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Bella Tuscany – The Sweet Life in Italy by Frances Mayes
If I were to rate this on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being FANtatsic…I’d go with 6 ½ …..my opinion is… Under the Tuscan Sun was more fun to read. That being said, I liked this book and prepared a great meal from the chapter Sicilian Menu. More on that later………..
Mayes went into sooooo much detail about the shopping trips and her opinions on the Mafia in Sicily that I felt like flipping through some of those pages…thinking, “C’mon! Let’s move on here…I want to read about Italy but….too much minutia.”
Some of the best parts for me were reading and visualizing her visiting a local farm and getting fresh ricotta, all the varieties of wine and her interactions with the local folks. I imagined me walking along with her and discovering an Etruscan ruin…..seeing the small churches with artwork I will never see in the United States . Immersion in the culture…that is what I loved.
Some favorite parts:
“Tonight we are drawn into a trattoria simply because it looks like someone’s Sicilian aunt’s funky dining room, with painted cupboards, bits of old lace, family photos. We are waved to the last available table. No menu arrives. Carafe wine is plunked down on the table. A woman and her daughter in animated conversation in the kitchen. The husband tends the dining room. He’s holding a glass of wine aloft as he floats from table to table, taking a few sips as his customers order. Soon a pate of antipasti appears – little squid, a vegetable tart, olives.”
Oh yeah…that is the type of experience I would love to have. We just wander in and eat what the locals are having.
Another visual – “ All over a valley of almond trees and wildflowers stands a mind-boggling array of remains from an ancient town, from temples to sewer pipes.” What a thing to stumble across just driving around. Doug and I would spend hours looking and taking snaps of ruins.
Don’t get me started on the pasticcerias!! The pastries are mounded with cream…realistic marzipan pineapples, bananas, pricky pears, cherries…..almond cakes, strawberry tarts…..my mouth was watering just reading about these fresh homemade sweets.
Overall I liked the book but as I mentioned earlier….Under the Tuscan Sun was better. For me. The following recipes were quite good – please try them if you get a chance.
Caponata – Right. I have seen quite a few variations on the prep of this eggplant based dish but I liked this one very much. In the book Mayes stated the Sicilan version was more flavorful than her. Why? The concentrated tomato estratto (tomato paste from sun-dried tomatoes) that is available in Sicily and the anchovies.
Nice appetizers, hor d’oeuvers, or a few tablespoons on a ham or tomato sandwich gives it an extra punch. Great over penne pasta too…so, I couldn’t lose preparing this appie!
Now sauté a chopped onion and minced garlic in a tiny splash of olive oil. Cut the eggplant into small cubes and add to onion mixture. Lacking the intense tomato sauce of Sicily add 6 sun-dried tomatoes (minced) and a quarter cup of tomato paste and half cup of tomato sauce. Stir into eggplant mixture and chop up a several anchovy filets…add those. Eat some too…so good! Add parsley, sea salt and pepper, oregano, capers…….
This will keep one week in the fridge. I love those salty little anchovies…. Nice side.
New flavor, happiness and lightness…pass that parmesan!
Squeeze enough lemon to get ½ cup. Pick out the little lemon seeds. (If you have a paper cut that juice hurts like a sonofabitch!)
Cook fresh pasta if you can acquire it – it is worth the extra price. After you drain the pasta toss it with parsley, the lemon juice and fresh parmesan to taste. I also breaded chicken cutlets in cornmeal as a “side”.
Next I sautéed a bit of crab meat with white wine. Serve on top of your lemony pasta. A cold crisp white wine brought this meal together. Nothing better than this cool summer meal to relax you.
For Frances Mayes’ fanciers: