An Observation On The Kitchen | Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer


I have been a month in Italy visiting my family and friends and suddenly I noticed something about the kitchen space that should have been very familiar to me, as I had seen it for most of my adult life living in Italy.

Photo ©Valentina Cirasola


Kitchens in Italy are purely functional, no frills, no granite counters, no luxury, only essentials; they are used for cooking only and in some cases to eat in. Casual entertaining happens in the living room, dining with friends or co-workers happens in the dining room and only close friends get invited to sit in the kitchen. Yes, kitchens are the center of the home life as a concept and it is true that most family problems are resolved around the kitchen table and this does happen in Italy too, but Italian kitchens are not conceived as the space in the center of the home. They are located as far as possible from the living quarters enclosed with doors to keep the guests out, or to hide a kitchen not totally made up or clean yet, which by the way, it isn’t a very common scene to find in Italy. Italian kitchens are always spotless, even after an army of family has eaten there. The idea of the kitchen not being in the center of the house is also to keep cooking aromas, odors and vapors away from the rest of the house.


Laundry is often located in the kitchen or near by in the corridor, or on the balcony/terrace where it is easy to just turn around and hang the clothes to dry on the balcony line. It is easier to hang the clothes to dry in the sun and wind, other than being a natural process, as no chemical softener goes into the clothes and saves on electricity. I hang my clothes to dry in the sun even now living in California, where I could have the comfort of all the technology available, but I choose to stay as natural as possible in my house chores.


Taking a closer look at the function of the kitchen in a different country brings me to the observation I had. Due to the location of the kitchen, as I said far from the living quarters and not made in an open floor plan as it is done in America, it is very difficult to snack mindlessly. In Italy when people are finished with their evening meal, they move to a room dedicated to watch T.V., reading, or playing music usually not close to the kitchen.
In America the kitchen is conceived as a great room, where cooking, living, family activities and entertainment share the same space. Slouching down on the sofa to watch T.V. and snack on poor, processed or boxed food is so much easier because kitchen cabinets and refrigerator are looking smack at you and they are in a few steps of reach. Also it is easy to have a late snack before going to bed, just because the kitchen is located conveniently in the middle of the house, something that doesn’t even cross people’s mind in Italy. Once the evening meal is finished, all the eating activities are also completed.

Photo ©Valentina Cirasola


Although I like the open floor plan, I don’t find it particularly warm or private. Often I go into people’s home and I can see a messy kitchen from the entry in plain open view. I must say that when I lived in Italy never paid attention to the functionality, because every kitchen was made with the same simple principal, but now as an interior designer and living in California, I do notice the difference and it would be really hard to propose something different that would bring an entire new concept of living, one of which would be to get rid of snacking, get rid of gracing all day long and late night snack. It might seem strange to hear that the farthest from reach the kitchen is, the easier it is to keep slim. Italian kitchens other than being very modern, also serve that purpose and I like that.
If you need help with planning your kitchen space, please do not hesitate to contact me, I am here to help. Ciao,

Copyright © 2012 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved


Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn unattractive spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. Valentina is also the author of two published books on Italian regional cuisine. Her books are available on 





I Am In The Mood For Raw Fish |Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

I was thinking of all the raw fish I ate in one night alone in Japan at a restaurant and cherishing that nice memory in the company of good long time friends. (Click on each photo to view it larger).

A question came to my mind. Who first adopted the practice of eating raw fish, the Japanese or the Italians from Puglia?
Yes, not the entire Italy is accustomed to eat raw fish, but in the Southern region of Puglia, where my roots are, the ritual of eating raw fish happens once a week at least every Sunday and it is not called sushi.
No family Sunday meal will be left without it, raw fish is the king of every tables, always served before dinner allowing the palate to taste the sea and the freshness of its fruits.
A variety of raw octopus, mussels, hairy mussels (cozze pelose), other shellfish, sea truffles, sea urchins and allievi (cattle fish) is served in symbiosis with a few glasses of bubbles, then the real dinner can start.

The difference between the Japanese raw fish (sushi) and the Puglia style raw fish is that in Japan raw fish is served almost always on white rice and it is dry only wet with soy sauce.
In the Puglia style, raw fish is served wet with the sea water dripping, occasionally wet with a few drops of lemons, especially on mussels, otherwise there is no other condiment, just the sea flavor.
Fish over there does not need added condiment in that the Adriatic Sea is shallow and concentrated with salt. Nature does it all for us.

This old Puglia gastronomy tradition goes back to the 1500’s, when selling raw octopus was regulated by the local government and had to be sold in rolls of 890 gr. each (31.4 oz.). Imagine how important it was to eat raw fish that the government had to regulate it.


It is a common appetizer to find in restaurants, served every day of the week if the weather has been good and the catch of the day comes in regularly.
The restaurant owners usually are the only one responsible to guarantee  100% freshness of the fish.
Often black mussels will be paired with the sharp caciocavallo cheese, similar in taste to the aged Southern Italian Provolone cheese, with a hard edible rind.
The octopi must be properly curled, the allievi (cattle fish) thoroughly cleaned of the interiors and the mouth, tuna, mullets and cod finely sliced for carpaccio and the fresh delicate anchovies carefully cleaned of any bones ready for a marinade of oil, lemon juice salt, pepper and parsley finely chopped.

