A Kiss in the Kitchen

a photographic exploration of Italian food, culture & wine

Tag: Italian

White Mountains TV Interview

I was recently interviewed on White Mountains TV in New Hampshire and here is the video of it. They haven’t had a food photographer on the show before so they thought it would be a fun and different perspective. Hey, who doesn’t like to talk about food, right?!  This area in the White Mountains is huge for weddings so there are a lot of wedding and portrait photographers here but not many that are professional food photographers.
The host Rob Clark was very animated and asked some great questions about the product photography and restaurant photography that I’ve been working on. We started off talking about my shoot in Sicily for a luxury olive oil company and estate called Mandranova and showed some images of the villa, the olive harvest and the food that will be in the book they are publishing this year.
Since I do a lot of bottle photography in my studio we touched on that as well and I was able to show some samples of my work and explain the importance of lighting and how it can make a dish look appetizing or not so appetizing.
It was broadcast in standard definition so the images were not crystal clear but hope anyone interested would check out my website. I now work out of New York and New Hampshire and am working on capturing some business from Maine. There are so many restaurants and foodies in Portland, Maine so I spend quite a bit of time there as of late.  Thanks for watching and check out more of my work and passions on my website at www.lesliebrienzaphotography.com.


From the tree to the bottle – The olive harvest in Sicily

Last month, I was commissioned by Mandranova, a luxury villa and olive oil company in Sicily, to photograph the olive harvest, the estate and the recipes for their forthcoming book. This book will celebrate and coincide with their tenth anniversary and will include many of the authentic Sicilian recipes they prepare for the guests like Cannoli, Timballo di anelletti, and Pasta con le sarde a mare. These are some of the images from the harvest to the finished product. More of my work, including food and wine images, can be seen on my website. Thank you for letting me share this short photo essay with you. If you have any food, product or lifestyle projects please contact me below or visit my website at www.lesliebrienzaphotography.com

The method of collecting and gathering the olives on nets in Sicily

The method of collecting and gathering the olives on nets in Sicily

A worker gathering a handful of Nocellara olives during the harvest

A worker gathering a handful of Nocellara olives during the harvest






From tree to mill as quickly as the baskets can be filled. Always a tractor standing by to guarantee the freshest oil possible

A peaceful and contemplative scene in the mill. My job was to capture moments like this and the way of life in Sicily

Always enjoyed photographing in the production facility especially when I could hold a small cup under this fresh and warm stream of olive oil










They also produce a blend. This is the new bottle from the 2015 harvest. Bottles are one of my specialties and all the magic happens in my studio

They also produce a blend. This is the new bottle from the 2015 harvest. Bottle photography is one of my specialties and all the magic happens in my studio

Four olive varieties are grown on the property, Nocellara, Giarraffa, Biancolilla and Cerasuola. All native to Sicily. This is one of the styled bottle shots of the Giarraffa I shot in my studio

Four olive varieties are grown on the property, Nocellara, Giarraffa, Biancolilla and Cerasuola. All native to Sicily. This is one of the styled bottle shots of the Giarraffa I shot in my studio

Classic Italian Risotto

Classic Italian Risotto

Classic Italian Risotto. Photo by Leslie Brienza

I learned many things about cooking good Italian food while spending the summer with my relatives in Italy. The way they simply prepare the meals, the high quality, natural products they use and the conversations and good times that evolve around the dinner table are all part of every day life there.  These are things we rarely see or have time for anymore in the U.S. 
The one thing I remember most from cooking with them is that they don’t measure or weigh hardly at all. It’s all about ‘a pinch of this’, ‘a bunch of that’, ‘about 20 of those,’ or ‘a handful of these’. Unless it’s a specific dessert where precise measurements are required it really isn’t that important. We tend to complicate things by using recipes that have 30 ingredients which, to me, taste just as good when using only six. Of course the quality of ingredients used is why they only need a few.
I made this risotto without any measuring because I only watched what they were doing but didn’t write it down. Nonetheless I was so happy with the results. It also allows for a more relaxed way of cooking.  A lot of it is in the method of preparation which Italians make so simple. The following recipe has simple guided measurements otherwise It wouldn’t help you at all. Just keep in mind these are approximations and the most important things are the quality of ingredients and the way the ingredients are prepared.
Since I can remember I’ve always made risotto with arborio rice and some will argue this is the king of rice for risotto. Well, I discovered that many use carnaroli rice as well and when I asked my relatives it was split down the middle. I decided to try it with carnaroli for the first time. What I found was that the risotto seemed a lot creamier and also absorbed more of the broth than I remember when using the arborio, lending it more flavor. Even with more absorption of the liquid the rice still held it’s texture and firmness. Carnaroli will now be my rice of choice from now on.  I wonder how it would be for rice pudding, hmmm, that’s another post! If you’ve tried it or have any tips for your own risotto post a comment below.

