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A Thousand Days in Tuscany: A Bittersweet Adventure

A Thousand Days in Tuscany: A Bittersweet Adventure

3.7 51
by Marlena de Blasi

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American chef Marlena de Blasi and her Venetian husband, Fernando, married rather late in life. In search of the rhythms of country living, the couple moves to a barely renovated former stable in Tuscany with no phone, no central heating, and something resembling a playhouse kitchen. They dwell among two hundred villagers, ancient olive groves, and hot Etruscan


American chef Marlena de Blasi and her Venetian husband, Fernando, married rather late in life. In search of the rhythms of country living, the couple moves to a barely renovated former stable in Tuscany with no phone, no central heating, and something resembling a playhouse kitchen. They dwell among two hundred villagers, ancient olive groves, and hot Etruscan springs. In this patch of earth where Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio collide, there is much to feed de Blasi's two passions--food and love. We accompany the couple as they harvest grapes, gather chestnuts, forage for wild mushrooms, and climb trees in the cold of December to pick olives, one by one. Their routines are not that different from those of villagers centuries earlier.

They are befriended by the mesmeric Barlozzo, a self-styled village chieftain. His fascinating stories lead de Blasi more deeply inside the soul of Tuscany. Together they visit sacred festivals and taste just-pressed olive oil, drizzled over roasted country bread, and squash blossoms, battered and deep-fried and sprayed with sea-salted water. In a cauldron set over a wood fire, they braise beans in red wine, and a stew of wild boar simmers overnight in the ashes of their hearth. Barlozzo shares his knowledge of Italian farming traditions, ancient health potions, and artisanal food makers, but he has secrets he doesn't share, and one of them concerns the beautiful Floriana, whose illness teaches Marlena that happiness is truly a choice.

Like the pleasurable tastes and textures of a fine meal, A Thousand Days in Tuscany is as satisfying as it is enticing. The author's own recipes are included.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
From its opening scene of an impromptu alfresco village feast of fried zucchini blossoms, fennel-roasted pork, and pudding made from the cream of a local blue-eyed cow, this memoir of the seasons in a small Tuscan village is rich with food, weather, romance and, above all, life. De Blasi continues the adventures begun in her A Thousand Days in Venice, as she and her husband, Fernando, leave Venice for Tuscany in search of "a place that still remembers real life... sweet and salty... each side of life dignifying the other." Fortunately, the two are adopted by Barlozzo, an elderly local eager to share his knowledge of the old ways. He introduces them to the local customs: grape harvesting, truffle hunting, bread baking, etc. Although the book teems with food references, including recipes for intriguing traditional dishes, de Blasi is more than a sunny regional food writer-she digs into the meaning of life. As she fights Fernando's periodic depressions and brings him back to joy, gains Barlozzo's trust and love, learns his troubling lifelong secrets and comes to terms with the death of a beloved friend, she immerses her readers in life's poignancy, brevity and wonder. Agent, Rosalie Siegel. (Nov. 5) Forecast: Fans of Frances Mayes's oeuvre will gravitate to this, as well as those who read A Thousand Days in Venice. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Picking up where her A Thousand Days in Venice left off, American author and chef de Blasi and her Italian husband trade their stable life in Venice for a potentially idyllic Tuscan one. Taken under the wing by a local who mentors her foray into the ways of the past, the author participates in every aspect of the local food culture, from harvesting grapes to truffle hunting, and vividly describes her adopted community through its preparation and celebration of food. Equal parts an exploration of Tuscan food and culture and a touching story of its people, this book supplemented with complementary recipes reads more like a novel than the memoir it is. Recommended for public libraries and larger cooking collections. Sheila Kasperek, Mansfield Univ. Lib., PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Another savory slice of de Blasi's life (A Thousand Days in Venice, 2002, etc.), this one chronicling her move south to a small Tuscan town. "Three years ago, when I left America to come to live in Italy, it was neither Venice nor the house on the beach that lured me. Rather it was this man, this Fernando. It's quite the same thing now. We've hardly come to Tuscany for the house." Which is a good thing, for this old stable is far from chic. That's not the point; they have come there to scrub their lives as if with a loofa, to follow the rituals of rural culture in San Casciano dei Bagni, a place of olive and cypress trees, meadows with sheep and sunflowers and lavender. Food will take center stage: fat and velvety zucchini blossoms; a haunch of boar; pecorino bread; ropes of pasta dressed with green tomatoes, garlic, oil, and basil; all the humble, inspired dishes that make you want to bark with pleasure. Without fanfare, the townspeople can gather in a spontaneous convocation, "whispering gastronomic lore like vespers." De Blasi faithfully catches San Casciano in all its weathers, evoking its ancient roots (Roman legions tramped through this land), its artistic association (Rafaello and Perugino), and its political leanings (more than slightly red), as well as the wartime ingenuity that remains a wonder half a century later. The inhabitants, each in their own way, tilt de Blasi's days, making them sweeter and more pungent. One old soul advises on all things San Casciano; another woman makes sure the couple doesn't get too sentimental as they get evermore romantic. The proceedings entail both comfort and risk: the sun shines pink, and the stone floors deliver a welcome coolness, but theswift passage of time lends an edge with the prospect of death. An object lesson in living fully from a genuine sensualist unabashed by her emotions.
From the Publisher
“De Blasi’s glittering descriptions and mouthwatering recipes take you directly into the heart of Italy and into the souls of the Italian people.”
–Adriana Trigiani, New York Times bestselling author of Lucia, Lucia

