TAKE five women, one rustic makeshift kitchen and one shared weekly meal. Blend with tenderness, add a liberal pinch or two of understanding and season generously with love. This is the down-to-earth formula behind American expat Marlena de Blasi’s latest instalment from Italy.
In The Umbrian Supper Club de Blasi examines life in the tiny village of Orvieto in rural Umbria – a little-known landlocked region between Tuscany to the west, Marche on the Adriatic Sea coast and Lazio to the south.
In four distinct chapters de Blasi profiles Miranda, Ninuccia, Paolina and Gilda – her four co-conspirators in both convivial conversation and communal cuisine.
Buxom and boisterous Miranda has been celebrating her 76th birthday every year for as long as de Blasi has known her. Widowed, she has no desire to remarry, despite sharing an apparently contented long-term alliance with a man whose companionship she treasures.
Temperamental, take-no-prisoners Ninuccia has returned to her native Umbria after living as a new bride in her mother-in-law’s house in Calabria. She now remembers fondly her time in a community where gang executions were commonplace.
Aged 60, cooking teacher Paolina has just received her first marriage proposal, causing her to hesitate, uncertain as she weighs up changing the delicate daily balance that surrounds her.
And Gilda, with no biological offspring of her own, recalls the painful days of a youth in which she mothered three small children and ran an entire household while still a child herself.
This is Sex and the City without the Cosmopolitans, Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants without the teen-girl insecurity, Steel Magnolias without the tears.
For lovers of wholesome, uncomplicated, hearty food The Umbrian Supper Club also contains ample inspiration for experimenting at home: brandy-soaked wild boar, slow-cooked pork chops with cinnamon and prunes, and red-wine-and-butter-braised pasta with a dark chocolate garnish. Buon appetito!