Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The Daily Bread - my love story to Italy

Hi all!

This is not a devotional piece, but it is a love story to Italy and Italian food, all brought on because I raided one of my Italian recipe books today and am making Chicken with Basil Cream Sauce tonight. Browsing through the recipes brought me back to my travels in Italy. Many of you know my tendency to wax eloquent on the topic of Paris and France, but for sheer love of life you can't go past the Italians. The French as a race tend to be reserved, while the Italians are polar opposites.

My travels in Italy have enabled me to verify that yes, depending on which region you're in, like France, the food will be different, depending on the local produce. But one thing that doesn't change much is the bread. Got to say, I'm not a fan of Italian bread. The real thing would make an excellent cricket bat if it was a little longer. Why? We got to the nitty gritty of this tough bread when staying in Tuscany on our first trip.

During WW2, Italy, like many countries, suffered terribly. Starvation was rampant, with the food going to occupying forces, leaving the local populace short. They lived on bread, but couldn't afford the salt tax, (salt helps preserve bread and adds a softness.) By the way, the Romans were one of the first to produce salt by evaporating sea water. It then became an export.

The hills of Tuscany today
So, after the war, much like the bells that toll at midday in some Italian cities to remind the populace of the destruction wrought by war--executions, occupiers terrifying the occupied, or the bravery of the resistance, the Italians decided to keep salt out of the bread so everyone could remember the hardships of war every time they ate bread, which they do every day, often three times a day.

The Italians know a thing or two about bread. It has an almost transcendental role in Italian eating habits. Bakers are the high priests of cooking. In the '50s and '60s, commercialism came calling with mass-produced bread. Common sense and the Italian love for tradition defeated the invaders. The bakers, the panettieri, resumed their traditional role.

The popular pasta dura bread, typical of the Emilia-Romangna region, is considered to be the oldest type of bread, going back to Egypt, via Rome. The extraordinary breads originate on the two largest Italian islands--Sicily and Sardinia, but the most unusual bread is the carta da musica (music paperbread) from Sardinia. Made from unleavened dough, this wafer-thin bread was originally used by Sardinian shepherds during their lengthy periods away from home.

In my recently-released Under the Tuscan Moon there is a lot of food and drink consumed. Well, they say to write about what you know, lol! Set during medieval times, the basics were home-grown wine, home-made bread, home-produced cheese and grapes picked from the vines. I hazard a guess that things haven't changed that much!

Here is a brief excerpt from the end of Chapter One and the beginning of Chapter Two of my paranormal romance. The two vampires, Vipunin and Cuchulain watch wistfully as two humans enjoy a picnic in the forest...
  "The male lifted a flagon of red wine and held it in the air, until the moonshine lit its liquid contents like a flame to a candle. It was an ancient, dusty bottle, probably a vintage from the Tuscan vines planted on the hillside overlooking this very forest.  Those vines he intended to visit for the vendemmia, the great harvest feast.
  Those vines belonged to him.
  As did the woman...

  Vipunin gritted his teeth as he recalled the richness of the wine he once drank from his favorite pewter goblet while he watched the sun set over his vines. He could taste it now, wild and musky as he swirled it around his mouth. Once his life had revolved around the pleasures of the harvest, the pleasures of women, and the pleasures of wine-making.
He turned his attention back to the male and female, watched as they sipped from silver goblets engraved with a family crest. A thirst more powerful than his thirst for human blood overcame him. He drank nothing but blood, but now he longed to pour every delicious drop of that wine down his parched throat. Tearing a strip of bark from the tree, he pushed it into his mouth and crunched it to a paste. No one would hear him cry like a newborn. 

  ‘Not now, Master.’ Cuchulain clamped him on the shoulder. ‘Not now. Soon. Now I ask you to wait. I am enjoying this watching.’ 

The female reached into the basket and drew out a red cloth-wrapped parcel. Ah, freshly baked bread. Vipunin inhaled its yeasty freshness, recalling the fragrance wafting from the kitchens below his rooms each morning on waking. He recalled sharing it with his betrothed at breakfast one morning after sharing a night of most delicious sinfulness with her in his secret chamber. 