“Filled with warmth and the rich and simple drama of a beautiful life. The evocation of country dishes is mouthwatering, the lyrical beauty irresistible.”
–Susan Herrmann Loomis, author of On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town

“A love poem to de Blasi’s professional life as a chef.”
–USA Today

“Rich with food, weather, romance, and, above all, life . . . [De Blasi] immerses her readers in life’s poignancy, brevity, and wonder.”
–Publishers Weekly

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Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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Read an Excerpt

The scent of them is enough to send up a short, sharp thrill in a hungry person. Seething hot beauties, they repose in a great unruly pile on the white linen. The yellow of the naked blossoms shows through the gilt sheaths of their crackling skin. Skin thin as Venetian glass, I think. But I'm far away from Venice. We live in Tuscany, now. As of this morning, we live in Tuscany. I say it breezily to myself as though it was all in a day's work. Yesterday Venice. Today, San Casciano dei Bagni. And six hours after arrival, here I am already in a kitchen. In the small, steamy kitchen of the local bar watching two white-hatted, pink-smocked cooks preparing antipasti for what seems to have become a village festival.

The gorgeous things they're cooking are zucchini blossoms, fat and velvety, almost as wide and long as lilies. And the frying dance is precise: drag a blossom quickly through the nearly liquid batter, let the excess drain back into the bowl, lay the blossom gently in the wide, low-hipped pot of hot, very hot shimmering oil. Another blossom and another. Twelve at a time in each of four pots. The blossoms are so light that, as a crust forms on one side, they bob about in the oil and turn themselves over and over until a skimmer is slid in to rescue them, to lay them for a moment on thick brown paper. The paper is then used as a sling to transport the blossoms to a linen-lined tray. One of the cooks fills a red glass bottle with warm, sea-salted water. She fits a metal sprayer onto the bottle and, holding it at arm's length, spritzes the gold blossoms with the salty water. The hot skins hiss and the perfume of them is whipped up and out into the moist June Tuscan breeze.

Pan-to-hand-to-mouth food, these are sustenance for the twelve-minute interval before supper, and so when the first hundred are ready, the cook, the one called Bice, hands me the tray and says 'vai,' 'go' without looking up. A kitchen directive from one colleague to another, from one chef to another, she says it with familiarity, as though we've worked together for years. But tonight I'm not the chef. I think I'm a guest or am I the hostess? I'm not at all sure how this festival got started but I'm happy it did.

Happy and still unwashed from the morning's journey, from the afternoon's work, I'm salty as the blossoms I offer to people, who take them without ceremony. The same familiarity is at work here as each one smiles or pats me on the shoulder, says grazie bella, thank you beauty, as if I'd been passing them hot, crisp flowers all my life. I like this. For one moment it occurs that I might run with the basket to some dim corner of the piazza to devour the remaining blossoms myself, eyes half-closed in a lusty swoon among the shadows. But I don't. Some people don't wait until I reach them but come to me, take a flower while sipping wine or talking over their shoulders. People are collecting about me now, rooks swooping in for the things until nothing is left, save errant crumbles, crunchy and still-warm, which I press onto my finger and suck.


