In a few lines how would you describe yourself?
I am a cook and food writer, juggling a young family. I wore many hats until I found that this suited me best — I studied Fine Art and art restoration, I used to teach darkroom photography and work in art galleries — because I didn’t know that my lifelong passion for food could actually become a career.
What brought you to Florence and what made you stay?
I came to Florence while I was studying my Fine Art degree — I loved the Renaissance and I wanted to spend some time studying abroad. I had my 21st birthday on that three month trip. Well after graduating, I couldn’t stop thinking about returning to Florence so I came back when I was 24, intending to spend one more year here. Then I met Marco, we got married a couple years later, and here we still are, 15 years later.
What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without?
Salt and olive oil. I’ve become very Tuscan when it comes to essentials and those simple basics that elevate even the simplest, humblest things and turn them into a meal — a slice of bread, or a chopped tomato for example.
What’s your go to recipe?
It’s hard to name just one, but it’s probably spaghetti con le vongole. It’s so simple, but it feels like a treat every time we have it. It’s one of the few things that everyone in the family loves, and because it reminds me of being on holiday it’s special enough to make even when guests are over.
Is there one particular recipe from your book Tortellini at Midnight (a book about recipes passed down through the generations) that you will want to pass along to your daughters and hope they will one day pass along to their children?
I wrote that whole book hoping that one day my daughters will treat it like an heirloom! But if I had to pick one recipe, it would be Nonna Anna’s polpette. Anna, who would be their great-great-grandmother, was a noblewoman from Taranto, Puglia, who ran away with the postman and was kicked out of the family. They eventually moved to Turin with their five children. Even today my Tuscan mother in law still makes Nonna Anna’s polpette, which are classic, juicy Pugliese meatballs browned in olive oil then cooked in a tomato sauce with pancetta and onion. It’s a family recipe that has stood the test of time and geography!
Sweet or Savory? What’s your favorite Torta from your most recent book “Torta Della Nonna”?
I have a sweet tooth and love baking cakes! One of the cakes I love making from there is the torta di mele, the apple cake. It’s just a simple, every day kind of cake, homely and comforting, that everyone loves. But if I have to make a cake for someone or a special occasion, it’s the torta di pere e cioccolato, a rich, flourless chocolate cake with poached pears on top.
What’s the one Italian habit you made your own?
Before I moved to Florence, I never drank coffee, I was a tea person. But I very quickly learned I would have to pick up the habit of taking espresso at the bar — have you ever tried ordering tea at the bar?! Rookie mistake! Now I can’t get on with the day unless it begins with an espresso, made with a moka at home or taken standing at the bar.
Who’s your main source of inspiration?
I find inspiration in many different places. I’ve always loved history so looking back to the past is something I constantly do — I like the food writing of Elizabeth David, Patience Gray and MFK Fisher because it’s so much more than just about a recipe, but also about travel, a place, a way of life, culture. I also love picking up Artusi’s Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well and cooking from it. My blog began that way and his book is never far from reach. Some contemporaries who inspire me are Olia Hercules, Hetty McKinnon, Aran Goyoaga, Tessa Kiros, Irene Berni and Danielle Alvarez, to name just a few!
A couple of your favorite restaurants, cafes or aperitivi spots in Florence?
Dolci e Dolcezze for coffee and a custardy budino di riso or a dainty panino, aperitivo in the incomparable Renaissance garden of the Four Seasons or in the tiny Piazza Rossi at Le Volpi e L’uva for a glass of wine and some crostoni. I love Trattoria Sostanza when I want something completely old school – they’ve had the same menu for the good part of a century – and Il Nugolo for the new style of Florentine restaurants where the menu is ingredient (they grow 200 different varieties of tomatoes in their kitchen garden in Settignano!) and technique-driven.
Your favorite weekend getaway?
Maremma – it has the sea, rustic countryside, wild mountains, good food. A 2 hour drive from Florence we can get to a little paradise where we have forever left a piece of our hearts, Monte Argentario. We lived there in 2015 when Marco was head sommelier at Il Pellicano and we have not stopped talking about it or wanting to go back any chance we get! Giglio island is another special place for us and we love taking the ferry there from Argentario and spending a bit of time hidden away on a vineyard there.
How would you describe Italy in one sentence?
My relationship with Italy is like a love affair: the beauty and charm draw you in and even though there are things that drive you crazy once you get to know it, it’s impossible to not be in love.