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