Drawing a dagger-like knife from the folds of his topcoat, the male hacked chunks of the doughy stuff onto a pewter platter. The female reached inside the basket, withdrawing a package enclosed in chestnut leaves. As she unwrapped it, the rancid smell of cheese drifted across the clearing, assailing the vampires’ twitching nostrils. 

 ‘Always hated the stuff,’ Cuchulain sniffed. ‘My parents kept a cellar full of pecorino in various stages of ripening or rotting. I hated it when they asked me to cut a slice for the table. I never understood the appeal.'  

‘You’d wonder at the mortals’ choice of food,’ Vipunin allowed, ‘but it is a good choice to accompany that vintage they drink. Ah,’ he laughed softly, ‘let them have their moldy cheese. And that superb wine. See that perfect bunch of grapes the male feeds the female? Picked from my vineyards, doubtless. Let them enjoy their last meal. They’re only human.’"

If you'd like to read more, check out my book in my sidebar. It's 99c, available from Amazon worldwide. 

Now I'm off to create my Italian meal:


4 chicken breasts
3 tablespoons flour
freshly ground pepper and salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
125ml (4 fl oz) chicken stock
125ml (4 fl oz) cream
60ml/2 fl oz lemon juice
2 tablespoons basil, finely chopped
freshly ground pepper
sea salt

1. Combine flour, pepper and salt in a bowl and coat the chicken, shaking off the excess.
2. Heat oil and butter in a pan, add the chicken, cook over medium heat for 5-6 minutes each side. Remove from pan and keep warm.

Wipe out the pan, heat the butter, add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add chicken stock, cream and lemon juice, bring to boil, reduce a little.
4, Just before serving, add the basil, season with pepper and salt, and serve the sauce over the chicken.

SERVES 4 (or 2, depending if you've starved all day doing NaNoWriMo!)

AFTER DINNER REPORT: Absolutely delicious! I'll be making this again with fish next time. The flavours will work well...

Thank you for coming by!


H. R. Sinclair said...

I do love Italian food! That was a great excerpt too.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I like Italian food but have only had the real thing a couple times. No salt would make it taste really interesting.

D.G. Hudson said...

Nice excerpt, Denise! It's interesting hearing vampires salivate over something other than blood. . .I like a book that combines food with the story,in a balanced proportion, that is. I like crusty bread, but baguettes are my favorite, after that, bread with seeds and such. I've always wanted to see the Italian art more than anything. I lived in Little Italy when I first came to Vancouver, there is a large Italian population in our city.

Yolanda Renée said...

Me, not a fan of food, Italian, French or U S cuisine. Allergic to too much of it. Give me a protein drink and a vitamin pill and I'm good. LOL But I can appreciate the desire. In my review I mentioned the scrumptious food descriptions, and if setting can be a character, why not the cuisine?

Janie Junebug said...

I love the description of the bread in the book. I've never been to Italy, but my daughter went. Today my blog features a photo of a rainbow flag she got in Rome.


Jo said...

I love Italian food. Unfortunately too many people in this part of the world think the only thing eaten in Italy is pizza or pasta. I have saved this recipe, sounds delicious. I already have your book.

Pat Hatt said...

Never had Italian food that I can recall, probably kill me anyway lol can't eat much.

Botanist said...

I can't comment on Italian bread, I must have eaten it but from my one brief visit to Italy I have vivid memories of the pasta! There is nothing to beat properly fresh-made pasta ... mmm ... hungry now :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Love Italian food and of course marrying into a big Italian family I learned many recipes. My father-in-law had a restaurant and later catered events. Fabulous cook. And in that family bread is always served.
I've done the Basil cream sauce only I use chicken thighs instead :-) Hubs family tends toward southern Italian cuisine, I prefer northern but fell in love with some of the Sicilian dishes.

Yes, I concur with your character. Good wine is priceless (and yes, you can keep the smelly cheese, altho I love cheese just not that particular type).

