I’m a foodie at heart–you can always count on there being delicious food in my books. (And the best part about fictional food? Zero calories!) My Borgia duology “The Serpent and the Pearl” and “The Lion and the Rose” has the most mouth-watering food out of anything I’ve written, because one of my heroines is a chef: Carmelina, a tart-tongued girl with near-magical skill in the kitchen, who has the job as maestra di cucina for the Borgia Pope’s mistress.
Serving under her is teenage apprentice Bartolomeo Scappi, a historical figure who will grow up and become one of the greatest cooks of the Renaissance–his cookbook is still in print today! Now, it’s a curious thing that most of the world’s mega-chefs tend to be men, but ask any of them how they learned to cook, and it’s always a female name that comes out. (Most usually “Mom” or “Grandma.”) So when I leafed through Bartolomeo Scappi’s cookbook, I asked myself “Who taught him all this?” And the answer presented itself: “I’ll bet it was a woman.”
Fortunately we know very little about Bartolomeo’s beginnings, when he was born, or where he trained, so I was free to invent Carmelina as the girl who teaches the greatest culinary genius of the Renaissance everything he knows. When these two get together in a kitchen, sparks fly, knives are sometimes hurled, and magic happens–along with a lot of great food!
When “The Serpent and the Pearl” was released, I put together a virtual pot-luck with six fabulous food bloggers who combed the book for recipes and trooped off to their kitchens. The results were mouth-watering, and I know we had to host a re-match for “The Lion and the Rose.” Today I’m joined by Theresa from Outlander Kitchen and Island Vittles, who cooks from Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous Scottish saga; Chelsea from Inn At The Crossroads, who recently co-authored a fabulous cookbook based on “Game of Thrones” recipes; Christiane from Taking On Magazines, who cooks her way through the likes of “Better Homes and Gardens” and “Bon Appetit” utterly undaunted; Lori from Little White Apron who is a pro chef as well as a blogger extraordinaire; Deana from Lost Past Remembered who recreates food from myriad centuries gone by; and Heather Webb from Between The Sheets who took time off from her
recent smash-hit novel on Empress Josephine to indulge her foodie hobby.
And today, we’re all posting our results! Recipes included.
Inn At The Crossroads: the Roman-style tenderloin Bartolomeo makes when Carmelina’s stuck in a convent with the Pope’s daughter Lucrezia.
Island Vittles: the candied nuts which all the Borgias are constantly snacking on as they plot. And as a bonus? The fried tubers from the New World, which feature heavily in a scene my readers have taken to calling simply �the aphrodisiac potato scene.�
Little White Apron: the salad of blood orange, fennel, and olives served to the Duke of Gandia, and the beef en brochette served at a very illicit Vatican party.
Lost Past Remembered: the fish pie flavored with oranges, nutmeg and dates which Bartolomeo whips up after changing Carmelina’s menu behind her back (and boy, does he get in trouble for that!)
Taking On Magazines did TWO posts! The venison in cream and brandy sauce served after Juan Borgia’s latest hunt, and the tortellini with basil and parsley filling with which Bartolomeo hopes to woo Carmelina.
Between The Sheets: the endives stuffed with cheese and drizzled in olive oil which are served at the Menagerie Masquerade Ball, and the pastries layered with honey and blood oranges on which Lucrezia nibbles while waiting for a divorce.
As for me, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled a recipe from Chapter 17 of “The Lion and the Rose:” a walnut and pecorino cheese tourte Carmelina muses on to keep herself sane during a dull period stuck in a convent.
From the book:
“Three eggs, whisked together with a mixture three parts sugar to two parts strawberry honey,” I recited aloud as I swept the convent courtyard. “Add two cheeses, a soft sheep’s milk cheese and a very fresh pecorino cheese from Pienza, and then a double handful finely chopped walnuts . . .” The lay sisters were supposed to recite their prayers as they went about their work–a rosary, or perhaps an Act of Contrition if they were feeling guilty about anything. I recited recipes.
