The Life & (Foodie) Love of a Literary Detective

Donna Leon’s Venetian detective novels featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti have long been celebrated for their descriptions of Italian – specifically Venetian – food and drink.

Over twenty Commissario Brunetti novels have been written now, all situated in or around Venice. However, it was not long after the fourth novel was published that readers began to comment about the conspicuous presence of food and meals in the books.

This came as a surprise to the author because all she had been doing was observing the way that Venetians shop, prepare and eat their food during her 40 years of living there.

Donna Leon explains: “Italian life is filled with food: people talk about it constantly; spend a great deal of time shopping for it and preparing it and devote a joyous amount of time to eating it. One had but to pay close attention to them when they talk about food, or when they cook and eat, to begin to understand how fundamental it is to the living of a happy life and how vital it is to Italian culture.”

In a cookery book to accompany the novels, ‘A Taste of Venice – At Table with Brunetti’, devised by the author’s good friend Roberta Pianara, here is a classic Brunetti dessert – served, no doubt, after a languorous mid-day meal with the family before returning to the main police station, the Questura.

Strawberry Cake with Cream – Torta di fragile con panna – featuring Arden and Amici Savoiardi or sponge fingers:


800g strawberries
6 medium eggs, separated
250g sugar
200g A&A Savoiardi, crumbled
Butter and flour for the baking tin
250ml fresh whipping cream


  1. Wash and dry the strawberries, cut into pieces and set aside
  2. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar in a bowl until frothy – add the carefully crushed A&A Savoiardi with the strawberries
  3. In another bowl whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and fold in gradually into the strawberry mixture.
  4. Pour into a buttered and floured springform baking tin measuring 26cm in diameter and bake for at least 1 hour at 180ºc/350ºF.
  5. Whip the cream in a bowl until very firm. Keep in the refridgerator until the cake is ready to be served.
  6. The cake should be served when still warm with the cold cream

For the first Commissario Brunetti novel, ‘Death at la Fenice’ click here.

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