When the language of love has a decidedly Italian accent

February 09, 1994|By Rosemary Knower | Rosemary Knower,Special to The Sun

People still light valentine fires with their words. "How do I love thee?" she asked. "Let me count the ways . . ."

Robert was young, dashing, handsome, a little wild, a poet who had yet to make his mark. He believed in love at first sight, and that each person on earth had a soul-mate, one only. He was looking for that love when he chanced to read some verses by Elizabeth and fell head over heels with both her work and herself. "I love these books with all my heart, and I love you too," he wrote.

She was six years older than he, darkly beautiful, a successful writer of considerable reputation. Frail from a childhood injury, kept confined to a dark, gloomy house in London by a stern father who was sure he knew what was best for her, she had resigned herself to never finding love.

They wrote to each other. "You speak out -- you!" he wrote. "I only make men and women speak. You do what I have always wanted-- hoped to do . . ."

"You have your vision in two worlds," she wrote back. "You . . . can deal with human passion in the most passionate sense . . . you are masculine to the height . . ."

They met. And as lovers in all the best stories do, they made their own happy ending. They married secretly, and stole away from the gloomy house, the furious father. Straight as homing pigeons, they fled to the country where both their souls could flower-- Italy. They settled in the enchanting city of Florence. And they ate the glorious food of the region, so intoxicating that Robert wrote poems to it, rhapsodizing about "lasagne, so tempting to swallow, in slippery ropes -- and gourds fried in great purple slices, the color of Popes."

Tuscany, where the Brownings lived their happy married life, has also given us Michelangelo and Galileo, Dante and Boccacio. Chianti comes from here. Parma, city of prosciutto de Parma and Parmesan cheese, is nearby, as is Lucca, where the best olive oil in Italy is produced.

Lemon-chicken broth with artichoke hearts

Serves 6

10 cups chicken broth

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1/4 cup carrot sliced into 1-inch matchsticks

2 tablespoons finely chopped green pepper

1 cup thinly sliced celery heart

1 1/2 cups thinly sliced artichoke hearts

1 cup small young zucchini sliced thin

1 cup frozen baby peas

about 2 cups fresh capellini, cut into bite-size lengths

L a roasted pimiento pepper cut into little hearts for garnish

Bring broth to a boil, and add ingredients in order down to the celery heart. Reduce heat to simmer until you are almost ready to serve the first course. Return broth to a boil and add remaining ingredients, cooking about two minutes, or until the pasta is firm and the peas barely cooked and still crunchy. Garnish with the hearts.

Fennel and radicchio salad

Serves 6

SALAD DRESSING:

1 small clove garlic, very finely minced

1 minced shallot

1/2 teaspoon dry English mustard

1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon dill weed

1 1/2 tablespoons cold-pressed olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 bulb fennel

THE GREENS:

small head of radicchio

1 head Boston lettuce

Trim off the leafy stems of the fennel and save for another use. Take off the outer leaves on the bulb, trim the base down to white flesh, and slice the bulb in half, lengthwise. You'll see a formation of leaves like a celery heart. Trim out the core, if it's too tough -- it should be crispy but not hard. Slice the bulb as thinly as possible, lengthwise, and put the slices into the salad dressing to marinate for a couple of hours before supper.

Wash the lettuce in cool water, breaking any very large leaves into bite-size pieces. Dry the leaves and chill them until you're ready to toss the salad.

Little pesto breads

Makes 24 rolls

1 24-ounce package frozen roll dough

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon pesto

1 tablespoon cold pressed olive oil

1 tablespoon Parmesan

2 teaspoons cracked black pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

a pizza stone

1/4 cup cornmeal

Rub rolls with a little olive oil and let them thaw on an oiled baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place. Mix together remaining ingredients in a shallow bowl. When rolls have doubled in bulk -- about 3 hours -- flatten into rounds. Dip each round in the pesto oil and fold the spice mix inside. Flatten rolls to rounds again. Let rise under plastic for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, heat oven to 375 degrees and put the stone in to heat. When the rolls have risen again, sprinkle the stone with a little cornmeal and lay the rounds of dough on it. Bake about 20 minutes, or until nicely brown. Cool on a rack. These may be made well in advance and frozen.

Winter tomato sauce for fettuccine

Serves 6

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup shallots, coarsely chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped fine

4 cups coarsely chopped winter tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped ripe olives (1 4-ounce can)

1 large portabella mushroom, sliced thin

1 cup thinly sliced white mushrooms

1 teaspoon thyme leaves, crushed

1 small bay leaf

(salt and pepper to taste)

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