The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati is part cookbook and part travel memoir. Between recipes, Maria shares travel adventures, like meeting her now-husband, and misadventures, like the Italian-language student who asked for a shower, instead of a cookie.
High romance, good food and foreign-language misadventures… Naturally I was pretty excited to be part of Maria’s virtual book tour. I loved the food in Rome, possibly a little too much but then I was recovering from a year of di san xien and mystery dumplings. I also got ask Maria a few questions.
Meg: How can I keep my attempts at white sauce from becoming a curdled mess?
Maria: You are talking about beschamel sauce-which is the typical white sauce- typically used in northern dishes once, but now everyone uses it. Especially for a baked dish. For instance you can make a great vegetarian style lasagna with this sauce and veggies and cheese- instead of using the typical red sauce and meat.
But in answer to your question-the best tip I have found that I use in my cooking programs when we teach this sauce is most obviously watch the pot,stay attentive to it. You can’t leave it on its’ own for a minute. But the best thing is to consistently stir it with a wire whisk instead of a spoon. And if you can;t find a wire whisk- a fork may make an okay substitute. But most importantly you must keep watching it because at one point the sauce will be watery and you think yo can leave it alone and then all of a sudden it has gotten thick and sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning in that split second you left it alone. Think of your white sauce like a baby-shouldn’t be left alone.
Meg: When I was in Rome, I had an awesome espresso with Nutella in the bottom. What’s your favorite coffee drink?
Maria: My favorite coffee drink is something similar to what you mentioned. I had it in this great coffee bar that is one of my favorites in Italy. (I just did an interview in San Francisco Chronicle about it on June 4th). In this town called L’Aquila-(famous because it has 100 beautiful churches with so many beautiful works of art) there is a company famous for making this scrumptious candy called a torrone. Now many regions in Italy have their own version of this. But the two famous companies in this town is one family that split up into two companies. The company name is Nurzia. There now is Sorelle Nurzia (Nurzia Sisters) and Fratelli (Brothers and brothers or brothers and sisters Nurzia) Nurzia. The candy is typically made soft or hard and is made up of honey egg whites, and nuts. They use also hazelnuts grown i the Piedmont region and they specially coat their candy with a decadent European style dark chocolate. And for a double chocolate thrill they add a cocoa powder to the candy itself and then coat it with chocolate. The original factory where this candy was started still exists (Fratelli Nurzia) and i the front is an elegant coffee bar. They make a wonderful coffee drink called cafe torronata- which refers to the torrone. They serve it so elegantly also. It is served in an elegant glass they first put a chocolate covered torrone in bottom of glass pour in a normal shot of espresso, wait one minute and let the chocolate begin to melt,then top with fresh panna (whipped cream,dust a little cocoa powder on top) And you have my favorite coffee drink. If you go t L’Aquila and ask anyone in town they can tell you where to find Fratelli Nurzia. best time to visit L’Aquila in end of August when they have their medieval festival- the same festival that has been held for over 700 yrs. You will feel like you are back in medieval days.
To order your own copy of The Basic Art of Italian Cooking, visit www.marialiberati.com. Let me know that you’re ordering, via email or in the comments, and you’ll get an autographed copy of the book, a sample of the spice blend, Sapori D’Italia, and a recipe for Tuscan-style bruschetta.