This is a recipe I got from a little volume of Vatican recipes through the ages, and supposedly dates from the days of Pope Pius II. Given that a handful of walnuts and a hunk of cheese are just about my favorite snack of all time, I was intrigued by the idea of putting them together in a pie, and dying to tackle this for the virtual potluck! I made a few modifications to the ingredients–Wegman’s does not carry strawberry honey–but the result is still delicious: a sort of early-Renaissance version of a classic cheesecake. The texture is identical, and the flavor mild and nutty, the saltiness of the pecorino melting into the honey and sugar. If you would like a bolder flavor, dust the top of your tourte with cinnamon instead of powdered sugar. The perfect holiday dessert for that one family member who isn’t big on sweets.
Serves 12 — Prep time 30 minutes — Cooking time 55 minutes, plus at least 2 hours for chilling
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 1/3 cup very fresh grated pecorino cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups shelled walnuts, finely chopped
12 egg whites, whipped stiff (to avoid the mess of breaking 12 eggs, just use those egg whites that come in cartons for low-fat omelets)
Whole walnuts and powdered sugar or cinnamon, for garnish
Pre-made pie shell or short-crust pastry of your choice
1. Whipping egg whites into peaks takes both time and muscle if done by hand. If you don’t have a hunky kitchen apprentice with arms like a god (Carmelina does), then use a stand mixer and get your egg whites beating with a whisk attachment as you prepare the rest of the pie. If you do have a hunky kitchen apprentice with arms like a god, what on earth are you doing in the kitchen?
2. Make your pie-crust if you are making from scratch (use a pre-made shell if you’re low on time). Either way, pop the crust into the oven at 325 degrees and do a pre-bake for a few minutes, so you don’t end up with a soggy bottom crust once filling is added.
3. Whisk together the eggs, sugar, and honey in a large bowl.
4. Gradually add the pecorino cheese, ricotta, flour, and chopped walnuts, and blend together. When egg whites have been whisked stiff, add bit by bit to the walnut and cheese mixture, and blend.
5. Give mixture one final stir (the nuts will want to sink to the bottom) and then pour into pie shell. There will be enough for two pies.
6. Bake 55 minutes at 325 degrees, checking frequently toward the end. You want a nice golden top, not a burned blistered pie.
7. Let cool, sift with powdered sugar, and decorate with whole walnuts. Chill thoroughly before eating.
Be sure to check in on the others for some more great recipes! And as for the food bloggers who kicked in on this project – Theresa, Lori, Heather, Christiane, Chelsea, and Deana – thank you all so much!
My secondary heroine from “The Serpent and the Pearl” is usually very tough to track down–as a working girl (cook to the Borgia Pope!) she’s always on the move and on the job. But now she’s at loose ends, and consented to be interviewed!
Carmelina: Ask as many questions as you want. As long as we’re held captive here, I haven’t got anything to cook.
Me: You know how many readers accused you of ruining their diets?
Carmelina: Diet? What’s that?
Me: It’s when people swear off butter or cream or pasta.
Carmelina: Why would anybody ever do that? Swear off pasta? Pasta is delicious!
Me: Well, it’s fattening. People stop eating it so they can be thinner.
Her: Who wants to be thin? My mistress Giulia Farnese is the most renowned beauty in Rome, and she’s a solid size 14 in your sizing charts.
Me: Jesus, I wish I lived in the Renaissance.
Her: No, you don’t. I’m the best cook in Rome, and I don’t even get paid for it because I’m a woman.
Me: Fair point. So, how are you faring in captivity?
Her: Madonna Giulia has managed to keep the French from raping us all, God bless her. If she can hold them off a few more days, the Pope should have us all ransomed and home. Can’t be soon enough for me.
Me: Leonello said that you . . .
Her: That little bastard talked about me?
Me: A little. He said he knows things about you . . .
Carmelina: How dare he!
Me: Look, I’m your creator. Believe me, I already know all your secrets. What people really want to know is this–are you really planning to poison Leonello before he outs you? Because you were looking pretty determined . . .
Ok, Carmelina just stomped out. Looks like you’ll have to wait till tomorrow to see if she put hemlock in our hero’s wine or not!
