Cookbook Review: “Mamma Agata – Simple and Genuine” by Chiara Lima

Sometimes you happen across a cookbook that you know you’ll treasure for the rest of your life. That’s how I felt when I first looked through Chiara Lima’s beautiful cookbook Mamma Agata – “Simple and Genuine” Italian Family Recipes. I’ve written many times here on Ciao Amalfi about my adventures discovering and learning about cooking here on the Amalfi Coast. Imagine my excitement when I discovered that Chiara Lima, director of the Mamma Agata Cooking School on the Amalfi Coast, had written a cookbook of her mother Agata’s traditional family recipes. Here was a chance to step inside a family kitchen and learn about real home cooking here on the Amalfi Coast. And you couldn’t find a warmer or more welcoming kitchen than Mamma Agata’s to step in to!

Image courtesy Mamma Agata Cooking School

More than just a cookbook, Mamma Agata – “Simple and Genuine” is a labor of love, telling the story of Agata’s life in Ravello, cooking up her wonderful dishes for movie stars and sharing her talents in the kitchen at the cooking school founded in 1994. Throughout the book you also meet Agata’s family, including her daughter Chiara who writes with passion and love about her family’s history and cooking traditions.

One of the hallmarks of Mamma Agata’s recipes, which is reflected in the title of the book, is that good food doesn’t have to be complicated. To make authentic home cooked Italian dishes all you need are fresh ingredients and the know how to accentuate and combine flavors. The recipes in this cookbook take you step by step through the process of preparing Agata’s signature dishes. The photography throughout the cookbook is extraordinary and leaves you yearning to move right in with Mamma Agata at her beautiful home in Ravello. Each recipe is accompanied by step by step photos that make following the recipes easy and natural.

One of my favorite touches in the cookbook are the sections called “Mamma Agata’s Recommendations” and “Mamma Agata’s Secrets” that are interspersed throughout the recipes steps. While I’m cooking her recipes, it really feels like Mamma Agata is there looking over my shoulder and offering little tips and suggestions to make sure I get it just right. Cooking isn’t simply about following a recipe, and I learned some really handy tips about cooking from these recommendations.


Mamma Agata and her family refer to their beautiful home and cooking school as “The Hidden Treasure,” and it truly is a magical spot on the Amalfi Coast. For those who have visited the cooking school and all the rest of you who might dream of visiting some day, this beautiful cookbook will be a real treasure. I can tell you that it has quickly become one of my most prized resources in the kitchen. It’s already been splattered by tomatoes bubbling away on the stove and filled with notes as if I’ve already owned it for a lifetime. Anyone who has traveled to and enjoyed the wonderful cooking here on the Amalfi Coast will also treasure this wonderful resource.


Psst… Don’t miss meeting Chiara Lima on her USA BOOK TOUR!

For those of you reading in America, Chiara Lima will be traveling to many locations on a book tour during the month of November, including stops Bernardsville, New Jersey and New York City before continuing on to Chicago and then Dallas. Check here to see all the details on the dates and event venues. Best of luck to my sweet friend Chiara on her book tour to America!

Weekend Reads: “The Wedding Officer” by Anthony Capella

Is there anything better than disappearing for a weekend with a good book? I love stories that pull you in and transport you to another world, especially if that world is someplace in beautiful Italy! For Weekend Reads, Lisa Fantino from Wanderlust Women Travel is here to tell us about one of her favorite books, which is set in Naples, Italy in the 1940s. This book is a wonderful weekend escape, but I’ll let Lisa tell you all about it.

Welcome, Lisa!


Anyone who’s ever been to London knows that you are up and down, and down and up, on an endless wave of moving stairs taking you to the subterranean Tube, which then moves you to and fro beneath the streets above. It’s a lot of time spent moving and ad agencies in London take full advantage of that by plastering the tube walls with posters for everything from safe sex and a lot of West End shows to books. That is how I discovered Anthony Capella and fell in love with “The Wedding Officer.”


Wedding Officer Anthony Capella

London is my second home but Italy is where my heart and soul reside and as my journey to London neared an end, I needed a book for my next flight to Athens. The adverts for “The Wedding Officer” so intrigued me that I purposefully made my way to Oxford Street and grabbed a copy at the Waterstone’s near the Bond St. tube They had such a sale that I grabbed 3 more novels to lug home. But I digress……………….

Capella had me at “ciao,” to butcher another writer’s line! This author is wonderful at blending the Italian language, its nuances and passions, into a slow simmer with its culture and the foreigners who come to love all things Italian. He captures the smallest references to the Napoletani’s wariness of outsiders and how that evolves into an inevitable acceptance if the foreigner manages to be resilient enough to withstand the scrutiny.

Capella’s love affair with food is at once erotic and sensual, as when James’ love interest, Livia, fights with others in a street market to grab a swordfish for dinner (afterall, the best is always worth fighting for) or she dances a passionate tarantella in the center of the piazza! It’s an ongoing dance between the couple, as he struggles with her language and customs, and she strains under the religious morals of 1940 Naples to realize her sensual potential.

