Books for your Kitchen – “Recipes from an Italian summer”

This is the time of the year I miss home the most… it almost hurts.
This is the time of the year that I always lived the Tuscan country side at its best!

For me and my whole family, living in the lush hills just above Florence is always been a given, my great grandfather really spoiled us! Now that I spend most of the year in Los Angeles with Deb and the girls, I do realize how my growing up has been kind of magnificent… it is a very frustrating struggle now, to try re-create a somewhat close experience for my kids here, in one of the biggest metropolis of the world.
Summer is around the corner, and all I can think of is the old vegetable garden in Fiesole that my grandmother Lola taught me how to grow and harvest… I remember wicker baskets and wood boxes being filled up daily with every kind of vegetables… without any preference, we used to pick what was ripe in the morning, and we would decide how to prepare it. Were we going to use the fresh Zucchini in a salad for lunch, or could we make a risotto in the evening?

Me: “Please Nonna, can we fry the Zucchini Flowers for lunch?”
Lola: “Yes, but let’s hurry up before Nonno comes back from work, otherwise he’ll throw his usual fit about using beer batter instead of my mom’s recipe!”

I also remember playing with chicken and chicks; it was amazing to me how my grandmother was able to know her birds by name, all of them. It was a coup of about 20 very proud animals, all shiny white with red and yellow beak, strolling around with their chest pushed out, running to Lola every time they saw her… Either to be fed, or to have their neck pulled, I could not figure out why all that love for Nonna.

Dumb beautiful birds, they really could not register and process the chain of events!
They were food, nothing more, food that was “grown” with love, devotion and a daily attention; I personally always thought they also were a great decoration for the kitchen door, when they were hanging upside down, before we started working on them.
Oh, what a digression here…

All I will be thinking today will be the old chicken coup I want to fix and put back to work in Fiesole; I cannot wait to see Deborah chase the birds out of her laundry line, or maybe cook me some fresh eggs in the morning, before I get out to go check the fields.

Today I feel at home in Tuscany, even if I live one block from one of the biggest malls I’ve ever seen in my life!
Today I have a clean kitchen counter! A new cookbook is wide open on the old tiles, a few recipes are marked with coffee stained post-its. I am armed with a notepad and a pencil for the third time this week, getting ready to hit the Farmers’ Market, once I’ve made my decision about what to cook tonight… Will call the wife, toss around a couple of ideas…
Today I am happy, and I thank my new cookbook: “Recipes from an Italian Summer” (Phaidon Press NYC).

For the past few days I immersed myself in it, and truly had a lot of fun.
This collection of recipes from Center and Southern Italy should be your kitchen calendar for this summer.
Selected from the archives of the renowned Silver Spoon Kitchen, with information about everything seasonal and written in a classic instructional humble style, this publication should be in your hands from now on, at any given summer!
The book is well structured and easy to navigate, which is very important when you are trying to get a whole menu together and not just find a recipe; from Picnics to Barbecue to Ice Creams and Frozen Desserts, just plain fun.
Summer in Italy offers the simplest cuisine you can imagine, it is all about the fresh salads and the abundance of fruit, it is about the family dining under the porch at night, pushing away the dog that under the table is licking everybody’s ankle, hoping to come across something better…
Recipes From an Italian Summer will transport and inspire you to hit the closest Farmers’ Market, it will finally make you wash the outdoor furniture and decide to start living it up, wherever you are… Do not worry if you have no garden, spread open your kitchen windows, turn on the radio and tune in the World Soccer Cup, now you are a Super Tuscan!!!
Prepare yourself a light Beet Salad, a Calendula Risotto, and if you by any chance have some Borage flowers growing in your garden or in that old pot on the fire escape out your window, you really should fry them!
My kids obviously already forced me to mark a few Semifreddo and Fruit Cream Desserts, and because they are both graduating at school this week, they were clear in pointing out to me that they deserve all the ice cream they will be asking for… so I guess I have to start making room in the freezer.
The photography is also a nice element of the book, non intrusive and not polished… Photography in cookbooks should always be encouraging and not intimidating. This book respects you!
I never really reviewed a cook book before, so I really do not have a format here, but rather than start finding adjectives for the recipes I cooked this past week, I’d rather praise the way this book made me feel, and what I hope you can get from it in case you decide to buy it.
You do not need to be a good cook to enjoy your summer to the fullest, just this book and some good Extra Virgin Olive Oil!
I always encourage using any recipe, new or old, as an inspiration rather than a goal to achieve, unless obviously you are baking. Be confident and be personal, at the end you are in your kitchen, maybe you are feeding your kids or your friends; nourish your senses and satisfy your appetite with the flavors and food you like, but stay healthy and be aware of what you eat.
The good thing of cook books is that does not matter how good they are, they do not make that many movies about them!
You can imagine and re-imagine the food you read and cook, you can own it!
This to me is the strongest asset of “Recipes from an Italian Summer”. This book offers great simple ideas to spark a conversation about the Summer Food that comes from my land, and it does it well. Applause!

Today I feel like home in Tuscany, my Girls are happy, and we will soon be baking an Apricot Cake, page 315.
Until next time,
Ciao

Gabriele