioning, most of them will. If you live in Southern Texas, you maybe won’t have luck with a variety that-

Lynn: Chicory.

Will: … a chicory or a variety of something that’s grown in the Alps or in the mountainous regions, and vice versa if you live in Vermont or something, you maybe won’t do so well with something that thrives in Sicily or around Rome or anything like that. So I guess the thing people don’t realize is how diverse the climate is in Italy and how you can have… Southern Italy is 100 degrees for much of the summer, and sun every day, and Northern Italy is a much cooler, more temperate climate, and so that’s kind of the same as the US but just in a more compact geography. So yeah, usually it’s just finding the right things for your area and the right varieties.

Lynn: One of the things that really surprised me when we first bought the business was how much attention beans get from Italian Americans. Beans are really, really big and they’re very specific to areas, and so we have a huge selection of beans. And I think that to a lot of people, they can really taste the difference between a lot of beans that look the same, and so that’s been kind of a really interesting thing. The other thing that’s so interesting is the number of chicories that we sell.

Kathy: Oh, I know.

Lynn: Americans are not big chicory eaters, although they are starting to be. We have a few customers on the West coast who are farmers who grow them in huge quantities, many, many acres of them to sell to restaurants. And so I think they will eventually catch on. But gosh, we have so many different varieties of chicory from all these different regions in Northern Italy.

Kathy: And the funny thing, as we wrap up, Italians are so precise about food. They will have a meal, and analyze it for days, so I can imagine it’s the same thing with seeds. Like, “It was this one from this place, and you did this to it.” It’s very invigorating to talk to Italians about food and gardening, isn’t it?

Lynn: Absolutely.

Will: Yeah. I’ll very regularly get stuck on the phone for 30 or 45 minutes talking to somebody who wants to tell me their exact… “Then I put this in the soil, and then I amend with this at 16 weeks. And then at 17 weeks, I cut off the water, and then at 18 weeks I turn it back on again.” And they’ll tell me their whole planting schedule, and it’s great. I learned something new, and frequently there’s someone who… If it’s an 80 year old guy who has been growing for 80 years, he knows way more about it than I do, I’m sure. So, there’s something for me to learn as well.

Kathy: And how can people find you about finding seeds?

Will: Our website is probably the best way. It’s www.growitalian.com (use code dreamgarden to save 10%). We also send out a catalog. We only have the error version in front of us, so this is where we’re finding the little…

Kathy: Oh, I see the… Are those Poppies? Yeah.

Will: There are sunflowers there, yes.

Lynn: Yes, they’re sunflowers.

Kathy: Oh sunflowers, sorry. I just saw the red. Oh, that’s so adorable. The thing is it’s nice to get something in the mail and have it in your hands, right?

Will: Absolutely. Yeah. The second that our catalog is late by a day or two, people start calling and asking where it is, so it’s something that everyone loves to get, which is great. We’re really happy about that.

Kathy: And one of our other themes in the show is passion, Italians and passion. And I can tell, obviously if you’re spending a half an hour with a customer, you’re very passionate about what you do.

Will: Yeah, definitely. And everyone else is so passionate too. Everyone I talk to. What they grow in their garden will be the highlight of their year for a lot of people, so it’s cool and we’re lucky to be able to provide that.

Kathy: Well, thank you so much for sharing with us. And the website again is growitalian.com. (use code dreamgarden to save 10%). We’ll have notes about all of the things you talked about, and links to the seeds. I’d love to ask you guys for a recipe or two also to contribute so people know what to do. I mean, sometimes you have too many zucchini, right?

Lynn: Right.

Will: Absolutely.

Will: Well, great. Thanks.

Lynn: Thanks so much. It was fun.

Will: Yeah. Thanks a lot, Kathy.

Kathy: Order your garden seeds from Seeds From Italy at growitalian.com, and use code dreamgarden to save 10%. For show notes on this episode, visit dreamofitaly.com/10.

Thank you again to our podcast sponsors. Travel Your Tree. Curious about your European roots? Travel Your Tree provides ancestral destination adventures, as unique as you are. With a passion for travel and family history, Lisa and her network of genealogists tour guides provide you with an unforgettable experience tracing your ancestors’ footsteps. Visit travelyourtree.com.

If you love Italy, love to cook or simply enjoy a good love story, Love in a Tuscan Kitchen has something special for you. The book includes 38 recipes, including many by the author’s husband, Chef Vincenzo. And of course, the hot chocolate love cake that started it all. Find it on Amazon.

It’s Melon Season

Yellow honeydew melons have yellow /gold skin and green flesh, and have less sugar than the white honeydew making them ideal for savoury cooking.

Honey Dew Melons will not ripen further after picking, and should be stored at room temperature until cut – then covered and stored in the fridge.

Honeydew melons are a good source of vitamin C, B6, Folate and potassium.

Store honeydew melons in the fridge and they will last 3 to 4 days longer. Cover the cut surfaces of the melons to prevent them drying out or deteriorating.

Honeydew melons are great in salads, desserts and there are many recipes available online to inspire you.

White Honeydew Melons

White honeydew melons are the sweeter variety and have smooth white skin with a pale to medium green coloured sweet flesh. In Australia they are available all year round.

Honey Dew Melons will not ripen further after picking, and should be stored at room temperature until cut – then covered and stored in the fridge.

Honeydew melons are a good source of vitamin C, B6, Folate and potassium.

Snow leopard melons have such a pretty and unusual variegated exterior, but for all their showy green on creamy white patterns, they are, simply, a delicious petite honeydew variety. They’re sweet but the white flesh has a firmer texture than a regular green-flesh honeydew. I think they’re lovely eaten simply with a squeeze of fresh lime juice, wrapped with prosciutto, or on a fruit salad skewer.


The sweetest French melon: Unsurpassed eating quality. The small, 2 lb. melons are of the classic Charentais type: faintly ribbed, with a smooth gray-green rind and dark green sutures. Sweet and aromatic, deep orange flesh.

The Arava melon is the name of a variety of Galia melons. Other common marketing names are Middle Eastern melon, Passport, Mediterranean or Israeli melons. Galia melons are a hybrid melon and member of the Cucurbitaceae family, a wide ranging important food plant family of traveling vines, including cucumbers, pumpkins and squashes.

Arava melons are distinguished by their textured thin netted pale cornflower gold rind and their high sugar content. The pale glacial green flesh is perfumed with tropical fruit and floral aromatics, its texture tender firm and extremely juicy. When perfectly ripe the fruit’s flesh produces juice with a nectarous consistency which contributes to its sweet tropical flavors. The fruit bears a small loose central seed cavity. The average weight of the melons are two to four pounds. Arava melons will continue to ripen when removed from the plant and because of their intense aromatics, will permeate neighboring foods.

Diplomat is an excellent flavoured Galia melon with sweet aromatic green flesh. Galia melons are much more juicy and flavoursome than honeydews. Galia melons are ripe when the skin becomes yellowish and the fruit gives off an aromatic fragrance.

The Canary melon is a non-netted Casaba type variety also known as Spanish melon, Juan Canary, Jaune des Canaries and Amarillo.

