I loved my trip to Italy and I am dying to get back there. I also really love Italian cooking. Naturally I jumped at the chance to interview Maria Liberati for her virtual book tour
Lisse: Would you give us a bit of background on the The Basic Art of Italian Cooking and why it was written the way it was.
Maria Liberati: My book is a recipe novel and is not just a cookbook. It includes stories about my life in a small town in the mountains of Italy.I wanted to make people not only be able to cook the recipes and to taste the food, but smell the air and meet the people that live in the places I write about. Sort of a vacation in a bookI wanted the book to be not only for cooks but for others that have an interest in food, travel and culture. I have always felt that the beauty and allure of Italian food is not just the food itself, but the way that you enjoy the food with family and friends. So I wanted to give my readers that experience.I have also made a ‘marriage’ between art and food (two of my favorite things)- as I mentioned colors and style of food as it relates to fashion but there is also a marriage between art and food. The preparation of food is an art. You should take as much care in preparing your food as you would in creating a work of art. Beginning with your trip to the market, selecting the fresh foods, to the preparation and serving of the foods- all the steps to create your simple masterpiece. No mater how simple the dish is- make it your work of art. This is what led me to the title of The Basic Art of Italian Cooking for the cookbook series and the cooking method.
The recipes are all special, wonderful, delicious foods but recipes are presented in a way that any level cook can master. The recipes are all straightforward and authentic as well. They follow the ‘slow food’ way of cooking and eating-reminiscent of the slow food method that began in Europe and has finally made its way over to the US
The book has only been out for under a year and has already developed a cult following of ‘foodies’ that get it- making ‘good for you foods’ in an old fashioned, uncomplicated way. Meals that you can share with family and friends and create special memories of your own with.
So many of us cherish recipes from our parents or grandparents. Can you tell us about your experience with cooking as a family ritual/family tradition?ML: My favorite recipe is Fresh Fruit Macedonia, my grandmother always made this as an ending to every dinner. And I love fresh fruit and just can’t finish a meal without having a piece of fruit for dessert-so I am thankful for my grandmother and my mom for getting me in the habit of eating fresh fruit after dinner.
When I was growing up, and it wasn’t in vogue to have an extremely sounding ethnic name-like Maria Liberati or eat meals and dishes that they do in Italy- I was always fascinated by the things my grandparents did and couldn’t figure out why we did these things but my classmates in elementary school were doing ‘normal things’-like having apple pie for dessert and I would talk about having this wonderful fresh fruit type salad or Macedonia for dessert. So I always stuck out-whether I liked it or not-whether it was my very ethnic name or doing things that seemed foreign to my all American suburban classmates- like bringing Italian style pannini’s for lunch to school instead of bologna and cheese on white bread and Italian homemade cookies instead of the prepackaged lunch cakes.
Anyway, this is a really healthy recipe, perfect for summer picnicsYou can mix any fruits you want in it- but fresh fruits are best and organic are even better. With summer fruits like berries and melons and peaches it makes a great, refreshing summer picnic dessert. In winter you can also enjoy a mix with fresh apples, pears, kiwi, bananas, etc as well. The most important ingredient in this simple recipe is the lemon. Lemon is a natural food enhancer. It enhances the flavor of the fresh fruits. You can also accompany this with a small scoop of vanilla gelato or ice creamThis recipe is on page 100 of The Basic Art of Italian Cooking, (copyright 2005-2006, art of living ,PrimaMedia,Inc.) it also includes a story about Sunday dinners at my grandparents’ house.
Fresh Fruit Macedonia
(you can substitute other fresh fruits that are in season)
strong>*1 ½ cups fresh strawberries-hulled and halved
*1 cup fresh blueberries
*2 bananas (peeled and cut into ¼ inch round pieces
*1 fresh cantaloupe with skin and seeds removed and cut into ¼ inch cubes
*Juice of one fresh lemon (seeded)-preferably organic<
*3tbsps to ¼ cup sugar or brown sugar (dependent upon your taste-fruit should already be sweet, so you should not need a lot of sugar to enhance it only to counteract the tart taste of lemon juice)
*Fresh mint leaves for garnish
Combine all fruits cut as directed in a decorative bowl. Cut lemon in half, squeeze both halves of lemon on top of fruit eliminating seeds. Sprinkle sugar on top. Stir fruit gently, so that lemon juice and sugar coat each piece. Place two lemon halves on top of fruit, cover bowl and place in refrigerator for 2 hours to marinade. Serve in serving dishes and top with fresh mint leaves.
