BOOK: Paula Butturini met her future husband, John Tagliabue, in 1985 when they were both foreign correspondents. Two weeks before their wedding, she was severely beaten by police in Prague. Three weeks after that her husband-to-be was shot and nearly killed by a sniper in Romania, an injury that triggered his descent into chronic depression. On top of that, her mother, who had her own history of depression, took her own life, and her father was diagnosed with cancer. So Butturini's Keeping the Feast (Riverhead, 2010) may sound like a downer — the author herself has compared the afflictions that rained down upon her to those endured by Job. But in a strange way, food came to the rescue. After six years of turmoil Butturini and her husband settled in Rome, where her daily visits to the vibrant outdoor market in Campo dei Fiori, a piazza where the philosopher Giordano Bruno was executed in 1600, helped her discover the restorative power of good, fresh, simple Italian cuisine.
WHY READ? Most books about food focus on the taste of it — the flavors, textures and aromas. Keeping the Feast acknowledges another important dimension of food — the pleasure of sharing it with someone you love, even when that someone is struggling. Butturini recalls her Neopolitan grandmother using an Italian word — voglie (VOHL-yay) — which means wants, wishes, desires or whims. As a girl, Butturini and her siblings Americanized the word, pronouncing it "wool-EEE." "When a wool-eee erupted, they knew the stomach was speaking," Butturini says of her family. After Butturini moved to Rome, she decided that "Romans have voglie for all manner of edible things," some tied to days of the week (potato gnocchi on Thursdays), or hours of the day (white pizza after school), or seasons of the year (midwinter spinach drizzled with olive oil and lemon). "Each year my own wool-eees grow stronger, as if by being satisfied they are heightened instead of diminished," she says. And her enthusiasm, for food as well as for life, comes across powerfully in her writing.
MAKE IT: Every Easter Sunday a pizza appeared on Grandma's breakfast table, but "a totally different sort of pizza, one meant to break the long Lenten fast," Butturini writes. It had a double crust, like a true pie, and was filled with foods forbidden during the Lenten fast, such as sausage, cheese and maybe some cold cuts. Better known as Pizza Rustica, this feast is an improviser's delight — whatever sounds good to you will probably work well as a filling. Here's a simple version with sausage, ricotta, spinach and peppers, but feel free to take the recipe where ever your voglie wants to go.
TAKE IT: If you don't have time to make Pizza Rustica, buy a good quality frozen pizza and bake it yourself, or simply have pizza delivered. Though American pizza may seem far removed from the thin, crispy pies of Naples, the birthplace of pizza, Butturini recalls how her mother and grandmother savored the American version at the local pizzeria. Her mother routinely burned her mouth because she started eating as soon as it arrived, when the cheese had barely stopped bubbling. "How can I wait when it smells so good?" she would say — a very good question indeed.
Tom Valeo, special to the Times
Read & Feed is a monthly column in Taste that matches popular book club selections with food to serve at meetings. If you have suggestions or would like to share what your book club is cooking up, send e-mail to email@example.com. Put BOOK FOOD in the subject line.