My “Lion and the Rose” hero is still flat on his back on a stretcher, but he consented to an interview. 😀
Leonello: Consented, hah. You cornered me, woman. It’s not exactly like I can run away when I’m full of broken bones.
Me: Yes, I’m sorry about that.
Leonello: Nothing to do with you. I’m a bodyguard and I defended my charge, simple as that. My own decision, I assure you.
Me: Well, I am your creator.
Leonello: As if you ever made me do anything I didn’t want to do.
Me: Fair point. How are you feeling?
Leonello: Like a French army stamped all over me. Which it did. I’m probably dying.
Me: Surely not . . .
Leonello: If the blood loss doesn’t kill me, the cook probably will. She hates me.
Me: What did you do to her?
Leonello: Carmelina? I know a few things about her that could make life very uncomfortable. I may have rubbed it in, when I pointed that out.
Me: Was that entirely necessary?
Leonello: Just because I am small does not mean I am cute, kind, or cuddly.
Me: No, it certainly doesn’t. Not only do you have a tongue like a razor, you kick a surprising amount of butt for a person of reduced height
Leonello: Dwarf. Call it what it is.
Me: We’re more politically correct in this century.
Leonello: Dio, I don’t even want to know what that is. Am I done now?
“The Lion and the Rose: a novel of the Borgias” releases in just three days! Usually I’m nervous for my release days, but this time around I just can’t wait. Because this book is sequel to “The Serpent and the Pearl,” which came out last August and ended on just a leetle bit of a cliffhanger, and I’m delighted that this time around, I didn’t have to leave my readers hanging for too long. (I really am sorry, “Empress of the Seven Hills” fans.)
And my three main characters of “The Serpent and the Pearl” were all in a very tight spot on the last page–captured by the French army, with their lives very literally on the line! Over the next few days I’ll be interviewing each of my characters here on my blog as a promo. Today let’s welcome Giulia Farnese, mistress to the Borgia Pope and currently a French captive when she got waylaid by an invading army on her way home from a family visit . . .
Giulia: Do you have any of that stuff called chocolate which you introduced me to at our last interview? You left me in a very bad place, sticking me with the French between books, and frankly if a girl ever earned an out-of-her-century treat, it’s me.
Me: Yes, of course. Try a Snicker’s bar, you’ll love it.
Giulia: Thank you. I always eat when I’m being held hostage.
Me: I truly am sorry about leaving you in enemy hands for five months . . .
Giulia: Oh, that’s all right. It’s not as long as five months in my world. Snickers, why is it called that? Nothing to snicker about, being a French captive. They’re pigs.
Me: Are they really?
Giulia: Well, they’ve been relatively nice once they realized what Rodrigo–
Me: Can you tell the readers who that is, for the ones who didn’t read the first book?
Giulia: Rodrigo Borgia. His Holiness, Pope Alexander VI. I’m his mistress.
Me: Wow. Our current pope, um–well, he’s a little different. I don’t really know what would happen if he came out and told the world “Hi, I have a twenty-two year old girlfriend with floor-length hair.”
Giulia: Maybe he’d be more relaxed. It’s a very tiring job, being Pope.
Me: Well, anyway. The French?
Giulia: They’ve been relatively nice to me once they realized what the Holy Father would pay to get me back.
Me: So you’re going home?
Giulia: On page 1. God knows if it’ll be in time to save my bodyguard, though. Leonello, his name is, and he nearly killed himself protecting me–the French beat him so badly. I’m making them pay for it.
Giulia: I’ve acted like an utter haughty bitch ever since they captured me. I’m normally quite an easy-going sort of person, but I’ve been complaining and pitching fits for that French general ever since he laid hands on me. He’ll be quite glad to see the back of me, I assure you.
Me: Sounds like you have things well in hand, then. Good luck, Giulia!
Giulia: Can you do me a favor? Pray for my bodyguard. I’m going to be all right–I just want to get home to Rodrigo, who isn’t nearly as frightening as people seem to think all the Borgias are. But I really don’t know if Leonello’s going to live or not.
