“Antonia & Her Daughters” by Marlena de Blasi

January8

I have read many non-fiction books by Marlena de Blasi: “That Summer in Sicily”,  “A Thousand days in Venice”, “A Thousand Days in Tuscany”, and “The Lady in the Palazzo”.  I have been absolutely enthralled by them all.  De Blasi, a chef and food writer, is an ex-pat American who marries a Venetian and relocates to Italy.  Her food narratives make my mouth water.  I typically don`t create a post on a book until I am finished reading it but I came upon this yummy lunch description last evening and just had to share.

This excerpt is from Pages 163-166 of the Kindle edition

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I step out of the terrace traffic into the greater choas of the kitchen.  At one of the five-burner stoves, Luce tosses plump pink chicken livers in butter and olive oil, sears them over a fast flame.  Her thumb over the mouth of a litre bottle of vin santo, she splashes the livers with dry-sweet wine, tosses the mass into a grand marble mortar. Cheeks flushed, laughing aloud at something Filipa recounts from half a hectre away, she is an alchemist grinding a wooden pestle into the steaming pluck of twenty chickens, keeping rhythm while pinching in sea salt and capers, lemon zest chopped fine as powder.  Never breaking stride, she drops in bits of cold, sweet butter and droplets of cognac, pounds it all to a rough paste.  A two-kilo round of charred-crusted bread she slices thinly, lays the pieces on a grate over white ash in a deep, flame-scorched hearth.  The bread grilled on one side only, she deftly drags the untoasted side through a bowl of rich warm chicken broth and lays the bread, broth side up, on a tray.  She smears the paste smoothly over the bread.  Right palm upraised, she balances the laden tray on it, ports it to an iron-legged, stone-topped table set outdoors on the flags.

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I wander over to Filippa as she works through a small mountain of artichokes, trimming the leaves, scraping the dead chokes-barely formed on these beauties-and peeling the nearly foot-long stems.  Into each here she presses mint leaves, crushed unpeeled cloves of garlic, thin slices of lemon, piles them into a huge copper bacinella, pours in white wine, water, oil, heaves in more mint, sea salt, covers the pot and turns up the flame.

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They won`t take long at all.  Let`s drink some wine, she says.

On the oak dressers placed here and there against the veranda wall there are tureens of thick faro soup with new potatoes, blue and white oval platters of red wine-vinegar braised chicken and Filippa’s borlotti mousse, its final decoration a great tangle of fried sage leaves.  A wheel of young, still creamy pecorino sits on a marble near a glass bowl of caramelised peaches and another of fresh ones, some still on their leafed branches.

A tavola, tutti a tavola, invites Antonia, though she still stands- a hand folded on her hip-in front of her place at the head of the table.

From the speckled green jugs of wine passed about, everyone pours for someone else.  Àlla nostra.  Alla nostra.  To us.

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Giorgia arrives with a copper tray, the sausages, charred and crackling from the fire and laid on a bed of wild rosemary branches.  At the last it`s Filippa and Luce-each one holding a white cloth to a handle of the steaming bacinella of gorgeous purple-leafed artichokes.  They set it down in front of Antonia’s place.  A stack of shallow soup plates before her, she takes one, places as artichoke in it, spoons on some of the lemony, winey broth from the pot, pours thick green oil over it from a two-litre anfora, passes it down the table.

Buon appetito echoes like a prayer.

De Blasi has swept me to Tuscany even though I am alone here in my little house on the frozen prairie.  My evenings pass with pleasure as I imagine eating artichokes at a table with my sisters. I will keep you posted as my reading concludes (my next Italian adventure has already arrived to my Kindle).

Kath`s quote: “They eat the dainty food of famous chefs with the same pleasure with which they devour gross peasant dishes, mostly composed of garlic and tomatoes, or fisherman’s octopus and shrimps, fried in heavily scented olive oil on a little deserted beach.”-Luigi Barzini

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Love-that is all.


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