Fit to be Pied. My first awesome pie crust – plus the recipe and tips!!

??????????As everyone knows, the true success of a pie lies in its crust.

Why are some flaky and tender and why were mine usually tough like cheap shoe leather?  It’s not fair.

My lineage includes terrific pie crust bakers: my Grannie Raven (Mom’s mom) who made my grandpa his favorite lemon meringue on special occasions and my Grandma London (Dad’s mom) who made us her chocolate cream pie on every occasion.  Unfortunately, both of them went on to pie-baking heaven before I was interested enough to sign up for a personal class.

My mom, who is wonderfully still baking pies here on planet Earth, makes a mean strawberry pie. When we’re together we seem to talk about everything – just not how to achieve crust perfection.

When a request comes in for me to make a pie, I’m paralyzed by pie crust phobia.

I’ve successfully ducked this fear by sneaking in a store-bought crust under my sour cream apple pies each autumn.  The filling recipe, torn from the tattered pages of my beloved “Silver Palate” cook book is so delicious, the standard crust goes unnoticed. And also un-praised.

But, this month, when my husband Scotty asked for a lemon meringue pie – just like Grampa Raven – I was determined to make a praise-worthy crust.  Scotty usually asks for Key lime  – so graham cracker crusts have saved me from dough crust embarrassment. But here in Tuscany, I haven’t been able to find Key limes or graham crackers.

Without help from my mother, but with a lot of help from the internet, I found a recipe, carefully watched a couple of step-by-step videos and – eccolo, ‘here it is!’ –

Okay, so I should’ve made it a little bigger to span the extra-large Italian frittata pie tin I have, and I’m not an artistic crust-fluter yet, but, I assure you this crust was buttery, flaky, and extremely tasty!

Linked here and written out below – is the recipe I used.  Unlike other attempts. this time I took the instructions seriously.  I have learned that, as with other tense circumstances in life, the key word is “Chill.”

Now I’m a true believer that the butter must be chilled before it’s cut into the dry ingredients; you must continue to cut and cut until the mixture looks like cornmeal (not corn kernel) sized crumbs; you must not use too much water and finally, you must chill the dough for a few hours before you roll it out.

Amazing how easy something becomes when you actually follow the directions.

Butter Flaky Pie Crust Recipe

(a single 9 inch crust – so increase accordingly!)

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup butter, first diced, then chilled for about 30 minutes before cutting in

1/4 cup of ice water – you shouldn’t use all the water!

Combine flour and salt. Cut in chilled diced butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Really, that small.  Stir in ice water a tablespoon at a time until you are able to form a ball.  Don’t use all the water.  Form the dough into an inch thick disc and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least four hours.  Lightly flour your rolling surface and rolling pin and roll out dough to about 12 inches in diameter to have room to go up the sides of your pie dish. I gently wrapped the rolled-out dough around my rolling pin and then lifted it over the pie dish for my first successful, no break, transfer!

Press the dough evenly on the dish – since this recipe  is so buttery, you don’t need to grease or flour the pan. Bake according to your pie recipe instructions.

Let me know how it goes. Or tell me other life lessons we can apply from baking!

Baci, Gina


A warm embrace from Mario

One of our favorite restaurants in Arezzo is underground.  Directly across from the Basilica San Francesco in the piazza of the same name, you’ll need to carefully step down four wide grey stone steps and duck your head to enter Ristorante Buca di San Francesco.

As your eyes adjust to the soft amber glow, you’ll be warmly welcomed by Mario de Filippis, who has been its gracious host for more than 40 years.   Now, look around you.  You’re seated in the cellar of a 14th century palazzo, surrounded by a frescoes on the walls and a resounding assortment of Italian artworks, artifacts, and tchotchkes.   It’s a delightful Tuscan curiosity shop.


Mario says the stones that make up the floor beneath your chairs are remnants of an ancient Etruscan road. Who knows if that’s true, but it’s all part of the restaurant’s – and Mario’s – immense charm.   Mario is like an indulgent nonno, grandpa.  He tells me to look the other way and “sneaks” little chocolates over to Lulu while my head is turned.  He sets before Lulu a plate of the softest, creamiest fresh Mozzarella I have ever tasted (because I did taste it).


