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Mamma Mia! What Tasty Tuscan Treats

In my story, “The Reunion,” Emily and her old friends enjoy the Tuscan cuisine at their golden high school reunion. Let’s take a look at some of these treats as we imagine tasting those sweet and savory morsels.

The four erstwhile pals begin to rekindle their connections by warming up with soup, the first course. As they catch up with one another, two of the women are served ribollita, which means “re-boiled.” The key ingredients in ribollita include leftover bread, cannellini beans, lacinato kale, cabbage, and inexpensive vegetables such as carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes. This soup—like most Tuscan cuisine—hails from peasant origins. Centuries ago, Tuscan peasants would reheat the previous day’s soup with stale bread in an effort to stretch their meager means. Though this dish is of modest origins, the happy diners find it rich and satisfying. The savory flavor of the ribollita improves in the re-cooking; the women’s friendships take on a richer, deeper flavor as they are rekindled.

Zuppa di farro, Valerie’s choice, is a healthful soup, a type of minestrone with farro. It is a popular dish in Tuscany, particularly in the town of Lucca. Farro is an heirloom wheat with a distinctive nutty flavor. Farro wheat actually includes three species of grain: spelt, einkorn, and emmer. It is known as a nutritious food for its high fiber and protein content.

As the main course gets underway, the women are enjoying sweet, sour, and savory dishes including gnudi, crespelle, and tortelli di patate. Gnudi are light, pillowy dumplings made with ricotta cheese and semolina flour. Gnudi is the Tuscan term for “naked”; these pillowy balls of ricotta are “nude ravioli,” i.e., just the filling without the pasta shell. In Tuscany, gnudi are served with burnt butter and sage sauce, sprinkled with pecorino or parmigiana cheese.

Crespelle are often known by their French name, crepes. They are very thin pancakes, usually made with durum wheat. They may be prepared either sweet or savory. Crespelle can be found at tables in many regions of Italy. In some regions, the savory dish is filled with cheese, sometimes with salty anchovies, ricotta, and dried tomatoes. In other areas, the sweet variety is preferred. It is dusted with sugar and honey on the outside, and may be filled with ricotta cream or fennel seeds.

Tortel di patate

Tortel di patate is a wonderfully filling dish. These are potato pancakes, a staple food in the Italian peasant tradition. The original recipe calls for just three ingredients: potatoes, salt, and oil. This delightful dish is prepared by peeling and grating raw potatoes, which forms a paste that is then salted. Some farina may be added for consistency, if desired. The mixture is typically fried in olive oil. Similar patties can be found in other countries and traditions, including latkes, a traditional warm treat on the Jewish winter holiday of Chanukah. Fun fact: The similarly named tortelli di patate is a type of pasta with potato filling.

By the close of “The Reunion,” we find Emily eagerly anticipating the sweet gelato, a delectable dessert. Gelato made its first known appearance during the Renaissance, when Cosimo Ruggieri created the first gelato flavor, the fior di latte, at the court of the Medici family in Florence. Traditional gelato flavors include chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, custard, and hazelnut. In the modern era, new flavors have surfaced, such as tiramisu, mango, pineapple, banana, and amarena cherry.

Gelato is similar to ice cream, with some clear differences. Gelato is primarily made from milk and cream; only a small percentage of this recipe consists of egg yolks. Ice cream is composed of equal parts heavy cream, whole milk, and egg yolks. Ice cream is much heavier in butterfat than gelato. Ice cream’s butterfat content weighs in at roughly 14-25 percent; gelato’s fat content is only 4-9 percent. Gelato is denser than ice cream, which may contain over 50 percent air by volume; gelato contains roughly half as much air.

And that brain freeze you may have experienced digging into your ice cream? Gelato shouldn’t hit you that way, as it is served ten to fifteen degrees warmer than ice cream. This temperature is thought to enhance the gelato’s creamy texture, as well as its bold flavors, and allows the gelato to melt quickly in your mouth. And the sweet, creamy gelato will soon melt in the friends’ mouths as they cap off their reunion dinner, heralding myriad sweet shared memories ahead.


  1. Italian Wikipedia: “Tortello di Patate”: Translated to English by Google Translate
  2. Zeldes, Leah A. “Eat this! Ribollita Ribsticking Winter ‘Soup’ from Tuscany”: Dec. 8, 2010
  3. “Gelato vs. Ice Cream”: Sweetcycle: Retrieved July 6, 2022
  4. Quirk, Mary Beth, “What’s the Difference Between Ice Cream, Frozen Custard, and Gelato?” Consumer Reports, July 14, 2017
  5. Mullan, Michael, “Plotting Freezing Point Curves for Ice Cream and Gelato Mixes”: dairyscience.info: Retrieved July 6, 2022

A History of the High-Heeled Shoe

In my story, “The Glass Slipper,” Ashleigh purchases silver spike heels, otherwise known as stilettos. They are uncomfortable, but she is determined to wear the shoes favored by her fiancé. Though stilettos didn’t enter the fashion scene until the twentieth century, they were part of the evolution of high heels harking back over a millenium. Let’s take a look at how such impractical shoes have made their mark as fashion icons and how this fascination evolved over time.

In the tenth century, Persian soldiers wore high heels as they rode their horses into battle. The extra height must have made them look formidable to their enemies, but it also served to keep their feet secure as they stood in their stirrups. These high heels were decidedly practical and worn only by men.

By the sixteenth century, a strong trade relationship between Persia and Europe led to the high-heeled shoe becoming a fashion icon for well-heeled gentlemen all over Europe. Initially, the shoes served as outer layers to protect the men’s inner shoes from becoming soiled. Though thought of up to this point as strictly for men, Italian courtesans began to wear the high shoes around this time. The shoes these women wore were called chopines and were worn primarily to attract the attention of men. There is only one other recorded example of high-heeled shoes on a woman during this period: Those worn by Catherine de Medici, the Italian noblewoman who became Queen of France.

Other than queens and courtesans, women were still far from having their own high heels. Male European aristocrats enjoyed the more powerful image they projected in their tall shoes. The higher the heel, the greater the status. So high heels, back then, were symbolic of wealth, status, and masculinity.

One of the most fascinating chapters in the history of high heels is associated with King Louis XIV of France in the seventeenth century. He was a short man, but in his fancy high heels, he projected power and glory. His shoes were made of velvet and satin in deep reds and royal blues. He required all men in his court to wear high heels. His unique fashion sense later inspired the likes of renowned shoe designer Christian Louboutin.

Women began to wear fashionable high heels by the late seventeenth century, but with the advent of the French Revolution in the eighteenth century, both men and women set their high heels aside as they eschewed any connection with royalty.

By the nineteenth century, high heels made a comeback—but only for women. Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator of the Bata Shoe Museum, noted that “heels were becoming suspect for men as Enlightenment concepts of male ‘rationality’ posited that…‘irrational’ things such as high heels were better left to women.”

Technological advances in the twentieth century allowed for the debut of the stiletto, or spike heel, introduced in Christian Dior’s line in the 1930s. Actresses like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn popularized this style in the 1950s, in what would later be regarded as the golden age of high heels. Health and safety concerns notwithstanding, this popularity is still a trend we see today: Stars such as Jennifer Lopez, Taylor Swift, and Mariah Carey really seem to be reaching for the stars as they sport ever-higher high heels.


  1. “The History of High Heels,” by Emmie Cosgrove, in London Runway, Sept. 11, 2019
  2. “Stiletto Heel,” Wikipedia
  3. “History of the High Heel: It Wasn’t Always a Woman’s Shoe,” by Emma Wynne, ABC Radio Perth, Nov. 12, 2017