Deep-Fried Flowers, Vegetables, and Herbs

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups beer
1/2 cup cold water
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
3 ice cubes
Peanut oil or extra virgin olive oil for frying
Zucchini blossoms, nasturtium flowers, and borage flowers, rinsed, dried, and stems trimmed
Celery leaves cut in branches, rinsed, and dried Whole sage leaves, rinsed and dried
Tiny spring onions or scallions, stems trimmed to about 4 inches in length, rinsed and dried
Warm sea-salted water in a sprayer

In a large bowl, beat together with a fork the flour, beer, water, and sea salt to form a thin batter. Let the batter rest for an hour or so, covered and at room temperature. Stir in the ice cubes and let the batter rest for an additional half-hour. Stir the batter again. It should now be smooth and have the texture of heavy cream. If it’s too thick, add cold water by the tablespoonful until the "heavy cream" texture is achieved.

Over a medium flame, heat the oil in a deep fryer or a heavy pan to a depth of 3". The more slowly the oil heats, the more evenly it will heat, helping you to avoid hot and cold spots and unevenly fried foods. Test the oil by dropping in a cube of bread. If it sizzles and turns golden in a few seconds, the oil is ready.

Drag the flowers, herbs, and spring onions through the batter, shaking off the excess. Place them into the hot oil and let them bob about for half a minute or so, allowing them to take on a good, dark crust. Turn them with tongs, to finish frying, then remove them with a slotted spoon to absorbent paper towels. Using a virgin plant sprayer, spray each batch immediately with warm sea-salted water and keep them in a 100-degree oven while you fry the next batch. Better, gather people around the stove and eat the things pan to hand to mouth. A very informal first course.

Meet the Author

An American chef and food and wine journalist, Marlena de Blasi has written five memoirs, a novel, and two books about the regional foods of Italy. She lives with her husband in the Umbrian hilltown of Orvieto. Her work has been translated into twenty-six languages.

Brief Biography

Orvieto, a hilltown in Umbria
Place of Birth:
Schenectady, New York
B.A., State University of New York at Albany; graduate studies in political science, New York University