“Mario! Yey!” cries Lulu.

He urges me to try the Panzanella  -a popular Tuscan summer salad with olive oil crisped bread chunks mixed in. He also encourages me to a have a glass of wine, “on the house!”

“Mario! Yey!” I cry too.

Later, he surprises us both with free desserts.  A small slice of apple bread torta for me and gelato for Lulu, chocolate – ma certo¸ of course.

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To me, the flavor of the place and its host almost exceeds that of the food.  At Buca di San Francesco, you’re in good hands.  Mario’s.


For more on Buca di San Francesco, visit their/his website at – Tell him Gina and Lulu sent you.



A perfect evening at “Il Pozzo”

In addition to the breathtaking views of the Tuscan country-side,


the olive trees and cypresses,


the expansive swimming pool,


and the ancient stone buildings, what you’ll really luxuriate in, are the loads of Italian hospitality, warmth and lively spirit –  when you visit Il Pozzo, or “The Well,” named for the old well the Veneri family discovered as they remarkably established their agriturismo where, last night,  Scotty, Lulu and I spent a thoroughly enjoyable evening .


Our host was Carla Veneri,  who graciously drove us here about 20 minutes outside of Arezzo,  after learning about my love for Tuscany through my recently released book.   “Agriturismo” is the Italian word for a country farm-house that’s been converted into an inn and offers  recreation like cooking classes, swimming and other vacation activities.  But that word doesn’t go far enough to describe the kind of reception you’ll find at “Il Pozzo

Wonderful Carla trying to steal a snuggle from one of Lulu’s new friends: squirmy Olivia!

We arrived just in time for Friday’s “Pizza Making” event.  Every Friday, Carla leads the children of the guests in a group pizza class.


It was hilarious as the kids took turns painting each other in flour.


But it was also fun, hands-on education – as the kids carefully added dissolved yeast, waited for the dough to rise under little plastic bowls and then rolled out the pasta (Italian for “dough”) themselves.

Here come the pizza making photos!!

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Ready for the oven! Ta-dah!

Then Carla’s babbo arrived with a black animal that I mistakenly called a “pony” as the kids gathered around it.


“Non, e una Falabella!” her dad smiled and corrected me.  “They’re actually miniature horses that originated in Argentina.”

It was he – Carla’s dad, not the Falabella – who originally bought the property when Carla was only eight. The buildings were all run down; many of the roofs had caved  in.  The family kept their full-sized horses there at first.  Then, “piano, piano,” or little by little, they completely renovated the area and opened Il Pozzo almost 10 years ago.

The surroundings are now more than congenial.  Even yesterday’s slight threat of rain gave way to a rainbow that brightened our sky for nearly two hours.

Not a great photo – but hopefully you can see the rainbow! It was much brighter in person, I promise!

Lulu and the other kids took turns swimming, choosing flavors for their pizzas, watching them go into the log-fired oven..



…and happily savoring the results.

The grown-up guests also gathered by the pool and filled their plates with the incredible buffet – authentic Tuscan food cooked by Carla’s mom and friends.   Freshly-sliced prosciutto, fried zucchini flowers and an assortment of crostini – small rounds of bread with savory toppings like nero, made with chicken liver and another with caramelized onions  – were my personal highlights.


Sparkling Prosecco before dinner, red wine during and afterward a selection of grappa and limoncello.  It was wonderful.  Wonderfully Tuscan.


We stayed until nearly midnight.


This morning, when Lulu finally woke up – for the first time in her life after 10AM – I asked what her favorite part of the enchanting evening had been.

“Swimmin’ and playin’ with my new friends – Ah! Wait! Aaaand I really liked makin’ the pizza – Ah! Wait! I also liked the kitties and the little horse.  Ah! Wait! Can you just put ‘All!?!’”

Okay. “All” it is. Come to Tuscany and spend some time at Carla Veneri’s marvelous  “Il Pozzo” agriturismo.

“All” will be great.


And for more kid-friendly adventures in Tuscany, order my book, “Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me.”  It’s life, love and the pursuit of parenting happiness!

Thanks for joining me today – and once again – here’s the link to “Il Pozzo” so you can come and visit Carla and her family for yourselves!

Baci,  Gina