Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written three novels set in ancient Rome: “Mistress of Rome,” “Daughters of Rome,” and “Empress of the Seven Hills,” all of which have been translated into multiple languages.
Kate made the jump from ancient Rome to Renaissance Italy for her fourth and fifth novels, “The Serpent and the Pearl” and “The Lion and the Rose,” detailing the early years of the Borgia clan. She also has succumbed to the blogging bug, and keeps a blog filled with trivia, pet peeves, and interesting facts about historical fiction. She and her husband now live in Maryland with a small black dog named Caesar, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.
Take it away, Kate!
Question: What do you serve at a wedding where a Borgia Pope has dire designs on the bride?
Answer: Peaches in grappa, with fresh-ground pepper and cream. Poisoned, of course!
I may make a living writing historical fiction with touches of murder, but I'm a foodie at heart—and a cook in my leisure hours. Business and pleasure collided in my new book “The Serpent and the Pearl: a novel of the Borgias.” One of my two heroines is a professional cook in the Renaissance era (not easy for a woman!) and she ends up household chef to the Borgia family. She'll also end up dodging a mysterious murderer who has a penchant for staking women to tables with knives . . . but in this early scene, she's up to her elbows prepping for the wedding banquet of 18-year-old Giulia Farnese, who doesn't know she's intended to be the concubine of Papa Borgia. And what does an eighteen-year-old bride with a sweet tooth want to see at her wedding?
“The first of the desserts, sorellina.” My brother crossed the room with a flourish of a bow, presenting a dish for me. “Peaches in grappa—your favorite.”
“You’ll make me fat, brother,” I complained.
“Oh well, I’ll eat them then.” He popped a soft spiced peach into his mouth. “Delicious. The cooks have outdone themselves.”
“Give me those!” I snatched the plate, smiling at my elder brother.
I knew as soon as I wrote that peach dish (borrowed from a Renaissance menu) that I'd have to try it myself. So the week after “The Serpent and the Pearl” went on sale, my hubby and I donned aprons and gave it a try! After much experimentation—that simple “peaches in grappa” gives much room for interpretation—this is the result that gave us the most mouth-watering results.
For the peaches
2 peaches, not too ripe
2 tablespoons grappa, with a dash more for cooking
1 small handful shredded basil leaves
For the whipped cream
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Fresh-ground black pepper
1. Slice both peaches into half-inch slices. Toss with two tablespoons sugar and two tablespoons grappa, and a handful of shredded basil leaves. Set in the refridgerater to macerate and soften.
2. Toss a dash of sugar, a dash more grappa, and a tablespoon or two of butter in a frying pan over the stove-top on medium-high heat. When mixture foams, toss in peach slices (reserve the shredded basil). Fry peach slices until soft in the butter-grappa mixture, and set aside to cool while prepping the whipped cream.
3. Combine heavy cream with a dash of sugar and a dash of nutmeg to taste, and a small pinch of cayenne pepper. (Trust me, it works—the pepper gives just a hint of bite to counter the grappa in the peaches.) Whip with a whisk attachment on your electric mixture until soft peaks form.
4. Arrange peach slices on a plate, drizzle with the shredded basil, and sprinkle with a little fresh-ground black pepper. Serve with a dollop of the whipped cream in the middle for dipping. Serves two.
Result: A delicious recipe for the Renaissance or the modern day! A perfect finish for the end of a late-summer banquet. Borgia-style poison is optional.
“The Serpent and the Pearl” can be found wherever books are sold! Follow Kate on Twitter and Facebook.