The Canary melon is oval-shaped, with a smooth skin. When the melon is ripe, its hard rind turns bright yellow, it develops a corrugated look and a slightly waxy feel and its flesh will be pale ivory in color. The texture of the flesh is notably succulent, almost wet and semi firm, similar to a ripe pear. Within the flesh, the fruit bears a dry salmon-orange seed cavity. The melon possesses flavors both tangy and mildly sweet. Its aromatics linger with nuances of banana and pineapple and a slightly musky finish.

a large, bright-yellow melon with a pale green to white inner flesh. This melon has a distinctively sweet flavor that is slightly tangier than a honeydew melon. The flesh looks like that of a pear but is softer and tastes a little like a cantaloupe. When ripe, the rind has a slightly waxy feel. The name comes from its bright yellow color, which resembles that of the canary. This melon is often marketed as the Juan Canary melon or “variety melons

Sun Jewel is a Korean bred melon producing long, oblong, yellow skinned fruits which have a sweet, crisp, white flesh.

Lemon yellow with shallow white sutures, the Sun Jewels (Cucumis melo)

look a bit like delicata squash. This is not surprising, as melons are

closely related to the squash family. In taste, the Sun Jewel falls

into its own category, tasting neither like neither cantaloupe nor

musk, but has its own sweet and subtle flavor.

The Sun Jewel’s delicate flavor brings up many definitions.

“I normally describe them as an Asian melon, because while they get sweeter with time they stay crisp like

an Asian pear (vs. a regular pear). “As the Sun Jewels age

the rind will split on the outside, ideal time to eat them is when

there are numerous small splits down the rind.” That being said you needn’t wait – they are delicious now.

This melon is rich in Vitamin C & A, so enjoy

this healthy, flavorful treat at breakfast or as an afternoon snack.

Cut up Sun Jewels into a fruit salad or try a tropical melon soup by

puréeing one with coconut milk.

A truly flavorful Cantaloupe is quite special for those of us who are Melon Lovers. The fruit is simply impressive! The firm, yet smoothly textured flesh was juicy and exquisitely sweet. That rich flavor will make you want to eat more and more.

Tuscan-style Cantaloupes can be identified by their deep, green colored ribs between straw colored netted skin. The rind of this melon variety is thin and the seed cavity is tight – giving you lots of melon flesh for the money. These are not cheapest Cantaloupes, but are some of the best for snacking, salads, desserts and appetizers. The fruit will be sweet and ready to cut as soon as you buy it, but you can condition it to your liking.

Here are the stages of ripening for Tuscan-style Cantaloupes:

  • Dark green ribs = sweet.
  • Light green ribs = very sweet.
  • Straw colored webbing + fragrant aroma + almost no green ribs = Full-flavor, extra juicy sweetness.

A Crenshaw melon is a hybrid melon with very sweet, juicy orange flesh. Crenshaws are among the sweetest of melons. When ripe, Crenshaw melons are roughly ovoid, with a greenish-yellow, slightly ribbed skin. Inside, the melons are a rich salmon pink, with a large seeded area in the center portion of the melon. Keep the melon under refrigeration for up to three days before using.

The melons were bred by crossing casaba melons with Persian melons, also sometimes called muskmelons. The favorable traits of both melon varieties successfully manifested in the cross breed, and it quickly became one of the more popular melons on the market. The melons can be eaten plain as a snack food, mixed in with fruit salads, or wrapped in prosciutto for a twist on the classic prosciutto wrapped melon appetizer. Crenshaw melon sorbet is also a great summer treat, and some people like to pickle slightly green Crenshaws to eat year-round.

ENJOY THE SEASON… Share with us what you like to do with these juicy bombs of flavor!


A good bread salad soaks up the juices from the tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, and all the other seductive flavors that go into a really top-flight panzanella, and I love it! The tomatoes should be at their juicy, high-summer peak and the bread bakery-fresh, with a pleasingly soft crumb and chewy crust. My recipe not only calls for the best tomatoes and bread, but also relies on green, fruity, extra virgin olive oil, zesty red wine vinegar, salty capers, and freshly grated lemon zest. (I use a microplane when I zest citrus fruit and I highly recommend you do the same.) I also add other vegetables such as red onion, bell peppers, and fennel, garden-fresh basil, and some inky black olives for a salad bursting with summer.

Average user rating 4 / 4 Reviews 13 Percentage of reviewers who will make this recipe again 91 %

Salumi with Peaches and Watercress

Salumi refers to all dry-cured Italian-style meats and sausages. Great chefs such as Tom Colicchio, Lidia Bastianich, Mario Batali, and Paul Bertolli are introducing them to a new generation of Americans, who may not realize what an incredible variety is available. Thanks to these chefs for bringing this artisan tradition back to the culinary fore. What an inspiration! One summer when I traveled in Italy, I was served salumi with peaches just about everywhere I went and although it was a combination I had never before tried, it made perfect and delicious sense and stayed with me after I returned to Chicago.

Average user rating 0 / 4 Reviews 0 Percentage of reviewers who will make this recipe again 0 %

Asiago Cheese with Glazed Cipolline Onions

This cheese course is one I frequently serve to guests at home, and every time it's enthusiastically received. Asiago is a little softer than aged Parm, with a nutty, sweet flavor that is gorgeous with glazed onions. I also find it's a fantastico red wine cheese, and goes quite nicely with a dessert Sauternes.

Average user rating 4 / 4 Reviews 2 Percentage of reviewers who will make this recipe again 100 %

Rick's Basic Bruschetta

Editor's note: The recipe and introductory text below are from Rick Tramonto's book Fantastico! This is the ultimate vehicle for any number of toppings. The quality of the bread, as well as the olive oil, makes all the difference, so make sure the crust is crisp and the middle is soft and chewy. Buy it fresh from a good bakery. This is an example of two ingredients making the difference between good and truly great. Enjoy the ride!

Average user rating 3 / 4 Reviews 5 Percentage of reviewers who will make this recipe again 100 % View “ Rick's Basic Bruschetta ” recipe

Crostini with Beef Tartare and White Truffle Oil

Editor's note: The recipe and introductory text below are from Rick Tramonto's book Fantastico! I unabashedly love beef tartare and yes, this is my favorite crostini, particularly because I gild the lily with a drizzle of truffle oil! Steak tartare has been around for a good long time, and according to legend, its name refers to the Tartars, the nomads who roamed eastern Europe, for a time under the leadership of Attila the Hun. Fierce and bloodthirsty, the Tartars purportedly ate raw meat for strength. Tartars were Huns, but "beef hun" just doesn't have the panache of beef, or steak, tartare. If you've never had beef tartare, try it my way then make it your way by omitting what you may not like such as capers, Worcestershire sauce, or anchovies. But don't fool with the beef. Buy the best you can from a reputable butcher. I use prime beef when possible, but because it is sometimes hard to find, I may turn to high-quality choice beef instead.

Average user rating 3.5 / 4 Reviews 16 Percentage of reviewers who will make this recipe again 88 % View “ Crostini with Beef Tartare and White Truffle Oil ” recipe

Crostini with Lump Crab Salad and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Editor's note: The recipe and introductory text below are from Rick Tramonto's book Fantastico! Don't look any further for a succulent crab salad open-face sandwich. The little garlic toasts piled high with rich, moist crab can be polished off in one or two bites. I can't think of a better way to start a meal! Don't skimp on the crabmeat. You need only a pound, so buy the best you can find. Bon appétit!

Average user rating 3 / 4 Reviews 6 Percentage of reviewers who will make this recipe again 83 %

Bruschetta with Borlotti Beans and Prosciutto di Parma

Editor's note: The recipe and introductory text below are from Rick Tramonto's book Fantastico!

