Federico Fellini’s 1961 film La Dolce Vita conjures up images of decadent Rome. Michele Carbone’s first book, Friday Evening: Creating La Dolce Vita, one bite at a time, evokes an entirely different concept of a “good life.” Steeped in the essence of Italian cuisine, Friday Evening offers not only the most scrumptious recipes, but it also celebrates family and friends, holistic lifestyle, and deep wisdom. In Carbone’s words, “If you love to eat good food, love to shop at specialty markets and Farmers Market, and occasionally pull something out of the ground and bring it, covered in dirt, into your kitchen, this book is for you.”
Traveling abroad has a way of changing one’s perspective, as Carbone had discovered while visiting family in Italy with her husband and their two daughters, Kristin and Kate. Inspired by the wholesomeness of Italian food and the slower pace of Mediterranean dining and communing, Carbone transformed her Montecito life, starting with the ritual of a Friday evening meal. According to her, the secret to success is adjusting to La Dolce Vita lifestyle, even in the face of demanding schedules and challenging circumstances. For Carbone, a profound shift took place in 1996 when Kristin, during a routine but complicated heart surgery, suffered brain damage. In the process of caring for her disabled daughter, Carbone has created a new way to enjoy experiences outside of her former corporate world, ultimately becoming “a better person : and a better cook.”
While immersed in this delightful read, one may as well listen to Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagioni. Friday Evening is organized conveniently around the four seasons. For each season, Carbone offers complete menus for your Friday meal, ideas for the preparation, and personal anecdotes. Carbone insists on buying fresh, seasonal vegetables and fruits-the highest quality local markets can offer. It is easy to understand her joy in conversing with the local farmers, or to picture her humming a favorite tune at the sights and scents of colorful produce. But living La Dolce Vita is not only about aesthetic pleasures. This loving relationship between cooking and eating wholesome food is rooted in respect for our bodies and our environment. Carbone reasoned, “The farther we get from the source, the more we sacrifice in quality, the more we pay for transportation, the more we pay for non-essential additives and packaging,” so a packaged salad should be replaced by a head of lettuce, to be eaten promptly that evening. Similarly, the salad dressing, she warns, should never come from the bottle. A little extra virgin olive oil, seasoned rice vinegar, or the finest balsamic, and a few fresh herbs are all we need.
This simplicity is found in many of her recipes-some of which are old family traditions, perhaps invented by “a starving Italian woman who was trying to feed her family.” One such recipe truly conveys the “polenta rapture.” Carbone also writes of her love of bones and carcasses, short ribs, Hungarian goose, prosciutto, pasta, and, of course, a fine vino. If only we could stay in the moment, enjoy the spirited conversation, and savor our meal, we could all live our La Dolce Vita.
The last chapter by this culinary master, “who’s on a first-name basis with her cookware,” contains practical advice, such as kitchen rules and the proper kitchen supplies. Friday Evening would make a wonderful gift for newlyweds or any hostess, and it can be purchased at pentolapress.com. The book’s elegant design and production were done by Media 27, an S.B. company. If you speak Italian, you’ll especially appreciate Italian subtitles and phrases throughout, thus completing this sensuous feast.
Get sweet on La Dolce Vita at a book-signing with Michele Carbone on Friday, December 5, from 4-7 p.m. at the Tecolote Book Shop (1470 East Valley Rd.). Call 969-4977.