Those of you who have read my novel, A New York Secret featuring a wartime chef in a glamorous New York restaurant, will know how much I love including recipes in my books. Setting a book in Tuscany was a wonderful opportunity to explore beautiful Italian cooking, and here are some of the dishes that featured in the book.
1. After a long day working in San Francisco, there is nothing Annie likes better than coming home to her tiny, perfect apartment and cooking herself a meal consisting of no more than three ingredients, pasta, crisp, fried, unsmoked Italian pancetta cooked in plenty of olive oil, and arugula, the wild rocket that she buys from her favorite Italian stall at the local markets.
2. When Annie arrives in Tuscany, she finds a charming trattoria run by an elderly husband and wife who cook for her: crostini Toscani (chicken liver pate served on thin pieces of toasted bread) — Panzanella — a salad made of crisp bread, tomatoes, onion, basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and then Bistecca alla Fiorentina served simply seasoned with rosemary and sage. Then they carefully bring out a torta di ceci — a sweet chickpea flour pancake — followed by biscotti di Prato — local sweet biscuits made of flower, sugar and nuts — along with a glass of local Vin Santo.
3. In 1943, in the historical part of the story, Cara feels lucky to be able to enjoy a breakfast of fresh strawberries picked from the garden of the Villa Rosa and crusty Italian bread. Amidst the deprivations and tragedy of war, this feels like a luxuriant feast.
4. By contrast, Annie in the present day, can enjoy a breakfast of French toast, mascarpone, strawberries and a pot of coffee for breakfast in her pensione in Tuscany. She savours every bite of the crispy exterior, and the soft pillowy interior of the delicious cinnamon flavoured loaf.
5. The night before this breakfast, Annie cooks happily in the perfect kitchen in the little pensione, losing herself in balancing flavours, colours and tastes while she listens to Puccini and cooks pasta with vivid green asparagus spears and delicate curls of lemon rind, along with a dusting of Parmesan and cracked black pepper.
6. When Annie has lunch with the lovely Luca in Tuscany, he serves prosciutto, local flatbread, olive oil, and arugula, which he tosses with pecans and pears.
7. In Cortona, Annie and Luca share a salad of radicchio and walnuts with local cheeses, olives, olive oil, prosciutto, marinated sweet peppers and crusty local bread. Along with this, they both enjoy a glass of one of the most delicate white wines that Annie has ever tasted.
Bon appetite! x
Tuscany, 1944. Did she fight for the resistance or betray her people?
When the Nazis storm into northern Italy, Contessa Evelina Messina, the owner of the beautiful Villa Rosa, welcomes the Germans to her valley. In a dazzling rose silk dress, she entertains soldiers with priceless wine from her ancient cellars. Privately, she tells the townspeople this will keep the enemy at bay, but her disguise is so good, it is impossible to tell on which side her heart truly belongs…
Years later, American Annie Reynolds gazes up at the peach-coloured walls of the magnificent, empty house. Grieving deeply for her beloved father, Annie remembers his last words before he slipped away—he told her she was adopted and that the Villa Rosa was her birthright. Desperate for answers, Annie’s heart breaks when the locals tell her the Contessa had a child with a Nazi. She is devastated and ready to turn away from her dark past.
But everything changes when Annie uncovers a musty old diary from 1944 amongst the Contessa’s belongings. Pages have been meticulously cut out and Annie is sure these missing entries hold the clue to her past. As she frantically searches old papers, Annie sees how hard the Contessa worked to keep her people safe and wonders if the locals’ stories are wrong. Can Annie find the Contessa’s missing child, born at the end of the war? And will discovering the truth about what happened alter the course of her own life for good?
An utterly gripping, sweeping page-turner that will transport you to the olive groves of Tuscany. With a truly heartbreaking family secret from World War Two at its heart, fans of Kathryn Hughes, Fiona Valpy and Victoria Hislop will be enchanted.
An Italian Secret By Ella Carey is out 22nd September 2023
Ella Carey is the international bestselling author of The Things We Don’t Say, Secret Shores, From a Paris Balcony, The House by the Lake, and Paris Time Capsule. Her books have been published in over fourteen languages, in twelve countries, and have been shortlisted for ARRA awards. A Francophile who has long been fascinated by secret histories set in Europe’s entrancing past, Ella has degrees in music, nineteenth-century women’s fiction, and modern European history. She lives in Melbourne with her two children and two Italian greyhounds who are constantly mistaken for whippets.
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