Chef Fran Costigan

Vegano Italiano Food and Fun

Renata Stuffed Pizza

Renata’s Stuffed Pizza

The celebrated hospitality of Italian people, striking beauty of the country, and extreme attention to seasonal ingredients in la Bella Italia felt unchanged since my last visit twelve years ago. The notable difference this time was finding that vegan and gluten-free are understood and widely available. Ask for gelato “senza latte” (milk), or pasta “senza uovo” (eggs), and “senza fromagio” (cheese) most anywhere you’ll hear, “certo”, sure. There’s a photo bomb ahead with the story of a group of travelers who became fast friends for life. We saw many historical and cultural sites, small private sites, and the big ones too, but this blog post is mostly about the food.


Donna Zeigfinger from Green Earth Travel and I met at the Naples airport two days ahead of our July 25 Vegano Italiano. A sudden lightening storm kept Donna on the plane for an hour, so I was glad to have eaten a vegan sandwich at Fiumicino in Rome. We met Giuseppe, who drove us to Cilento, home base for Vegano Italiano, and arrived for dinner with Miyoko Schinner, Matt Frasier and their companions.

Vegan Sandwich Rome Airport

Luckily, I found a vegan sandwich at the Rome airport

Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

Zucchini Blossoms stuffed with almond ricotta from The Homemade Vegan Pantry by Miyoko Schinner


Donna and I stayed nearby at the lovely B&B Al Vicolo del Cilento, where hosts Alessandro and Antonella greeted us warmly. My room was small but immaculate, with wifi and a breathtaking view from my terrace – it was perfect.  So was Antonella’s vegan secret recipe Hazelnut and Chocolate Torta for breakfast, and the nondairy cappuccino, fruit, cereals, breads on the buffet. Alessandro drove Donna, Demetrius Bagley, and I to Parco Natizonale di Cilento, a UNESCO world site where we enjoyed a lovely afternoon.  Happily we’d be back in a few days with our guests.

Al Vicolo del Cilento view

The view from my room at Al Vicolo del Cilento B&B

Hazelnut and chocolate Tart B&B Felitto

Hazelnut and Chocolate Torta for breakfast

River in Felitto

Demetrius, Donna and I in a paddle boat in the park


Castel San Lorenzo:
We moved to the villa on Saturday to await our group. Soon we were all chatting over antipasti and aperitivo on the terrace. Our gifted resident cook Renata showed us how to make Fusillo di Felitto, the special pasta of the region. Small pieces of fresh dough are rolled into logs and then individually rolled over a skewer, creating the hollow center. We each tried to roll this pasta, but no one no one got it especially right. Renata’s pasta, however, sauced with a simple but perfect tomato ragu made a thrilling course for dinner. We also had green olives that we dubbed the best we’d ever eaten.

NO GMO sign in Cilento

No OGM sign (That’s no GMO to us)

Green Olives

The best olives I’ve ever eaten


Renata making Fusillo di Felitto

Felitto Pasta

Renata’s pasta sauced with a simple but perfect tomato ragu


Breakfast was served around the long table in the big room. Think oatmeal, warm polenta with pumpkin puree and cinnamon, a buckwheat flour and potato frittata, as well as well fresh fruit, granola, spectacular bread with vegan and nut butter and jam. Gluten free options were no problem. One morning, we emptied a platter of Power Balls made by Bob (a.k.a. Blender Boy) and Cathy from Toronto. I like a cup of strong cup of coffee first thing, so the automatic espresso maker in the kitchen was a boon, as were the nondairy milks warming on the stove. Pam from Tampa was in total agreement with me on the coffee factor.

Morning Cappucino Vegan

I like a cup of strong cup of coffee first thing in the morning


Buckwheat flour and potato frittata for breakfast


The 3-Hour Lunch:
The platters kept coming at Ristorante Pizzeria L’Occhiano, and one dish was better than the next. Some of us walked around the grounds between courses, but we all ate a lot! I especially liked the caponata-like dish and the very particular bread and greens dish, all regional specialties. After the meal,  digestives made from herbs were served. Sitting at this long table on a terrace in the middle of olive groves, with friends and ultra fresh food, this was as close to the movie of my dreams as I’ve ever imagined. We pushed ourselves away from the table and headed to the river.

Three Hour Lunch Group

The group at the Three Hour Lunch

Three hour lunch Bread Salad

Tomato and Cilento Bread Salad

Three Hour Lunch 4

Zucchini and Greens

Three Hour Lunch 3

Bread and Greens Salad


Beach Day and the Grottos at Parco Naturale Palinurno:
Umbrellas, beach chairs, sand, and surf is always my idea of heaven. I’d read about the five grottos (caves) but the otherworldly jewel toned water took my breath away. Our skipper, Paolo taught us about the caves, some of which were very narrow. After more beach time and swimming, and walking on the beach, we ate lunch overlooking the sea. Some free-roaming cattle families slowed our way back.