Average user rating 2.5 / 4 Reviews 2 Percentage of reviewers who will make this recipe again 50 %

Bruschetta with Spicy Ceci Bean Purée

Editor's note: The recipe and introductory text below are from Rick Tramonto's book Fantastico! If you like hummus—and most people do—you will love this bean puree, which could be called an Italian version of the classic bean spread. For my mother, ceci beans (chickpeas) were a household staple, so they are for me, too. I keep cans in my pantry at all times because they are so versatile. You could cook your own instead of relying on canned, but for this puree I find the canned beans are just fine. And so much easier. Don't scrimp on the olive oil—you want the puree to be juicy and rich. The squeeze of lemon juice at the end will make you sing "hallelujah!"

Average user rating 3.5 / 4 Reviews 9 Percentage of reviewers who will make this recipe again 100 % View “ Bruschetta with Spicy Ceci Bean Purée ” recipe

Creamy Soft Polenta with Meat Ragù

Editor's note: The recipe and introductory text below are from Rick Tramonto's book Fantastico! I serve this traditional side dish as an antipasto. Guess what? I like it more as a small plate to kick off a meal than as a side. On the other hand, you could serve this in larger amounts as a side dish or even instead of a pasta course. And because the ragu is even better the second day, I make a lot, so you will have leftovers. Soft polenta, blended with plenty of cheese and butter, is lusciously creamy and becomes the delicious base for the meaty mushroom and sausage ragu. This is a terrific start to a fall meal of fish and a salad. Polenta may be yellow or white I prefer yellow because of its color and slightly earthy, intense flavor.

Average user rating 3.5 / 4 Reviews 18 Percentage of reviewers who will make this recipe again 83 %

Rick's Basic Crostini

Editor's note: The recipe and introductory text below are from Rick Tramonto's book Fantastico! What is the difference between crostini and bruschetta? In general, crostini are more sophisticated and smaller. The bread slices for my crostini are about two inches across and thinner than those for bruschetta. When topped with great flavors, they fit the definition of a powerful tiny bite that by virtue of their size are less overwhelming than bruschetta. Crostini are always toasted, never grilled, and when you make them with the best, freshest bread available and sweet creamery butter, they become the ultimate garlic toasts. I pile everything on them under the Tuscan sun, even scrambled eggs at breakfast.

Average user rating 3 / 4 Reviews 1 Percentage of reviewers who will make this recipe again 100 % View “ Rick's Basic Crostini ”

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Watch TV shows about Italy

TV Dramas set in Italy

    – highly dramatized series exploring the rise and fall of the ruling Medici family in Florence. Starring Richard Madden and Dustin Hoffman, it is an entertaining series that is loose on historical accuracy. [HBO] – 2018 adaption of the beloved books by Elena Ferrante following the lives of friends Lila and Lenu growing up in Naples in the 1950s. The second season starts streaming in 2020 [Showtime] – 3 seasons of high drama starring Jeremy Irons and Holliday Grainger tracking the impact of one of Rome’s most powerful families, the Borgia, through the Renaissance era. [HBO/BBC] – historical drama that chronicles Ancient Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire. [RAI/BBC]- Italian series about a fictional detective in Sicily. With subtitles [Sky Atlantic ] – equal amounts grit and drama in this series about organized crime in Naples

Italy travel shows

    [PBS] – American travel writer Kathy McCabe explores the places and people of Italy – Travel writer Rick Steves takes us to 21 popular places throughout Italy – includes several featuring chef Anthony Bourdain – stories to inspire travel to Italy

Italy food and wine shows

  • Jamie Cooks Italy [Channel 4 UK] – celebrity chef Jamie Oliver eats and cooks his way around Italy with mentor Gennaro Contaldo [Netflix] – Season 1, Episode 1 – Massimo Bottura (head chef of Osteria Francescana – twice voted best restaurant in the world Season 4, Episode 2 – Corrado Assenza (Sicilian gelato) Season 6, episode 2 – Dario Cecchini (renowned Tuscan butcher)
  • Vincenzo’s Plate [YouTube] – Vincenzo takes us on a food journey around Italy with his nonna, family and friends

I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

For 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original clone recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

Includes eight (8) 79¢ recipes of your choice each month!

Menu Description: "Here they are in all their lip-smacking, award-winning glory: Buffalo, New York-style chicken wings spun in your favorite signature sauce."

Since Buffalo, New York was too far away, Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery satisfied their overwhelming craving in 1981 by opening a spicy chicken wing restaurant close to home in Kent, Ohio. With signature sauces and a festive atmosphere, the chain has now evolved from a college campus sports bar with wings to a family restaurant with over 300 units. While frying chicken wings is no real secret—simply drop them in hot shortening for about 10 minutes—the delicious spicy sauces make the wings special. There are 12 varieties of sauce available to coat your crispy chicken parts at the chain, and I'm presenting clones for the more traditional flavors. These sauces are very thick, almost like dressing or dip, so we'll use an emulsifying technique that will ensure a creamy final product where the oil won't separate from the other ingredients. Here is the chicken wing cooking and coating technique, followed by clones for the most popular sauces: Spicy Garlic, Medium and Hot. The sauce recipes might look the same at first, but each has slight variations make your sauce hotter or milder by adjusting the level of cayenne pepper. You can find Frank's pepper sauce by the other hot sauces in your market. If you can't find that brand, you can also use Crystal Louisiana hot sauce.

Menu Description: "Quickly-cooked steak with scallions and garlic."

Beef lovers go crazy over this one at the restaurant. Flank steak is cut into bite-sized chunks against the grain, then it's lightly dusted with potato starch (in our case we'll use cornstarch), flash-fried in oil, and doused with an amazing sweet soy garlic sauce. The beef comes out tender as can be, and the simple sauce sings to your taste buds. I designed this recipe to use a wok, but if you don't have one a saute pan will suffice (you may need to add more oil to the pan to cover the beef in the flash-frying step). P. F. Chang's secret sauce is what makes this dish so good, and it's versatile. If you don't dig beef, you can substitute with chicken. Or you can brush it on grilled salmon.

I've cloned a lot of the best dishes from P.F. Chang's. Click here to see if I coped your favorite.

If you start making black bean soup in the morning using other recipes out there, you're lucky to be slurping soup by lunchtime. That's because most recipes require dry beans that have to re-hydrate for at least a couple hours, and many recipes say "overnight." But, you know, tomorrow is just too far away when you're craving soup right now. So, for this often requested clone recipe, I sped up the process by incorporating canned black beans, rather than the dry ones. That way, once you get all the veggies chopped, you'll be souped up in just about an hour. Friday's version of this soup has a slightly smoky flavor that's easily duplicated here with just a little bit of concentrated liquid smoke flavoring found in most supermarkets. Just be sure to get the kind that says "hickory flavor."

For two years after the first Olive Garden restaurant opened in 1982, operators were still tweaking the restaurant's physical appearance and the food that was served. Even the tomato sauce was changed as many as 25 times. It's that sort of dedication that creates fabulous dishes like this popular soup. It blends the flavors of potatoes, kale, and Italian sausage in a slightly spicy chicken and cream broth.

You've got the soup recipe, how about creating your own bottomless Olive Garden House Salad and Breadsticks? Find more of my Olive Garden clone recipes here!

Just like the pro chefs use. A secret blend of herbs and spices that will make your homemade steaks taste like they came from a famous steakhouse chain. All-natural. Contains no MSG or preservatives. Great for anyone who likes a truly amazing steak.

Top Secret Steak Rub is created by Food Hacker Todd Wilbur who has spent the last 30 years reverse-engineering popular menu items at the most-loved restaurant chains across America. By identifying the herbs, spices and other ingredients that make great restaurant food taste so good, Todd created this custom Top Secret Steak Rub to help you make restaurant-style steaks at home. All it takes is just a few shakes. Then cook the steaks your favorite way.

