Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Temptation Tuesday - An Italian Hero (and a little something extra I happened upon today)

This Tuesday Natasha Oakley points out the dangerous consequences of research!

At least it's dangerous if you have the Amazon.co.uk habit I do!

If you've ever been to Venice, plan to go there, want to set a book there or just like to dream this is the book for you. It's a beautiful book. And Venice is more than beautiful.

Now close your eyes and picture yourself there ...

Now imagine the Italian man you'd like to show you the wonders of Venice ...

Here's mine. He's Francesco da Mosto, architect, historian and film maker with a voice which ... erm ... well you'll have to listen for yourself. It defies description. And just LOOK at his palazzo.

Thank God for YouTube!

If you're in the UK or you've got access to an all regions DVD player you too can own the series.

I first chanced upon Francesco when I was writing 'The Tycoon's Princess Bride' - my contribution to the Niroli series. Niroli being, I was told in the continuity 'bible', an island to the south of Sicily. It just so happened that I then spotted that Part 4 of a BBC series called 'Francesco's Italy: Top to Toe' was being aired. So I watched. And, best of all, Francesco had reached the toe! All very useful.

Only then my amazon habit kicked in and I went shopping. Unfortunately you can't get hold of that series, his second, on DVD at the moment. BUT, if you're in the UK and can get BBC 4 then you can catch that same episode this Thursday at 8.00pm. I know this because I've just watched them all - ostensibly for Trish who can't and has set part of her book in Rome. I'm supposed to be immersed in Arabia but who can resist that accent??? (Francesco's not Trish's, although she has a very pleasant Irish lilt. Just doesn't have the same effect on me.)

He even drives around Italy in a red Alfa Romeo Spider.

So, who is this wealthy, educated Italian with a premature thatch of white hair? Despite a deadline looming so close I'm about to crash into it I've spared no time in researching for you.

He's the younger son of Count Ranieri da Mosto and Contessa Maria Grazia Vanni d'Archirafi. As the younger son of a count of the Venetian Republic, Francesco is entitled to use the prefix Count before his name.

Isn't this perfect?

Count Francesco da Mosto, then, was born in Venice in 1961. The beautiful palazzo you glimpse in that YouTube clip is the Palazzo Muti da Mosto and was acquired by his grandfather in 1919 - but the da Mosto family have been part of Venice's history for much longer than that, probably the 5th century onwards. They lost the Ca' da Mosto (which can be seen from the Rialto market) in the 17th century through marriage.

The current family home is a mass of secret stairways, grand halls with impressive frescos and even has it's own baroque chapel. I manage to avoid envy only because it's also a serious responsibility. In true hero style he says, “And it seems I can have a 50% grant for the foundations, but getting grants is a long bureaucratic process. And while it is hard to maintain a house like this, surely there are others who need the money before us.”

And he's a family man. If you aren't in love with him now I truly believe you are beyond hope.

He's married to Jane, a South African who grew up in London, and they have three children. Incidentally she's an Oxford educated environmental scientist who has co-written an 'analysis of the threats to Venice and the lagoon'.

Then just to make sure he's impossibly perfect Francesco's also written a cook book. There is no surer way to my heart.

Just a click away you too can revel in 'traditional Venetian gastronomy'. Even if you never get round to cooking a thing it's a book to own. But if you're feeling inspired:


6 egg yolks, beaten
6oz/180g caster sugar
7oz/200g Italian 00 grade flour, sifted
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1½pints/800ml whole milk
2 egg whites, beaten
Breadcrumbs for coating
Oil for frying
Icing sugar, to serve

In a medium pan, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Then gradually whisk in the flour and lemon zest.

Slowly add the milk, beating well between each addition until the mixture is smooth and creamy without lumps. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and boils.

Remove from the heat and pour into a shallow tin or directly onto an oiled marble slab. Spread out evenly to a thickness of 1in/2cm, then allow to cool and set.

Cut into rectangles or diamonds, dip in the lightly beaten egg whites and then coat with dried breadcrumbs.

Deep-fry for 2 to 3 minutes until crisp and golden brown, drain well on kitchen paper and serve dusted with icing sugar.

Sounds sinful to me!

And there's more of Francesco to come. This summer he spent two months aboard a 19th-century schooner, travelling from Venice to Istanbul across the Adriatic, Ionian and Aegean seas. Here in the UK we'll see it the results on BBC 2 sometime next year.

So, what do you think? Tempting???

With love


PS Hot off the press here's a different temptation! A must for lovers of poetry and/or Richard Armitage.

Worldwide you can hear Richard reading a selection of poet Ted Hughes' letters. 45 minutes of delicious temptation. Go
play. You've got a week to hear it via 'listen again' on the BBC website.

Not to be missed. You know, there is nothing quite as sexy as a beautiful voice ....

This July saw the start of a brand-new series in the Presents line - The Royal House of Niroli.

"The Mediterranean island of Niroli has prospered for centuries under the Fierezza men. But now, as the King’s health declines, and his 2 sons have been tragically killed, the crown is in jeopardy. Who will rule? "

Natasha's book, 'The Tycoon's Princess Bride', is in the shops NOW and is a
Romantic Times Magazine Top Pick. Click here for the full review.


  1. You knoiw I find it very hard to resist Italians.

    Especially ones who can cook (Giorgio Locatelli... sigh...)

    And then to add Richard Armitage at the end: just INSPIRED.

  2. I just LOVE Francesco! He has possibly the sexiest italian accent ever and he's sooo adorable--he even smokes in cheeky sort of way-like they do. Photo's don't do him justice in my opinion.
    Really looking forward to the schooner trip series.

  3. I adored the Venice series, which came out at just the right moment to help with my first book. He is truly delicious, isn't he?

    Watched the end of the second series with a mixture of anguish, envy and admiration (OK, lust) as he was reunited in that beautiful garden with his gorgeous family. (Then, as I remember, went and ate most of a tub of chocolate ice cream...)

    (Natasha, just finished Tycoons Princess Bride and LOVED LOVED LOVED it! Congratulations on a thoroughly fantastic book-- luckily I read it in half term so staying up until 2am to finish it wasn't too much of a problem!)

  4. You could't invent a more perfect Italian hero than this, could you? I certainly had to pinch myself when I caught the series on the beeb this year.

    And I too loved the Tycoon's princes Bride...totally hooked on the Niroli series altogether,