Me: I could tell you, but that would spoil the surprise. Thanks for dropping by!
I don’t know about you, but I adore food blogs. I’ve got an entire list that I
drool over follow. And the fun part is how food and books are mixing these days: food bloggers are hitting the pages, cooking favorite recipes out of food-heavy books and blogging about it.
So when I wrote my own food-heavy book, I knew I had to at least try to set up a virtual pot-luck. I never dreamed the result would be so mouth-watering: six fabulous food-bloggers dove into “The Serpent and the Pearl” in search of recipes. Theresa from Outlander Kitchen and Island Vittles, who cooks from Diana Gabaldon’s fabulous Scottish saga; Chelsea from Inn At The Crossroads, who recently co-authored a fabulous cookbook based on “Game of Thrones” recipes; Christiane from Taking On Magazines, who cooks her way through the likes of “Better Homes and Gardens” and “Bon Appetit” utterly undaunted; Lori from Little White Apron who is a pro chef as well as a blogger extraordinaire; Deana from Lost Past Remembered who recreates food from myriad centuries gone by; and Heather Webb from Between The Sheets who took time off from her upcoming debut novel on Empress Josephine to indulge her foodie hobby.
And today, we’re all posting our results! Recipes included.
Inn At The Crossroads – The crostata of summer peaches that Carmelina is making when Juan Borgia decides to make a pass at her. (Big mistake: cooks always have cleavers on hand.)
Island Vittles – The tourte of sweet cheese and Genovese onions that Carmelina cooks for Giulia’s wedding feast.
Little White Apron – The baked apples that Carmelina serves Giulia the morning after her wedding, and the capon with garlic, coriander and white wine that is her favorite chicken recipe.
Lost Past Remembered – The shoulder of wild boar that Carmelina ponders serving a visiting archbishop.
Taking On Magazines – The sugared biscotti that form a staple munchie throughout the book, and the elderflower fritters Giulia tries to make (and ends up nearly destroying Carmelina’s kitchen)
Between The Sheets – The asparagus zuppa and the zabaglione which Carmelina’s apprentice Bartolomeo whips up on a country trip to impress her.
As for me, I donned my sous chef apron and did a lot of “Oui, chef” fetching and carrying from the fridge as my husband (he’s the culinary genius of the family) tackled a recipe from Chapter 2 of The Serpent and the Pearl:
Hot Sops With Cherries
From the book:
It’s a bit tricky, knowing what to send up to the bride’s chamber the morning after her wedding . . . If you hear giggling and whispering through the door, you send up something light than can be eaten by two, preferably fed to each other with the fingers while making a great deal of mess that can be kissed away with more giggles. A hot sop with morello cherries works well–strips of butter-fried bread and a dipping sauce of cherries and sugared wine always goes down a treat with hungry young lovers.
This is a recipe I got direct from that classic Renaissance cookbook “L’Opera di Bartolomeo Scappi.” Hot sops are a dish that has gone out of fashion in the modern era: toasted bread with some kind of dipping sauce that could be meat-based or fruit-based; sweet or savory. It was a popular Renaissance snack, and a staple food for those who had trouble eating (the old, the ill, the very young). Happily, this dish is just as delicious in the 21st century for gourmets of any age. The cherries are both sweet and spicy, and the bread fries up crisp and mouth-watering. Carmelina is right: this is a dish to be shared between two, with kisses in between bites.
Serves 2 — Prep: 15 minutes
1 can cherries in water (NOT cherry pie filling)
4 slices good fresh-baked artisan bread
1 cup red wine
4 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1. Butter the bread slices on both sides, and fry in a skillet over medium heat, flipping once. Set aside.
2. Reduce heat to medium. Drain the cherries and add to a medium saucepan (we improvised with a wok) and add the wine plus 4 tsp sugar, and 1 tsp each cinnamon and nutmeg.
3. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until liquid reduces down to thick syrupy texture, adding more sugar or spices to taste.
4. Serve in a bowl with fried bread for dipping. Messy in the best possible way!
Be sure to check in on the others for some more great recipes! And as for the food bloggers who kicked in on this project – Lori, Heather, Christiane, Chelsea, Deana, and especially Theresa who was chief in helping put the whole thing together – thank you all so much!
