Have you ever looked at a plate of pasta, your very favourite pasta, and thought back to the first moment that you tried it? Or how about the first time you tasted the richness of a tiramisu’ or the crisp bite of a biscotto?
Being born in an Italian family means that I actually have few recollections of the first time I tasted most dishes. I was probably eating pastina (soup with pasta), polpette (meatballs) and amaretti (almond cookies) before I could even talk! Still, though, I do have some memories of the first time I tried a dish. I still remember the first time I tried a pizza baked in a wood-burning oven and I can still taste the crispness of that crust!
Food and memory feature prominently in this post and its thanks to my dear Cath of beautiful blog A Blithe Palate. Several months ago, Cath approached me the opportunity to have a sneak peek at Faith Heller Willinger’s soon-to-be published book, Adventures of an Italian Food Lover.
Faith Heller Willinger is a food writer based in Florence, Italy. American by birth, Willinger married a Tuscan man and settled in Italy, although “settled” isn’t probably quite the right term. Fueled by a burgeoning love of food and wine, Willinger began exploring Italian food with a passion that is to be admired. And she saw Italian food in the unique way that only someone who is new to it can see it. Her experiences are documented in a number of books, most notably Eating in Italy.
Adventures of an Italian Food Lover is a difficult book to describe. When I first received a galley copy, I was deeply curious especially after a conversation with Cath who described it as unlike any cookbook she’d ever seen. In fact, to simply call it a cookbook is grossly unfair.
Willinger’s latest work truly is an adventure. Memory-filled narratives introduce each recipe. The pages of the book are graced with the artwork of Willinger’s sister, Suzanne. And the recipes themselves are both recipe and introduction to a new set of friends for the recipes all originate from people that Willinger has met during her food travels.
Imagine that. Imagine compiling a set of recipes from your friends and your family. How special would that be?
This book is so engaging. I read it from cover to cover in three days, something I’ve never done before with a “cookbook”. I have a feeling that if you could see it, you’d probably do the same!
The main reason behind receiving a copy was preparation for a very exciting event that Cath and I will be hosting based on Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Within the next month or so, a number of bloggers in this community of ours will be receiving a copy of Willinger’s book and they’ll be charged with the task of choosing a recipe and preparing it for whomever they wish. They’re posts on the book will not be a book review, but rather an account of their experience sharing the dish they made.
For myself, as soon as I saw the recipe for Lucia’s Walnut Cake, I was incredibly drawn to it. First of all because it is so unique and unusual in the way that many Italian sweets are. It’s a “cake” made of egg whites, sugar and walnuts. No flour.
But I was also drawn to the recipe because I could imagine sharing it with my paternal grandmother, Pia. I don’t think I’ve ever really spoken much about my Nonna Pia. I met her only a few times in my life although I was fortunate enough to spend several months with her each time. She was the sort of woman that would put us “modern women” to shame.
She had six children, she was a farmer, she cooked over a fire, she had hands that were stronger than any man’s, she could hike into the hills forever and never get tired, she was intelligent and kind, she could protect her family and find a way to survive with next-to-nothing … she was formidable!
But there are two things that I remember most about my grandmother. I remember her beautiful, long grey hair that she would plait and then tie in a knot. And I remember the simple but delicious food she made. In particular I remember her plum jam and the simple cakes that she baked for us to enjoy with our morning coffee. Nothing fancy, just simple, wholesome food.
And for some reason when I saw the recipe for Lucia’s Walnut Cake, I knew that it would be the sort of cake I could share with my Nonna Pia. It’s something delicious out of almost nothing.
I hope that when Adventures of An Italian Food Lover is published in July, you’ll pick up a copy and meet all of Willinger’s charming friends. And I also hope that you’ll stay tuned for the blog event based on the book.
In the meantime, I hope you find a new food adventure every day!
You can read Cath’s post here.