Santa Caterina del Sasso

While visiting with my family in Luino, we visited a beautiful heritage site not too far away. Eremo di Santa Caterina del Sasso is an old Roman Catholic monastery perched on the shore of Lago Maggiore, facing the Gulf of Borromean Islands. It is situated in the municipality of Leggiuno in Varese, Lombardia (see map).  The monastery can be reached a few ways. We took the long winding stairway by foot. However, you can also take an elevator down or by ferry across the Lago Maggiore.

This monastery was founded by a wealthy merchant, Alberto Besozzi in 1170. The story goes that after his boat capsized in a storm he prayed to St Catherine to be saved. He declared that if he was saved he would give all his money to the poor and retire a hermit. After surviving the storm he did, in fact, live in a cave as a hermit. However, when a plague struck in 1195, the local people asked for his help. He agreed to help them in return for their help in building a votive chapel to St Catherine. After his death in 1205, Besozzi was buried near the chapel and people would come there to pray for cures to ailments.

The site was later documented as a hermitage 1301 after people began coming to live there as hermits. By the 1700’s the hermitage went into decline, due to Enlightenment reforms in Lombardia. The foundations of the site also became weak over time. It wasn’t until 1914 that the Italian government deemed it a national monument. However, after major restoration works in the 1970’s  it was not open to the public until 1986.

The site consists of three buildings, the southern convent, the small convent and the main church. This church dates back to the end of the 16th century and is the artistic and spiritual heart of the Hermitage. On the altar-piece, there are scenes of St Catherine with the Virgin and child and St Nicholas with Blessed Alberto Besozzi. Besozzi body is also on display in a glass coffin.

If you are in the area, this site is worth the trip. It is truly a beautiful and spiritual place. It can be quite crowded though, as it is a tourist hotspot. You can visit it alone or do a guided tour, which would give great insight into its history. For more information on directions and opening times, see the official website.

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Wine and Olive Press
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Fresco’s outside on balcony

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Main Church
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Main church
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Alberto Besozzi, Main church
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The Chapter Room (la Sala Capitolare)
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The Chapter Room (la Sala Capitolare)
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The Chapter Room (la Sala Capitolare)
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The Chapter Room (la Sala Capitolare)

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Luino: a little piece of paradise

Luino is a charming northern Italian lake town with an amazing backdrop of blue skies and mountains. Luckily for me, the majority of my family live here. I have visited Luino a few times now and I never tire of it. It’s a very tranquil place and being able to live like an Italian rather than a tourist is also a bonus. Family dinners, leisurely walks and eating with the locals, made my experience so much more authentic.

Luino is in the province of Varese, which is situated on the Lago Maggiore and the Swiss-Italian border. The lake is the second largest in Italy and is separates Luino from the region of Piemonte. The town itself is quite hilly but the lakefront is flat. The town is well-known for its Mercato di Luino (Wednesday market), which attracts Italians, Swiss, Germans and Dutch.

Luino has become quite a popular tourist destination. I have noticed a lot of changes on the lakefront and many new restaurants. I tried a few while I was here and all were very good (see below). Luino is also very close to the border of Switzerland. We usually drive over the border for shopping trips, chocolates and to visit nearby cities. While we here this time we also visited Lugano and Bellinzona and in Switzerland and Eremo di Santa Caterina del Sasso and Giro del sole in Italy. I will share some photos and information in upcoming posts.


 

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Books I’m reading (Sept 17)

I go through phases where I become obsessed with one book and I have to read it in every spare moment until it’s finished. Then there are other times I just float between a few books, which I’m doing right now. There’s a few book sitting on my bedside that I’m trying to get through at the moment. So I thought I would share them and tell you why I’m really savoring every page.

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Crazy for pasta at Spaghetti House

Recently we visited a restaurant I haven’t been to in a long time. The Spaghetti House Trattoria is a family-run Italian restaurant in Southbank. They were previously situated in West End, which is where we used to frequently visit them.

They offer a great selection of Italian fare, including bread, small share plates, pizza, pasta and main dishes. The dishes are a collection of regional favourites prepared very traditionally. Over the years we have tried many of their dishes and they never disappoint in taste and quality.

Over the past couple of years, they moved from Westend to Southbank on Little Stanley Street. The new location does feel a bit more formal than the previous one and is styled like a modern trattoria. From the polished floors, beautiful rustic table settings, lighting and gold framed mirrors, everything is perfectly elegant, yet cozy.

On the day we visited we were all really hungry and were craving pasta. We all ordered the thicker kinds of pasta with simple sauces. I had the Pappardelle Boscaiola, which had pancetta, porcini mushrooms and olives in a fresh tomato sauce. The fresh pasta was cooked perfectly al dente and the sauce had a full depth of flavour. My companions had Pappardelle Carbonara and Fettuccini Ragu alla Bolognese. They were also very happy with their dishes. We all ordered the larger size plate, which were generous and very filling. If we ordered more food, I’m sure a small portion would have sufficed.

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Mothers Day at Jamie’s Italian

Happy Mothers Day to all the mums out there. This year is my third mothers day. I can’t believe I’ve already had three. Time has gone so fast. This year I got my first present from my daughter. A plant and painted card with a picture of her and a lovely message that she made a Kindy. It was the sweetest thing ever. This year Marco and I decided to have a nice lunch without our toddler. She spent some time with her nonna and we had a relaxing lunch at Jamie’s Italian.

We have been to Jamie’s Italian a few times since it opened. I know it gets mixed reviews, but we have had good experiences every time. The food is always fresh with quality ingredients and cooked well. What I love about this place is that its real food, cooked from scratch. We have only been to the Brisbane location, but you can find the franchised restaurants in most capital cities in Australia and more across the world.

The Brisbane location just off the street level but actually has a second level of seating under the ground. The top level features the entrance bar and a beautiful marble bar with hanging Parma hams, garlic and chillis, where the antipastos are prepared. The lower level also houses the kitchen, so it’s also nice to sit in the hustle and bustle of the kitchen atmosphere. The rest of the decor is very industrial, yet homely. The walls feature exposed concrete and recycled wooden panels and the floors are polished wood. The tables are mostly wooden, with leather booths or red metal seat. The ambience of the restaurant really makes you feel like your in an Italian trattoria.

I have noticed the menu has changed over time to keep up with the current trends. However, the heart of Italy still shines through with their handmade pasta, classic antipasti and some traditional secondi dishes.

 

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Tempting Italian Tempeh Recipes

Have you seen tempeh in the supermarket, heard of its wonderful health benefits but not known what to do with it? Or have you bought it, tried to cook it and vowed never again? That actually did happen to me the first time I tried it. But then after cooking it again using some trusty recipes I feel more comfortable cooking it.

All these recipes are Italian inspired, cooked in rich tomato sauces. I found this is my favourite way to cook tempeh, as it has a very meaty in texture but it needs strong flavours to make it tasty. Chickpea or Fava tempeh should also work for these recipes.

What’s your favourite way to cook tempeh?

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