My secondary heroine from The Serpent and the Pearl proved to be a bit hard to track down . . . in fact, I had to run her to earth in her kitchens, where she’s up to her elbows in a bowl of flour.
Her: Look, I don’t know about this interview business. I have a dinner for twenty to get on the table.
Me: Just a few lines for the readers? Your name, what it is that you do?
Her: My name is Carmelina Mangano, and I’m the best cook in Rome.
Me: You are?
Carmelina: Yes. They say a woman can’t be maestro di cucina, not professionally, but I was hired to cook for the household of Giulia Farnese, the Pope’s mistress. I’ve fed the Pope Himself, and half the illustrious people of Rome–I’ve carved my own place in the world with nothing more than the skill in my hands, and I’m proud of it. Hand me that bowl, will you?
Me: What are you making?
Carmelina: Elderflower fritters. Giulia Farnese eats them by the basketful; she’s a cook’s dream to feed. Loves food, eats everything, pays on time.
Me: Any bad parts about working for the Borgias?
Carmelina: That little bodyguard Cesare Borgia hired for Madonna Giulia. Leonello. He’s a devil.
Me: Because he’s a dwarf?
Carmelina: No, because he’s dangerous. And because he asks too many questions.
Me: Questions about what?
Carmelina (glowers): Hand me the butter, will you? These fritters need to go into the frying pan.
Me: Of course. Now, I have to ask–maybe it’s one of those things you don’t want to talk about, but what is that horrible shriveled up thing on the spice rack?
Carmelina: It’s a holy relic. The hand of my patron saint, the most blessed Santa Marta.
Me: You keep a mummified hand in your kitchen?
Carmelina: Of course. Santa Marta is the patron saint of all cooks. She prepared a meal for Our Lord while Mary and all the apostles were busy sitting at the feet of Christ.
Me: And for that she got made the patron saint of cooks?
Carmelina: Why not? Maybe Our Lord was happy to get a home-cooked meal for once, rather than everybody just looking at Him to provide all the food by transforming loaves and fishes. Besides, somebody had to get dinner going while everybody else sat around worshipping at His feet. I’ll bet not one of those apostles helped Santa Marta with the dishes, either.
Me: You know, I think you’re probably right.
Carmelina: Of course I’m right, I’m the best cook in Rome. Now, not to throw you out of my kitchen, but I’ve got to pay attention while these fritters fry. And if I burn them up because I’m answering questions, I’ll fry up your gizzard in white wine and coriander, and serve that to Madonna Giulia instead.
Me: I’m going, I’m going!
My her from The Serpent and the Pearl is a reclusive sort, but I dragged him to my blog today for an interview. 😀
Me: Why don’t you introduce yourself for the readers?
Him: My name is Leonello. (Props his boots up on my desk unasked)
Me: Leonello what?
Leonello: I’m distinctive enough that I don’t need a last name.
Me: You are distinctive, I must say. Dark hair, hazel eyes, about thirty years old, a sarcastic expression–
Leonello: Are we going to ignore the elephant in the room? I’m a dwarf.
Me: True, you are. How has your stature affected your life?
Leonello: I’ve managed so far not to get stomped to death by drunks, or have to take a job as a jester for layabout Renaissance lords. I count myself a success.
Me: What is it you do for a living?
Leonello: I used to be a card-sharp. Sit down at a game of primiera with me, and I will be very happy to relieve you of your money. But I don’t have to play cards for a living anymore.
Me: What is it you do now?
Leonello: The Pope’s son Cesare Borgia hired me. I’m to be a bodyguard for his father’s mistress.
Me: Aren’t you–wait, the Pope has a mistress?
Leonello: Why, doesn’t your current pope have one?
Me: Definitely not. Um, aren’t you a little atypical, as a choice for a bodyguard?
Leonello: Because I’m short? You can go ahead and say it.
Me: Ok, because you’re short.
Leonello: I may be short, but I’m dangerous. I throw knives.
