Friday, June 22, 2012

Book jacket photo by Steven Rothfeld, / photo of Frances Mayes and two others, taken at Bramasole, by Peggy Harrison,

"Food!  The obsesssion of every Tuscan."  -- Frances Mayes

My most recent interview with Frances Mayes ("Catching Up with Frances Mayes") appears in the current issue of Dream of Italy!  (If you are already a subscriber you've likely read it by now, and if you're not a subscriber, you should be!  Seriously, when you subscribe to DOI you become part of a passionate community of Italy enthusiasts, and in addition to the monthly newsletter you have access to the archive, receive some special discounts, etc., etc., plus Kathy maintains a blog which she updates daily.)  

Dream of Italy Founder, Editor, and Publisher, Kathy McCabe, still receives lots of queries about Frances from her readers, so the publication of a new book by Frances and her husband, Edward Mayes -- The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes From our Italian Kitchen (Clarkson Potter) -- seemed like an opportune moment for another interview (I interviewed Mayes in 2005 for Dream of Italy and I had the very great pleasure of meeting her at Bramasole when I was working on my Tuscany and Umbria book -- my interview with her appears on pages 160-169).   

Frances and Ed collected their favorite recipes for this book, and as Frances writes in the 'La Cucina' chapter, "If you came to visit me in Tuscany, we would cook the food described in this book."  What I didn't have space for in Dream of Italy is to mention some of the recipes I've had the chance to make over the last few months.  Here I can report to you that I had great success with the following:
*Chicken with Olives and Tomatoes (I didn't use the recipe for roasted tomato that appears on page 42, but rather I used one I'd cut out of some publication or another that simply calls for cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary)
*Farro Salad (double delicious if you love farro as much as I do)
*Fiorella's Red Pepper Tart (though Fiorella apparently purchases ready-made piecrusts, I don't, ever, after buying one once and it was horrible -- perhaps in Italy there are good quality crusts available; so I made the pate brisee crust in the first edition of Martha Stewart's Pies and Tarts, which has long been my go-to, never-fail, recipe though probably more authentic would be a pasta frolla (recipe on page 192) minus the sugar)
*Onion Soup in the Arezzo Style (as the recipe states, you eat this with a fork -- it gets baked in the oven and still comes out a little bit soupy)    
*Pici with Fresh Fava Beans (A friend had given me some pici pasta, unique to Tuscany, that she'd bought at O & Co. and this recipe was calling as I love, love, love fava beans)
*Green Beans with Black Olives (the recipe also calls for orange peel, which my husband absolutely detests, so I used lemon instead)
*Ed's Crostini Neri (I've made a fair number of recipes for this classic Tuscan starter of chicken liver on toast but I'm making this one exclusively from now on)

In truth, a number of recipes in the book are quite similar to those in other Tuscan or Italian cookbooks, so home cooks should not expect to find 150 unique recipes; but many feature a unique twist on a well-known favorite, and still others are from local places in and around Cortona and elsewhere in Tuscany that Ed and Frances particularly like, as well as from places like The Catering Company in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, run by Franca Dotti who is originally from Milan. 

I have bookmarked lots more pages with recipes, and I'll make them over the next few months.  But for me, this book is more about inspiration: I love reading about the seasonal rhythm at Bramasole; about local traditions; and about all the friends Frances and Ed have made in and around Cortona, notably Sylvia Regi at the lovely and trendsetting Relais Il Falconiere (Sylvia is pictured in my book on page 499) and Ann Cornelisen, author of a treasured book, Torregreca: Life, Death, and Miracles in a Southern Italian Village, originally published in 1969 and reissued by Steerforth Italia in 1998; Frances loves it also as she wrote the Foreword to the Steerforth edition.  I also love looking at the photographs of the tables set alfreso, and as I note in my Dream of Italy piece, I love that the label for Bramasole's olive oil features a detail from 'The Birth of the Baptist' fresco in the Cappella Tornabuoni in Santa Maria Novella by Ghirlandaio. I'm sorry to say I haven't yet tried Bramasole oil, but I'm now hugely anticipating it.  The oil is only available by mail order -- essentially you become a member of the Bramasole convivium and commit to purchase the oil in advance of the harvest.  Ed and Frances only import the amount of oil that has been pre-purchased, and it's not available in retail stores (I suppose it might be at some point in the future, but not now).  For all the details about the oil and for ordering, browse  

Perhaps the best reason for reading and cooking from this book is expressed by Frances: "Most recipes are simple and the few that are not are fun.  This is real Tuscan food from a small hill town we have grown to love as home.  Because of our  many years here, we've had the great luck to learn about Tuscan food from the inside, not as visitors...what I hope becomes real for you is the astonishing range of Tuscan food, and the sense of joy that permeates the Tuscan kitchen."   



  1. Love the photos! Plus I live the interview you did with Frances Mayes for Brava!

  2. Well, as usual (and I've read nearly all of your books), you're Quite Right, Ms. Kerper.

    Frances gave me a copy of the cookbook when it first appeared (the day before it officially appeared, actually), and I instantly knew that this would be my go-to present for friends and family over the coming year. As I wrote in a review, "The Tuscan Sun Cookbook" isn't to be mistaken for an exhaustive (which, more often than not, becomes merely exhausting)academic compendium of Italian Cuisine. Presumably, there are masses of cowed readers who will agree with me that God sent Marcella Hazan and her strict-skoolmarming ways to provide the latter sort of books.

    By contrast, "The Tuscan Sun Cookbook" is refreshingly joyful (a word I use sparingly, but mean sincerely in this case). Frances and Ed's book invites (another cliche I try to use sparingly)readers to begin cooking, eating, and entertaining in a way that just might, if the reader is lucky, become second-nature to them. In short, and as you wrote, it's "inspirational" in the best way a cookbook can be.

    Basically? Like Julia Child's marvelously HELPFUL "The Way to Cook" and Robert Arbor's "Joie de Vivre", the Mayes' book is fun, encouraging, and (best of all) generously-spirited.

    I'll look forward to reading your interview with Frances once I've figured out how to navigate the website for the magazine (I just tried to do so, but got befuddled).

    Gratifyingly enough, I've just become Frances and Ed's neighbor, having bought a 220 year old house up the road from them.

    Incidentally?....a recommendation in one of your books (I depend on your "sugested reading" lists at the end of each chapter) sent me to buying and reading "The Guns of August". thanks as ever for your own very fine and encouraging books.

    If I'm correct, your recommendation mentioned that you hadn't cited the book in the first edition, since it was hidden behind the second-row of books on each bookshelf in your house, and you'd simply forgotten that it existed.

    I know the feeling. I spent NINE hours yesterday, going through 28 boxes of just-moved books and trying to figure out where they were to go in this old house. As of right now (and this is after having finally and simply thrown-out practically every gradskool tome on Literary theory)they're just lined up in hallways. At least they're in alphabetical order and dusted, which is sort of a comfort....


    david Terry