7-ounce bottle. Money back guarantee. Kosher certified. Gluten-free.

No one is sure exactly which restaurant invented toasted ravioli, but we do know the dish originated in St. Louis sometime in the 40s. Olive Garden's delicious take on the appetizer can be cloned with ease using one of several varieties of pre-made raviolis carried in just about any supermarket. It's best to use the fresher raviolis found in the refrigerated section, but you can also use frozen ones in this copycat toasted ravioli recipe you just have to let them thaw first before breading them. The original Olive Garden toasted ravioli recipe has a beefy inside, but you can use any ravioli that tickles your fancy including chicken, sausage, vegetarian, or cheese. As for the breading, find Progresso brand Italian style breadcrumbs. Contadina is another popular brand, but their version is much too salty for a good clone.

Now you've got that appetizer going, what's for dinner? Try more of my Olive Garden copycat recipes here.

Menu Description: "Fresh salmon marinated in miso and baked. Served with a delicious miso sauce, snow peas and white rice."

Presented beautifully on top of white rice and surrounded by sake butter sauce is a baked salmon fillet that tastes like candy. Miso is a salty fermented soy bean paste that combines well with sweet brown sugar and sake for a syrupy marinade that makes salmon taste so good that even salmon haters will devour it. Look for red miso in a refrigerator in your market. You can also find it in Asian markets and some health food stores. After cooking up your marinade, you should allow the salmon fillets to soak in it for up to six hours, so start this dish early in the day and plan to scarf out at dinnertime. The cool presentation starts by pressing cooked rice into a lightly greased 5-inch ramekin or small cake pan, and then turning it out onto the center of your serving plate. Add a moat of sake reduction sauce, a few steamed snow pea pods, and you will have re-created a dish that looks and tastes exactly like the number one fish dish at The Factory.

Click here for more of your favorite recipes from Cheesecake Factory.

Menu Description: "Our marinated chicken breast coated with Parmesan cheese and crunchy panko breadcrumbs, lightly pounded and pan fried to a golden brown. Served with white cheddar mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli and topped with a lemon Chardonnay butter sauce, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh basil and Parmesan cheese."

This re-creation lays out a great way to prepare that 4-pack of chicken breasts you dropped into your shopping cart. While you're at the market, head down the aisle where the Asian foods are parked and pick up some Japanese breadcrumbs, also called "panko" breadcrumbs. Combining these coarse breadcrumbs with shredded Parmesan cheese makes a crispy breading for the chicken that doesn't even need a sauce to taste good. Still, the lemony Chardonnay butter sauce used at the restaurant is cloned here too, so you'll have the complete flavor experience. You'll want to plan ahead a bit for this dish since the chicken fillets will need to marinate in the brine solution for 2 to 3 hours. This dish goes great with the clone recipe for BJ's White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes.

Menu Description: "Roasted garlic and Parmesan sauce with Italian herbs."

Buffalo Wild Wings had a record day on Super Bowl Sunday 2007 when the chain sold 3.4 million wings! One year later the chain announced the opening of its 500 th store. As the biggest buffalo wing chain in the country continues to grow, so does its selection of delicious sauces. Creamy, and slightly spicy, this Parmesan Garlic Sauce is one of several new sauces BWW added to its menu. Our Top Secret clone starts by roasting a few peeled garlic cloves in your oven. Add mayo and Parmesan cheese to the soft, roasted garlic, plus some corn syrup, lemon juice, red pepper flakes and an assortment of dried herbs and you've got yourself an addictive sauce that's as good on finger food as it is on a salad. Bake up some breaded chicken nuggets or fry up some wings, then simply toss 'em in some of this delicious sauce and serve.

Elaine: "Do you need anything?"
Kramer: "Oh, a hot bowl of Mulligatawny would hit the spot."
Elaine: "Mulligatawny?"
Kramer: "Yeah, it's an Indian soup. Simmered to perfection by one of the great soup artisans in the modern era."
Elaine: "Oh. Who, the Soup Nazi?"
Kramer: "He's not a Nazi. He just happens to be a little eccentric. You know, most geniuses are."

Kramer was right. Al Yeganeh—otherwise known as The Soup Nazi from the Seinfeld episode that aired in 1995—is a master at the soup kettle. His popular soup creations have inspired many inferior copycats in the Big Apple, including The Soup Nutsy, which was only ten blocks away from Al's original location on 55 th Street. Yeganeh's mastery shows when he combines unusual ingredients to create unique and delicious flavors in his much-raved-about soups. In this one, you might be surprised to discover pistachios and cashews among the many vegetables. It's a combination that works.

I took a trip to New York and tasted about a dozen of the Soup Nazi's original creations. This one, the Indian Mulligatawny, was high on my list of favorites. After each daily trip to Soup Nazi headquarters (Soup Kitchen International), I immediately headed back to the hotel and poured samples of the soups into labeled, sealed containers, which were then chilled for the trip back home. Back in the lab, portions of the soup were rinsed through a sieve so that ingredients could be identified. I recreated four of Al's best-selling soups after that trip, including this one, which will need to simmer for 3 to 4 hours, or until the soup reduces. The soup will darken as the flavors intensify, the potatoes will begin to fall apart to thicken the soup, and the nuts will soften. If you follow these directions, you should end up with a clone that would fool even Cosmo Kramer himself.

Update 2/6/18 : The recipe can be improved by doubling the curry (to 2 teaspoons) and reducing the water by half (to 8 cups). Cook the soup for half the recommended time or until it's your desired thickness.

Check out my other Soup Nazi copycat recipes here.

Joseph Weiss was living in New York with his wife and son when his doctor told him he would need a change of climate to help his asthma. He journeyed to Miami, Florida in 1913 and discovered he was able to breathe again. He quickly moved his family down South and opened his first restaurant, a little lunch counter. Joe's restaurant business exploded in 1921 when he discovered how to cook and serve the stone crabs caught off the coast. Joe boiled the meaty claws and served them chilled with a secret mustard dipping sauce. Today only one pincer is removed from each stone crab, then the crab is tossed back into the ocean where it will regenerate the missing claw in about 2 years. The stone crabs, in addition to several other signature items, made Joe's a Miami hotspot, and these days Joe's restaurants can be found in Chicago and Las Vegas. Here is my take on Joe's amazing giant crab cakes, which are made from lump crab meat, and served as an appetizer or entree at the restaurant. Of course, you can't clone a Joe's crab dish without cloning the secret mustard sauce, so that recipe is here too.

Here are some more clone recipes of other popular dishes from Joe's Stone Crab.

Menu Description: "Tender, crispy wild gulf shrimp tossed in a creamy, spicy sauce."

Bonefish Grill proudly refers to this appetizer as the "house specialty." And why not, it's an attractive dish with bang-up flavor, especially if you like your food on the spicy side. The heat in this Bang Bang Shrimp recipe comes from the secret sauce blend that's flavored with chili garlic sauce, also known as sambal. You can find this bright red sauce where the Asian foods in your market—and while you're there, pick up some rice vinegar. Once the sauce is made, you coat the shrimp in a simple seasoned breading, fry them to a nice golden brown, toss them gently in the sauce, and then serve them up on a bed of mixed greens to hungry folks who, hopefully, have a cool drink nearby to mellow the sting.

You might also like my recipes for Bonefish Grill's Saucy Shrimp and Citrus Herb Vinaigrette.

Menu Description: "Lightly-dusted, stir-fried in a sweet Szechwan sauce."

