Enjoying beautiful Mediterranean weather, delicious fresh organic foods from our garden, laughing and having fun with our guests, did not do anything to change his mind about Italy. When Papa Antonio, our farm neighbor who has more animals then Noah’s Ark, called to ask if we might be interested in buying half of a cow, I responding yes with pleasure, especially hearing daily about the mad cow disease that was a concern in Europe at the time.. We would be reassured of quality meat knowing that Papa Antonio raises animals for his family’s consumption. I have seen him thrash the wheat himself to make into animal feed. I was pleased when at least Jorge agreed that it was a good idea, especially since we consume a great deal of meat to nourish our steady flow of vacationing guests.

Weeks passed before Papa Antonio called to say he would bring the meat over. Working in my office, I left Jorge downstairs to greet him. My intuition was that it might make him happy to get involve, talk and get to know our neighbor, put away the meat and become involved in farm life. Moments after the car arrived, I heard Jorge’s, Desi Arnez yell to Luceeee, Dashing down the stairs, entering the kitchen, I saw before me half of a headless cow, lying end to end on our kitchen work table. “ What the hell is this?” Jorge yelled. “ I guess half of a cow” I answered, knowing that it was not what he wanted to hear. Looking over to Papa Antonio I explained that I didn’t think he would bring over the animal. Papa Antonio’s answer in Italian was that he thought my husband was a doctor. Yes, I tried to explain, but not a butcher. He added, “they do the same work, meat is meat isn’t it?”.20130925_162517

Book Dedication

20130923_151138     MARY CONCETTA VALLERA

On her 100th birthday, Oct 9th 2013

There have been many influences in my life, my parents, husband, children, sisters and other relatives and friends that have been forces contributing to my being who I am today. But, as for food culture, the dominate influence is my mother, an Italian immigrant who unknowingly gave me a culture based on tradition and well being.

With little formal education, never having benefited from the advise of millions of professionals in the food and health professions, never having followed dietary trends, weigh lost programs, or catering to health clubs, lived well adhering solely to the tradition and culture of her native land. I wish to share with my readers the food culture that I experienced due to her influence, that when her family adhered to her advise, had wonderful results, and when they deviated, had to experience the consequence endured by many in the modern world.


“ La Miseria” ( difficult times) is the best teacher” were the words of my copper maker in Pescia. Giovanni, known to his friends as Nino, is the last of the 300 or more copper artisans that lived in this area of Tuscany. At 86 he still hammers away everyday to make the wonderful cooking pots, of which many can be seen hanging on my kitchen wall. He explains the word “La Miseria” which refers to the most difficult period in Italy when he like many others had experienced the most meager of diets. He feels fortunate to have lived during this period when one had to learn to survive with so little. He did add that as meager as the diet may have been, the food was genuine. His story as well as those of many of our favorite artisans which I wish to share, helps one understand the role of food culture played in giving Italians their passion for life, and its importance to a nation.

During the time of “La Miseria” it was the knowledge of the italian peasant farmer who out of necessity learned to be creative with what was available. These simple folks with no culinary school experience used all they possessed to transform the pangs of hunger and anxiety with their creative skills, imagination, and physical effort to survive on the only diet available at the time. Even the upper classes in the cities depended on the farmer to provide them with the basics for survival. Provisions for the elite were mainly greens and fruits that the farmer may have in his garden. Rarely available were meats. If the farmer was able to kill a chicken or a bird, it would not be for his family but to sell. Besides selling to the elite he also taught them how to use and cook with the items provided.

Never would I imagine that the act of walking through the warped with age, double green doors, of Nino’s bottega, would have so influenced my life. By sharing with me his philosophy of living, and his appreciation of life’s simple pleasures. He had me reflect on my surroundings, nature’s beauty, and the fortune I have in never being without food to nourish me or a shelter to protect me. I often have to be reminded of my richness, having family and friends to love and to be loved. What more does one need in life?

Villa Lucia Oil

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Our oil is extra-virgin oil made from the olive trees on our property in Montevettolini, Italy. Our oil is a full-flavored, golden-green olive oil, redolent with fruit and a pronounced peppery bite. This pleasant, sharp sensation is a marker of both its high antioxidant quality as well as its anti-inflammatory properties. It also indicates that care was taken during harvest and production. The olives are harvested by hand, at the perfect moment of ripeness, and swiftly brought to a processing facility merely minutes away.

Villa Lucia produces on their organic farm, extra-virgin olive oil, verified by computer analysis of its acidity and perossidy (oxidation) to be classified as extra-virgin, according to the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC), that regulates and authenticates olive oil. Extra-virgin must have less than .8 acidity and perossidy not to exceed 20. Oil not cared for by being exposed to heat, light, or foul odors will deteriorate in quality, lead to rancidity, increase in acidity, and perossidy, decreasing its nutritional value.