Beach day at Palinurno

Palinuro_Beach_ Lunch course

Mushroom, vegetable risoto at Palinuro Beach


The Grottos at Parco Naturale Palinurno

COWS in Road

Cows in the road


Padula and The Potato Lunch:
I didn’t expect to flip out over the upcoming “potato lunch” at Hotel Villa Cosilinum but it was exceptional. The patata rosso, a regional specialty, were freshly dug. We ate potato chips, thin and freshly made, the best roasted potatoes of my life, white beans, sautéed greens, and zucchini, tomatoes almost too perfect, and even the bread was incredible. Herb and fruit- infused amaros (bitters) for digestion were followed fresh fruit salad topped with nondairy whipped cream. After lunch, we toured the wine cellar before we headed to our private visit with Duke Ettore Guilini in his family’s castle.

The best potatoes EVER!

The best potatoes EVER!


The Potato Lunch

Potato Lunch_Group

Vegano Italiano friends at Hotel Villa Cosilinum “Potato Lunch”


Casalinga (Home Cooking):
“That was my favorite meal” was a constant refrain. Renata cooked our dinners and her charming husband Massimo plated. However, Benay and I, assisted by our companions, made chef-quality food. With Pam and Daiyna’s help, I demonstrated how to make chocolate ganache for espresso truffles (or as I say now, tartuffo). We made Watermelon Granita from Vegan Chocolate and the Italian chestnut flour and rosemary cake, Castignaccio with Susan Andrews’ Rosemary Plum Sauce. From the Candle 79 and Vegan Holiday Cooking from Candle Café cookbooks, Benay organized Chickpea Crepes, Gazpacho and Avocado Soups, all recipes adapted to account for differences in ingredients. Everything was scrumptious and everyone participated, to Renata’s delight and amazement. (“On vacation you like to cook?)

With susan andrews at Vegano

Castignaccio with Susan Andrew’s Rosemary Plum Sauce


Renata’s Farro Salad

Truffles_ Ganache

Fran’s Italian chocolate ganache for espresso truffles


Amalfi Coast: Sorrento, Postitano and Mondo Bio:
A hydrofoil ferried us to Positano, the famous hill city of the Amalfi Coast. We strolled, ate and drank, met a magician/jeweler who “worshipped vegans”, and then drove back to Sorrento. Dinner was at Mondo Bio, the city’s vegan restaurant in a natural foods store included a delicate caprese salade with the “not cheese-cheese” (owner’s description) and “not cheese” cheesecake. Mondo Bio is small with rather simple, but the tasty food is cooked to order. I suggest sitting outside under the trees. Most of us slept on the way back from this very long day.

Positano Best

Positano on the Amalfi Coast

Mondo Bio No Cheese Cheese plate

Mondo Bio No-Cheese Cheese plate

Mondo Bio Vegan Cheesecake

Mondo Bio Vegan Cheesecake

GUNAS BAG with Cat and Bob

With Bob and Cathy  and my Gunas bag


Pompeii and the At-Home Lunch Feast:
Decisions had to be to made: About half the group went to Pompeii with Benay, Pasquale and Donna, and the rest stayed back at the villa with me. The stay-at-homes walked into town, stopping to fill our water bottles at the public water spigots. We bought organic beans, grains and dried mushrooms to take home in the little markets. Certainly we didn’t need bread, but the breads and focaccia in the panificio was irresistible – and so inexpensive. Some of it made it back for lunch.

POMPEII DAY._Lunch at Villa

Our stay-at-home feast at Villa Ginestra


Ciao Ciao:
We exchanged restaurant and gelateria recommendations for Florence and Rome, where some had already been and some were going. After the final dinner, we retired to our rooms to pack. For Daiyna and Pam the morning trip to the airport was actually the middle of the night. Reunions are planned, and sharing our photos has been a wonderful way to transition back to our lives.


On to Florence:
Benay and I boarded the Frecciarossa fast train to Florence on Saturday. The next blog post will offer links and review of restaurants, gelaterias, B & B’s in Florence and Rome, plus our magical visit to Querciabella Winery. I will also have a giveaway for a Gunas bag. My vegan Gunas served me well on this trip. (Cathy had the same bag in magenta.) Please join me next week to read more.


I love comments, so please tell me what you think! What is your idea of a dream trip to Italy? More touring or more cooking collaborative cooking classes, olive oil, winery visits, food shops and markets, time to shop, or more time to sit in the countryside or cafes?

Many of these photos are were taken by Neil Andrews and Daiyna Hines.



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The Abundance Diet by Somer McCowan

The Abundance Diet by Somer McCowan

The press release for the Abundance Diet states, “This is a groundbreaking cookbook and diet plan for anyone who wants to take control of their health through the power of plant-based foods.” When I read through the book, I felt, well, it is plant-based, but this is a cookbook for anyone who likes good food. After reading the forward by Dr. Neal Barnard, M.D., I started at the beginning with Part 1. Somer shares her personal journey with us, and discusses food addictions before telling readers how to reinvent their kitchens. The layout of the book makes sense to me and the full color photos are plentiful and appealing.

