What is the essence of the book?
The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club is about five women who meet one a month in the hills above Orvieto in Italy to cook, eat and drink together. My natural assumption was that they would be bitching about their husbands/kids/colleagues/friends, or all of the above, which in my experience is what usually happens when women get together over a bottle or two of wine (or is that just me?). Fortunately, this book is a bit deeper than that without being heavy going or morose (another effect of women and too much wine). In between the descriptions of the food and wine we learn about the lives of four Umbrian women as they share their stories of love, sadness and encounters with the local mafia with the American author, a relative new comer to their gathering. For her part, Marlena de Blasi has to work hard to overcome the prejudices of these ladies when she volunteers to take over the cooking at these meetings from the matriarch, Miranda. As she states early on in the book “If you want to discover new lands you must consent to stay a very long time at sea.” But win them over she does with dishes like Red Wine Braised Pasta with Chocolate combining her style of food with local traditions and ingredients.
About the author
Marlena de Blasi has worn many hats in her time. She has been a journalist, chef, restaurant critic and food and wine consultant. She is the author of A Thousand Days in Venice, four memoirs and a novel, Amandine. She lives in Orvieto with her husband.
Who will like it?
If you’re a foodie who likes reading then you’re onto a winner here. That said I think there is enough to engage anyone who likes reading memoir style books and even more so if you have an interest in Italy.
Who won’t like it?
If you’re the sort of person who says ‘I can’t be bothered to read the book. I’ll just wait for the movie to come out.’ then you’re unlikely to read this. Equally, if you want an Umbrian cookery book you’ll find it lacking on the recipe front.
What do I like about the book?
Food memoirs can be fairly stilted, filled with endless descriptions of food and a bit of stodgy stuffing in between, but this one is very engaging. Yes, food is at the heart of the stories but the lives of these seemingly simple women are far more complex than you expect and are all the more fascinating for it. De Blasi’s descriptions of the food mingle easily with the narrative without being laboured. At first I thought I wouldn’t want to finish this book (I’m a notoriously fickle reader and loose interest alarmingly quickly). But within a few pages I was engrossed and really wanted to find out what happened to Miranda et al.
What do I dislike about the book?
A small, perhaps petty, gripe but I really don’t like the title. Surely the publisher or author could have come up with something a bit more tantalising? It’s a shame because, without a recommendation, I wouldn’t pick this up in a book shop based on the cover alone which would mean missing out on a good read.
Would I cook from it?
This isn’t a cookbook but yes, I think I would try some of the recipes in the book. De Blasi’s descriptions of the food in situ, like the Winemakers Flatbread Laid with Grapes, some how makes it seem all the more delicious. Although I’m not sure my efforts would taste quiet as delicious without the rustico or her companions to enjoy it with!
Where can you buy it?