Earlier this summer, I spent a day in Florence with Judy Witts Francini, an American who moved to Italy in 1984, married an Italian, and stayed put. She leads tours, teaches hands-on cooking classes, blogs and is the author of a charming book called Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen. Judy took us all around Florence, tucking into wine shops for sips, and going deep into the aisles of the San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale. It was my birthday, and she left me with a copy of her book.
The next day we were off to part two of our Tuscan adventure: a week in a friend's house in Chianti, just south of Florence. In the car, when I wasn't helping Maxwell get on and off and on again and again off the autostrada, I was dog-earring pages of the book knowing I had a week of cooking ahead of me. With so many beautiful ingredients at my fingertips, I did a lot of cooking-by-feel and not by recipe. But a few meals called out for some Tuscan classics, and that is what this book is does really well.
Eat for one week in Tuscan restaurants, then open this book and you will find much of what you just consumed (and now crave): Crostini di Fegatini (Chicken Liver Toasts), Salvia Fritta (Fried Sage Leaves), Sugo di Anatra (Duck Ragu), Pappa al Pomodoro (Tomato and Bread Soup), Gnocchi, Pollo al Mattone (Brick Chicken), Cinghiale Dolce Forte (Stewed Wild Boar), Carciofi Fritti (Fried Artichokes), Panforte (Siena's Medieval Fruitcake), and the classic Schiacciata all'olio (Tuscan Flat Bread).
Recipes are printed on every other page, leaving the facing page empty for notes; Judy invites you to make changes. "The first time you try a recipe, it is new - the second time, you correct it - the third time you make it, it is yours." I love her attitude.
My copy is now grease-splattered note-filled and is even host to a sprig of wild fennel from the side of the road near our friend's house. It will continue to be a resource for dishes I had in Italy that I crave at home and a great host of memories from my trip to Tuscany.
The book is self-published, which means that currently it can only be purchased directly from Judy in Italy where it was printed. Shipping pricey (about $14) but know that you are supporting the author directly. She even promises to use pretty stamps on your package! How rare, these days, to have such a personal experience buying something online. Heck, maybe she'll even include a sprig of wild fennel from the roadside.
• Buy the book: Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen by Judy Witts Francini, 20 euro plus 10 euro shipping
More 2009 Book Reviews
• Heard It Through the Grapevine, by Matt Skinner
• Edible Schoolyard by Alice Waters
• The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
• Milk by Anne Mendelson
• Cooking For Two by Jessica Strand
• A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
• Fresh Food From Small Places by R. J. Ruppenthal
• Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo