"There is no Frigate Like a Book"
For me, this line from a poem by Emily Dickinson expresses one of the many reasons why I write: I love to travel, but sadly, can only do that from the comfort of my desk chair now. That's why most of my books are set in different countries and different times.
One of my favorite journeys took place in The Crystal Flacon, book #5 in the Collector series. The story took me to Italy and the days of Lucrezia Borgia, sister of the infamous Cesare Borgia and daughter of Pope Alexander VI. I fell in love with Italy, especially Ferrara where Lucrezia lived with her third husband Alfonso d'Este, duke of Ferrara.
After reviewing numerous sources, it became apparent that Lucrezia was much maligned and her scandalous reputation exaggerated. As I explored the beautiful city of Ferrara through many different photos and online videos and TV programs (it seems I chose the right time to write a story about Lucrezia for there were a slew of travelogues and documentaries on Ferrara and associated topics) my love affair with the culture of Italy and especially the region of Emilia Romagna where Ferrara is situated, kept on growing.
Of course for most people when you think of Italy you think of food and I'm no exception. In fact, in the book I mention specific regional dishes, after all, taste is one of the senses. I also use olive oil in a rather interesting way....;~D
Regional cooking in Italy is very distinctive and the cooking of Emilia Romagna offers some very interesting influences. The region has given us some of the most familiar components of Italian cooking: Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto and Aceto balsamico tradizionale or balsamic vinegar, is aged at least 12 years in barrels of different types of wood to become dark, dense and almost too divine to be called vinegar.
Since I love to cook, I had a load of fun getting into the mood for writing by preparing recipes from Ferrara, especially when I found ones that dated back to the days when Lucrezia was alive. Of the many delicious recipes I uncovered, this one has very close ties with the court of the d'Estes. Here's a bit of background about it and a link to a recipe. To be honest, I never tried preparing it because it's soooo elaborate. I do have an easy recipe for another dish and I'll offer a link for that one, too.
Pasticcio alla Ferrarese
This is an exceptionally nice source since there are photos showing traditional cookware and the pie.
This elaborate, traditional two crusted macaroni pie known as pasticcio is considered to be one of Ferrara’s finest creations. There are two versions, a salata (savory) one with no sugar in the crust, and a dolce version that adds sugar but the filling remains the same for both pie types
Pasticcio is filled with a short cut of pasta with lines called penne rigate, a rich pork and liver ragu, and wild mushrooms all held together by a creamy, nutmeg scented white sauce (salsa di besciamella.) Pasticcio saw its height during the reign of the d’Este family and was served at their many elaborate parties to impress their influential guests
Another very nice source for the same reasons as above.
I love this bread. it's very easy to make and quick. I always use EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) rather than lard, but that's my preference due to dietary restrictions.
So, now that I've given you a taste of Italy, I offer a link to an excerpt from The Crystal Flacon that presents a very different taste from an orgy -- rumored to have actually taken place!