When I was a child bookshelves at home were overfilled with home magazines, cars magazines, books and an old cooking encyclopedia my mum bought before getting married: a few issues from the complete edition you could purchase at newsstands weekly. No trace of cookbooks or food magazines. Mum never loved cooking, even though now she’s really good and at ease in the kitchen.
But I loved cooking so much. As a child I would climb onto the kitchen stool and make a cake every Sunday morning with mum. I don’t know if it was because I could already feel the magic or because I was allowed to lick the whisk, but boy how I loved those Sunday mornings! When I was a teenager I used to collect recipes from magazines in a notebook. I probably never tried out those recipes, but they were something precious, something to keep safe in a kitchen drawer, underneath tablecloths and tea towels.
My passion for cooking and food has been growing constantly since then, as my collection of cookbooks. The first cookbook I bought in my twenties, saving money from my first grown-up salary, is Tessa Kiros’ Apples for Jam, followed after just a few days by two more books of the same author, Falling Cloudberries and Twelve, my first Tuscan cookbook. All the recipes were truly honest, and the stories and Tessa’s gentle and simple approach to food made me discover a new dimension in cookbooks.
It might sound weird, but I found myself intrigued by Tuscan cooking just in the last ten years, falling in love again with the food that nurtured me for all my life and made me who I am now. Grandma has always been my reference point, my landmark when it comes to cook something according to our Tuscan traditions. She’s not studied cooking, she’s not a trained chef. She fed a family for all her life, she has lived her life in a Tuscan kitchen, foraging Tuscan herbs, she has always being crazy about mushroom picking in Tuscan woods, she has reared Tuscan hens and chickens, rabbits and children! She knows all the things I am writing here because she lived those experiences.
I have grandma, and I have cookbooks. I began collecting books which could me teach something about Italian and Tuscan food traditions. This will be our theme today. The Italian Table Talk girls are saying goodbye, this will be our last post, due to life which is playing hard with us. Life is giving us emotions, lots of work, changing of habits, of countries, of life, many working hours and passions. And life is demanding attention, so we decided that for our last post for the Italian Table talk round-up we would have talked about all those books that inspired our posts in the last two years, which will keep guiding us discovering the food we love, which hopefully will become a guide for you, too.
I love all my cookbooks for many reasons, from the paper they are printed on to the storytelling approach, but I selected a bunch of cookbook you ought to have if you want a honest guide to Italian and Tuscan food:
- Pellegrino Artusi, La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene, which you can also find translated in English. It is the most significant Italian cookbook of modern times and you find so many recipes here in my blog that it doesn’t even need a longer introduction. I have my grandma’s copy, a gift she received for her wedding, and this is her reference book since ever.
- Ada Boni, The talisman Italian Cookbook. The linked book is an adapted version specifically for America of the Italian original book. It is to Italians what Joy of Cooking is to Americans. This has been a reference since when I found a very old copy on line, I tried many recipes and they all turned great, it is still the second cookbook I check every time I have a doubt. The first one is still Artusi, it’s a family thing.
- Paolo Petroni, Il grande libro della vera cucina toscana. This book is not fancy, but true to the hearth of Tuscan cooking. It is a reference especially for the Florentine cooking, as my family is strong on the Sienese and countryside cooking. You can find a translated version of the Florentine cookbook, The Complete Book of Florentine Cooking.
- Claudia Roden, The food of Italy. This is my last discovery but is is already a book I feel urged to suggest you. I admire her precise and honest knowledge of the Italian food and history, how authentic her recipe are, not just in the ingredients and the procedure, but in their final teste, which is the most important part, isn’t it? She has had an adventurous life, she has travelled throughout Italy and the Mediterranean area to bring back real accessible food. It’s also an enjoyable reading, which is now an important aspect in choosing a good cookbook for me.
- Pamela Sheldon Johns , Cucina Povera, Tuscan Peasant Cooking. This is pure Italian comfort food from the heart of Tuscany, based on peasant-inspired dishes. These dishes are truly authentic, something grandma is still cooking nowadays with the exact passion for good things in life I share with her.
When deciding which recipe to make to enrich this post, I stumbled over Claudia Roden’s pollo arrosto al vinsanto, roast chicken with vin santo, a festive Tuscan recipe which is everything you would wish for in an early autumn Sunday. Vin santo, literally holy wine, is a sweet amber wine made from dried white grapes which every Tuscan family loves, many make it even at home. You can substitute it with Marsala.
The ingredient list is short and essential, this is how I would imagine a woman living in the Tuscan countryside would have loved her farm-yard chicken to be roasted on a foggy Sunday morning. No butter smeared on the chicken, no fussy stuffing, just a good chicken, some salt and pepper, olive oil and vinsanto. She could find everything in her pantry or in her yard.
The result is a juicy tender chicken with a golden brown crisp skin, something to die for. I also roasted some potatoes in another pan to be served with the chicken.
- 1 chicken about 1,5 kg
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 120 ml of Vin santo or Marsala
Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F - gas mark 6).
Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper, then rub it with the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the wine.
Place it breast side down in a baking dish and pour over about 60 ml of the wine.
Roast for 3/4 of an hour, then turn the chicken breast side up, pour in the remaining wine and roast for another 1/2 - 3/4 of an hour until the chicken is golden brown.
Let it rest wrapped in aluminium foil for at least half an hour, then serve with the sauce poured over.
As it would befit a proper Tuscan lunch, with one chicken you can cook three satisfying meals. With the tiny pieces of meat left from the Sunday feast – usually we have leftover breast – I cooked up a brown rice salad, stir frying all the ingredients – rice, almonds, meat – in the chicken juices left in the pan. A squeeze of fresh lemon and a good bunch of fresh mint leaves made the deal for a wholesome gluten free main course.
The bones went straight into a large pot of warm water with carrots, celery, onion, a bay leaf and a bunch of parsley to be boiled slowly for 3 hours. That became a home made chicken broth made by the book, which I froze in small cups for the upcoming cold months.
Time to say goodbye
I want to thank you all which followed our Italian Table talk adventures and my friend Emiko, Jasmine and Valeria for being an incredible source of inspiration, fun and good recipes. You can keep following us on our blogs, because the game is not ended yet! There will be many recipes, stories and good food which are just waiting to be shared.