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A Thousand Days in Tuscany: A Bittersweet Adventure 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 51 reviews.
OliviaM More than 1 year ago
If you are someone who in fascinated by and wants to learn all things Tuscany, this is a great book for you. Having never been there myself (YET!), the read was like a slow, sumptuous vacation in a Tuscan home, visiting the markets and local restaurants. I didn't want it to end. I am anxious to read her other books, because she did seem a bit guarded about certain things.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book in 2006 and it was a wonderful and CURRENT boook in 2006. WHY does b and n continue to state that a book is coming soon or a NEW release Why dont they do what every other e book company does Include the REAL publishing date and the first e.publish date Many books get purchased a second time Barnes and Noble should correct this or they will continue to loose out to Kindle and Apple ibooks
Guest More than 1 year ago
There's no doubt that she's ardent, intense; sometimes fiery. Marlena De Blasi is a passionate woman. Make that passionate with a capital P. A chef, she has a passion for food. Married to Fernando, a Venetian with 'blueberry eyes, ' she has a passion for Italy. Her exuberance is so contagious that readers will relish every page of 'A Thousand Days In Tuscany' (as well as the recipe that ends each chapter). Ms. De Blasi waxes so enthusiastically about her subjects that it almost seems she writes in bold print to extol the virtues of wild herbs, fresh cheese, and the Tuscan twilight. She is a firm believer in love, and an advocate of life, as well as the living of it. As many will remember with 'A Thousand Days In Venice,' Ms. De Blasi first visited Italy perhaps a dozen years ago. On her first day there as she was sitting in a café with her traveling companions, she noticed an attractive man who seemed to be looking at her. Next, in true Danielle Steel style, a waiter told her that she had a phone call. It was, of course, the mysterious man urging her to meet him. She declined but returned to the café a few days later to find him there. They saw one another until she returned to St. Louis. He soon followed. Fernando, we learned, was a banker who had never married. He would later say that he knew she was the one the moment he saw her. Although she did not share this initial surety she gave in to his pleas. Much to the astonishment and concern of her grown children and friends she returned with him to Venice where they married. She had imagined an apartment overlooking the Grand Canal. Instead she found a square concrete house on the Lido. Little did that matter - there was Fernando. And, there is still Fernando who came home one day to announce that he has quit his job at the bank, and they're moving to Tuscany. A redone stable lacking central heating, a phone, and other amenities in the small village of San Casciano dei Bagni becomes their new home. It does boast a closet size kitchen with a refrigerator akin to what one might find by a hotel mini bar. She writes of their contract with the stable owner: 'There had been a well-defined agreement with Signora Lucci that the house would be clean and that it would be empty. Neither is the case.' The signora's furniture is 'all in the form of irrefutable junk.' Nonetheless, the ever resourceful De Blasi is soon trimming the windows in her Venetian drapes complete with tasseled tiebacks, and delighting in her first taste of fried zucchini blossoms. The bar or restaurant in the village becomes almost their second home. It is there that they meet the villagers and take their morning espresso. They're adopted by an elderly gentleman, Barlozzo, who tells fascinating stories and indoctrinates them into the ways of the region. He teaches them how to pick olives- one by one, harvest grapes, and hunt for wild mushrooms. Florina or Flori becomes another special friend. She of the shy smile and warm heart. Times, we learn, have changed very little in San Casciano dei Bagni. It is here by the site of the ancient Roman baths, where Horace and Ottaviano Augustus vacationed, that Ms. De Blasi learns 'the great secret that living in the moment and being content with one's portion makes for the best of all lives.' If the reader is fortunate, that is only one small lesson learned during this idyllic sojourn in the Tuscan hills. - Gail Cooke
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book. It included extrodinary travel adventures, wonderful cooking scenes,and most important, glimpses into the lives of the local Tuscan population. All in all, it is the tale of a couple simplifying life to increase life. Reader, it's a nice read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could taste the food, enjoy the scenery & learned the principles to where they were MY friends. Highly recommend this & I look forward to "traveling" elsewhere w/the authur.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To all of you who enjoyedthis book you might try lunch in paris,great story true story and great reciepes enjoy!
AlanAbrams More than 1 year ago
Marlena de Blasi gives us just the right combination of food, atmosphere, and romance. I highly recommend this book.
dlucz More than 1 year ago
I loved this book as well as 1000 Days in Venice and can't wait to read her others. Yum and Fun!
LoverOfItaly More than 1 year ago
This story is nowhere as good as A Thousand Days in Venice! ...Venice held my attention, made me laugh and cry, and filled me with a passion to return to Venice and find all the wonderful places De Blasi visited and worked. The risk she took as a middle-aged woman was inspiring in her first book about her dramatic adventure and life-changes to seek and find her true place and lifelong partner in love. ...Tuscany did not hold my interest. There was simply too much food and cooking descriptions, and not enough about the transformation she went through in finding her new home and life in Tuscany. Though the characters are presumably real people, they did little to inspire me or beckon me back to Tuscany, a beautiful region of Italy with great people, history, and culture. Though I find De Blasi's writing poetic and beautiful, A Thousand Days in Tuscany simply did not live up to my expectations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read the sample, and loved the author's eloquent description of the food, places and ambiance of the atmosphere of Tuscany. I'm purchasing this book!
Anonymous 9 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fairly good, but it really got bogged down some. Love the Tuscany region and its people.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Appropriate and educational for both men and women. I found myself laughing and then crying throughout the read. Would love to live like this and maybe someday will. She shares her relationships and journey so well that for a time, you are actually with her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Makes me want to go to tuscany more than ever
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Lynnmary57 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, but not as much as A thousand days in Venice.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very calming book.
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KarmaNY More than 1 year ago
I wanted to like this book, but i just don't. I find Chou a little full of herself, the writing style a bit wordy, but more than that - I'm just bored by it. There is nothing compelling about the story-line, except for the recipes interspersed between chapters. To be completely fair, I'm only halfway through it, but it's definitely not a book I can't put down. Moreover, it's a book I put down often. If it gets better for me, I'll revise my review-but right now, I give it 2 1/2 stars.
PennyE More than 1 year ago
I've been to Tuscany and loved it which is why I bought this book. The story was warm and reminded me of things I liked about Tuscany but it was a little repetitive and wordy.