Yet, this is also a story of war and the losses suffered and the love that helps people survive. Very few writers are as gifted as Capella in conveying both historical facts and passionate dreams in the same breath. He draws you into a place and a time that you never want to leave. It took me a year after reading “The Wedding Officer” to visit Campania for the first time……..and it still takes my breath away each and every time!


Lisa Fantino is an award-winning journalist and attorney. She is the creative force and Italian travel concierge for Wanderlust Women Travel and the Amalfi Coast destination wedding site Wanderlust Weddings. She recently launched Amalfi Blu, gifts and jewelry inspired by the beauty of the Amalfi Coast. In her spare time, she also writes travel features for MNUI Travel Insurance and blogs as Lady Litigator.

Cookbook Review: Cooking Up an Italian Life by Sharon Sanders

I enjoy cooking throughout the year. But when the weather begins to feel cooler, and the sycamore leaves turn that light golden hue, I find myself looking forward to the evening hours and preparing dinner. The first rainy day—with a cool breeze blowing down from the mountains—has come and gone, and with came the first supper of pasta fagioli (pasta with beans). This is a dish I crave in the autumn and winter, but often find too heavy for the summer months. I love how cooking has become a part of my daily life, and one that I look forward to and do with passion. Without a doubt, Italy has done that to me. Over the past three years I’ve gone from being a person who followed recipes religiously and cooked because it had to be done to a person who reads cookbooks for fun, enjoys being in the kitchen and invents new recipes. Every part of the cooking process, from picking out the freshest ingredients to chopping to serving, has become a pleasurable part of my daily life in Italy. Yes, Italy will just do that to a person!

This summer it was a pleasure to meet Sharon Sanders, food writer, editor and author, while she was visiting the Amalfi Coast. Talk about someone who has experienced the transformational power of the Italian lifestyle and cuisine! Sharon fell in love with Italy at a young age while she was living and working in Florence. (Where she just happened to meet and fall in love with her husband Walter Sanders from Chicago as well!) What started in Florence turned into a lifelong love affair with Italian cuisine and lead her to write Cooking Up an Italian Life: Simple Pleasures of Italy in Recipes and Stories. This cookbook is a labor of love for Sharon, driven by her desire to share the beauty and simplicity of Italian cooking with others who have been equally transformed by the Italian approach to appreciating the value of good food enjoyed with family and friends.

Cooking Up an Italian Life

Sharon’s sweet and positive outlook on living Italian in your daily life comes across on every page of Cooking Up an Italian Life. One of the themes of her cookbook is living like an Italian no matter where you happen to live in the world, especially when it comes to how you eat on a daily basis. You don’t have to live in Italy to bring the fundamental aspects of Italian cooking and the country’s unique food culture into your life. Throughout the cookbook, Sharon shares her insights on how to live an Italian lifestyle … starting right in your own kitchen!

Each recipe in the cookbook is cleverly designed as a complete meal, with suggestions and recipes for complementary salads, wines and desserts included on the same page. This makes it easy to plan a nice meal and prepare your shopping list in advance. Sharon’s recipes center around the key elements of Italian cooking, while also allowing for creativity and flexibility of ingredients depending on your location. It’s this mixture that makes Sharon’s cooking a refreshing and inspiring read. Her essays about traveling, living and learning about Italian cuisine are interspersed with the recipes and add a wonderfully personal feel to the cookbook.

Over a leisurely lunch in Amalfi earlier this summer, we shared our stories of loving Italy and how we each discovered our “Inner Italian,” as Sharon describes people like us who connect deeply with Italy but who, unfortunately, lack the genetic requirements to be Italian. But that’s just a technicality, after all. Sharon hasn’t let this get in the way of living her life Italian, and she certainly follows her motto “Cook Italian, Be Happy” each and every day.

You can learn more about Sharon, her cookbook and travels in Italy at her lovely website and blog Simple Italy – Feeding Your Inner Italian … Body and Soul.

Bleeding Espresso’s Gita Italiana 2010


Have you all been following the Gita Italiana 2010 (Italy Tour 2010) over at Bleeding Espresso? If you love Italy, then this is the perfect chance to do some virtual traveling around the boot this month. Michelle has invited guest writers from all over Italy to write about where they live, and each day until the end of August you have the chance to read about another beautiful spot in Italy each day. Plus, she’s doing Italy themed book giveaways on Mondays until the end of the month! Really, does it get any better?

I am honored to have been included in Michelle’s Gita Italiana this year, and I wrote Mountains & Sea: Between Two Worlds on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Check out my article, and be sure to follow along on the Gita Italiana 2010!

Head Over Heels in Love with the Amalfi Coast



Recently, I was asked to write a guest post with the theme of “love” over at Andrea Perullo’s wonderful blog My Beautiful Adventures. The first thing that came to mind, of course, was the Amalfi Coast! Head over to Andi’s blog to read my guest post Love: Head Over Heels For the Amalfi Coast.

What do you love most about the Amalfi Coast?