Un Bacio in Cucina

a photographic exploration of Italian food, culture & wine

Tag: Italy

Mushroom Lasagne

Mushroom Lasagne

Two summers ago I spent a month in Tuscany, Italy photographing several wineries and a bed and breakfast outside of Siena. It was September and I remember waking up and feeling the subtle transition from the summer heat and humidity to a crispy coolness in the air, a sign that Fall was on it’s way.  I also remember the sacks of porcini mushrooms the family that I stayed with used to bring home and the aroma that filled the kitchen as they prepared delicious meals using those fresh mushrooms. I was more than grateful to be invited to the dinner table and learn a few tricks in the kitchen. Recently, I’ve been feeling that same crispy, cool air as the weather is transitioning in Maine and New Hampshire as I daydream of that golden time in Italy.
I get inspired this time of year to make something with fresh mushrooms just so I can relive that experience I had.  A fresh mushroom lasagne seemed appropriate and a definite crowdpleaser. Although I can’t get those fresh porcini’s here in the US, the dried ones seem to do the trick. I used more porcini’s and add a bit of butter because I love how the butter helps bring out the richness in the mushrooms.
When served with a salad of greens and tomatoes this is a simple and delicious meal that will ease you right into Fall.


A rustic and healthy lasagne that feels like Autumn in Italy

Mushroom Lasagne
Serves 8
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  1. For the mushrooms~
  2. 1.5 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  3. 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  4. 1 tablespoon butter
  5. 1/3 cup diced sweet onion
  6. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  7. ½ cup red wine
  8. 1 1/4 pounds cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  9. Salt
  10. 1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
  11. 1 teaspoon fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
  12. Freshly ground pepper
  13. For the béchamel~
  14. 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  15. 2 tablespoon butter
  16. 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  17. 3 tablespoons flour
  18. 2 cups milk
  19. 1/4 tsp salt
  20. freshly ground pepper
  21. For the lasagna~
  22. 3/4 pounds no-boil lasagna sheets
  23. 6 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
  24. fresh parsley leaves
  1. Heat oven to 190 degrees Celsius (375 degrees Fahrenheit)
  2. Grease bottom and sides of rectangular pan with olive oil
  3. Soak the porcini mushrooms in 2 1/2 cups of boiling water for about 30 minutes. Drain, making sure to squeeze out all the liquid from the mushrooms while reserving the porcini broth
  4. Rinse mushrooms in cool water and roughly chop
  5. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat.
  6. Add onion and garlic and cook for two minutes or until onion is translucent
  7. Add porcini's, their liquid and wine, cooking covered, but not completely, until liquid has almost evaporated.
  8. Increase heat to medium high
  9. Add crimini mushrooms, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper and cook until juices from the crimini’s evaporate
  10. Take off heat and set aside
  11. Heat the oil and butter over medium heat in a heavy saucepan
  12. Add the shallot and cook until fragrant, about two minutes
  13. Sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly, and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture starts to bubble, but not brown.
  14. Whisk in the milk slowly and stir constantly until mixture thickens
  15. Reduce heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper if needed.
  16. Strain mixture directly into pan with the mushrooms, reserving about four tablespoons of bechamel
  17. Stir until incorporated and set aside
  18. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil
  19. Add about 4 lasagne sheets and boil for about two minutes. These will be used for the top layer only.
  20. Remove from water and lay to drain on flat surface
  21. Spread the reserved béchamel on bottom of lasagne pan
  22. Top with a layer of uncooked lasagne sheets
  23. Add a generous layer of mushroom mixture followed by a layer of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  24. Repeat layering of lasagne sheets, mushroom mixture and cheese until you have enough room for one more layer
  25. Place partially cooked lasagne sheets on top and cover with the remaining mushroom mixture and cheese
  26. Sprinkle top with parsley
  27. Be sure to cover all corners and exposed sheets with sauce so they will cook thoroughly. If you like some crunch to the top layer you can leave some areas exposed
  28. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes
  29. Remove foil and bake an additional ten minutes or until top is golden browned
  30. Remove from heat and let sit for ten minutes before cutting and serving
Un Bacio in Cucina http://www.unbacioincucina.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

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Limoncello!

At first, I thought the worst part of making limoncello was going to be having to carefully zest all of the lemons. But once I put everything in the jar and closed the lid it was then that I realized the hardest part, the wait! I’ll have to wait about three weeks before savoring a small glass of this amazingly sweet and potent Italian liqueur.


Limoncello. Photo by Leslie Brienza


 Enjoying a limoncello in Italy is like experiencing something from another planet. On several lucky occasions there were those hot afternoons in Tuscany I remember where the restaurant owners just happened to have a homemade stash behind the counter. They would always be happy to share and enjoy a small glass and some relaxing conversation with their new American friends.
Well, my first attempt is resting in a cool, dark place now and in about two weeks I will let it see the light of day and that is when I will add the final ingredient, simple syrup.  Ah, I am already dreaming of Sorrento!
Even though I am not using the Femminello St. Teresa lemons from the south of Italy, I am sure the final product won’t disappoint. I am told the traditional way to make limoncello is in a terracotta vase. I will have to explore that more in depth next time. For now, we will have to get by with a glass mason jar.

Here is the recipe I adapted from my cousin, Pietro. I will post some images in a few weeks once it is ready. Have you ever made limoncello and if so, how did it turn out?  Leave your comments below. Ciao!!


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Prep Time
45 min
Prep Time
45 min
  1. 8 lemons, zested
  2. 1 4" cinnamon stick
  3. 750 ml 100 proof vodka
  4. 3 1/2 cups filtered water
  5. 3 cups sugar
  1. Sterilize a half gallon mason jar in oven for ten minutes at 225 degrees without opening oven.
  2. After ten minutes turn oven off and let jar stay in oven until ready to use.
  3. Zest lemons using a vegetable peeler or small knife. Make sure only to zest the yellow and not the white part.
  4. Once jar is cool pour vodka inside and add lemon zest and cinnamon stick
  5. Close jar tightly and store in cool, dark place for 16 days, turning lightly to mix twice a week.
  6. After 16 days, heat water in medium saucepan and add sugar. Mix until sugar is dissolved and almost reaches a boil to make a simple syrup. Cool completely.
  7. Add simple syrup to vodka mixture and stir gently
  8. Leave to rest for another seven to ten days to mellow out and incorporate the flavors.
  9. Strain through a cheesecloth into sterilized limoncello bottles. Enjoy!
  1. ~Sterilize jar before using
  2. ~Avoid zesting any white part of the lemons
  3. ~Use organic lemons if possible
  4. ~Make sure the vodka is 100 proof
  5. ~Order limoncello bottles during the resting period. World Market and Fishs Eddy have a nice selection of thin bottles
Adapted from my cousin Pietro's recipe
Adapted from my cousin Pietro's recipe
Un Bacio in Cucina http://www.unbacioincucina.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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