This recipe made enough for four as a first course.

Classic Italian Risotto
Serves 4
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
50 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
50 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
  1. Carnaroli rice - about one cup
  2. Chicken broth- I used about one quart
  3. 1/2 onion, chopped fine
  4. Extra virgin olive oil- enough to soften the onions
  5. 2 generous pinches of salt
  6. White wine - I used about 1/2 cup
  7. 2 pats of butter
  8. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese- freshly grated-I used about 1/2 - 3/4 cup
  9. Truffle oil, to drizzle on top
  10. Black pepper, freshly ground
  11. Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
  1. Heat chicken broth in a saucepan to almost boiling
  2. In another larger saucepan cook chopped onion in olive oil over medium heat until translucent
  3. Add rice and cook until starches start to release
  4. Add white wine and salt and cook until wine is evaporated
  5. Add broth, one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly until evaporated after each addition
  6. Once rice is al dente turn heat to low and add butter and cheese stirring until incorporated
  7. let rest for about five minutes before spooning into bowls
  8. Top with truffle oil and crushed black pepper to taste
  9. Garnish with fresh basil
A Kiss in the Kitchen http://akissinthekitchen.com/

Rainbow Cookies

Rainbow Cookies have been a tradition in Italian-American baking dating back to the 1900’s by Italian immigrants. They are red, white and green, imitating the colors of the Italian flag, and was a way for them to honor and hold on to the heritage of their country. They are also known as Tricolor and Italian Flag cookies. In the past, I’ve made a twist on the tradition and in honor of our Independence Day in the U.S., I’ve made them red, white and blue instead of the traditional red, white and green. These are one of my favorite cookies to make at Christmas but definitely can make these any time of year. They are full of almond paste and raspberry jam, topped with semi sweet chocolate so can be a bit heavy and rich but oh so good! They are also easy to make but very time consuming. It takes at least three hours to make these beautiful treats but well worth the effort.

Rainbow Cookies. Photo by Leslie Brienza

Rainbow Cookies
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Total Time
3 hr
Total Time
3 hr
  1. 7 oz almond paste
  2. 1 cup sugar
  3. 3 sticks butter, unsalted, softened
  4. 4 large eggs, separated
  5. 1 teaspoon almond extract
  6. 2 cups sifted flour
  7. 1/4 teaspoon salt
  8. 7 drops red food coloring
  9. 7 drops blue food coloring (green for traditional)
  10. 10 oz raspberry preserves, seedless
  11. 8 oz semisweet chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F and grease three 13x9 inch metal or glass baking pans with straight edges
  2. Line bottom of each pan with parchment paper and extend over the sides, then grease the paper
  3. Break apart the almond paste into a food processor and grind with sugar until smooth.
  4. Transfer to a large bowl, add butter and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy
  5. Add yolks and almond extract and beat for two minutes at medium speed
  6. Beat in flour and salt on low speed
  7. Clean off beaters and in a separate bowl beat egg whites until they just hold stiff peaks, about three minutes
  8. Stir one-third egg whites into batter until incorporated
  9. Fold in remaining whites gently until blended
  10. Divide batter into thirds (about 13 oz each)
  11. Stir blue (or green) food coloring into one third of the batter and red food coloring into another, leaving one third plain.
  12. Spread batters in each of the separate baking pans in a thin layer.
  13. Bake layers one at a time until just set and edges begin to brown, 9 to 12 minutes
  14. Loosen edges of cake with a knife then invert layer onto a cooling rack and cool completely
  15. Once all layers are cooled transfer blue (or green) layer to a cookie sheet, spread half of the preserves on top, top with plain layer, add remaining preserves, then top with red layer.
  16. Cover layers with plastic wrap and top with heavy cutting board and/or weight.
  17. Chill three hours or overnight
  18. Melt chocolate in a small metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water
  19. Remove weight and plastic wrap from layers and spread chocolate over the top only
  20. Let chocolate harden at room temperature for about one hour
  21. Cut twelve rows crosswise then cut twelve rows diagonal to make diamond shapes.
  1. ~Eggs should be at room temperature as they have less viscosity, which helps the cake rise easier
  2. ~Soften butter at room temperature
  3. ~Sift flour before measuring so it aerates which makes a more light and fluffy cake
  4. ~Even though cake layers are thin don't open the oven!
  5. ~After cooling weigh down layers with heavy cookie sheet and a weight
A Kiss in the Kitchen http://akissinthekitchen.com/