To me, cuisine is part of cultural understanding. When one travels, it's important not just to eat "tourist food" or the American breakfasts I saw advertised around Rome and Venice - try something new....
ML: When you go to Italy (not just Rome) the saying of ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ could not ring more true or have more meaning. When I first began going to Italy, I began understanding the true meaning of that saying. To really experience the true Italian culture and flavors you need to also eat the true authentic way of the region you are in. It is not really Italian food but each region has really their own specialty. This is why Sophia Loren will tell you that she is Neapolitan (from Naples) and not just Italian. So if you go to places that say ‘we serve American breakfasts or we cater to tourists.-you sure not to find any local specialties. And local specialties will be produced in a fresh authentic way. And always be sure to eat at places that cater to the locals not to tourists. In Rome, one of my favorite neighborhoods for a Sunday stroll is Trastevere. If you go there you will find this wonderful place that produces fresh pizza and bread. It is called La Ranella. Just ask anyone in that neighborhood where La Ranella is and they will tell you. Or you can follow your nose and the smell of freshly baked bread-that is how we found it. The pizza gives you a taste of the pizza you traditionally should find in Rome. In Venice, it is a bit more difficult to find local places because it has become so much of a tourist mecca that many of its’ long time residents have moved out. However, if you want to go to a good restaurant, look for places that are recognized by the slow food association. They have to cook the foods in the authentic way and use fresh ingredients.
Can you tell us about a part of Italy that not many people get to that shouldn't be missed? You know, for my next trip.
ML: I just did an article for the San Francisco Chronicle on this- Abruzzo is the region that is near and dear to my heart. My family originates from this region. It is about 40 minutes East of Rome and is wonderful we have the mountains and to another side of the region we have seaside resorts. It is one of the last ‘untouristy’ places left in Italy. There are many regulations that will not allow the tearing down of national parks in that region and there is the National Park of Abruzzo -which is really beautiful. We also have the Gran Sasso Mountains, where you will find some of the highest mountains in Italy and has a beautiful skiing resort. One of our main cities is L’Aquila, it is famous for having 100 churches and they have a famous festival that still continues from 700 years ago. It is a medieval festival called Il Perdonanza. It was started by the Pope at that time- and was done to try to make peace in the rest of the world and bring all of the nations at that time together by attempting to pardon some for their past wrongdoings and encouraging them to start anew and ‘turn over a new leaf’ –an idea that is ay ahead of its’ time. Last year I was invited to walk in the procession that starts at one end of the city and ends up at the famous Basilica de Collemaggio (which has been written up in many art books). The parade included reps. from many of the government of the different regions in Italy other Italian celebs, politicians and others. But there are so many people dressed like medieval times and you really feel like you are experiencing the medieval times. I have photos and stories on my blog and website about this (www.marialiberati.com)
There are also so many wonderful foods special to the region. If you go to L’Aquila be sure to visit the coffee bar called Fratelli Nurzia-it has been there since the late 1800’s and they still produce this chocolate covered candy the yare famous for called Torrone. Be sure to get a Café torronato-which includes one of these delights mixed into your espresso and topped with whipped creamI must admit that I have forced my fiancé to drive me there (I Live about 40 minutes from here) sometimes just to have this. It is more than just a drink-it is truly a wonderful experience- the European chocolate they use in the candy really enhances the flavor of the espresso-mmmm!! There are also many restaurants in L’Aquila that will tell you on their menu where the foods that they used are produced locally-the wines, the produce, olive oil, bread, etc.Those are the kinds of restaurants to go to. There are also great little out of the way pizza places you can find in the little ‘nooks and crannies’ and alleyways as you walk around.
Thank you. I can't wait!
Maria Liberati's book, The Basic Art of Italian Cooking is available through her website. Portions of the proceeds of the book sales raised through the book tour will benefit Gilda’s Club, a worldwide nonprofit organization that provides support to cancer victims.