The delicious sweet-and-spicy secret sauce is what makes this dish one of P. F. Chang's top picks. Once the sauce is finished all you have to do is saute your chicken and combine. You'll want to cook up some white or brown rice, like at the restaurant. If you can't find straight chili sauce for this recipe, the more common chili sauce with garlic in it will work just as well.

Check out my other P.F. Chang's clone recipes here.

Menu Description: "Chicken breast tenderloins sauteed with bell peppers, roasted garlic and onions in a garlic cream sauce over angel hair."

This dish is a big favorite of Olive Garden regulars. Chicken tenderloins are lightly breaded and sauteed along with colorful bell peppers and chopped red onion. Angel hair pasta is tossed into the pan along with a healthy dose of fresh scampi sauce. The sauce is really the star, so you might think about doubling the recipe. If you're cooking for two, you can prepare this dish for the table in one large skillet, saving the remaining ingredients for another meal. If you're making all four servings at once, you need two skillets. If you can't find fresh chicken tenderloins (the tender part of the chicken breast), you can usually find bags of them in the freezer section.

Find more delicious recipes for Olive Garden's most famous dishes here.

The secret to great crab cakes starts with great crab. Freshly cooked blue crab is the crab of choice for these crustacean cakes, but you can often find high quality canned backfin blue crab in some stores. One such brand comes in 16-ounce cans from Phillips Seafood and is sold at Costco, Sam's Club, Wal-Mart and Vons stores. Once you've got the crab grabbed you need to pick up some panko. Panko is Japanese-style bread crumbs usually found near the other Asian foods in your market. The Factory uses a little bit of panko to coat each of these small crab cakes for a great, lightly crunchy texture. One order of this appetizer at the restaurant gets you 3 crab cakes this recipe makes 6 cakes from 1/2-pound of crab. If you have a 1-pound can of crabmeat, you can save the leftover 1/2-pound for another recipe or double-up on this one. Any surplus crab cakes will keep for 24 hours in the fridge before you need to get them in a pan. Oh, and one other thing to remember when making crab cakes: be gentle. Don't stir the crab too much into the other ingredients. Rather, fold the mixture gingerly with a spatula to combine. You want any big chunks of tasty crab to stay as big chunks of tasty crab in the finished product.

I've duplicated many popular dishes from Cheesecake Factory. See if I cloned your favorites here.

Get the mints ready. The secret to re-creating Buca di Beppo's garlic bread starts with using the right kind of bread and lots of fresh garlic. Bakers at each restaurant start baking bread early each day, so you'll want to find a freshly baked loaf of focaccia in your market's bakery, and cut it in half through the middle using a large serrated knife. The better the foccacia, the better your garlic bread will turn out. The garlic cloves are sliced very thin using a sharp knife and a steady hand. Arrange these slices over the top of the generously buttered bread. Add shredded mozzarella first if it's that version of the garlic bread you're making. Then, just make sure you each consume at least one slice when the lightly brown garlic bread comes out of the oven so that everyone's breath is equally stinky.

Make the uber popular Chicken Limone from Buca di Beppo with my recipe here.

Here's a dish from a rapidly growing Chinese food chain that should satisfy anyone who loves the famous marinated bourbon chicken found in food courts across America. The sauce is the whole thing here, and it's quick to make right on your own stove-top. Just fire up the barbecue or indoor grill for the chicken and whip up a little white rice to serve on the side. Panda Express - now 370 restaurants strong - is the fastest-growing Asian food chain in the world. You'll find these tasty little quick-service food outlets in supermarkets, casinos, sports arenas, college campuses, and malls across the country passing out free samples for the asking.

Menu Description: "Spicy, shredded beef, braised with our own chipotle adobo, cumin, cloves, garlic and oregano."

The original Mexican dish barbacoa was traditionally prepared by cooking almost any kind of meat goat, fish, chicken, or cow cheek meat, to name just a few, in a pit covered with leaves over low heat for many hours, until tender. When the dish made its way into the United States via Texas the word transformed into "barbecue" and the preparation changed to incorporate above-ground techniques such as smoking and grilling. The good news is that we can recreate the beef barbacoa that Chipotle has made popular on its ginormous burritos without digging any holes in our backyard or tracking down a local source for fresh cow faces. After braising about 30 pounds of chuck roasts, I finally discovered the perfect Chipotle Mexican Grill barbacoa burrito copycat recipe with a taste-alike adobo sauce that fills your roast with flavor as it slowly cooks to a fork-tender delicacy on your stovetop over 5 to 6 hours. Part of the secret for great adobo sauce is toasting whole cumin seeds and cloves and then grinding them in a coffee grinder (measure the spices after grinding them). Since the braising process takes so long, start early in the day and get ready for a big dinner, because I've also included clones here for Chipotle's pico de gallo, pinto beans, and delicious cilantro-lime rice to make your burritos complete. You can add your choice of cheese, plus guacamole and sour cream for a super-deluxe clone version. If you prefer chicken burritos, head on over to my clone recipe for Qdoba Grilled Adobo Chicken.

What is it about Stouffer's Macaroni & Cheese that makes it the number one choice for true mac & cheese maniacs? It's probably the simple recipe that includes wholesome ingredients like skim milk and real Cheddar cheese, without any preservatives or unpronounceable chemicals. The basic Stouffer's Mac and Cheese ingredients are great for kitchen cloners who want an easy fix that doesn't require much shopping. I found the recipe to work best as an exact duplicate of the actual product: a frozen dish that you heat up later in the oven. This way you'll get slightly browned macaroni & cheese that looks like it posed for the nicely lit photo on the Stouffer's box. Since you'll only need about 3/4 cup of uncooked elbow macaroni for each recipe, you can make several 4-person servings with just one 16-ounce box of macaroni, and then keep them all in the freezer until the days when your troops have their mac & cheese attacks. Be sure to use freshly shredded Cheddar cheese here, since it melts much better than pre-shredded cheese (and it's cheaper). Use a whisk to stir the sauce often as it thickens, so that you get a smooth—not lumpy or grainy—finished product.

If you're still hungry, check out my copycat recipes for famous entrées here.

Carnegie Deli's huge pastrami sandwiches were selected as the best in New York by New York Magazine in 1975, but it's the cheesecakes, which can be shipped anywhere in the country, that really put this famous deli on the map. The secret to accurately cloning a traditional New York cheesecake is in creating the perfect not-too-sweet sugar cookie crust and varying the baking temperature so that you get a nicely browned top before cooking the cheesecake through. Get ready for the best deli-style cheesecake to ever come out of your oven.

Source: Top Secret Recipes Unlocked by Todd Wilbur.

In early 1985, restaurateur Rich Komen felt there was a specialty niche in convenience-food service just waiting to be filled. His idea was to create an efficient outlet that could serve freshly made cinnamon rolls in shopping malls throughout the country. It took nine months for Komen and his staff to develop a cinnamon roll recipe he knew customers would consider the "freshest, gooiest, and most mouthwatering cinnamon roll ever tasted." The concept was tested for the first time in Seattle's Sea-Tac mall later that year, with workers mixing, proofing, rolling, and baking the rolls in full view of customers. Now, more than 626 outlets later, Cinnabon has become the fastest-growing cinnamon roll bakery in the world.

With over 100 million dollars given to charity since 1982, Newman's Own products have become an American favorite. One variety of the brand's dressings that really stands out is this exceptional Caesar salad dressing, probably the best commercial Caesar dressing on the market. Part of the secret for this special recipe is the inclusion of Worcestershire sauce. Not only does Worcestershire give your dressing the perfect flavor and color of the original, but the sauce is made with a fishy ingredient that's crucial for a good Caesar dressing: anchovies.

Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

Anyone who loves Olive Garden is probably also a big fan of the bottomless basket of warm, garlicky breadsticks served before each meal at the huge Italian casual chain. My guess is that the breadsticks are proofed, and then sent to each restaurant where they are baked until golden brown, brushed with butter and sprinkled with garlic salt. Getting the bread just right for a good Olive Garden breadstick recipe was tricky—I tried several different amounts of yeast in all-purpose flour, but then settled on bread flour to give these breadsticks the same chewy bite as the originals. The two-stage rising process is also a crucial step in this much requested homemade Olive Garden breadstick recipe. Also check out our Olive Garden Italian salad dressing recipe.

The number one appetizer on Joe's menu is called Blue Crab Dip but you don't need blue crab to clone it. You don't even need to use fresh crab. I used some delicious lump crabmeat from Phillip's Seafood that comes in 16-ounce cans (you may find it at Costco, Sam's Club, Walmart, and Vons) and the dip turned out great. You could also use the crabmeat that comes in 6-ounce cans found at practically every supermarket—you'll need two of them. Just be sure to get the kind that includes leg meat, and don't forget to drain off the liquid before you toss it in.

Menu Description: "Sweet meets heat: A chili pepper, soy and ginger sauce."

Here's a clone for one of the newer sauces that the wing masters at Buffalo Wild Wings added to the menu. When I get over to BWW, I order up a tall Foster's on tap, and 12 boneless wings covered in this great sauce. It's sweet-and-sour with a kick, and the kick is what the beer's for. Next time you're at the market grab yourself some chili garlic sauce in the aisle with the other Asian foods. That's the crucial ingredient to this Buffalo Wild Wings Asian Zing Sauce recipe that gives this sauce its heat, along with its deep red color. Once this sauce is made it'll store for weeks in a sealed container in your fridge. Now you've got a quick dip for eggrolls, wontons and spring rolls. Cook up some wings, nuggets or breaded tenders and toss 'em in the gooey goodness until well-coated, then serve hot. And don't forget the beer.

In Zagat's 1995 New York City Restaurant Survey, Le Cirque 2000, one of the city's most upscale restaurants, received a 25 rating out of a possible 30. In the same guide, Al "The Soup Nazi" Yeganeh's Soup Kitchen International scored an impressive 27. That put the Soup Nazi's eatery in 14th place among the city's best restaurants for that year.

It was common to see lines stretching around the corner and down the block as hungry patrons waited for their cup of one of five daily hot soup selections. Most of the selections changed every day, but of the three days that I was there, the Mexican Chicken Chili recipe was always on the menu. The first two days it was sold out before I got to the front of the line. But on the last day I got lucky: "One extra-large Mexican Chicken Chili, please." Hand over money, move to the extreme left.

Here is a hack for what has become one of the Soup Nazi's most popular culinary masterpieces. If you like, you can substitute turkey breast for the chicken to make turkey chili, which was the soup George Costanza ordered on the show.

Update 1/9/17: Replace the 10 cups of water with 8 cups of chicken broth for a shorter simmer time and better flavor. I also like using El Pato tomato sauce (recipe calls for 1/2 cup) for a bit more heat.

Menu Description: "Freshly prepared alfredo or marinara sauce, served warm."

The soft breadsticks served at Olive Garden (here's my clone) taste awesome by themselves, but dunk them in one of these warm sauces and. fahgeddaboutit. You can use these clones as dipping sauces or pour them over the pasta of your choice to duplicate a variety of entree items available at the chain. Use the alfredo sauce over Fettuccine and you get Fettuccine Alfredo. Pour the marinara sauce on Linguine and you've cloned Olive Garden's Linguine alla Marinara. Make up your own dishes adding sausage, chicken or whatever you have on hand for an endless variety of Italian grub.

Find more of your favorite copycat recipes from Olive Garden here.

I never thought dinner rolls were something I could get excited about until I got my hand into the breadbasket at Texas Roadhouse. The rolls are fresh out of the oven and they hit the table when you do, so there’s no waiting to tear into a magnificently gooey sweet roll topped with soft cinnamon butter. The first bite you take will make you think of a fresh cinnamon roll, and then you can’t stop eating it. And when the first roll’s gone, you are powerless to resist grabbing for just one more. But it’s never just one more. It’s two or three more, plus a few extra to take home for tomorrow.

Discovering the secret to making rolls at home that taste as good as the real ones involved making numerous batches of dough, each one sweeter than the last (sweetened with sugar, not honey—I checked), until a very sticky batch, proofed for 2 hours, produced exactly what I was looking for. You can make the dough with a stand mixer or a handheld one, the only difference being that you must knead the dough by hand without a stand mixer. When working with the dough add a little bit of flour at a time to keep it from sticking, and just know that the dough will be less sticky and more workable after the first rise.

Roll the dough out and measure it as specified here, and after a final proofing and a quick bake—plus a generous brushing of butter on the tops—you will produce dinner rolls that look and taste just like the best rolls I’ve had at any famous American dinner chain.

This soup happens to be one of Chili's most raved-about items, and the subject of many a recipe search here on the site. Part of the secret in crafting your clone is the addition of masa harina—a corn flour that you'll find in your supermarket near the other flours, or where all the Mexican foodstuffs are stocked.

Order an entree from America's largest seafood restaurant chain and you'll get a basket of some of the planet's tastiest garlic-cheese biscuits served up on the side. For many years this recipe has been the most-searched-for clone recipe on the Internet, according to Red Lobster. As a result, several versions are floating around, including one that was at one time printed right on the box of Bisquick baking mix.

The problem with making biscuits using Bisquick is that if you follow the directions from the box you don't end up with a very fluffy or flakey finished product, since most of the fat in the recipe comes from the shortening that's included in the mix. On its own, room temperature shortening does a poor job creating the light, airy texture you want from good biscuits, and it contributes little in the way of flavor. So, we'll invite some cold butter along on the trip -- with grated Cheddar cheese and a little garlic powder. Now you'll be well on your way to delicious Cheddar Bay. Wherever that is.

It's not served every day at Carrabba's Italian Grill, but when this amazing soup is on the menu consider yourself lucky and snag a bowl. It's chock-full of lentils and other good bits of vegetables and herbs, plus there are big chunks of spicy Italian sausage in every bite. Best of all, Carrabba's sausage and lentil soup recipe is a cinch to clone. Most of the work here is just chopping stuff up, including a small ham steak which you can find where the bacon is sold in your market. If you can't find a ham steak, you can slice up some deli ham. Get everything in a pot and let it simmer. In 1 hour you'll have enough hot, chunky soup for at least a dozen cup-size servings. Also enjoy our Carrabba's chicken marsala recipe.

Menu Description: "(Our most popular appetizer.) Parmesan, Cheddar & Monterey Jack cheeses, cilantro, onion, fresh dill & mashed potato lightly breaded and fried crispy topped with fresh cut chives. Served with herbed ranch salsa."

This top-seller is a versatile side dish alternative to mashed potatoes, but also stands well on its own as an appetizer. With cilantro, green onion, and three different cheeses in there, the flavor is the bomb. When you add a crispy breading and some herbed ranch salsa drizzled over the top, it's clear why this is the most popular appetizer on the huge Claim Jumper menu. Try dropping a pinch or two of cayenne pepper into the herbed ranch salsa for an extra spicy boost.

The talented chefs at Benihana cook food on hibachi grills with flair and charisma, treating the preparation like a tiny stage show. They juggle salt and pepper shakers, trim food with lightning speed, and flip the shrimp and mushrooms perfectly onto serving plates or into their tall chef's hat.

