This is a fun little read for fans of simple Tuscan food.
The title is taken from the Italian concept of bella figura. Although translated as 'beautiful figure', it is in fact about the idea of making every aspect of life as beautiful as it can be. Both romantic and practical, making bella figura encompasses manners and grace, generosity and abundance. Beauty is revered in Italy, through art and architecture, as well as more simply by a well tailored dress. It is of course about making a good impression but. I'd like to think, for ones own enjoyment as much as for creating an outward appearance.
From personal experience, I see it in how the table is always dressed with a tablecloth, the warm and welcoming sense of appreciation and occasion that is part of the most simple mid-week lunch at home.
Kamin Mohammadi's book chronicles her adventures in learning to live beautifully. Each chapter begins with the produce, scent, moment and word of the month. I really enjoyed the references to her favourite Italian moments each month, I could relate to many of these, in paticular the occasion on which her companion parked the car right in the middle of the pedestrianised piazza! I honestly wish I had written a similar account of my year in the Veneto.
The story itself is an easy and entertaining read, and whilst some of her romantic tastes might have been questionable (Roberto/Dino? Unlikely to have made it to a second date I'm afraid!) her food ones are not so. We recently enjoyed using her recipes as part of a weekly meal plan. Here's a couple of our simple favourites:
Fresh Broad Bean and Pecorino Salad- Serves 2
1kg fresh broad beans. I used organic beans from Steepholding local organic farm which our two year old son enjoyed shelling with me.
150g medium mature pecorino. I used a Pienza we stock at the shop for real Tuscan authenticity.
Juice of one lemon.
Once shelled, blanch the larger of the beans into boiling water for one minute, drain and put in a bowl of cold water. Add smaller beans raw.
Once cooled, peel off the outer skin and place in serving bowl.
Add cubed pecorino and mix through.
In a small bowl make a pinzimonio dressing (see below) with lemon juice, season, whisk and pour over the salad.
Best quality olive oil. I used Olive and Rosy's own of course!
Good quality balsamic vinegar. I like this one. To accompany the broad bean salad above, substitute with lemon juice.
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste.
Pour the olive oil into a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of vinegar/lemon to 4-5 tablespoons of oil. Sprinkle some sea salt, grind in some black pepper and whisk with a fork.
As well as going well with the broad bean salad, pinzimonio is more typically used for dipping long-sliced raw vegetables such as celery, carrots and peppers.
Super simple but tasty recipes in context with their back drop of Italian scenery and brought to life amid romantic escapades, make for a delightful little book. I really enjoyed it.
The epilogue summarises how to 'bring the bella figura home'. Here are just a couple of ways:
- Honour each meal with intention and a sense of occasion
- Eat seasonal and simple whole foods
- Take a teaspoon of quality extra-virgin olive oil each day
- Look up more and smile sincerely at everyone you meet
- Embrace the world around you, the experiences, the nature and the people in it
I cast my mind back to some of my favourite memories of Italian life. What are yours? We'd love to hear them!
Produce: White asparagus in Spring
Scent: Jasmine in Verona in June
Italian moment: Stefano abruptly stopping the car mid-journey to Asolo, in order to give us a talk on the pleasures of polenta!
Italian Word/Phrase: piano, piano - softly, softly, little by little. Saying it aloud even has the appropriate calming and comforting effect - give it a try!