Cookbook Review: Love in a Tuscan Kitchen by Sheryl Ness

Note: I received a digital advance reader copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I remember the first time I saw the rolling hills of Tuscany on a bus to San Gimignano. Sun, olive groves, and perfect fields as far as the eye could see. I fell in love immediately. 8 years later, I'm about to leave for my honeymoon in Tuscany in a couple of months, and I came across this book on Netgalley, which is like every one of my fantasies come to life.

Sheryl Ness captures what it's like to fall in love with this beautiful land, but with the added twist of also falling in love with an Italian chef in the process. She has a love story fit for a Hollywood movie. She set aside her conventional life in the US for a sabbatical in Tuscany, and while asking a small town chef for his hot chocolate cake recipe, she made a connection that would turn into a passionate romance and a happy marriage. It's the stuff of dreams, but it's also her real life. What a lucky lady!

She documents it all, from her start as a nurse in Minnesota to her new life as a chef's wife in a tiny town in Chianti to moving back to Minnesota with her husband. Sprinkled throughout are authentic Tuscan recipes from her husband, her mother-in-law, and various other important people that she encountered along the way. There are recipes for an authentic Tuscan ragu, gnocchi, her husband's famous celebration cake, pizzelle, ribollita, and of course, the hot chocolate cakes that started it all.

The focal point, however, is her story, which she writes in great detail. You almost feel like you're in her tiny Italian apartment with her. Her writing is unfussy and approachable, as if you're reading a letter that a friend wrote you. I'd say it sometimes goes into too much detail, to the point where I was skipping through pages to get to the good stuff (like how she met her husband!), but if you want to know every detail about her in-law's house in Abruzzo or her three weddings (!!!) or the local townspeople, it's all in there.

While the recipes are delightfully authentic and show up on the menus of trattorias throughout Tuscany, I really wish they weren't printed in the book on faux "hand-written" recipe cards. With the e-book format that I read, it was very difficult to make out the writing, and I wish they had just typed out the recipes the regular way. Not to mention, it sometimes takes 3-4 of the "cards" to get through one recipe, which gets exhausting to have to follow. Also, there really needed to be more pictures besides the rare little ones provided. I understand that the romance novel aspect of this book doesn't necessitate pictures, but her descriptions of San Gusme were so vivid that I wished I could see it myself.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It captures a lot of the romance of flinging yourself into a new adventure and a new love, while also accurately depicting the humble, warm, down-to-earth spirit of Tuscany. Give it as a gift to your friend after he/she comes back from their Tuscan trip. It'll be a book that I'm sure to go back to and cook from as well.

Overall Rating: 4/5 stars

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