When I was asked what I wanted my first cookbook to be about, I didn't even have to think twice: Florence. It is the place I've been calling home for eight years, the place where I fell in love, where I started my blog, and where I learned how to cook and eat like an Italian.
It's where everything started.
And aside from it being close to my heart, I think it also helped that we're talking about a beautiful city with wonderful, rustic, homey food that is fun and delicious to cook.
I wanted to write a book that represented all things Florentine, that told the story of these dishes and explained why they are tied specifically to Florence—why they're not just Tuscan or, even more broadly, Italian. I filled it with my photographs of the city, its pastry shops, bakeries, markets, trattorias, butcher shops, food trucks, and wine bars, and chose recipes that you're likely to find wherever you can eat well and like a Florentine.
Some of the recipes are inspired by dishes I order often when I go out to eat, like the ravioli filled with pear and ricotta, or the sausage and stracchino crostone, or favorite baked goods like a semolina and chocolate tart or sfogliatine (puff pastry pockets of thick pastry cream), which make a particularly Florentine breakfast when followed by hot espresso.
Some—like Carabaccia, an onion soup that was popular in the Renaissance—are inspired by historical references. It's harder to find on present-day menus in Florence, but supposedly Leonardo da Vinci was a fan, and the Florentine gastronome Catherine de Medici loved it so much she had her cooks make it for her in France (and this, the Florentines like to say, is where French onion soup was born).
Other recipes, such as the polpette di trippa (deep-fried tripe balls, guaranteed to convert anyone who is squeamish or indifferent about offal), were adapted from some favorites from Pellegrino Artusi's 1891 cookbook, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.
And many of the recipes were inspired by my husband Marco's family—in particular, his grandmother and his aunt, who gave me her recipe for Florentine tripe on the street one day. Marco himself put his stamp on the recipe for sugo toscano, a rich beef ragù.
It was a challenge to write traditional recipes for people who live outside of Italy, where I knew some of the ingredients were not going to be the same—the essential yet simple Italian ingredients like fresh ricotta, unsalted European butter, eggs (they're usually smaller in Italy than in the U.S.), and even the right flour for baking cornetti or schiacciata.
So I put a call out on my blog for recipe testers and got an enthusiastic response from readers as far as the U.S., India, Japan, and New Zealand.
I got every recipe re-tested several times by people in different parts of the world, an eye-opening experience that ended up influencing how almost every recipe was written and the notes I decided to include to help readers recreate these dishes at home, far away from Florence.
It was also useful as a preview of what people thought of the recipes and as a way to answer any questions. For someone used to writing a blog and having constantly updated comments, this gave me confidence about producing something as permanent as a book.
I read something Ruth Reichl wrote on her blog about recipe testers that sums up the experience perfectly: They are “the copyeditors of the food world," she says, “and as every writer knows, we'd be lost without copyeditors.”
I am forever grateful for the exchange and the feedback of these wonderful home cooks, who offered to test recipes and turn what, for me, might possibly have been the most daunting part of the cookbook writing process into the best part.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.
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