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October 19, 2007

Adventures of an Italian Food Lover

Celia Sin-Tien Cheng

I recently fell in love with a new cookbook, titled Adventures of an Italian Food Lover, by Faith Heller Willinger. The cookbook is unique because it is not only a compilation of recipes from “254 of [her] very best friends,” but also a shopping and restaurant guide to Italy.

The concept is totally akin to our doctrine here at Cravings in that she introduces some of her favorite Italian restaurants, regional cooks, winemakers, food markets, and one very special chocolatier (Amadei!), and she asks each to contribute a recipe. Having spent more than thirty years exploring Italy and writing about its cuisine, Willinger collects recipes from the kitchens of restaurants and private homes. The cookbook reads more like a narrative, conveying warmth and passion in Willinger’s introduction of her friends and their food. While I read, I wanted to be a part of the adventures, but as I could not join the author in Italy at that very moment, cooking her recipes has allowed me to recreate and imagine her experiences.


Serves 6 to 8

1 package active dry yeast (2 ½ teaspoons)
¾ cups warm water
3 tablespoons Chianti — drink the rest with dinner
1 tablespoon honey
2 ½ – 2 ¾ cups soft wheat flour (Italian “00” or White Lily flour)
¼ cup Tuscan extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the bowl
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
Around 1 ¾ pounds wine, Concord, or red Grace grapes
6 tablespoons sugar

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, wine, and honey in a large bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes or until bubbles form. Stir in ¾ cup flour — it doesn’t have to be smooth because lumps will dissolve. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

Add the olive oil, salt, and 1 ½ cups flour, and knead dough until smooth and elastic. Add up to ½ cup additional flour if necessary so it isn’t sticky. Shape into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 ½ hours.

Punch the dough down and divide into two pieces. Roll each piece out to a rough 10 by 16-inch rectangle. Place one rectangle on parchment paper on a cookie sheet (or use a nonstick cookie sheet), scatter the dough with half the grapes, and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar.

Use the second rectangle of dough to cover the bottom layer. Sprinkle the remaining grapes on the dough, gently press the grapes into the dough, and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and a dishtowel and let rise for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until dark brown. Remove from pan while still warm and spoon excess juice over the tart. Serve at room temperature.