There was a time, before Tommaso came into my life, when I would share my bed with a stack of cookbooks. I knew them by name, I would leaf through them before falling asleep, I would take note of all the recipes I wanted to try. I found words and meanings that went far beyond the ingredient list. Those cookery books made me dream, they intrigued me and amused me, sometimes they moved me to tears. I brushed pages of photos with the same affection with which I would caress the cheek of a child. I would turn in my mouth phrases, adjectives and procedures as you would do with the verses of a poem.
Cookbooks gave me wings when I felt my feet heavy, sunk into the ground. I always thought that a cookery writer puts together a story that will then develop through our five senses. You would never put down a good novel, you would not close such a book. If you are reading a good cookbook, though, all of a sudden you would jump from your chair, close the book and run into your kitchen to list the ingredients you need to bake that cake you just read about.
Today we celebrate eight years of Juls’ Kitchen and my fifth cookbook, La Cucina dei Mercati in Toscana, published by Guido Tommasi, which will be out in Italy on February the 9th. So exciting.
We celebrate two long and exciting years of work that forced me to grow and to develop my passion and curiosity. If I browse through all the photos taken around Tuscany with Tommaso I can still feel the heat of that 2015 torrid summer, that sudden downpour which completely ruined a photoshoot. I can see groups of Tuscan nonne in line at the market to buy basketfuls of oranges or bunches of artichokes. The words of the vendors resound in my mind: they do not sell just an ingredient but a collection of stories, recipes and traditional uses. I see us in the car planning future trips around Tuscany to photograph a market and a life together. I look at the one hundred and five recipes that make up the book, and which tell so much of who I am, what I like, how I cook and eat.
A tour of my favourite areas of Tuscany
Tuscan cooking is made at home, in grocery shops, in the local vegetable gardens and among the stalls of a market. This book is a collection of traditional and seasonal recipes and a guide to the best food markets in Tuscany. I will bring you with me on a tour through the most famous and lesser known areas of one of the most popular regions in the world, from the streets of Florence to those full of charm and mystery of Volterra, from Garfagnana to the wild Lunigiana, from the velvet hills of Val d’Orcia to those covered with vineyards and olive groves in the Chianti area.
This book is an excuse to describe with pictures, words and recipes the historical markets like San Lorenzo and Sant’Ambrogio in Florence, the weekly markets, so longed for by everyone in small villages and towns, and the organic markets of local producers. There are also the coastal fish markets and the little huts of fruit and vegetables to be found along the road in Maremma.
All my gratitude then goes to those people who, for passion and friendship, helped me discover the markets of Tuscany, pointing out to producers, stalls not to be missed, local products and unique stories: Gigliola and Francesca for Florence, Kirstie for Greve in Chianti, Luisa e Martina for Val d’Orcia, Laura for Siena, Andrea for Valdarno, Annalisa, Ilaria, Giovanna and Simona from Farfalle in Cammino for Lunigiana, Annarita, Alessandro and Cinzia from Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa for Garfagnana, Molly and Emanuela for Pistoia, Maria for Montecatini, Aurelia for Prato, Serena for Versilia, Kinzica for Pisa, Marco for Volterra, Enrica and Paolo for Livorno, Emiko for San Miniato and Argentario.
The book and the recipes
Traveling through Tuscany for more than a year to discover the weekly markets, the great covered ones, the farmers’ markets and the organic and local ones has been a formative experience that helped me to know even better the region that I love and where I feel at home, my place in the world. While I was lost in conversation with the producers and I would buy everything from honey to local cheeses, lardo sausages and the most fragrant peaches, Tommaso followed me with his camera and captured the unique sight of each market, different in temperament and seasonality.
There was a time, while I was writing this book, when the doubts came: I had to divide Tuscany into twelve homogeneous areas. If you had to listen to the typical Tuscan local pride and to the mocking enmities that have been dragging for centuries, this book would have more chapters than an encyclopedia. It would be impossible to group Pisa and Livorno in the same chapter, or combine Garfagnana and Lunigiana under the same title: despite their proximity, they have unique characters, landscapes, products and traditions. The choices I made were dictated by geographical proximity and similarities in the culinary tradition, even though the abundance, pride and cultural stratification of each town and area would surely deserve at least a separate chapter.
Divided into 12 chapters, the book presents the typical dishes of each area. There are the traditional breads, from the bland Tuscan bread, made without salt, to the chestnut flour bread of Lunigiana and the potato bread of Garfagnana. Many are the meat dishes, including game – wild boar and hare for example – and quinto quarto, offal. We ventured also to the coast to add the best fish recipes, from the cacciucco in Livorno to the whole fish baked with vegetables in Maremma.
Vegetables and fruits abound in every chapter, choose them wisely, seasonally and locally. Leave room for desserts, too, as you will find those timeless cakes, sweet breads and cookies which belong to past times and grandma’s cupboards.
More than 60 recipe testers!
When someone chooses your book among the hundreds of cookery books available in a bookstore, you have an enormous responsibility. Huge. He trusted you and you are not supposed to let him down. Not only the book has to be written with heart and honesty, but the recipes have to work. This is, for me, the minimum and essential criterion for a cookbook to be a good book.
After having written and tested the recipes in my kitchen, I sent an SOS to find volunteers who’d want to become recipe testers. You made this book better.
Thanks to Alessia A, Alessia M, Anna, Anna Giulia, Benedetta, Chiara M, Chiara T, Cristina, Deborah, Elena F, Elena O, Elena S, Emanuela, Enrica, Erika, Fabiana, Franco, Gaia, Gianluca, Heather, Irene, Lara, Laura, Lidia, Lorella, Lorenza, Mariagrazia, Marica, Marilù, Martina, Melissa, Michelle, Monica, Ottavia, Patrizia, Piyanut, Rosemarie, Rossella, Sara, Simonetta, Stefania, Tamara, Valentina D, Valentina P, Veruschka, Virginia and Yu Qiong who enthusiastically welcomed my call for help, giving me a big help to test all the recipes in the book so that they could work well in any kitchen.
From the markets of Tuscany: A cookbook
The English version, From the Markets of Tuscany: A cookbook, is available from the 19th of April in Italy and from the 1st of June in Europa, US and Canada. A huge and heartfelt thank you to Amy Gulick who did a priceless and excellent job in translating the book in English!
And eventually, them…
The faces of the people at the market: farmers, producers, butchers, fishmongers and fishermen, vendors, bakers and confectioners, generous and enthusiastic. They are the true rock stars!