Clearly I don’t know as much I ought to about the Borgia’s, because Michael Ennis’s Malice of Fortune just blew my mind. The real history of a mysterious death is entwined with a rash of horrific murders of women.
Naturally, the only people who can solve crimes of this magnitude are Machiavelli and Da Vinci, accompanied by a blackmailed courtesan. That makes this sound a little silly, but Ennis pulls it off. Damiana, the courtesan, was sleeping with the Duke of Gandia, the Pope’s favorite son. She is suspected of the murder, and hopes to clear her name with the help of Machiavelli, who is acting as the Florentine ambassador to Rome.
Still with me? Da Vinci in this case acts as a forensic scientist of sorts. In the mix there is also plenty of witchcraft and statecraft, war and rape and pillage. In short, it’s everything you’d want in historical fiction.
There wasn’t quite as much lavish papal feasting as I’d hoped, but Italian food is as sexy during the Renaissance as it is now. There’s an excellent scene involving Damiata sensually eating Parmesan and salami. If I’d recommended a deli plate to go with this book, though, I’d lose every follower but my husband. So even though no one in Pope Alexander VI’s Rome was eating soufflés, enjoy! Damiata describes the candied pine nuts early on in the book. They provide a crunchy-sweet counterpoint to the rich egg-and-cheese mixture.
The Soufflé of Fortune
1/4 c pine nuts
1 Tb sugar (white, not brown)
2 Tb butter (more for ramekins)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tb flour
1 1/3 c milk
3/4 c Parmesan, grated
4 eggs, separated
In a small skillet, heat the nuts and sugar together until a caramel forms. Watch it carefully, those damn nuts are too expensive to burn! Remove to a small plate to cool.
Heat the oven to 400, and butter 4 small ramekins. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the garlic. When the butter is sizzley, add the flour and whisk like crazy. After about 1 minute, add the milk and turn up the heat. Whisk, still crazily, until the milk boils and everything thickens. Take the pan off the heat, whisk in the Parmesan, and transfer to a large bowl to cool down.
While that’s cooling, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. When the bechamel is cool-ish, whisk in the egg YOLKS. Then use a spatula to fold in 1/3 of the whites. Once that’s done, it should be pretty easy to fold the rest in while keeping things fluffy.
Divide the mixture between the ramekins. Put the ramekins on a cookie sheet, they will pouf like crazy and some might overflow. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until they are golden.
Divide pine nuts between soufflés. Serve 4 with salami, olives, and plenty of Sangiovese.