Lisa Lieberman writes the Cara Walden series of historical noir mysteries about blacklisted Hollywood people in exotic European locales. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts and blogs about old movies at deathlessprose.com
An Italian Thanksgiving
You might have thought life as a college professor was challenging enough, teaching history while trying to finish a book, with three small children at home, but my husband and I could never resist an adventure. We’d spent the first year of our married life in England and France, researching our doctoral dissertations in fusty libraries and taking advantage of student travel discounts to see as much of those two countries as we could, but jobs were scarce for academic couples and we ended up stuck in small towns with little hope of escape.
So when I was offered the opportunity to direct a study abroad program in Bologna, Italy, we didn’t hesitate. Who cared that we didn’t know Italian? We had a year to learn the language (and Italians turned out to be very forgiving of mistakes. . .) Somehow we managed to find a babysitter for our infant, a nursery school for our four-year-old, and a public school for our second grader — all within walking distance of our apartment.
That year in Italy changed us in so many ways. For one thing, we started eating pasta pretty much every day, sometimes twice a day! My Italian administrative assistant taught me how to make a proper ragu, Bologna-style. Turkeys being hard to come by in Italy, we made it for Thanksgiving and have kept up the tradition ever since. The recipe below makes enough sauce for two pounds of pasta, so you can freeze half if you’re not feeding an army.
All the Wrong Places, the first book in my Hollywood-themed mystery series, is set partially in Italy. Writing it allowed me to travel back there in my imagination. We’d taken our kids to Sicily for Easter, and stayed at a pensione in Taormina that had a swimming pool set in a terraced garden, complete with lemon trees. For breakfast, they served us juice made from blood oranges. “I couldn’t get over the ruby red pulp,” Cara says. “That was Sicily, always surprising you with its vibrancy.”
I invite you to come along with Cara and have an adventure of your own. The ebook of All the Wrong Places will be on sale for .99 from Thanksgiving week through the end of November. Buon viaggio!
2 T. olive oil
1 small onion
1 small carrot
1 small piece of celery
1 lb. ground beef (can use ground turkey)
1 cup milk
grating of fresh nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
28 oz can Italian plum tomatoes
12 sage leaves (or 1 tsp. dried sage)
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. pasta
Cook onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil until soft (not brown).
Add beef, crumbling it into small pieces as it cooks.
Add milk and simmer until the liquid is absorbed. Grate in a little fresh nutmeg. Add wine and simmer until the liquid is absorbed.
Add tomatoes and their juice, along with sage, salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, two hours or more. You want the fat to separate from the meat. If it starts to dry out, add a little water. The tomatoes will start to break down as well (you can help them along by smashing them with your wooden spoon).
Cook pasta al dente, according to package directions, and combine with half of the sauce. Serve with freshly grated parmesan.
All the Wrong Places
Fans of old movies will get a kick out of All the Wrong Places, a historical mystery set in England, Italy, and the French Riviera that pays tribute to the films of the forties and fifties, capped off with a thrilling finale straight out of Hitchcock.