Monday, November 23, 2009


Many of your who read my blog alread know DIVINA CUCINA, aka Judy Witts Francini. Some of you may know her from the SLOW TRAV MESSAGE BOARD, or from her blog, OVER A TUSCAN STOVE, and a lucky few may have taken one of her cooking classes.  For those of you who don't know Judy or her work, I can tell you that Judy came to Italy over 25 years ago to stay for a few months.  Once here, she immediately knew it was home, and she's been here ever since! 
Judy's been cooking, teaching and sharing her love and knowledge of food on various message boards, websites, and of course her own website and blog for years, but now she's assembled some of her favorite recipes into a cookbook!  Even better, this second printing has a blank page next to each recipe so you can jot down your own notes about the recipe.  I recently received my copy of Judy's new cookbook, Secrets from My Tuscan Kitchen and I thought I'd share my impressions with you.

  To being with, Judy tells you everything you'll need to set up your Tuscan kitchen, and it's pretty much what you'd expect:  Bread, herbs, cheese, beans, wine vinegars, capers and more - but not too much more, because Tuscan cooking (much like here in Umbria!) is really a very simple affair. 

The recipes start out with the simplest of dishes - but dishes that require the best, freshest ingredients available!  "Fettunta" is simply taosted bread, spread with garlic, drizzed with oil and sprinkled with salt.  Adding chopped tomatoes and basil turns the fettunta into bruschetta!  And as simple as this sounds, when you use wonderful bread and spicy green extra virgin olive oil, if you serve this as an appetizer you might not ever want to move on to the first course. 

Or how about "Melanzane Marinate" - paper-thin slices of eggpant, sauteed, then sprinkled with minced garlic, crushed red chili pepper and a dash of salt - then topped with the best extra vrigin olive oil?  The bonus in this recipe is that you can use the spicy oil to top your fettunta, or pour over hot pasta!  Tuscan cooking makes the most of the simplest ingredients and wastes nothing!

One of my favorite Tuscan dishes, "Pappa al Pomodoro" (Tomato Bread Soup) uses stale bread to thicken the tomato broth, but if you're looking for something a little heartier, Judy's recipe for lasagna guides you step by step, from making your own pasta to prepapring the meat sauce and bechamel - and somehow it all seems so easy!  The results are so sinfully delicious that you'll wonder why you've never make your own pasta and meat sauce before! 

If you're intrested in learning how to make perfect risotto, gnocchi or polenta, you'll be surprised at how easy these dishes really are.  How about duck with orange sauce?  Oh, you thought that was a French dish?  Don't foget, it was the Medici's who taught the French to cook!  There's plenty of variety here - from pork to beef to chicken and even wild boar - you'll find plenty of interesting- yet easy to prepare - recipes.  Ever wondered how to make fried zucchini flowers, or what to do with fennel?  Judy has the answer.

And even though Italians aren't known for their sweet tooth, there's a large section devoted to authentic Tuscan desserts:  Crostatas, cakes and panna cotta, as well as the more traditional Tiramisu.  And a fun favorite, Chocolate Salami, which looks like a salami but is made from cocoa powder, cookie crumbs, eggs, sugar and butter! 

In addition to the wonderful recipes, easy to follow directions and plenty of room for notes, Secrets from My Tuscan Kitchen is printed in a type that makes it look handwritten, so you feel as if you've just discovered an Italian mama's personal, handwritten cookbook.  As you add your own notes and turn down the corners of the pages to mark your favorite recipes, in time this cookbook will become the one that you'll want to pass down from generation to generation.  After all, most of these recipes have been around for a very long time, simple and unchanged, and in time they'll become a part of your life too. 
If you're interested in ordering Judy's cookbook (and wouldn't this make a great gift?), you can order it HERE, and Judy will even autograph it if you like! 

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