Bear in mind that in Italy we believe the months with the R are not good to eat mussels (Jan-Feb-Mar-Apr-Sept-Oct-Nov-Dec) and the months without the R are not good to eat oysters because they are full of eggs and fattier (May-June-July-Aug).
Here in the Unites States we eat them all the time, this rule is really not observed and I am always wondering if I am doing the right thing.

Sea Urchin


Another scene worth filming is the eating of the raw fish in the streets near the port area of any city in Puglia, where the fisherman bring the catch of the day and where they also mend the fish nets when they are not out at sea. The scene is colorful, playful and joyous. Some fisherman scream to get the customers’ attention and some sing. They show off a large display of fresh fish inside of baskets made of olive wood and set on rough tabletops. There, they propose a taste of sea urchins, at time accompanied with a piece of fresh bread and ice-cold beer and other times just as the offering of the sea is, fresh and natural.

Skilled fishermen never poke their hands while opening the sea urchins in half. They make a perfect cut to expose the reddish-orange meat inside; a small piece of bread will scoop out all the goodness from inside of the black shell.
Restaurateurs who have lived abroad for a while brought back to Puglia the knowledge they have acquired in foreign countries. Many sushi bars have sprung up in Puglia, as all over Italy, but when the Puglia people want to do a serious eating, they will always go to what is familiar.
They will always prefer the traditional specialties of their land and sea to the fashionable or trendy food of other parts of the world. They will stay faithful to what has been familiar to them for centuries.

It takes no ability to eat raw fish, just clean, wash and eat it, but it takes ability to prepare the simplest food, poor of ingredients and make it taste like royal food.
 (above: Alici Arraganate)

One of the many simple fish dish in Puglia is Baked Anchovies or Alici Arraganate as we call it.
Take the center bone from inside of the anchovies, wash and pat dry. Align anchovies in a crock-pot.
Add breadcrumbs, chopped garlic, mint, capers, oregano.
Drizzle oil and sprinkle a few drops of plain vinegar. Bake in the oven for only 12-15 minutes uncovered.
It’s so simple that is almost a non-recipe.

Another simple dish is Octopus Casserole or Casseruola Di Polipetti as we call it in Italian.
Place the octopus in a casserole with chopped onion, dry white wine, fresh tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper and parsley.
Bake until the octopi are fork tender. The sauce is good to eat with bread or to top a plate of pasta.
Bon appétit.

Find many of these simple recipes in my two published books on Italian regional cuisine from Puglia available on:


and in this site on the Books’ page.

Now, my friends from Japan need to go over to Puglia with me to experience raw fish my way.

Copyright © 2012 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe.
She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn unattractive spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms.

Her third book ©RED-A Voyage Into Colors on the subject of colors is in production and will be released by end of April 2012.

Dinner At 7:00 pm | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer



Dusk is coloring the sky with ochre color and tone down shades of red, the evening will be arriving soon, the aroma of food is filling the home, the clink of wine glasses and flatware is making the air festive.

You just get dressed beautifully, take a bottle or two of wine, or dessert as a gift to the host and show up at 7:00 pm at your host’s door. If the invitation comes from an Italian family, be ready to do some serious eating and enjoy the most delicious food always prepared by the host.

In Italian homes the dining table is never decorated in a fussy way with useless objects on it. The table is dressed for food, Italian people entertaining with tasty simplicity, but they get you with food. The menu valorizes quality, variety and simplicity. Appearance of food is an important part of what makes our food so appetizing, especially when the table is filled with food of bright vivid colors. Food is the most important subject in the Italian culture. We get up in the morning and we already talk of what we are going to eat for lunch, or dinner. Shopping for food falls in the daily chores and in between work, family and errands.

We take out our small trolleys to the market and fill it with fish, vegetable, charcuterie, meat, cheese (let’s not forget the cheeses, please) and fresh breads. It seems like a whole lot of food, but it will last for a few days. A few items are bought daily, the majority will serve to make the simplest and most flavorful food.
(Click on each photo to view it larger).

Let’s go back to dinner at 7:00 pm. When you get invited by an Italian family at 7:00 it always means dinner, not after dinner drink get together, as some people think. In fact a few days ago, some friends of mine were telling me about their disappointment when they invite people of different race in their home for the evening and they come with a full stomach with the answer is “sorry we already ate, we can’t eat anymore”. Imagine how the host feels after cooking all day and really looking forward to sit down with friends to relax. And how about all that food that goes untouched, not good. My suggestions was to specify that the invitation is for dinner and not for goofing around after dark. On the other hand, those people who eat at 5:00 in the afternoon might think that dinner at 7:00 pm  is too late and refuse the invitation. Oh well, we can’t please everybody. Italians love to eat dinner with the moon rays, not sun rays.

