If I could go back in time, I would choose to live my life in Venice as a courtesan or as a Papal chef. Both of those professions seem to very romantic, though the reality is more difficult and disgusting than many fictional stories might indicate. Venice itself is an incredibly romantic, beautiful, decadent and overwhelming place, however, and even if I had to tolerate being manhandled by the Council of Ten as a Venetian courtesan, or constantly verbally abused by the Pope as a Venetian chef, I think I could handle it if I knew I could walk outside and stroll along the Grand Canal or hop into a traghetto and be rowed across from Piazza San Marco to Dorsoduro.
In Carnevale, we are taken on an erotic, delectable and decadent literary adventure detailing the life of fictional female painter Cecilia Cornaro and her love affairs with three iconic figures – Giacomo Casanova, George Gordon Lord Byron, and Venice herself. It’s a clever mix of history, art, architecture, food, sex, treatise on the nature of life and existence…..oh, and part of the story is narrated from the POV of a cat. So you really can’t ask for more in an escapist book.
In addition to the gorgeous setting, the lyrical prose, and the food, sex and art descriptions that abound in this novel, what I loved most was the deep analysis of Cecilia’s two great loves, because these men could not be more different. Their only commonality is their desire for sensuality and their lust. Casanova is a tender, sensual lover who patiently teaches the protagonist all the aspects of romantic, passionate love. He writes her wonderful letters in which he also opens her eyes and mind to the world in a way that directly affects her painting. Lord Byron is a capricious, often cruel lover who teaches Cecilia the raw sexual aspects of purely erotic, raunchy and explicit love and in many ways, creates an addiction to his particular method of love.
I think all of us can relate to that dichotomy on many levels. I certainly could. Having had both tender romances and intensely erotic loves, it is easy to become hooked into both. What makes it challenging is when you find someone with whom you have both – that beautiful, poetic romance that feeds your soul and that sexual, addicting erotic adventure that feeds your body even though you know that person will ultimately shatter your mind and heart. In short, it’s a lovely tale about how love often defines us, but it is not a love story in and of itself, which I appreciate.
As to be expected in a book set in Venice that features two of the world’s most well-known (and notorious) lovers, there is lovemaking galore, sensual descriptions of palaces, draperies, fabrics, and art, and lusciously mouth-watering depictions of feasts, meals, delectable foods and cuisines that made me hungry for all of it. Cioccolati is frequently mentioned, most alluringly in the opening pages when Cecilia is drinking fragolino and eating torta al cioccolato. There are wonderful depictions of Venetian feasts, Arabian feasts, but having started reading this the week before Lent, I decided one of the sinful desserts that make an appearance during Carnevale was what I wanted to make. As well, in one of my podcast collaborations Sharing the Flavor, my co-hosts and I discussed Mardi Gras-themed foods and one of the sugary concoctions we mentioned, and that are also described in the book, were migliaccio. And of course, this lovely paragraph in which Cecilia describes the Venetian mindset toward Carnevale, pleasure and food also inspired me.
George Gordon, Lord Byron
We had Carnevale six month of the year…..we ate foolish foods: meringata and towering confections of spun sugar…..we drank pomegranate sherbet from Araby and herbed raspberry kvass…..we ground the detritus of our pleasures into the paving stones until they made a harlequinade of orange peel, confetti and pumpkin seeds under our slippered feet.
Migliaccio is a lemon-Ricotta cake made with semolina flour and baked in the weeks leading up to Carnevale and Lent,. Its origins are from Naples – the lemon and the semolina flour demonstrate its southern origins – and though there were numerous other decadent sweets I could have made in honor of this equally decadent book, I chose migliaccio because I love lemon and Ricotta, but with some orange peel to add an extra citrusy bite.
3 cups full-fat milk
4 tablespoons unsalted unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 tablespoons vanilla
Juice and peel of 1 lemon
Juice and peel of 1 orange or 2 clementines
1 and 1/2 cups semolina flour
1 and 1/2 cups ricotta cheese, drained
1 and 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 generous tablespoon limoncello liqueur
Powdered sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350F and in a saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, lemon and orange peel (reserve their juices for later) vanilla, butter, and salt until they are just barely simmering. Lower the heat and let the mixture simmer gently for 2 minutes, then remove the fruit peels.
Pour in the semolina flour and stir continually for 5 minutes, or until the mixture thickens into the consistency of oatmeal. Remove from heat and let cool.
In the mixing bowl of your most awesome red Kitchen Aid, combine the vanilla, granulated sugar, and the eggs, and whisk together until creamy. This will likely take another good 5 minutes or so, so I do recommend using the whisk attachment on your Kitchen Aid.
Add the drained ricotta, the lemon and orange juices, and the limoncello, and whisk again.
A spoonful at a time, add in the cooled semolina mixture, and continue to whisk together until the batter comes together in a pale, creamy mélange.
Butter and flour a round springform pan, and pour the batter in.
Bake for 1 hour, then remove. The migliaccio tends to remain a bit wobbly in the center, but I am told that is normal and that the cake will firm up as it cools, so let it come to room temperature before removing from the cake pan.
Decorate by sifting the powdered sugar atop the cake and by, as artistically as possible, adding lemon slices and mint sprigs. As I have noted in previous blog posts, no one will ever say “Vanessa, you should really give up your day job and become a cake decorator!” But I am quite proud of this cake’s appearance and I think even a Venetian painter and her infamous lovers would enjoy a slice as a post-coital treat. Enjoy!
5 thoughts on “Carnevale by Michelle Lovric”
Wow, this book sounds right up my alley! I will have to look for it. I must say your Migliaccio is so beautifully decorated-I would have had second thoughts about cutting into it! And…how did you know I have an awesome new RED Kitchenaid? My 20 year old white one packed it in recently after being overworked during the pandemic. Ciao, Cristina
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It is apparent that you and I are kindred spirits when it comes to our kitchen equipment! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and thrilled with your compliment on my migliaccio. Such a wonderful cake!
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This looks fabulous! Both the review and the recipe. Perfect for the season–and as they say, when in Rome (or Venice) 🙂 Cheers!
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Thank you, Cecilia! The book and the migliaccio were wonderful!
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