Since childhood, Rosa Fiore -- daughter of a sultry Sicilian matriarch and her hapless husband -- found solace in her family's kitchen. La Cucina, the heart of the family's lush estate, was a place where generations of Fiore women prepared sumptuous feasts and where the drama of extended family life was played out around the age-old table.
When Rosa was a teenager, her own cooking became the stuff of legend in this small community that takes pride in the bounty of its landscape and the eccentricity of its inhabitants. Rosa's infatuation with culinary arts was rivaled only by her passion for a young man, Bartolomeo, who, unfortunately, belonged to another. After their love affair ended in tragedy, Rosa retreated first into her kitchen and then into solitude, as a librarian in Palermo. There she stayed for decades, growing corpulent on her succulent dishes, resigned to a loveless life.
Then, one day, she meets the mysterious chef, known only is I'Inglese, whose research on the heritage of Sicilian cuisine leads him to Rosa's library, and into her heart. They share one sublime summer of discovery, during which I'lnglese awakens the power of Rosa's sensuality, and together they reach new heights of culinary passion. When I'Inglese suddenly vanishes, Rosa returns home to the farm to grieve for the loss of her second love. In the comfort of familiar surroundings, among her, growing family, she discovers the truth about her loved ones and finds her life transformed once more by the magic of her cherished Cucina.
Exuberant and touching, La Cucina is a magical evocation of lifes mysterious seasons and the treasures found in each one. It celebrates family, food, passion, and the eternal rapture of romance.
Lily Prior is the author of La Cucina, Ardor, and Nectar and she divides her time between London and Italy.
Read an Excerpt
Tip the flour in a heap on the table. The old oak table, legacy of Nonna Calzino, smoothed to a brilliant luster by all the years of daily use.
Not too much flour. Not too little. Just the right amount. Fine flour milled from durum wheat by Papa Grazzi at Mascali. Sprinkle in some sea salt, a good measure. Add some fresh eggs and some extra egg yolks, sufficient for the amount of flour, and also some good olive oil and a very little cold water.
Using your fingers, mix the liquids into the flour, combining your ingredients until a smooth paste is formed. The eggs may feel slimy to the touch but this is natural. Knead well, using the heels of the hands in a forward, downward movement.
Knead just until the arms begin to ache and the small bead of sweat starts to trace its way down the spine from somewhere between the shoulder blades to the cleft between the buttocks. This, of course, in winter; in summer the sweat pours down the face and neck, dampening the clothes and making droplets on the table and the flagstone floor.
When the dough is smooth and elastic, brush it with a little oil, cover it with a damp cloth, and leave it to rest, for it too is fatigued. While you are waiting for your dough to relax you can leaf through the pages of a magazine, observing this season's latest fashions, or gaze from the window at young Maria flirting with the postman on the street corner below. Look at Fredo riding by on his bicycle, or at the pack of stray dogs escaping from the dog catcher, and at life in general passing you by.
Then you may begin the rolling. Dust the table lightly with flour and divide your dough into eight equalpieces. Taking one piece, begin rolling by moving the rolling pin in a motion away from you, pressing evenly to create a rectangular shape. Continue thus until your sheet of pasta is long and thin and about the thickness of the blade of a knife. The knife that slit Bartolomeo's throat. Slicing through his beautiful young flesh like a coltello through lard.
Cut the sheet in half horizontally and hang it over a pole to dry for five minutes. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough to make sixteen sheets. Slice carefully the length of each sheet forming the thinnest strips you can. Again let these dry on the pole for another five minutes. Here you have your spaghetti, which, with a delicious sauce of ripe tomatoes, basil, sleek eggplant, and ricotta you will eat for lunch, when office workers, acrobats, and slaughtermen return home for the siesta and for a few brief hours the restless city sleeps.
Following the murder of Bartolomeo, I made pasta night and day. I retreated into the kitchen in the same way that some women retreat into convents, as Pasquala Tredici did after her sweetheart, Roberto, was gored to death by a bull.
I had always loved my food: in those dark days it was all that could give me comfort. I did not emerge from my self-imposed exile in la cucina for a long time. I assuaged my grief by cooking, and cooking, and cooking some more.
At that time I was still living with my family on the farm in the Alcantara valley beneath the citadel of Castiglione, on the far eastern side of the island of Sicily, near the slopes of the great volcano.
