REVIEW: THE FOOD OF LOVE COOKERY SCHOOL BY NICKY PELLEGRINO

THE FOOD OF LOVE COOKERY SCHOOL

Author: Nicky Pellegrino
Orion RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Italy + cooking school + holiday = perfetto! I can’t do this myself yet, but reading Nicky Pellegrino’s delightful novel, The Food of Love Cookery School, took me on a whirlwind trip to sun-drenched Sicily, home of cannoli, calzone and cucina povera (making do with the ingredients on hand). Like Moll, one of four female characters, my plan is to travel once the kids finish school, so for now I have to travel from the “comfort of my own kitchen”. As Moll says: “I’ve still travelled sort of; I’ve journeyed the world through my cooking instead”.

Luca Amore runs cooking holidays in the baroque Sicilian mountain town of Favio. People come from all over the world to make his nonna’s dishes, passed down to him her her, and by generations of Amore women. He teaches people to appreciate what is good and bad olive oil, how to tell fake gelato from the real; he expects his next course to be much like all the others, with visits to vineyards and olive groves, friendly meals, limoncello and laughter. What he gets is rather different: four women at turning points in their lives who need more than new recipes and cooking skills.

Valerie has lost her partner of 20 years and is wondering if she’ll ever be loved again. Poppy has split amicably from her husband and decided to create a life of independence and adventures. Moll is passionate about food and is hiding a secret. And Tricia is trapped in a job she hates and will do anything to escape it. One of these women catches Luca’s heart … but is she ready to catch his?

This book made me hungry. It made me want to eat real gelato and drink limoncello (I make a pretty good one at home); it made me want to make fresh pasta and serve it with a simple tomato-based sauce. So I did. Except for the gelato and the fresh pasta (I made calzone instead, which are kind of like folded pizzas). I poured a limoncello, tucked my legs up under me, and drunk in the charming and delectable descriptions about Sicilians’ passion for food … and imagined.

Of course, I enjoyed the story of the four women as well. It was told in an unusual way, with Luca’s impressions interspersed with first and third-person narratives from each of the women. Each of their stories would begin with a conversational first-person section – as if they were talking to one of the other women, or Luca, on their own; this was followed by a third-person account through that woman’s eyes. It was unusual but it worked for me; it made me feel as though I was part of the cooking school as well.

The women’s backstories and dilemmas were interesting – of the four, I liked Tricia the least because she was so self-absorbed. I liked that the women were of different ages, meaning the book has wider appeal than it would if they were of the same age and opened up more issues facing women, including ageing, older relationships, divorce, adultery, friendships, illness, children, career aspirations and so on. Luca’s backstory was a surprise and presented a necessary conflict for the burgeoning romance between him and  … no, I’m not going to tell you.

Overall, an engaging and rather delicious novel that I’d happily recommend to those who love food, Italy, cooking and holidays. The Food of Love Cookery School is available from good bookstores and Hachette Australia. This copy was courtesy of Hachette.

Bookish treat: Tonight I made Italian-style sausages (pork and fennel) and chips … the sausages were roasted in a pan with chilli flakes, fennel seeds, sea salt, olive oil, sangiovese verjuice (ran out of wine) and potatoes and then served with a smashed tomato sauce. Perfetto!