One of the highlights of my life was a week spent at Villa di Zano in Greve in Chianti, in May of 1985. I was part of a contingent of press who were invited to preview Giovanna Folonari’s cooking school, “The Ruffino Tuscan Experience.” It was a week spent touring the finest restaurants in Florence, watching cooking demonstrations, drinking great wine, and soaking in the incredible hospitality that seems to come so naturally to Italians. We also had the pleasure of dining with Robert Mondavi at Villa di Zano and at Enoteca Pinchiorri, and attending Antinori’s 600th anniversary party.
After all the high living, we went away with the memories and a sheaf of xeroxed recipes. Over the years I’ve dipped into those recipes on numerous occasions. I even pulled one out for Epicurean magazine’s premier issue, for a recipe incorporating pine nuts. The xeroxed copies are dog-eared and stained, but I keep turning back to them because they are some of the tastiest and easiest recipes I’ve ever come across. Italian cooking in general, and Tuscan cooking in particular, is gratefully simple. Hallelujah! These are recipes that any of us can recreate in his or her kitchen. Over the years of running the “Ruffino Tuscan Experience,” Giovanna’s students often cajoled her to write a cookbook. With typical modesty she resisted for a dozen years, but finally realized the value in setting these recipes down in print. Some are family recipes, others have been passed on by friends and acquaintances from all over Italy.
Chianti Family Cooking presents over 100 recipes covering the full spectrum from Antipasti to desserts. The best cookbooks have a few things in common-recipes that are easy to follow and prepare, and photographs to entice your taste buds and your sense of artistry. In this Giovanna is in perfect sympathy with my own view of cookbooks. As she writes in the forward, “For me, photographs are (or should be) a crucial element in learning the art of cooking. Whenever I try a new recipe from a cookbook, magazine, or newspaper, the end result must appear exactly as it does in the picture. This accomplishment always gives me a sense of security in cooking.” I couldn’t agree more. The only element lacking is anecdotal comment on the origin of the recipes and some of the fabulous meals at which they’ve been served. But as a guide to Tuscan cooking, this book is a gem that should be in every cook’s kitchen. Over the dozen years since it’s publication, my copy of Chianti Family Cooking has become dog-eared and lovingly stained. Master these simple recipes and you can recreate your own Tuscan experience, if only for an evening.