The valley of the Alcantara is an area famous for its fruitfulness. Its olives are more succulent, its oranges juicier, its pigs porkier than any other region. The abundance of our land is reflected in our people, who, as a general rule, are wholesome, hearty, and strong.
The virility of our men and the fecundity of our women have also been noted; families tend to be large here, and the urge to mate is strong among both humans and animals.
By a strange phenomenon multiple births are as common among Alcantara women as they are among sows; we give birth to many twins, triplets, even quadruplets, and identical little faces rill the classrooms in the local school. We are so accustomed to seeing duplicates and triplicates of farmhands, housewives, and goatherds that they fail even to draw notice, except among strangers. But few strangers come here.
In our lush valley, they say the fire in the loins of the inhabitants draws flame from the smoldering mountain that dominates our skyline. It casts its spell over the lives brewing in its shadow, where for millions of years it has ejaculated its own life force, clothing its slopes in rich black lava.
"La cucina is the heart of the fattoria, and has formed the backdrop to the lives of our family, the Fiores, as far back as, and further than, anyone can remember. This kitchen has witnessed our joys, griefs, births, deaths, nuptials, and fornications for hundreds of years. Even now the ghosts of our forebears gather in the kitchen, sitting around like old friends, participating in discussions and passing judgment on the activities of the living. La cucina bears the scents of its past, and every moment in its history is recorded with an olfactory memorandum. Here vanilla, coffee, nutmeg, and confidences; there the milky-sweet smell of babies, old leather, sheep's cheese, and violets. In the corner by the larder hangs the stale tobacco smell of old age and death, while the salty scent of lust and satiation clings to the air by the cellar steps along with the aroma of soap, garlic, beeswax, lavender, jealousy, and disappointment."
For Rosa Fiore, the kitchen in her family's farmhouse in the Alcantara valley on the island of Sicily has been a haven since childhood. It was in the cucina that she found solace, cooked and captured bittersweet memories of her overpowering mother, hapless father, six older brothers, and younger Siamese twin siblings. When her first lover, Bartolomeo, was murdered, Rosa retreated into her cucina, and later to the city of Palermo. She remained there for twenty-five years, working as a librarian at the Biblioteca Nationale by day and cooking sumptuous meals alone in her small apartment at night. But her solitude ended when a mysterious Englishman,known only as L'Inglese, arrived at the Biblioteca claiming to be a scholar researching the history of Sicilian cuisine. L'Inglese beseeches Rosa to instruct him in the ways of Sicilian cooking, and they embark on a journey of exquisite sensual and sexual awakening in the heat of a glorious summer. Their passion for the culinary arts is rivaled only by their hunger for each other, and l'Inglese brings out the essence of Rosa's beauty in a way she never imagined. "We had both learned our lessons." Rosa says, "l'Inglese had become skilled in the arts of the Sicilian kitchen, and I, the librarian, had learned what it is to love and be loved by a man. What a banquet of the senses it had been." When l'Inglese suddenly disappears, Rosa returns to Castiglione to mend her broken heart in the cocoon of her beloved cucina. There she makes new discoveries about her loved ones and herself. Lily Prior spins a bewitching tale about the mysteries of love and the joy and sorrow of family. A tribute to culinary delights and the countryside of Italy, La Cucina celebrates romance and passion in an unexpected and unforgettable way. Questions for Discussion
During the twenty-five years she is in Palermo, Rosa receives only two letters from her mother. How would you describe their relationship, both before Rosa journeys to Palermo and after she returns home?
After Bartolomeo's death, Rosa retreats into la cucina for solace and then leaves for Palermo. Why do you think she chose to leave Castiglione and her family? Why does she not return for such a long period of time?
Rosa and l'Inglese are instantly attracted to one another. What is it that l'Inglese sees in Rosa that she does not see in herself?
Compare Rosa's love for and relationship with Bartolomeo to that of l'Inglese. How does each relationship alter Rosa's life and what does she learn from each one?
Rosa knows next to nothing about l'Inglese's background or his personal life. What exactly is their relationship based on? In one instance she replies to l'Inglese, "'Yes, I trust you,' I said, although I was not entirely convinced that I did" (pg. 165). What do you think this means?
