Excerpt from La Cucina by Lily Prior, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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La Cucina

A Novel of Rapture

By Lily Prior

La Cucina
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2000,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2001,
    288 pages.

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Chapter One

Tip the flour in a heap on the table. The old oak table, legacy of Nonna Calzino, smoothed to a brilliant luster by all the years of daily use.

Not too much flour. Not too little. Just the right amount. Fine flour milled from durum wheat by Papa Grazzi at Mascali. Sprinkle in some sea salt, a good measure. Add some fresh eggs and some extra egg yolks, sufficient for the amount of flour, and also some good olive oil and a very little cold water.

Using your fingers, mix the liquids into the flour, combining your ingredients until a smooth paste is formed. The eggs may feel slimy to the touch but this is natural. Knead well, using the heels of the hands in a forward, downward movement.

Knead just until the arms begin to ache and the small bead of sweat starts to trace its way down the spine from somewhere between the shoulder blades to the cleft between the buttocks. This, of course, in winter; in summer the sweat pours down the face and neck, dampening the clothes and making droplets on the table and the flagstone floor.

When the dough is smooth and elastic, brush it with a little oil, cover it with a damp cloth, and leave it to rest, for it too is fatigued. While you are waiting for your dough to relax you can leaf through the pages of a magazine, observing this season's latest fashions, or gaze from the window at young Maria flirting with the postman on the street corner below. Look at Fredo riding by on his bicycle, or at the pack of stray dogs escaping from the dog catcher, and at life in general passing you by.

Then you may begin the rolling. Dust the table lightly with flour and divide your dough into eight equal pieces. Taking one piece, begin rolling by moving the rolling pin in a motion away from you, pressing evenly to create a rectangular shape. Continue thus until your sheet of pasta is long and thin and about the thickness of the blade of a knife. The knife that slit Bartolomeo's throat. Slicing through his beautiful young flesh like a coltello through lard.

Cut the sheet in half horizontally and hang it over a pole to dry for five minutes. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough to make sixteen sheets. Slice carefully the length of each sheet forming the thinnest strips you can. Again let these dry on the pole for another five minutes. Here you have your spaghetti, which, with a delicious sauce of ripe tomatoes, basil, sleek eggplant, and ricotta you will eat for lunch, when office workers, acrobats, and slaughtermen return home for the siesta and for a few brief hours the restless city sleeps.

Following the murder of Bartolomeo, I made pasta night and day. I retreated into the kitchen in the same way that some women retreat into convents, as Pasquala Tredici did after her sweetheart, Roberto, was gored to death by a bull.

I had always loved my food: in those dark days it was all that could give me comfort. I did not emerge from my self-imposed exile in la cucina for a long time. I assuaged my grief by cooking, and cooking, and cooking some more.

At that time I was still living with my family on the farm in the Alcantara valley beneath the citadel of Castiglione, on the far eastern side of the island of Sicily, near the slopes of the great volcano.

The valley of the Alcantara is an area famous for its fruitfulness. Its olives are more succulent, its oranges juicier, its pigs porkier than any other region. The abundance of our land is reflected in our people, who, as a general rule, are wholesome, hearty, and strong.

The virility of our men and the fecundity of our women have also been noted; families tend to be large here, and the urge to mate is strong among both humans and animals.

By a strange phenomenon multiple births are as common among Alcantara women as they are among sows; we give birth to many twins, triplets, even quadruplets, and identical little faces rill the classrooms in the local school. We are so accustomed to seeing duplicates and triplicates of farmhands, housewives, and goatherds that they fail even to draw notice, except among strangers. But few strangers come here.

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Copyright (c) 2001 by Lily Prior. Reprinted with permission from HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

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