One of the side dishes that everyone seems to love is the fried rice. At Benihana this dish is prepared by chefs with precooked rice on open hibachi grills, and is ordered a la cart to complement any Benihana entree, including Hibachi Steak and Chicken. I like when the rice is thrown onto the hot hibachi grill and seems to come alive as it sizzles and dances around like a bunch of little jumping beans. Okay, so I'm easily amused.

This Benihana Japanese fried rice recipe will go well with just about any Japanese entree and can be partially prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator until the rest of the meal is close to done.

Menu Description: "A spicy Thai dish with the flavors of curry, peanut, chili, and coconut. Sauteed with vegetables and served over rice."

This dish ranks very high among the most frequent entree clone requests from this growing chain's huge menu, and anyone who is a fan of Thai dishes falls in love with it. I dig recipes that include scratch sauces that can be used with other dishes. The curry and peanut sauces here are good like that. They can, for example, be used to sauce up grilled skewers of chicken or other meats, or as a flavorful drizzle onto lettuce wraps. But even though I've included the peanut sauce recipe from scratch here, you can take the quick route and save a little prep time by picking up a pre-made sauce found near the other Asian foods in the market. Since the sauce is used sparingly in a drizzle over the top of this dish it won't make a big difference which way you go. This recipe produces two Cheesecake Factory-size servings—which is another way of saying "huge." If your diners aren't prepared to process the gargantuan gastronomy and you're all out of doggie bags, you can easily split this recipe into four more sensible portions.

El Pollo Loco, or "The Crazy Chicken," has been growing like mad since it crossed over the border into the United States from Mexico. Francisco Ochoa unknowingly started a food phenomenon internacional in 1975 when he took a family recipe for chicken marinade and opened a small roadside restaurante in Gusave, Mexico. He soon had 90 stores in 20 cities throughout Mexico. The first El Pollo Loco in the United States opened in Los Angeles in December 1980 and was an immediate success. It was only three years later that Ochoa got the attention of bigwigs at Dennys, Inc., who offered him $11.3 million for his U.S. operations. Ochoa took the deal, and El Pollo Loco grew from 17 to more than 200 outlets over the following decade.

Re-create the whole El Pollo Loco experience at home with my copycat recipes for avocado salsa, pinto beans, Spanish rice, and bbq black beans.

The entire process for making this soup which Islands serves in "bottomless bowls" takes as long as 3 hours, but don't let that discourage you. Most of that time is spent waiting for the chicken to roast (up to 90 minutes -- although you can save time by using a precooked chicken, see Tidbits) and letting the soup simmer (1 hour). The actual work involved is minimal -- most of your time is spent chopping the vegetable ingredients. This recipe produces soup with an awesome flavor and texture since you'll be making fresh chicken stock from the carcass of the roasted chicken. As for the fried tortilla strip garnish that tops the soup, you can go the hard way or the easy way on that step. The hard way makes the very best Islands tortilla soup recipe and it's really not that hard: Simply slice corn tortillas into strips, fry the strips real quick, then toss the fried strips with a custom seasoning blend. The easy way is to grab a bag of the new habanero-flavored Doritos, which happen to be similar in spiciness to the strips used at the restaurant. Simply crumble a few of these chips over the top of your bowl of soup, and dive in.

This super simple Chili's salsa recipe can be made in a pinch with a can of diced tomatoes, some canned jalapeños, fresh lime juice, onion, spices, and a food processor or blender. Plus you can easily double the recipe by sending in a larger 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes, and simply doubling up on all the other ingredients. Use this versatile salsa as a dip for tortilla chips or plop it down onto any dish that needs flavor assistance—from eggs to taco salads to wraps to fish. You can adjust the Chili's salsa recipe heat level to suit your taste by tweaking the amount of canned jalapeños in the mix.

Now, what's for dinner? Check out some copycat entrees from your favorite restaurants here.

The little red packets of viscous hot sauce at the fast food giant have a cult following of rabid fans who will do whatever it takes to get their hands on large quantities. One such fan of the sauce commented online, "Are there any Wendy's employees or managers out there who will mail me an entire case of Hot Chili Seasoning? I swear this is not a joke. I love the stuff. I tip extra cash to Wendy's workers to get big handfuls of the stuff." Well, there's really no need to tip any Wendy's employees, because now you can clone as much of the spicy sauce as you want in your own kitchen with this Top Secret Recipe.

The ingredients listed on the real Hot Chili Seasoning are water, corn syrup, salt, distilled vinegar, natural flavors, xanthan gum, and extractives of paprika. We'll use many of those same ingredients for our clone, but we'll substitute gelatin for the xanthan gum (a thickener) to get the slightly gooey consistency right. For the natural flavor and color we'll use cayenne pepper, cumin, paprika, and garlic powder, then filter the particles out with a fine wire-mesh strainer after they've contributed what the sauce needs.

This recipe makes 5 ounces of sauce— just the right amount to fit nicely into a used hot sauce bottle—and costs just pennies to make.

Menu Description: "Wok-seared with Chang's barbecue sauce."

One of the most popular eats on P. F. Chang's appetizer menu is the Chinese spare ribs that arrive slathered with Asian-style barbecue sauce. The Asian flavor comes from the addition of sweet hoisin sauce to a fairly rudimentary barbecue sauce formula. Chang's menu says these ribs are spare ribs although they appear to be much smaller, more like baby backs. You can certainly use either for this recipe, just be sure to trim the ribs first, since the restaurant version is lean, clean ribs with no extra meat or fat hanging off. There are several ways to cook pork ribs—P. F. Chang's boils theirs first, then fries them. After that, the ribs are tossed with the sauce in wok and served piping hot. A serving of these ribs at the restaurant is 6 individual ribs, but since a full rack is as many as 12 ribs, this recipe will make twice what you get in a serving at the bustling bistro chain.

Just like the pro chefs use. A secret blend that will make your homemade fish taste like it came from a famous seafood chain. All-natural. Contains no MSG or preservatives. Great for anyone who loves fish. And it's especially amazing on salmon.

Top Secret Fish Rub is created by Food Hacker Todd Wilbur who has spent the last 30 years reverse-engineering popular menu items at the most-loved restaurant chains across America. By identifying the herbs, spices and other ingredients that make great restaurant food taste so good, Todd created this custom Top Secret Fish Rub to help you make restaurant-style fish at home. All it takes is just a few shakes. Then cook the fish your favorite way.

5.3-ounce bottle. Money back guarantee. Kosher certified. Gluten-free.

Just like the pro chefs use. If you like restaurant-style rotisserie chicken, you'll go crazy over our Top Secret Chicken Rub. It's a secret blend of spices that will make your homemade chicken taste like it came from a famous rotisserie chicken chain. All natural. Contains no MSG or preservatives. Great for anyone who loves chicken.

Top Secret Chicken Rub is created by Food Hacker Todd Wilbur who has spent the last 30 years reverse-engineering popular menu items at the most-loved restaurant chains across America. By identifying the herbs, spices and other ingredients that make great restaurant food taste so good, Todd created this custom Top Secret Chicken Rub to help you make amazing rotisserie-style chicken at home. All it takes is just a few shakes. Then cook the chicken your favorite way.

5.8-ounce bottle. Money back guarantee. Kosher certified. Gluten-free.

One of America's favorite casual chains brings us a popular salad dressing that you can't buy in stores. Instead, buy these six simple ingredients at a store and make your own version cheaply and quickly.