Pasta with Swordfish, Eggplant & Tomatoes

Pasta with Swordfish, Eggplant and Tomatoes. Photo by Leslie Brienza


 OK, it’s getting hot outside! When I think of a pasta dish for a hot summer night I think about one that goes well with white wine. Even better if the wine can also be used in the recipe!
The wine I chose for both purposes is one I had on hand, the 2008 Methven Family Vineyards Hillside Blanc. This comes from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and has about 1% residual sugar. It’s considered off dry with just a hint of sweetness. Perfect for balancing out the sweetness in the tomatoes. Ah, I feel cooler already!
Since this particular wine is not easy to find a nice Italian Pinot Grigio would work as well. On another note, I prefer to use only good wine to add to my dishes. If it’s not good enough to drink then it definitely shouldn’t be used in the dish.
Tomatoes are ripe and bursting with sweetness now so an obvious choice to brighten up the flavor and presentation. I found some local cherry tomatoes this week at the farmer’s market so this is what I’ll use.
This is a light, healthy and delicious meal that takes about 20 minutes once ingredients are prepped. I know my neighbors were envious when they smelled the aromas in the hallway!
A salad and crusty bread would be all that’s needed to round out the meal. Leave me your comments and let me know how you liked it and if there’s anything you would do different. Buon appetito~ 

Pasta with Swordfish, Eggplant & Tomatoes
Serves 4
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
20 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
20 min
  1. 1 pound fresh swordfish, cut in cubes
  2. 1 large eggplant, peeled, cut in strips lengthwise then in 1” pieces
  3. 4 tablespoons olive oil
  4. 2 cloves garlic, smashed then roughly chopped
  5. 6 large basil leaves, chopped, and some whole leaves for garnish
  6. Salt
  7. Pepper
  8. 1 pound penne or rigatoni pasta
  9. ¾ cup dry white wine
  10. 1 teaspoon oregano, dried
  11. 12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  12. Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, optional
  1. Trim skin from swordfish, cut into 1” cubes and set aside.
  2. Peel eggplant, cut into ¼” strips lengthwise then cut crossways into 1 ½” strips. Set aside.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in pan over medium heat then add garlic and basil.
  4. Sauté until aromatic but not burned, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add eggplant and stir to combine. Cook over medium high heat until browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside in a bowl.
  6. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in same pan and reduce heat to medium. Salt and pepper the swordfish generously. Add to pan and sauté until browned on all sides, about 4 minutes.
  7. While the swordfish is browning prepare the pasta. Fill large saucepan with water and a pinch of salt and heat to boiling. Add the pasta and cook a little less than al dente, about two minutes less than recommended on package.
  8. Once swordfish is browned, add white wine, cooking until liquid reduces by half, about 4 minutes.
  9. Add the eggplant and oregano to swordfish in pan. Stir to combine and sauté for 2 minutes.
  10. Drain pasta, reserving one cup of liquid.
  11. Add pasta to eggplant and swordfish mixture along with 1/2-3/4 cup of pasta liquid, depending on desired consistency. Stir to combine.
  12. Reduce heat to medium low for another 3 minutes or until pasta is tender.
  13. Spoon mixture onto individual plates and lay tomatoes on top. Add basil for garnish and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese if desired. Serve.
  1. ~Add cherry tomatoes and basil to individual plates for a fresh, sweet flavor and a nicer presentation
  2. ~Save about 1 cup of pasta water for final simmer
  3. ~Use any tube pasta to hold in the sauce
  4. ~Smash garlic first before chopping for this recipe. We want the strong pungent taste and smell that comes when smashing first with a knife.
  5. ~Add freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese before serving
  6. ~Swordfish can be substituted with either halibut or mahi-mahi for a similar taste and firmness
A Kiss in the Kitchen http://akissinthekitchen.com/

Dual Citizenship with Italy- Part 1

My Grandfather

It must have been at least 20 years ago when I discovered my relatives in Italy and visited them for the first time. Since then I’ve been studying the language in hopes to better understand their culture and life. I have recently started the process for dual citizenship and for those who need direction like I did when I first started the process here is my journey.