Sia McKye Over Coffee

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Sia. Lovely of you to visit. I usually use thighs, but breasts worked well in this recipe...I love the way a basket of bread or grissini is placed on your table at authentic Italian restaurants, but I usually beg for a little butter! Bread goes well with this recipe to soak up the delicious sauce! :-)

Denise Covey said...

The pasta is something else, because it's freshly made and soft! The best pizzas, too, are fresh with just some tomato puree, basil and Parma ham sprinkled on top of the crispy base. I still dream of it. In Oz, pizzas tend to be top heavy and drowning in cheese. Never eat it! Real Italian food is nothing like the Oz version, but some dishes here are swoon worthy! :-)

Denise Covey said...

I'm sure you'll love it Jo! It is very filling, though! Thank you for buying my book awhile ago! :-)

Denise Covey said...

Thanis Janie. I must fly over and see!

Denise Covey said...

Oh, how sad to have food allergies. I'm allergic to nothing, except oranges, but that's no loss. I can have every other citrus! Books and food...to me, a match made in heaven!

Denise Covey said...

Yes, my vamps are a bit different to the run of the mill who sit and watch everyone eat, but never eat themselves..,Yes, give me a baguette any day! Oh, that Italian art! It's something else!

Deborah Drucker said...

Sounds delicious, the chicken with the basil sauce. I love Italy but haven't had the pleasure of seeing it in person. At least the vampires had the decency to let them eat their last meal. :)

Denise Covey said...

I hope you get to visit Italy one day Deborah. Without the vampires of course!

Nilanjana Bose said...

I know that passage! :) and I love Yolanda's comment about cuisine being a character too!

I haven't travelled widely in Italy - only couple places, enjoyed the food as much as the monuments and museums, feast for the body and mind and soul :-)

Denise Covey said...

So true Nila! A holistic experience! :-)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Italian is my favorite food. I am a pasta and break nut. I've probably not had real Italian loaf though. But even with commercial stuff, leave one of those long, skinny Italian loaves sit around long enough and it does become hard as a bat.

Denise Covey said...

So true L Diane. Cricket anyone?

Chrys Fey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chrys Fey said...

I love Italian food!!! Bread is one of my favorite things to eat. I'm a suckered for goid, fresh bread. And pasta is my favorite meal. Yum!! I would love to go to Italy just to eat. I am so going to try that sauce. Thanks for sharing the recipe. :)

Crystal Collier said...

Bread, cheese and grapes. How can you go wrong with that? (Especially the cheese.)

M Pax said...

Mmm on the chicken with basil cream sauce. I would love to go to Italy. Working on some historical novels in that setting currently. Did you take the photo of Tuscany? It's stunning.

Anonymous said...

I have to tell you, this meal sounds delicious! I used to be a huge bread baker, until I was diagnosed with Celiac a few years ago. Oh, how I miss my bread, and how my family misses the way the house used to smell throughout the autumn, winter and spring. It's lovely reading your story about Italy, even though they don't make good bread. Your recipe sounds heavenly, and I bet if I use gf flour, it will turn out perfectly well. I may just have to try it.

Kittie Howard said...

Yum, drooling here! Loooove Italy! I don't know why -- Italy's got barrels of problems -- but none seem to exist. Everything's lighter, more stress-free. Having said that, the bread's dreadful . . . like the hockey puck you referenced. ** Just now settling in, planning a Christmas party, as this past year was consumed by repairs to the house. Renters made a mess -- the property manager said nothing as she wanted to sell them a house. Which she did do. Anyway, back to rolling along, thankfully. ** Wish we had a national moment of silence here -- so simple in concept but so deep in remembrance.

Unknown said...

Wonderful excerpt, a very poignant account of your love-affair with Italy, and a scrumptious recipe!

I'm always so well-rewarded for visiting you! Sharing on twitter :)

Sorry to leave a link, Blogger won't allow my wordpress comment:
Daily (w)rite

Denise Covey said...

Thank you for coming by. You don't have to apologise for the link although for the life of me I don't understand why blogger won't allow your WP comment.

Denise Covey said...

Heh heh, I couldn't believe their horrible bread, but the coffee made up for it!