The Abundance Diet is a cookbook and diet plan to manage your weight and eat abundantly with plant-based whole foods. Somer McCowan’s 28-Day Diet Plan includes over 100 delicious recipes (all gluten-free) and is customizable to suit individual tastes. These delicious, nutrient-packed recipes to enjoy on your weight-loss and health journey include:

  • Cheesy Cauliflower and Potato Bake
  • Homestyle Mexican Casserole
  • Grilled Eggplant and Zucchini Lasagna
  • Bananas Foster Pancakes
  • Cheesy-Smoky-Spicy Black Bean Soup
  • Blueberry Peach Tart with Apricot Crumble
  • Many more…

Somer, whose blog is, reversed severe ulcerative colitis through her plant-based diet. Many who have tried her plan lost weight quickly and safely while feeling full and eating an abundance of whole plant-based foods. Without counting calories, Somer assures us that you can dramatically change your overall health, eliminate bad cholesterol, take control of your blood pressure, and shrink your waistline. The Abundance Diet also shows you how to incorporate exercise, regardless of your fitness level.


Apple Pie Green Smoothie from The Abundance Diet by Somer McCowan

Apple Pie Green Smoothie

This smoothie is surprisingly reminiscent of apple pie. It is really delicious and I think you’ll find it one of your fast favorites. The fiber from the apples also keeps your stomach full for a long time, so this is a favorite smoothie of mine to take out and about when I’m running errands all morning and need something to tide me over until I get home. (Recipe from The Abundance Diet, © 2015 by Somer McCowan. Photo by Ann Oliverio. Used by permission from Vegan Heritage Press LLC.)


  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups packed organic baby spinach
  • 1 medium banana
  • 2 small apples, cored and quartered
  • 1 tablespoon organic apple butter or 1 date, pitted and snipped into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups ice cubes
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed, chia seed, or hemp seed (optional)
  • Liquid stevia, to taste (optional)


In a blender, combine the water, spinach, banana, apples, apple butter, cinnamon, ice, and flaxseed, if using. Blend the mixture until completely smooth, creamy, and well combined, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add the liquid stevia, if using, and pulse to incorporate.

Makes 1 serving (about 1 quart)


Recipe from The Abundance Diet, © 2015 by Somer McCowan. Photo by Ann Oliverio. Used by permission from Vegan Heritage Press LLC.


I have a copy of The Abundance Diet for one lucky reader this week. U.S. residents only, please. Follow the instructions below to enter. Contest ends at midnight eastern time on August 30, 2015. Good luck!


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Chocolate, Date, and Coconut Chia Pudding

Chocolate Date and Coconut Chia Pudding from Vegan Chocolate by Fran Costigan

No Chia Pet jokes here, friends, just the facts about a healthy chocolate breakfast or anytime pudding. If you like a thinner pudding, add more nondairy milk. If you like a sweeter pudding, add more maple syrup. After eating 2 to 3 gelatos a day in Italy for the last few weeks, I turned to this recipe to help me transition back to more normal eating. I hope you will enjoy this simple to make pudding too. Even if you haven’t liked the consistency of chia puddings before, I hope you will try this one. Don’t skip the stirring, waiting, stirring steps. It where the magic happens.

Chocolate, Date, and Coconut Chia Pudding

Makes 3 to 4 servings


  • 2 ounces / 60 grams pitted Medjool dates (about 4 large) or an equal amount of another variety of date
  • 1/3 cup / 80 ml very hot water
  • 1 1/4 cups / 300 ml almond milk or coconut milk beverage, divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon / 26 grams dried shredded coconut, divided, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons / 12 grams Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • Pinch fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons / 45 ml pure maple syrup, Grade B or dark amber
  • 1/4 cup / 40 grams chia seeds, white or black


  1. Put the dates in a small bowl. Pour the water over the dates and set aside for 15 minutes or until very soft.
  2. While the dates soak, purée 1/2 cup / 120 ml of the milk, 3 tablespoons of the coconut, the cocoa powder, and the salt in a blender. Add the remaining milk and the maple syrup and blend for 30 seconds.
  3. Add the dates and any soaking liquid and blend until mostly puréed (some small pieces of dates are fine).
  4. Pour the mixture into a 2-cup measure. Add enough additional milk to equal 2 cups / 480 ml, if necessary.
  5. Mix the chia seeds and the remaining 2 tablespoons of the coconut in a medium bowl.
  6. Pour the liquid ingredients over the chia and coconut and whisk vigorously. Repeat twice at 5-minute intervals. Wait 10 minutes and whisk again.
  7. Refrigerate the pudding for at least 6 hours or up to 2 days ahead. Whisk a few times, when you think of it, to prevent clumps of chia in the pudding.


Whisk the pudding and serve in small bowls sprinkled with toasted coconut.


The pudding can be refrigerated in a covered container for up to two days. Whisk before serving.

The photo by Annie Oliverio shows this pudding dressed up with cream. I’ve done the same by layering the pudding with the Cashew Cream in Vegan Chocolate. You could make the pudding even more of a serious dessert by drizzling some chocolate sauce over the top too. What do you think?


Recipe reprinted with permission from Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts, by Fran Costigan, (Running Press 2013). Photos by Annie Oliverio.



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