My Grandmother

The Process of Dual Citizenship with Italy

I lived in New York City for 11 years and had the most culturally rich experiences and life there. But due to different life events I moved to several other cities and eventually ended up on the west coast. Being half Italian and having relatives in Rome, living on the east coast is definitely an advantage if you spend a lot of time in Europe or are studying the language. I didn’t realize the impact of that until I left. None of the places I lived after New York had the history, culture, edginess and rawness that the city and the boroughs have. I really missed that. I missed having a lot of Italian teachers to choose from and practicing the language while helping lost tourists find their way through the city. They were grateful to hear a local Italian speaker! I missed the food and all the energy every day walking through the streets. I missed Central Park and all the miles to get lost in. I missed everything about it even the not so romantic things like crowds on the subway, the traffic and how expensive it is,  just to name a few. I also missed the opportunities to visit my relatives more in Rome. Sadly, I didn’t get to know my grandparents well since I was so young when they passed but as I got older I felt that need to connect back to my roots. There was always some kind of pull for me to come back and I think that’s what it was.
I was finally able to make it happen. I remember the tears when I walked through Grand Central Station again, realizing I was home. I don’t know what it is about this city but the electricity has a way of flowing through your veins and imbedding itself in your mind and so many creative ideas come from just being in the thick of it all. It’s a constant source of inspiration and culture buzzing around at all times. I don’t know how else to explain it.
It was after taking another trip to Ellis Island, where my grandfather arrived in 1910, when I got the idea to explore dual citizenship. I heard about it but didn’t really think I could qualify for it since my mother was born in the U.S. Once I started doing the research I realized I might be a perfect candidate after all.
Since my grandfather was born it Italy I had to prove that he was still an Italian citizen at the time my mother was born. In other words, was my mother born before or after he became a U.S. citizen? That was the question and a very difficult one to answer since he is no longer here. If he had not naturalized prior to her birth then she is considered, in the eyes of Italy, an Italian citizen. Therefore, my brother and I are considered Italian citizens too! We just have to prove it.
After asking around I was told that in the New York area alone there are so many people applying for dual citizenship that the wait for an appointment with the Italian Consulate is at least a year out. This is the very first step in the process. Even if you don’t think you can qualify make an appointment right away. You’ll have plenty of time to figure it out after and cancel if you need to. If you don’t live in New York, find the closest consulate that covers your state and make an appointment there. You can only apply at a consulate in the region in which you reside.
My appointment will be coming up in the next few months so once that happens I will write about my experience there and if there were things I missed in the research.In the meantime, here are some steps I’ve taken to help get you started.

Step 1- Make an appointment
There is a fee for the call but mine took about three minutes to complete and get an appointment. This is probably the least expensive part of the process.

The Consulate General of Italy in New York

On the same page in the above link you’ll also see links to the different ways you can obtain dual citizenship. I’ll be explaining the process of jure sanguinis, through the parents or grandparents. Clicking on that link will bring you to the categories which apply to your specific situation. Category 4 is what I am following for my situation and what I will be explaining here.

Step 2-Naturalization records of Italian born descendant
The reason I suggest this as the second item on your to do list is that if you don’t know if or when your Italian born descendant became a citizen you won’t know if you qualify. Once you have this information you will have a clear path for the rest of the research. Another reason is that it takes up to three months to get this information.

My first stop was the National Archives building in New York. If you’re lucky enough to have had your descendant naturalize in New York then the records should be easier to find. If you don’t live in New York they have a lot of information that may help you on their website.

The National Archives in New York City

If you don’t know where he/she may have naturalized you can use their online databases for free to do your research. The staff is very knowledgeable and they will do whatever they can to help you find what you need.
With the staff’s assistance I was able to find the following records for my grandfather:

  • Certificate of Arrival
  • Declaration of Intention
  • Petition for Naturalization
  • Oath of Allegiance
  • Citizenship Petition Granted

From these documents I was able to determine when my grandfather became a citizen. I was able to move forward. From here you will go the the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS) website to request ‘original’ copies from them.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Once on their website you can ‘order online now’. You will pay a fee for them to do a search. If they find the information you will receive a letter with your search results. This took about three weeks to receive.
Once you receive the letter you can go back to the website and request copies of the records and pay another fee.  I received the documents almost three months later. They came in an envelope with a cover letter. DO NOT thrown the envelope or letter away. This is an informal verification that these documents came from UCIS.

This will get you started and I will continue the process with step 3 in another post.  In the meantime, please leave comments if you have any questions and have fun with it. In bocca al lupo!!


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