Me: How well can you throw knives?
Leonello: I could put a blade through each of your eyes at ten paces, before you could blink your lids shut.
Me: Don’t demonstrate, please.
Leonello: Wouldn’t dream of it. I love being underestimated. Everybody underestimates a dwarf.
Me: I think Tyrion Lannister said something very similar on “Game of Thrones.”
Leonello: Now you’re being lazy. Just because we’re both dwarves doesn’t mean I have anything else in common with Tyrion Lannister.
Me: What’s the principal difference between the two of you, then?
Leonello: He wants to be liked, and he tries to make people laugh. That’s fine; it works for him. I don’t care if I’m liked, and I’m nobody’s jester, and that works for me.
Me: Are you always this sarcastic?
Leonello: You know I am. You invented me.
Me: Yes, but you’re not allowed to be sarcastic to me. I created you; you’re supposed to be nice to me.
Leonello: Dio. Am I done now?
The Serpent and the Pearl: a novel of the Borgias releases in just five days! (I’d bite my fingernails, but I don’t have any left.) I’ve been lucky enough to get some wonderful early reviews–the Historical Novel Society reviewers had this to say about my narrators: “Three compelling characters weave a tangled trajectory through the life and politics of 15th-century Rome. Carmelina’s sharp tongue, Leonello’s caustic wit, and Giulia’s unconditional good humor in the face of danger play off each other beautifully to create another riveting novel from Kate Quinn.”
Want to meet these three very-compelling but very-different folks? Over the next few days I’ll be interviewing each of my characters here on my blog as a promo. Today let’s welcome Giulia Farnese, who was more than happy to drop by and tell you a little about herself!
Me: Lovely to have you here, Giulia.
Giulia: Thank you for inviting me. Do you have anything to nibble? I’ve never been interviewed before and it’s making me nervous, and I always eat when I’m nervous.
Me: You don’t know about chocolate, do you? That’s a little after your time. Here, try this.
Giulia: Reese’s Pieces, what’s that? Holy Virgin, they taste heavenly. Can I have the recipe for my cook? Her name’s Carmelina, and she’s an absolute gem.
Me: She’s not going to be able to do much if chocolate isn’t invented yet. Let’s have your full name, for the readers.
Giulia: Right, sorry. I’m Giulia Farnese, but nobody calls me that anymore. I’m either “Giulia La Bella,” which is very nice; or “the Venus of the Vatican,” which is sort of nice; or “The Bride of Christ” which isn’t nice at all. I have a sneaking suspicion my bodyguard Leonello came up with that one, since he finds it so side-splittingly funny.
Me: Why do they call you that?
Giulia: Well, Giulia la Bella comes from the fact that I have floor-length hair. I don’t really think I’m much prettier than anybody else, but I do have this hair that comes down to the floor, and everybody seems to think it’s terribly romantic. I don’t know why; it takes forever to wash and even longer to dry, and it’s always getting tangled around everything. I don’t know about you, but I don’t call that very romantic.
Me: What I meant was, readers might like to know why you’re called the Bride of Christ.
Giulia: It might be a reference to the Holy Father.
Me: You mean the Pope? The former Cardinal Borgia? Who is he to you?
Giulia: (demurely) He’s my mother-in-law’s cousin.
Me: So you’re married?
Giulia: It’s complicated.
Me: How complicated?
Giulia: How long do you have? We’ll be here all day before I’ve even finished telling you how strange the wedding night was.
Me: Just tell me about the Pope then. People say he’s paying court to you . . .
Giulia: Do you have any more of those Piece of Reese things?
Me: Reeses Pieces. Now, about the Pope–
Giulia: You know, you have hair the same color as mine. And two feet of hair is much more sensible than five feet. I’ll bet yours doesn’t choke you when you sleep.
Me: All right, keep your secrets!
Giulia: All will be revealed August 6. Are you sure chocolate hasn’t been invented yet in my time?
Me: Sorry. I wrote about you, but I can’t change history for you.
Giulia: That’s too bad. Do come visit again. And bring more chocolate! I always eat when I’m visiting.