CUICINA TIPICA BY ANDREW COTTO
I moved to Italy in early 2015 and feel pretty settled in but part of my job working in tourism is to stay connected to media —especially articles and books — that help travelers to navigate the ever evolving Italy.
Let's face it, it’s books (and movies) like Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun published in 1996 — a personal favorite — are often the catalyst for many visitors looking for authenticity, adventure, food, wine and romance. I often joke that I found romance in many elements of the Italian sweet life. I married a lovely Italian Milanese within less than 2 years of meeting him and now we have a 6 month daughter. And as a professional working in food for almost 20 years, I arrived here on what was meant to be an 8 month work project. I often feel I’m on an indefinite pilgrimage to a kind of Mecca, especially when I get to travel to visit and experience the food of other regions. Although working full time, I am definitely not on perpetual vacation as many sometimes think since I live in a country that is mostly associated with la dolce vita.
When Brooklyn NY based writer Andrew Cotto shared his latest novel with me, Cucina Tipica, which he described as the story of a disheartened American named Jacoby who arrives in Italy on holiday and decides he never wants to return to New York, I was already hooked. It helped that one of the first food scenes takes place over fritto misto in my favorite Liguria. A page-turning, steamy novel, I pored through it quickly.
While Cotto ("cotto" means cooked in Italian!) is not technically a food writer, he has used gastronomy as a device in all three of his novels. Here, based on memory from extensive personal experience in Italy in general and Tuscany in particular, he has detailed over 20 instances where his characters relish in (and cook) regional delights.
Do you consider this a novel about food?
Food really is a big part of the novel, but not in a decadent, “food porn” kind of way. It’s Italy after all, but it’s more than just taking incredible meals at every turn. Well, it is, I mean, there’s the moment of enjoyment when eating and drinking well, yet also the wellness that comes as a result. That latter part is the key: the quality of life that comes with such things, especially when engaged on a regular basis. Knowing that exquisite, healthy, carefully and locally prepared meals are part of everyday life in Italy is very appealing to Jacoby. Oh, and that really good wine costs less than soda in America helps, too.
Your novel Brooklyn Mystery was recently translated into Italian. Was this due to your connection to Italy having lived here for a period of time?
Kind of. I met an Italian man of letters, Nicola Manuppelli, when I was teaching in Rome a few summer’s ago, but the reason we were connected was because of his dream to launch a line of American writers with an Italian publisher. So, it was his love of Americana matched with my presence in Italy. I’m really excited about it and can’t wait to come over and promote, in Italian, one book set in American and, in English, another book set in Italy. Though, my head might explode…
Eggs appear frequently in the book, almost as a metaphor for Jacoby coming out of his own shell; however, they are also the comfort food that brings him even closer to Bill, his expat friend. Could you elaborate on this?
Nice call on the egg metaphor! I love eggs, and I especially love them in Italy since the yolks are massive and orange and yummy. As far as the book goes, I thought the scene where Bill and Jacoby first meet is best over a big ole’ egg breakfast because of the comfort and fortification along with symbolism of their American connection. Plus, it birthed the great line from Bill, an expat of 35 years, about such a breakfast being the only thing he misses about America, which validates - in a very subtle way - the motivation of Jacoby to find a way to stay in Italy forever.
There are many books that featured disgruntled Americans moving or traveling to Italy (or abroad) in search of a fresh start. Are there any that inspired you?
I’ve enjoyed many books where Americans are in Italy, most notably Under the Tuscan Sun, since it captured my imagination in a way that partially inspired my original move to Italy. I had the pleasure of meeting Frances Mayes recently and was able to give her a copy of Cucina Tipica. That was fun. I also enjoyed the “Eat” part of Eat Pray Love, and the Italian parts of Beautiful Ruins. That said, my original fascination with escape to Europe came from The Sun Also Rises, and I really consider this novel most informed by the Lost Generation and their portrayal of Americans living in Europe.
A FEW FOOD QUOTES FROM CUCINA TIPICA
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini, Antella
Food: Sausage and eggs with stewed tomatoes
“I’ve been an ex-pat for 35 years, and the only thing I miss about America is breakfast,” - Bill
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini
Food: Spring Minestrone (generous with pieces of artichoke, asparagus and carrots in a broth of pureed onions and leeks with a snap of garlic); fresh fettuccine with fava beans and Pecorino; rabbit loin wrapped in pancetta over polenta dotted with green olives
Drinks: Negroni, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Grappa
Bill and Jacoby ate and drank and spoke of their looming adventure into Florence proper, in search of a matriarch holed up in a palace marked by a cat statue. They laughed at their dim prospects, which were soothed by the magnificent meal and flowing wine.
Where: The barn
Food: Steak & eggs
Tears fell down Jacoby’s face as he continued to chew enough to swallow safely. The salt from the tears entering his mouth brightened the flavor, making it more clear what was happening even before Claire descended the stairs in the same clothes she wore before, a suitcase thumping beside her.
Where: Al fresco table at the cafe in Antella
Food: Ceci and bread
Wine: Chianti Colli Fiorentini
"Ciao,” Jacoby called before tucking into his plate of oven-baked chickpeas that tasted as flavorful as anything he’d even eaten, washing the legumes and bread down with the local red wine as he sat in the cool shadows of his own private dining terrace on a Friday night in a silent village as twilight settled upon him in what felt like the most important place in all of the world.