Shortly before l'Inglese disappears, Rosa says, "For the first time in my life I was completely happy. I had the feeling that if I were to die tomorrow I would be satisfied with my life; I had known what it was to experience life and to experience love" (pg. 167). Does she still believe this after l'Inglese disappears?
"I mourned for l'Inglese, for the time we had had together, and for myself: for my true self, which I had become with him, quite suddenly, in a blaze of color like a butterfly, and which I would never be again (pg. 186)." Do you think Rosa is selling herself short by believing that she could only be her "true self" when she was with l'Inglese? When she returns home, Rosa learns some surprising things about her loved ones, but what does she learn about herself?
How does the Sicilian setting contribute to the story? Can you imagine the novel having been set in another location, even another part of Italy?
Discuss la cucina and how it plays out in the story. What is your favorite moment in the story that you think best reflects the essence of la cucina?
Discuss the ending of the novel. Does l'Inglese indeed return, or is Rosa having a daydream? What, in your opinion, is the novel really about? About the Author: Lily Prior lives in London, England. An ardent admirer of Italian cuisine and culture, she has traveled extensively in Sicily, where she found the inspiration for La Cucina, her first novel. She is currently at work on a new novel, Nectar, which will be published in 2002 by Ecco.
La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture 4.4 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. The story captures you and keeps you reading. It's a short book, but a lovely one. It is funny, witty and definitely worth reading.
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
Lily Prior is a master, mixing whimsy, romance & comedy, all for the purpose of making you smile & laugh out loud. While reading, be prepared for others people around you to think there's something wrong with you from all the muffled chuckles beneath your palm. WARNING: Not to be read in a quiet bookstore or library!
More than 1 year ago
I loved every page and couldn't put it down! Entertainment value galore! The story telling was phenomenal, and full of whimsy. It's imaginative. A 100% must read. Bravo, Lily Prior! If you like this books, please look at my recommendations.
More than 1 year ago
A book seller recommended this book because it was 'a good quick read' and while it was a quick read, I did not find the story itself to be original or interesting. Sometimes the story seemed to be building up to something deeper, but I couldn't help but feel cheated at the end....as if there was almost no point to the book except to write a book. This novel was compared to Like Water for Chocolate, however I found very little similarities between the two novels. Like Water for Chocolate was an attention holding story, very colorful in its language and writing style. I found the writing in this book to be very superficial and at times it sounded very stereotypical.
More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful Italian love story that winds itself around you like a warm blanket. Ms. Prior's first novel takes detailed images of food and cooking and weaves them throughout her well written story of rapture. This is a great book for your summer reading list. Find a comfy chair and get a cool glass of water. You won't want to put it down and reading it might make you hot and thirsty. Highly recommended!
More than 1 year ago
I really did enjoy this book. So much so that I was disappointed with the ending. Why didn't Ms. Prior tell us where L'Inglese had been all this time and why?!!! What was his connection with Rosa's brother, Luigi? Did L'Inglese kill Crocifisso? My happiness that Rosa had gotten her love back was tempered with my frustration and disappointment of too many unanswered questions.
More than 1 year ago
'La Cucina' is one of the most sensual novels of its time. Much like 'Like Water for Chocolate' this book allows cooking to unleash passions through all the senses. Rosa Fiore had a secret weapon. She was a wonderful chef and used this gift to change her otherwise repressed life. Stuck in a dreary job and taken for granted by family, her sudden meeting with a stranger changes her life. He appreciates all of her gifts. Unfortunately, he mysteriously disappears after a romantic summer and Rosa is forced to go back home to her former life. However, she is greeted with newfound respect, which alters her view on her past, present and future. This is a wonderful book that is engaging, romantic,passionate and endearing. I highly recommend it to all.
More than 1 year ago
This is by far one of the best books I have ever read.It took me less than 3 days to absorb this whole book.I absolutely loved the relationship between Rosa and l'Inglese it was so provacative and the desire for her as an equal was beautiful.I admit I was a little disappointed at the end when l'Inglese comes back. However,I believe Ms.Prior left that up to us as the reader, so we can imagine all of the possibilities of l'Inglese's whereabouts. To be honest, I almost cried when Rosa saw l'Inglese coming down the road because I had become so wrapped up in her life that I felt her pains and joys and sorrows as if they were mine. This is a book you will not regret reading.
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