friday feast: a taste of tuscany

“The passion of the Italian or the Italian-American population is endless for food and lore and everything about it. ” ~ Mario Batali

“Tuscany Delights” painting by Lisa Lorenz.

Buon Giorno! Come sta?

Are you in the mood for la cucina italiano? *kisses fingertips* 

Recently, I heard about a new molto delizioso book at Diane Lockward’s blog — The Poet’s Cookbook: Recipes from Tuscany by Grace Cavalieri and Sabine Pascarelli (Bordighera Press, 2009). Scrumptious food served with provocative poems (with their Italian translations no less)! What more does one need in this life?

This tasty little collection is almost as good as taking an Italian lover. Not that I would know about that sort of thing. *cough* ☺ But I do have a fertile imagination, a lust for fine poetry, and an eager palate-in-training. Cavalieri and Pascarelli contributed their favorite recipes, those “that were once purely Italian and are now Italo-American” — Appetizers, Soups, First Course, Second Course, Vegetables, Salads, Desserts –while 28 of their Italian and American friends provided the poems. Like any good feast, the fare teases the taste buds with spicy, savory, pungent, sweet, sour, and salty — all the flavors and emotions that constitute the best food for thought.

While the French might create food to love, with the Italians, food is love. Fine cuisine is relished with as much full-out passion as peasant food. There is an inherent earthiness about Italian cooking that makes it universally accessible. French cooking is intimidating — so many steps, so many tricky procedures, so many fallen soufflés.

Bruschetta from Toscana Mia Cookery School.

With Italian cuisine, worship at the altar of olive oil, garlic, and pomodoro and you’re good to go. The wholesome recipes in this book, which celebrate the wonders of fresh ingredients prepared simply, are perfect for cooks who appreciate good food but don’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen.

Toscana Mia Cooking School Kitchen in Tuscany.

Today’s menu features a poem about falling in love, and a Main Course recipe, which I was able to whip together in about 30 minutes. As I breathed in the fragrance of curry, ginger, chili powder, turmeric, saffron, and paprika, I remembered halcyon days in Florence, Italy, where I happily observed people who possessed a genuine zest for life. They didn’t focus on money and power all the time, but seemed to achieve a good balance of work and play, more able to live in the moment, never afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves. Above all, they knew how to make love to food — to embrace the cooking and consuming and communal rewards a good meal can bring.

Here’s a poem from the Soup Section. A good place for dreaming, methinks, in the most colorful, sensual part of the grocery store.

by Carly Sachs

Veggies from Toscana Mia garden.

The worst advice I ever got was
if you’re looking for love,
try the produce section at your local grocery.
I’ve been a vegetarian for two years
and I’ve never taken a romantic stroll
down the lettuce aisle.
I’m alone from romaine to rapini.
Week after week I dream of my prince.
He’ll be wearing faded jeans and a button-down shirt,
preferably periwinkle and he’ll have on sandals,
either Tevas or Birks, I can’t decide.
He’ll be holding a bouquet of broccoli
and a shy smile will tip-toe across his face
as he approaches me. “It’s my favorite,” he’ll say.
“Mine too.”
Then he’ll slip his arm around me
and we’ll fill our buggy with corn and tomatoes,
eggplant and bok choy. Anything that grows
out of earth’s belly will be fair game.
We’ll measure the days in corn stalks and potato peels
and I’ll wear dresses the color of habenero and summer squash.
At our wedding I’ll carry a nosegay of cilantro and basil.
We’ll push that shopping cart around the aisles,
pointing out produce as if we were on a gondola in Venice.
The sign on the back will read, Just Cookin’
(Reprinted with permission, copyright © 2009 Carly Sachs. All rights reserved.)

I cannot resist sharing the first few lines in Italian, because I love saying them, holding their delicious sounds in my mouth:

Il peggior consiglio che ho mai ricevuto era
se sei in cerca di amore
prova al reparto Frutta e Verdura del tuo supermercato.
Sono stata vegetariana per due anni
e mai ho fatto una passeggiatina romantica
lungo il corridoio dell’insalata.
(translation by Sabine Pascarelli)

I’m a big fish eater, so this recipe was a natural choice. Simple as promised, a testament to the magic of herbs and spices. I liked thinking about their ancient origins as I added them.

Filetti di Pesce al Pomodoro

1 lb. fish filets (frozen are easiest)
3 stalks celery
1 can tomatoes
1 large onion
1/2 cup chicken broth
6 broccoli florets
1/4 cup olive oil
Chili powder
Garlic powder

Sauté fish in olive oil (flounder, cod, snapper, sole, trout, whiting). In a separate pan, boil vegetables until soft in 1 can diced tomatoes and broth. Add pinches of saffron, paprika, curry, ginger, turmeric, chili powder and garlic powder. Simmer. Add fish.

