Not an encyclopedia. Not a lush tabletop book oozing over-saturated color photography. No overwrought oratories reiterating the praises of bella toscana. My endlessly exuberant friend Judy Witts Francini’s new book of recipes – just recipes – is the result of living in Italy for not years, but decades, cooking non-stop, exploring the mercati and chatting up every customer and vendor who strikes her fancy, refining, perfecting, and ultimately passing along all her knowledge to students and travelers on both sides of the pond.
This cookbook is a pleasure to consult, from its charming design featuring watercolor cover illustrations to the hand-written text. It’s obviously been created to be used, too: measurements have been converted from the metric, and a lined page faces each recipe for taking your own notes, and there are options for enhancing or simplifying many of the almost 100 Tuscan dishes from antipasti to contorni. Judy’s intro, definitions, and recipes are straightforward and completely comprehensible — such as this tip offered decades ago by her mother-in-law: “Spend more time shopping and less time cooking” — making Secrets an ideal assistant for recreating the savory Tuscany of your travels in your own home.
Judy is a professional, but for me, what gives this book its credibility is that she has kept her Tuscan hubby’s tummy happy for over twenty-five years (see his “seal-of-approval” on the front cover). Unless you have had reason to hang out extensively with Italian men, you likely have little idea of what cucina means to them. If her marito was not happy with Judy’s cooking, he would either be cooking for her, or be eating elsewhere, period. If it’s good enough for him, it’s more than good enough for me.
Secrets from My Tuscan Kitchen is €20 plus shipping. You can order your autographed copy from her website and obtain a wealth of other info on cooking, her classes and groups, recommendations for restaurants and markets across the region and more at Judy’s website, divinacucina.com.