Today our Mystery Lovers Kitchen welcomes Gigi Pandian with a new book featuring a cooking class and ghost stories in Italy—plus a recipe and a giveaway for a set of Gigi’s book-themed recipe cards with recipes from around the world!
GIGI PANDIAN: One of the best things about writing a cozy treasure hunt mystery series is that it gives me a perfect excuse to travel around the world and visit locations that aren’t the usual tourist spots. (Aberdeenshire, Scotland for Artifact. The southern tip of India for Pirate Vishnu. Nantes, France for Quicksand.) Venturing off the beaten path is great way to find the best local foods, with regional dishes that are often cooked by chefs who’ve lived in the area for generations.
The latest Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery, Michelangelo’s Ghost, takes place in Italy’s fabled Renaissance garden, the Park of Monsters—a spooky sculpture garden located in the middle of the Italian countryside. It’s in between Rome and Florence and not easily reached by train, so most visitors are Italian, even though everyone with an interest in the mysterious would enjoy it. I traveled there to get the setting right for a present-day mystery involving a centuries-old ghost story. The sprawling sculpture garden, surrounded by a wild forest, was as otherworldly as I imagined.
The nearby villa where I stayed offered cooking classes. I was in Italy for research and writing, but how could I refuse an Italian cooking class taught by a local chef? Especially since the chef selected the seasonal dishes based on what looked good in his hilltop vegetable garden next to the thoroughly modern kitchen inside a medieval walled village.
The cooking class made it into an important scene in the book—although I must admit my own class wasn’t interrupted by devious bad-guys disguised as a ghost, so I had to improvise when I wrote the scene! This is fiction, after all. However, many of the dishes I describe in Michelangelo’s Ghost were recipes I ate in Italy.
In spite of several food restrictions, I ate wonderfully in Italy. After being diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, I completely changed the way I eat. I now eat close to a vegan diet, meaning one of the things I gave up was cheese—but there’s no need for sympathy! Over the last few years I’ve learned how to adapt recipes to turn them into healthier versions that are even tastier than what I ate before cancer, and also how to eat well while traveling. I brought the flavor of Italy home with me. Here’s one of my favorite easy Italian-style recipes I use regularly, because it’s both healthy and delicious.
RECIPE: DAIRY-FREE PARMESAN
A flavorful topping that takes 5 minutes to prepare and can be kept for weeks in a jar on the counter—though in my house it never lasts that long!
¾ cup roasted cashews
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
½ tsp sea salt (more or less to taste)
½ tsp garlic powder (again, more or less to taste)
Blend all the ingredients in a food processor until the mixture is the consistency of grated parmesan cheese. Sprinkle on top of Italian dishes for added flavor. My favorite use is to sprinkle on top of pasta dishes, and it works great on both tomato sauces and olive oil pasta tossed with garlic and roasted vegetables.
Leave a comment below to enter to win a set of six book-themed recipe cards, with Gigi’s recipes inspired by Scotland, India, France, the U.S., and Italy.
MICHELANGELO’S GHOST: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery
“This book has everything a mystery lover could ask for: ghostly presences, Italian aristocrats, jewel thieves, failed actors, sitar players, and magic tricks, not to mention dabs of authentic history and academic skullduggery.”
– Publishers Weekly
– Publishers Weekly
A lost work of art linking India to the Italian Renaissance. A killer hiding behind a centuries-old ghost story. And a hidden treasure in Italy’s macabre sculpture garden known as the Park of Monsters… Can treasure-hunting historian Jaya Jones unmask a killer ghost?
USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her cultural anthropologist parents, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and a gargoyle who watches over their vegetable garden. Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery short stories. Gigi’s fiction has been awarded the Malice Domestic Grant and Lefty Awards, and short-listed for Macavity and Agatha Awards.
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