*Note: I used fresh cod and a 16 oz. can of diced tomatoes.


Check in with poet extraordinaire Julie Larios at the Drift Record for today’s Poetry Friday Roundup.

Appropos of nothing, Alan Alda’s real name is Alfonso D’Abruzzo.

Ever since I ate Filetti di Pesci al Pomodoro, I’ve been dreaming about Italian actors: De Niro, DiCaprio, Stallone, Gandolfini, Coppola, Giamatti, Sorvino, Ventimiglia, Braco, Tucci, Danza, Travolta, Rossellini, Aiello. This might have something to do with the Italian lover thing. It almost makes me want to be Diane Lane and restore an old house in Tuscany.

Some of the other featured poets from The Poet’s Cookbook: Patricia Gray, Anne Caston, Tina Daub, Moira Egan, Ernie Wormwood, Rose Solari, Diane Lockward, Linda Pastan, Rod Jellema, Judy Neri.

Sample recipes: Mascarpone Tart, Eggplant Antipasto, Tomato Soup with Bread, Manicotti Venetian Style, Tuscan Stew, Country Tuscan Bread Salad.

The Poet’s Cookbook: Recipes from Tuscany
Grace Cavalieri and Sabine Pascarelli, eds.
Bordighera Press (2009), 160 pp.
Paperback original
Purchased copy.

Buon Appetito!!

Copyright © 2009 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

37 thoughts on “friday feast: a taste of tuscany

  1. What a great post! I must try to find this book at my library. Italian cuisine is my very favorite; Italy was my favorite stop on our European honeymoon, and I could live there (you summarized Florence well); and I love to read and hear Italian, though there’s no hope of me ever nailing that language. 🙂
    I love that poem.


  2. First off – Buon Compleanno! (I hope that’s right! lol!)
    Secondly – I was raised by my Sicilian nonna (although we called her Gram) – so I have a great love of Italian food! She was the oldest of six, three girls, three boys. She and her sisters were amazing cooks!
    Italy – specifically Venice, Florence and Palermo – are on my definite places to visit.
    I hope you have a scrumptious birthday, Jama! I love your blog and drooling over whatever toothsome morsels you are serving up for our reading (and viewing) pleasure. I just can’t wait till they make scratch & sniff monitors!


  3. Grazie, Julia (I hope that’s right):D!
    Didn’t realize the great Italian cooking gene was in your blood! That explains all your passion . . . 🙂
    Venice is the most romantic place I’ve ever been, and Florence is a must for all the art — I’ve never been to Palermo, though.
    Thanks for your lovely birthday wishes!!
    Shall I send Signore De Niro over?


  4. Feliz Cumleanos, mi hermana! Delicious blog today! How are you spending your birthday? By the way, the fish dish looks great. Try substituting fennel bulb for the celery, and rapini for the broccoli, and I think it will taste even more Italiano! Love, Syl


  5. Poetry AND Italian food??? What, are you trying to drown me in goodness?
    I adored Florence when Mike and I went (not for our honeymoon, like Jules, but maybe you could’ve called it a second honeymoon, it was so romantic) My favorite dish is eggplant rollatini—yum, yum, yum.


  6. I’m so impressed with everyone’s Italian! Len’s surprising me with a dinner out somewhere.
    I’ve never used fennel or rapini — my cooking is quite pedestrian compared to yours. Is fennel the vegetable that tastes like licorice? Maybe I’m mixing it up with something else.


  7. Happy Birthday
    Plus, the Fish Filet recipe sounds wonderful — I’ll definitely have to try it.
    Have a great one!
    ~ Lois


  8. I’m reading this from our (nearly bare) kitchen, grocery shopping tonight after ice-cream social at the school (dessert first, why not? it’s Friday). Boy, I’m getting hungry!
    We have a cooking date set with my husband’s 93-year-old Italian great aunt — she’s passing along some of the family recipes. My husband and his sibs remember helping out in the kitchen when they were kids, turning the pasta crank, sampling the sauce; now our daughter’s turn to have some fun with it.
    This book sounds like one for the holiday list.
    Thanks for your great post — and happy birthday!


  9. Happy birthday, dear Jama! I hope you have a wonderful year ahead of you.
    I had to smile at this entry, because it’s so like you to provide a feast for the rest of us on your special day. I’m going to be dreaming of basil and spring fennel and pomodoro tonight!


  10. happy birthday
    Happy birthday, Jama!
    The Carly Sachs poem reminds me of one of my favorite engagement stories. My friend and his then-girlfriend went to the grocery store. My friend said he had to go to the car to get something, and his girlfriend went inside. My friend took a bouquet of flowers out of the car trunk, went inside to the grocery store, and found his girlfriend in the produce section, holding Roma tomatoes. My friend took the Roma tomatoes out of her hands, placed the bouquet in her arms, and asked, “Will you marry me?”


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