La Cucina is written in a first person narrative told by an Italian woman by the name of Rosa Fiore. She recounts the tale of her three loves: Bartolomeo, a foreign British man she refers to as l’Inglese, and finally cooking.
With a title like La Cicina, it’s only natural that the novel be laced with cooking vignettes. Rosa recounts that her love of cooking started at a very young age. When she was around four years old she was helping her mother bake desserts and pasta. She found that pounding out the dough was strangely therapeutic. As she grew older she found that she could get completely lost in her cooking, which sometimes caused fatal accidents. What’s interesting is that the narrative gives full detailed recipes for certain dishes. Rosa tells the reader how to create the perfect homemade pasta or how long to bake a crust until it is a flakey golden brown.
When Rosa was 17 years old another love took over her life. Bartolomeo had a strong hold on her heart. The two young lovers had planned a romantic getaway to the United States to get married and start a new, successful live. Unfortunately, Bartolomeo’s family had already chosen another girl to be his wife. Once his family got word of his love with Rosa, they were distraught. So distraught about their family’s name being besmirch that Bartolomeo’s father murders his own son.
After the death of Bartolomeo, Rosa moves out of her family’s home out in the country to the city where she finds herself an apartment near a market and a job as a librarian. Twenty five years pass. Rosa has never married. She has kept the same job and lived in the same apartment. The only love in her life is cooking. By living near a market, she has the privilege of purchasing the freshest food for her dishes. It isn’t until a seemingly normal day at work when a man turns her simple, quiet life upside down.
A foreign man walks into the library requesting to see some old manuscripts for a cookbook he is writing. The moment Rosa and, who she refers to as, l’Inglese set eyes on each other their world changes. The next few months are rocked with a sensual love affair that opens up feelings that Rosa has never felt before. Some of the scenes can be quite graphic. The most graphically detailed scene comes from a meal prepared by l’Inglese in which he eats off of Rosa’s naked body. Her attitude changes are missed by no one. Everyone wants to know what man can bring out such a change in the spinster Rosa Fiore. Rosa’s life has new meaning since she met l’Inglese, but things are never what they seem. She must prepare herself to experience another loss. However, she has no idea whether the loss will come at work, to her love life, or to her family back home.
La Cucina is a very easy read, there are only about 250 pages. The main plot is straightforward. Rosa’s love for cooking helps her get through the tough times in her life, whether it be an argument with her mother or the murder of her first love. There are a few subplots that seemed to be placed haphazardly in the novel, perhaps to make the novel longer. Lastly, the ending leaves the reader asking questions. The ending event raises the question; is this real or is this one of Rosa’s daydreams?