Following the pressing of our Villa Lucia olives, oil is put immediately into stainless steel tanks to protect its nutritional qualities and taste. For the past 30 years Villa Lucia continues to produce extra-virgin oil that computer analysis, recognized by the IOOC, has proven to meet the requirements to be classified as extra-virgin.

Best Way to Enjoy Our Olive Oil: 

Our oil is condiment oil, meant to enhance your foods after cooking. By using it raw, you preserve our oil’s exceptional flavor and nutritional qualities. Try it drizzled over pasta, salad, cooked greens, or brushed on crostini. Explore the many ways to enjoy our unique olive oil.

Olive Oil & Food Culture

“ The olive tree is surely the richest gift from heaven” THOMAS JEFFERSON


I was introduced to good olive oil over 70 years ago. I was just a baby, too young to be cognizant of what I was being fed, but every Italian mother in those days would prepare for their little ones, a little broth made of carrots and celery, to be the base for pastini, ( tiny pieces of pasta) and enriched of course with olive oil. Today in Italy when visited by Italians with babies, the practice is still followed. When a friend stayed with us for a month with little 3 year old Eduardo, first thing in the morning Angela, Eduardo’s mother, while having her coffee, would start making a broth with carrots and celery to add pastini later (small noodles). Daily changes were made as she might often substituted pastini with mashed carrots, greens, squash, potatoes, or other seasonal vegetable. The dish may vary, but always topped with that olive oil just as my mother in law did when feeding Jason, my youngest as a child. When asked if it was my diet, my mother responded in the positive. It was an inexpensive yet healthy dish, easy for a baby to digest, warm comfort food in any weather, bathed in olive oil most likely made by a family member or trusted friend.

Needless to say, baby food was out of the question in those days and if present, not trusted by the old fashion Italian mamas. What I do recall is always having olive oil on the dinner table as a youngster to enrich dishes, definitely for our dinner salads, and if a drop should fall onto the table, to be recycled onto our skin as a moisturizer. We were never to waste a single drop of this liquid gold. If I had the flu, a teaspoon of olive oil could be my medicine. If I had a cold, of course olive oil might be helpful. If I was constipated, no question of its beneficial properties. If I had the opposite problem, lower bowel alimentary stoppage, well I am not sure, don’t recall, but would not be surprised if my old fashion mama would have given me olive oil for that as well.


I hated hair washing days in elementary school. That meant the night before I would have to sleep with a head bathed in olive oil, wrapped and enveloped into a plastic cap until morning, It was then that I often told my mom, “ enough with this oil”. None of my friends with modern american mothers had their kids do this. I hated even sleeping with the smell of Zia Michellina’s freshly made oil from Abruzzo. My friends used perfumed items. Maybe for economical reasons, but creams, perfumes, scented soaps and conditioners, never had a chance to compete with my mom and her olive oil.

When off to college I was able to escape from my mother’s liquid gold and become an American. That is when I learned how to use colorful salad dressings with strange gluey like substances that at first I could not tolerate but wanting to be an American, so learned to adopt. Married life brought olive oil back into my kitchen, but never appreciated or omnipresent as it was in my youth. That is until 1985 when moving to Italy and finding myself on a farm of neglected olive trees. I had no knowledge of what to do with them but knew they were too sacred to cut down.


America is one of 23 countries producing olive oil. The industry is monitored, controlled, and regulated by the International Council of Olive Oil producers, an international agency with headquarters in Madrid Spain. The IOOC is the agency that classifies olive oil according to the various categories. If meeting certain standards one’s olive oil can use the approved verbiage on their product verifying that what is in the bottle is as noted on the label. Unfortunately until the last two years, 95% of all imported olive oils were mislabeled. America, the only producer that is not a member of the IOOC was not controlled , therefore any oil could have been called extra virgin, without meeting the standards of the IOOC: FDA had little concern being that they had more important matters to attend to. In the USA olive oil is controlled by the US Dept of Agriculture that had classified American oil as fancy, standard and sub -standard according to their regulations, set up in 1948 and never revised until many demands of the California Olive Oil Producers led to new classifications in 2010. Although a great step forward, still there is a need for the FDA to become involved to verify the contents of the bottle which a USDA logo does not certify.

Itchy Boobs

Serving dinner to some 20 guests during Jorge’s first week at the farm, I was amused more than concerned as he continued to follow me into the kitchen while serving to complain about his itchy nipples. “ what are you talking about? “ I questioned him, disturbed that he should be so concerned for a minor itch, knowing what woman go through at times, it was annoying. I was more concerned about our guests being served their food hot and on time, then a few itches on a man’s breast. Seeing his dreadful, worried face, he continued to repeat his predicament. I continued to serve our guests, avoiding him so as not to hear his constant plea for attention. Ignoring his dilemma at first, I did become a little concerned after the guests retired to their rooms. He explained that he knew without a doubt that he was experiencing a hormonal imbalance. This would require a possible return to Newport Beach, California for a lab study. Of course this study could be done in Italy, but I interpreted it as a reason for a trip back being that he was so unhappy in Italy.

