I had just arrived in Orvieto where I had settled into the house that is still my home. Eager to explore my new city, I took an evening walk through the narrow streets to the Piazza del Duomo. Though I had seen the Duomo many times before, I was as fascinated by its Gothic brilliance as the first time I saw it, and I stopped at the entrance to the square just to marvel at its beauty. I was not alone. Another woman stood close to me, also staring in quiet appreciation of the Duomo. We glanced at each other, then she smiled, her bright, intelligent eyes sparkling, and commented that she never grew tired of the Duomo. I smiled back, feeling as if I had known her all my life. She introduced herself as Gisella and invited me to dinner. It was the first, but definitely not the last time I would watch her put what she called a meal and I called a feast on the table. Nothing frightens Gisella: she can prepare an elegant dinner for any number of people with uncanny ease and speed.
The table was a beautiful array of different colors with intoxicating aromas. The whole of Italy was on that table. There wee so many dishes I can not even remember them all, but I do remember anitpasti such as Gorgonzola and Blue Cheese Mousse, Chicken Liver Pate Tuscan Style, and Cured Black Olives. The pasta course wasn't a pasta at all. Gisella said it was Pane Frattau, a dish I had never encountered. This was a Sardinian lasagna made with pane carasau, a flat bread. it is so light that once soaked in broth it can be used to make lasagna-like layers. Gisella sprinkled each layer with homemade tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil, then baked it to crisp perfection. The main course was a mountain sausage dish, served with black polenta tarangna, a polenta made with one half buck wheat and one half corn meal.
After, the meal and before the finale we had a wonderful Sicilian Orange Salad. The combination of blood orange, garlic, fennel and vinegar were unique to me. Then came the desserts, Zabaione, Olive Oil Cake and a Chocolate Salami. This surprising dessert salami is one of Gisella's many inventions: nuts, figs and chocolate are mixed together to form a paste that is then rolled into a log shape like a salami, and put in the fridge or freezer to set.
Over many more delicious meals, I discovered that Gisella had traveled all over Italy, learning the cooking of every region. I was surprised to discover that also lived in the US where she had also traveled extensively, discovering small farms that grew ancient grains such as buckwheat. She was so fascinated to learn of the nutritional benefits inherent in these grains that she became a forerunner of the health movement and produced a line of organic pastas.
Gisella's Italian Cooking - A Feast
ANTIPASTI o APRISTOMACI
Gorgonzola Or Bleu Cheese Mousse
Chicken Liver Pate’ Tuscan Style
Cured and dressed black Olives
Sicilian Orange Salad
Pane Frattau (Sardinian Lasagna Type Recipe)
dolce dell'olivio (cake with olive oil and yogurt)
ABOUT GISELLA TODAY: Gisella's nickname among her Italian friends is 'girella,' a name given to people who are whirlwinds of energy and motion. Maintaining her interest in the organic, today she travels to give cooking demonstrations using the ancient grains. In addition, this whirlwind creates events in the US to promote Italian products and organizes guided tours of Italy, with an accent on food. Her web site is www.gisellaisidori.com
About Gianna: Gianna holds degrees in the vastly different areas of Biology and the History of Philosophy. She has taught in US Universities and headed medical laboratories. Today she divides her time between her home in Orvieto and New York City.