Menu Description: "Breaded boneless chicken breast is delicately spiced and covered in a spicy-sweet orange glaze. Served in a big bowl over almond rice pilaf and a flavorful mixture of mushrooms, broccoli, red pepper, sugar snap peas, and shredded carrots. Topped with toasted almonds and crispy noodles."

In a dish like this, it's important to get the sauce tasting just right or the whole hack will be off. Simmering a secret blend of orange juice, brown sugar, marmalade, and few other ingredients will give you a sauce that's sweet, tangy, spicy and really, really freakin' good. Rather than going to the trouble of breading and frying the chicken from scratch, I've cut time off your prep by including frozen breaded chicken fingers that you simply bake in the oven when you're ready to assemble the dish. I used Claim Jumper brand chicken tenderloins for this recipe since one 20-ounce box was perfect for the two servings this recipe yields. However, these are mongo-huge restaurant-size portions, so you'll be able to divide this recipe up into four more modest servings if you like.

Make more of your favorite dishes from Applebee's.

It took chefs several years to develop what would eventually become KFC's most clucked about new product launch in the chain's 57-year history. With between 70 to 180 calories and four to nine grams of fat, depending on the piece, the new un-fried chicken is being called "KFC's second secret recipe," and "a defining moment in our brand's storied history" in a company press release. The secret recipe for the new grilled chicken is now stored on an encrypted computer flash drive next to the Colonel's handwritten original fried chicken recipe in an electronic safe at KFC company headquarters. Oprah Winfrey featured the chicken on her talk show and gave away so many coupons for free grilled chicken meals that some customers waited in lines for over an hour and half, and several stores ran out and had to offer rain checks. Company spokesperson Laurie Schalow told the Associated Press that KFC has never seen such a huge response to any promotion. "It's unprecedented in our more than 50 years," she said. "It beats anything we've ever done."

When I heard about all the commotion over this new secret recipe I immediately locked myself up in the underground lab with a 12-piece bucket of the new grilled chicken, plus a sample I obtained of the proprietary seasoning blend, and got right to work. After days of nibbling through what amounts to a small flock of hens, I'm happy to bring you this amazing cloned version of this fast food phenomenon so that you can now reproduce it in your own kitchen. Find the smallest chicken you can for this KFC grilled chicken copycat recipe, since KFC uses young hens. Or better yet save some dough by finding a small whole chicken and cut it up yourself. The secret preparation process requires that you marinate (brine) your chicken for a couple hours in a salt and MSG solution. This will make the chicken moist all of the way through and give it great flavor. After the chicken has brined, it's brushed with liquid smoke-flavored oil that will not only make the seasoning stick to the chicken, but will also ensure that the chicken doesn't stick to the pan. The liquid smoke in the oil gives the chicken a smoky flavor as if it had been cooked on an open flame barbecue grill.

The grilled chicken at KFC is probably cooked on ribbed metal plates in specially designed convection ovens to get those grill marks. I duplicated that process using an oven-safe grill pan, searing the chicken first on the stovetop to add the grill marks, then cooking the chicken through in the oven. If you don't have a grill pan or a grill plate, you can just sear the chicken in any large oven safe saute pan. If you have a convection function on your oven you should definitely use it, but the recipe will still work in a standard oven with the temperature set just a little bit higher. After baking the chicken for 20 minutes on each side, you're ready to dive into your own 8-piece bucket of delicious indoor grilled chicken that's as tasty as the fried stuff, but without all the fat.

Gnocchi alla Sorrentina

I could eat Italian food every day. Give me a big bowl of pasta tossed with fresh tomato sauce and I’m one happy momma.

I can’t believe I worked as long as I did in the travel field, went all over the place, and never went to Italy. It was on my list of places to travel. Mr. Mother Thyme and I were even at one point looking at getting married in Tuscany. I had this wild idea of wanting to get married in the sunflower fields. That was probably back in the day I was in love with the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun.

One day I’ll get there, when the kiddos are older. In the meantime, I’ll live vicariously through my mom who just returned from Italy a few weeks ago. Sometimes the best way to enjoy another country is through food and you don’t even need to get a plane. It is a great way to enjoy other cultures from the spices used to the way is food is prepared. Food tells such a beautiful story and connects others to places they may never get to.

I was thrilled for this month’s Secret Recipe Club to have been assigned Manu’s Menu. Written by the talented Manuela, she takes us on a culinary journey with delicious recipes throughout Italy and beyond. Her mouthwatering photos make you hungry for more. One recipe after another looks incredible. From authentic Italian cuisine to a variety of other tasty recipes, Manu’s Menu is one blog you definitely want to follow.

I had the hardest time picking just one recipe to feature. Some of my favorites are Pasta with Creamy Broccoli and Pine Nut Sauce and Pesto Lasagne just to name a few. I settled on Gnocchi alla Sorrentina because I just couldn’t wait to try it. With a simple tomato sauce, and fresh mozzarella, melted and bubbly, what could be better? All you need is a fork to enjoy this authentic dish from Sorrento. Set the mood with little Andrea Bocelli playing in the background while you dine, and transport yourself to Italy with each delicious bite, no passport required.

Luxury Homes In Tuscany: Castello Di Casole

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The region of Tuscany, in central Italy, is dotted by idyllic green meadows rich with vineyards and olive trees, winding roads and magnificent medieval mansions and villas that elegantly show their age and style. This typical postcard destination in the heart of Italy, its lush beauty and timeless tranquility have been the inspiration of poets, musicians and painters.

This is a place where beauty and charm abound, ideal for a unique getaway. Fortunately, the availability of a resort property in the meadows is a dream come true thanks to Castello di Casole, a hotel and real estate development from Timbers Resorts, a company specialized in luxury residential properties for sale or rental.The 4,200-acre complex is one of the largest private grounds in Italy and has remained untouched and unpolluted, alien to modernity, for hundreds of years. Located about 25 miles from the Mediterranean coast (secrets of the Tuscan coast) and about 45 minutes south of Florence, Castello di Casole is also only 20 minutes from the beautiful walled city of Siena, two and a half hours from Rome and very close to Umbria, the Chianti wine region and the Apennines.

This luxury real estate project consists of fully renovated country estates, featuring a perfect balance of original medieval aesthetics with the amenities of modern times. But the jewel in the crown of this idyllic development is Castello di Casole, an ancient castle transformed into an exclusive boutique hotel, which was built as a defensive fortress in the 10th century. Although the old building fell into disrepair in the 15th century, it was later restored to its former glory and in mid 20th century became the property of the famous film director Luchino Visconti, who used the castle to entertain the brightest Hollywood stars and luminaries of Italian cinema.

In addition, the original cellar with vaulted ceilings—as old as the castle—was turned into a luxury spa with seven rooms for exclusive treatments, in which local ingredients such as rosemary, grape and olive oil are the norm. Pool, steam baths and comfortable spaces ensure true relaxation while the serene surroundings of the area transport you to simpler, more peaceful times.

Meanwhile, the surrounding properties—villas and stone mansions for sale—have been carefully renovated and decorated, maintaining the smallest detail of the old structures but incorporating the functionality and comfort of the modern era.

View from a pool in the Castello Di Casole

If you ever wished for a summerhouse in the most idyllic part of Italy, Castello di Casole is your dream come true. You don’t even have to worry about the maintenance and safety of the homes because the housekeeping, butler and security services are guaranteed throughout the year. Everything is resolved, and the beauty of the landscape is an added benefit. It is definitely a unique opportunity to come home every summer to enjoy the Tuscan sun. ■



  1. Keagan

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  2. Baptiste

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  3. Doutaxe

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  4. Lir

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  5. Fedal

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  6. Ananda

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  7. Muramar

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