It’s been over a year in the making (more if you count the ones where this idea was taking shape in my mind!) and there are still another three months to wait but I couldn’t resist giving you a peek at the behind the scenes of the making of my upcoming cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, which will be released in the UK, US and Australia in March 2019.
Like Florentine and Acquacotta (you can peek at their behind the scenes stories too, here and here), I’ve been blessed to work with the same incredible team on the recipe photographs — photographer Lauren Bamford and stylist Deb Kaloper — as well as designer Allison Colpoys. It’s simply amazing to see this book coming together and take on a tangible form, after having the idea for it floating around in my head for years. It really is a lot like watching a baby grow inside your belly (which did also actually happen; my second daughter, Luna, was born two weeks after I handed in the manuscript!).
What inspired Tortellini at Midnight is a love story, a story of a family that moved from the heel of Italy to its top in search of a better life. It is a collection of heirloom family recipes from my Italian in-laws, which I have traced back through generations that span the length of Italy, from the southern port city of Taranto to elegant Turin in the north, and finally, back to Tuscany, where we — my sommelier husband Marco Lami and I with our two daughters — call home.
Central to the book are the stories behind those who cooked the recipes. It begins with Anna Michela Comasia Maria Calianno, a noblewoman from Taranto who eloped with the postman, and her polpette, which are still being cooked in the family over a century later. Then there is her petite Tuscan daughter-in-law, Lina (decidedly the best cook in the family), who refused to use minced meat for her ragu; her son, Mario (dapper, Taranto-born, Turin-raised lover of cheese and Neapolitan songs), known for his wobbly crema-laden cake and treats like fried mozzarella sandwiches; her granddaughter, Angela, whose job in the kitchen growing up was to grate the Parmesan cheese (for a family of cheese lovers this was no small feat) and whose lasagne (made with store-bought grated cheese) is the most requested now at family gatherings. And her great grandson, Marco, who is heavy-handed with the wine (of course) when cooking.
Why tortellini at midnight? Eating tortellini is close to time traveling for Marco. In brodo or in sugo, they are the taste of Sundays. Nonna Lina would offer them most Sundays, she had long done so. Sometime in the 1950s, long before Tuscans celebrated New Year’s with a party, Marco’s grandfather, Mario, started a trend serving bowls of tortellini in sugo at the stroke of midnight in his father-in-law’s bar, which was known as Ciuccellino. Accompanied by a glass of cheap spumante and rounds of Tombola, this is how they would ring in the new year.
I took several trips to Piedmont and Puglia for “research” (including family history research but really eating, mostly, and taking photographs for the location photographs throughout the book) and we photographed the recipes here in Tuscany, in my dream house — Valdirose. Irene Berni and her family are just about the sweetest, most generous, most genuine people you will ever meet and their family home-turned B&B was the perfect setting. I also had the help of Alice Kiandra Adams and my intern, Helen Johnson, in the kitchen, my mother-in-law Angela, who brought her lasagne and chicken roll to lunch on her birthday and my husband Marco helping cook, clean and look after children! There was a 6 week old (mine), a four month old (Lauren’s), a 5 year old (mine also) and an 8 year old (Alice’s!) on the shoot too, all during the hottest heatwave of the Tuscan summer, what an amazing week we had! I am so grateful. I cannot wait to share this with you.
Tortellini at Midnight is now available for pre-order here. And keep an eye on the events page, in February and March I’ll be hosting dinners, talks, book signings, cooking classes and workshops in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Then in late March I’ll be in London and some fabulous workshops are being planned for Lisbon in May, Greece in June and Tuscany in November — stay tuned!