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A Dream of Italy by Nicky Pellegrino – book review

Recipe for success: Nicky Pellegrino. Photo/Michelle Hyslop/Supplied

An Italian renovation romance to sink your teeth into.

I grew up on an orchard. I am painfully fussy about pipfruit. Yet, in the second paragraph, Nicky Pellegrino has me convinced a wrinkled, soft apple would be a charming way to start the day.

How does she do it, this simple elevation of food? Lunch is never lunch, it’s “a crusty bread roll filled with slices of velvety cheese and a fiery chilli paste”. Vege soup becomes “thick broth filled with vegetables and broken spaghetti, then cloaked in coarsely grated nutty cheese”. Yum. She does the same with gardening in the gorgeous Villa Rosa books, and here with horse riding, in one particularly beautifully written scene.

Couple these simple pleasures with certain other hallmarks – warmth, a languid Italian holiday, romance – and you have the recipe for another Pellegrino bestseller. (Listener readers will know Pellegrino also regularly writes for the magazine.)

Her 11th novel, A Dream of Italy, has an extra frisson of “oooh, could I do that?” It turns on four crumble-down houses in a mountainous village that are on the market for just €1. Apparently, this is a real thing in lots of struggling Italian towns; the only catch for buyers is they must restore the homes.

It’s a perfect set-up for an ensemble cast and ensuing love affairs. There’s also ample reno-porn – jasmine-covered doorways, faded friezes – for those that way inclined. My one quibble is that with so many stories to follow, I sometimes struggled to get properly invested. But there’s plenty of grilled swordfish, tiny black olives and orange-blossom honey to go around.

A DREAM OF ITALY, by Nicky Pellegrino (Hachette, $34.99)

This article was first published in the April 13, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.