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Maria Filice: Breaking Bread in L’Aquila

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Maria Filice: Breaking Bread in L’Aquila

This is a beautiful book, carefully organized, handsomely printed, and lavishly illustrated.

Breaking Bread in L’Aquila (Food and Fate Publishing, an imprint of Telos Press) is Maria Filice’s first cook book and after reading it, one wonders –– how can that be? Where has she been hiding? Why hasn’t she shared her style of cooking –– and living –– with us long before this? Especially when what she has to offer –– recipes for nourishing, elegant, and sustaining repasts –– is characterized by simplicity, altogether too rare practicality, and great warmth.

Breaking Bread is a beautiful book, carefully organized, handsomely printed, and lavishly illustrated (perhaps “illuminated” is a better word, given the contents and the presentation). Maria met her husband, the late Paul Piccone, in 1990 and in the ensuing years they often returned to Aquila, his birthplace in the Abruzzo, approximately 50 miles due east of Rome. There, they frequented Paul’s favorite tratttoria, San Biagio, run by two brothers, Andrea and Luciano Di Carlofelice. Breaking Bread is inspired by those meals, but even more so by a profound love –– for the conviviality and warmth of shared hospitality; and most of all, by an enduring love for a man who transformed one woman’s life. Ultimately,Breaking Bread in L’Aquila is a love story.

Every recipe is accompanied by a full-page, color photograph.

Breaking Bread includes 49 recipes organized into dinner menus for each day of the week. Each menu comprises seven items: antipasti (starters); primi piatti (first course); secondo piatti (second course); contorni (side dishes); and dolci (dessert). The traditional seven-course menu has considerable flexibility: while the antipasti and dolci are fixed, other courses can be increased or decreased, depending on mood, moment, and inspiration. With additional sections like “Pantry Page,” “Wines of Abruzzi,” and “My Philosophy of Entertaining,” Maria offers all the help you need to plan a wonderful meal.

Though the courses may vary, the simplicity of preparation based on fresh, natural ingredients does not. This is first-rate regional cooking, and Maria encourages creative cooking using the best seasonal ingredients available; if apples are good and plentiful, use them; if not, select some pears for a cake; if the red snapper in the market doesn’t measure up, substitute cod; try Marsala wine or fresh lemon juice for the white wine in the Scallopine al Vino Bianco (Veal Scallopine in White Wine). And she takes the anxiety out of preparation with precise but uncomplicated directions and advice. Yet the mystery of the final creation remains intact. Exact measurements are given; careful instructions about things like vegetable selection as well as choosing cuts of meat and fish are set forth; some things are left to inspiration, but not to chance. Most unusually, every recipe is accompanied by a full-page, color photograph. Breaking Bread in L’Aquila gives one the confidence to explore and experiment.

A number of recipes look particularly appealing; just listing some of them gets your juices going: Crostata d’Albicocca (Rustic Apricot Fruit Tart); Pasta al Forno con Pomodori e Capperi (Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Capers); Tosta di Mele (Apple Cake); Pasta con Funghi (Pasta with Mushrooms). I have already made the Torta di Caffe (Coffee Cake); a quick and easy preparation of ingredients yields a delicate, fragrant cake with a beautiful crumb.

With Maria’s encouragement to shuffle the cards in the deck of menus, I have designed a fantasy dinner that looks like this:

Antipasti: Prosciutto e Melon (Prosciutto with Melon)
Primi Piatti: Le Lasagna di Paolo (Paul’s Lasagna)
Contorni: Insalata con Scaglie di Parmigiano (Romaine Lettuce SaladWith Shaved Parmigiano Cheese)
Contorni: Finocchio e Cipolle Caramellizate con Scorza di Arancia (Caramelized Fennel and Onions with Orange)
Dolci: Torta di Noci (Walnut Cake)

Paul’s lasagna looks so rich and substantial that I’d skip the secondo piatti, especially to save room for the luscious Walnut Cake. But, in the spirit of Aquila, do what you want.

Breaking Bread is not just a collection of wonderful recipes. It is an invitation to share in a way of life animated by pleasure and infused with joy. Integral to any Italian meal is an aura embracing the meal and its partakers, a sense that preparing and eating a meal with those we love is a spiritual experience, including not just present participants but those who once gathered around the table. How beautiful it is that the things of earth, water, and sun are transformed into a heavenly repast, a sacramental moment. When we break bread with others, we invite them to share in what might well be called a heavenly repast, or at least a foretaste of the banquet to come. With this love letter to her dear late husband, Maria Filice extends the invitation, in typical Italian style, to everyone. TC mark

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