Dinners in the evening will extend well into the small hours of the night. It starts with an apéritif and hors-d’oeuvres of different kind, wet with prosecco sparkling wine. Conversation, jokes and laughs fill the air until every guest is in. Then the real dinner start, either sitting down or self-service type, in either case, the plates are ceramics and the cutlery are not plastic. This is for the respect of the guests and for the respect of food.
Dinner consists of many different courses from pasta or rice, fish or meat and various vegetables.
Wine, wine and wine is served.

In the winter the fireplace is on making the evening really cozy, in the summer all the windows and doors to the balconies are open to get the fresh breeze in.

Conversation shifting from politics to religion, from gossip to intellectual subjects keeps the night young. Italians love to talk about everything, political correctness is not the center of their world.

The evening dinner ends with a cart filled of cheeses to roll around the guests, more wines to pair with the cheeses variety and later, the same cart will bring the desserts, cookies or pastries. Thank goodness Italian sweets are not that sweet so we can indulge in more than one portion. Conversation continues smoothly with coffee, teas or more wines for people like me who don’t drink coffee at night.

At this point, soft music comes on, some guests will leave and some will remain, but those who will stay will enjoy a very nice glass of Port, Whiskey or Brandy culminating the conversation in something really intellectual, pleasant and interesting.
It’s an honor to eat at someone’s dining table, breaking bread together is an act of sharing love, intimacy and friendship since the beginning of time.

Dinner at 7:00 pm is a serious business for the Italians, don’t go unprepared. Ciao,

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos.
She is  the author of two regional Italian cookbooks available in this site at the Books Page: Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity.
Sins Of A Queen – Italian Appetizers and Desserts















The Memory Of Food | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

Have you ever heard about the memory of food? If you have ever lived in another country besides the one you live in, or in different ways than the urban life, then you know how food is supposed to taste.
You would remember, or your palate, I should say, would remember a buttery lettuce, the crispness of a radish, the flavorful crust of home-made bread, or how a juicy apple tastes like a real apple and not like a potato.

As a girl going with my family up to the Italian country side was such an exciting event every time and not only because of the winding road around the mountain.
I knew that once we arrived  to Irsina in Lucania (Italy), we had left the urban life for sure and entered into an ancient time, where life was very slow and still is, food took center stage in everybody’s day and where people care about what mattered the most to them.
Irsina is a very small town of a few thousand of people including animals, a small Hamlet where my father was born. Nostalgia for his roots brought us to go back there from the city of Bari at least once a month. We knew that besides enjoying my father’s family, we would enjoy the typical mouth-watering dishes of home-made food, wines, breads, sausages and several other food variety preserved under oil or vinegar, such as eggplants, mushrooms, artichoke, peppers, fruit and much more.  Most of the food in Irsina is based on home-grown agricultural produce, meats, cheeses, fresh fruits and vegetables, today as many centuries ago.

My Grandfather, nonno Ciccio, was the village artist. Many churches of the village and surrounding towns commissioned him to build almost life-size Christmas characters to fill the Presepe (Manger).The statues were carved in wood and then hand-painted. They represented various people of the village, the butcher, the sheep herder, the doctor, house wives, kids, anybody living in his fantasy.
He built almost life-size wood miniature of villages, animals, houses, street views, fountains, then he placed all the wood characters and filled the scenery of a Manger. They were beautiful, tall, almost real, they stood proud to come alive at Christmas and to be part of the nativity scene.


Nonno Ciccio used to make trenchers, a rectangular or circular flat piece of wood on which meat, or other food, is served or carved. On the trencher he would serve lard and anchovies, one of the dish of his liking that I have never forgotten. He cut the lard from the prosciutto  and sliced it paper-thin. He arranged it on the trencher very neatly and inserted one anchovy fillet between each layer of lard, then he chopped parsley coarsely and threw it on top, a swirl of olive oil, home-made crusty batard bread, a nice goblet of home-made “no name” red wine and we could not wait to sit with him at that rough table to eat that delicacy!
At every meal, in the middle of the table,  there was a braid of sun-dried chili peppers and a jar of olive oil flavored with chili peppers. Red wine, chili peppers and home-made food was the reason of my grandfather red cheeks. He was a happy camper! While I am writing, I can taste again that delicate flavor of prosciutto fat mixed with the salty and fish flavor of the anchovies. The balance and contrast was perfect with the acidity of the dark green olive oil of those parts.

Fancy, elegant hotels and farm houses in the South of Italy have revived the trenchers, in lieu of ceramic plates to serve appetizers, munches and some very particular old dishes that hold the aura of antiquity and need to be presented with a bit of choreography.

Don’t be afraid of eating some fat and other food that have fallen out of the fashion. Our body needs all food type and every little piece of nourishment without deprivation. That’s the way to stay healthy and  happy, the rest will come by itself. Ciao,

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe.
She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos.
She writes often about food and she is the author of two Italian regional cookbooks available in this site at the Book Page:

Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity
Sins Of A Queen – Italian Appetizers and Desserts

Also available in various locations:

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