The next morning as I was preparing breakfast, I heard that loud Desi Arnez latin scream for Lucy coming from our room upstairs. As I ran up the stairs concerned that he might have fallen in the shower, I found him stepping out of the shower with a stern look of discuss.” Where is your estrogen patch? ” he asked. Pulling up my shirt, I noticed a sticky 2 inch by 1 inch border of gluey residue, framing where a patch once was placed to the right of my navel. Before I could complete my sentence of not knowing where it went, he added,” I know where it is, on the dam arch of my left foot” Apparently two days before it had slipped off my belly in the shower and somehow, got attached to his foot during his shower. When commenting that I had no idea it worked so well, he answered that it worked dam well and added if he didn’t remove it soon he might continue to see some parts of his anatomy continue to grow and others continue to shrink.

As I quickly escaped downstairs, excusing myself to resume my breakfast duties, his voice carried throughout the house as he yelled out how much he hated this country. Now tell me, what does this have to do with Italy? When he joined the rest of the group for breakfast and told his story of having experienced 48 hours of fresh estrogen, they laughed continuously for what seemed like 30 minutes. . He didn’t think it so amusing as he explained that his voice may adopt a slightly higher pitch in tone. He then looked up to the ceiling, with hands outstretch high and questioned what many have heard him ask,” Why Me God:?”

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Bon Appètit Article: Too Busy To Cook?


       Lucy’s recipes  as featured in the MAY 2000 Bon Appètit  the Soul of Tuscany  edition

Recipes include: Farfalle with Gorgonzola Sauce, Roasted Tomatoes with Anchovies, Garlic & Parsley, Lucia’s Breakfast Cake, Spumante-Vodka Cocktail with Lemon Sorbet

Farfalle with Gorgonzola Sauce: 4 first-course servings


1 1/4 cups crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (about 5 ounces)

1 cup whipping cream

8 ounces farfalle (bow-tie) pasta

1/3 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped

3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley


Combine 1 cup cheese and cream in heavy small saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Uncover; whisk until cheese melts and sauce is smooth, about 2 minutes. Set sauce aside.

Cook pasta in a pot of salted boiling water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain pasta; return to same pot. Add Gorgonzola sauce. Toss over medium heat until heated through and sauce coats pasta thickly, about 3 minutes. Season pasta with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese, walnuts and parsley.

Roasted Tomatoes with Anchovies, Garlic and Parsley: Makes about 3 cups and is best served over pasta


1 1/2 pounds large plum tomatoes, each cut lengthwise into 6 wedges

10 anchovy fillets, chopped

1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

1/2 cup olive oil


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange tomatoes, rounded side down, in single layer in 13X9X2-inch glass baking dish. Sprinkle with anchovies, parsley, garlic and dried red pepper, then salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil. Bake tomatoes uncovered until tender; wrinkled and starting to brown at edges, about 40 minutes.

Lucia’s Breakfast Cake: makes 6-8 servings


3 cups all purpose flour

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

6 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter bottom of 9-inch diameter springform pan. Blend flour, sugar and salt in processor 5 seconds. Add butter and process, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add yolks and vanilla and blend until dough holds together. Press dough onto bottom of prepared pan. Use tines of fork to decorate edge. Brush with glaze. Bake cake until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Spumante-Vodka Cocktail with Lemon Sorbet: Makes 6 servings.

*Lucy likes to serve this as a refreshing dessert or a great brunch drink.


1 pint (2 cups) frozen lemon sorbet

1 1/2 cups spumante or Champagne

6 tablespoons vodka

6 tablespoons whipping cream


Spoon frozen sorbet into blender. Add spumante, vodka and whipping cream. Blend until smooth, about 1 minute. Divide among 6 Champagne flutes or wineglasses and serve.

Artisans of Yesterday and Their Passion for Life

Ceramics with Lucy (2)Although artisans of yesterday are few in number, Tuscany is fortunate to still have several historical bottegas, artisan workshops, as testament to former times. Before the industrial revolution and mass production became the norm, the dominate production of goods were made by artisans, who enjoyed a high social status. Creating from a simple piece to art form they reflected their personal aesthetics, values, and imagination, providing their masters with unique pieces of beauty, reflecting their talent and individual qualities.
Ceramics (2)Villa Lucia organizes visits to some of the local artisans, who continue to work in their workshops, creating objects of beauty and uniqueness by hand from raw materials, either functional or strictly decorative. Culinary artisans, making hand-made food products are also visited and like craftsmen, often learn their trade from relatives providing a chain of first hand knowledge through generations. Most of the artisans developed a passion for their work in their early years, which gave them a life-long committment to their craft.
Ceramic Paints (2)