Travel to Tuscany from home through “Love in a Tuscan Kitchen”

Photo courtesy of Sheryl Ness
Photo courtesy of Sheryl Ness

Travel to Tuscany from home through “Love in a Tuscan Kitchen”

by Anna Bagiackas
Stripes Europe

I don’t know about you, but when I think of Tuscany, Italy, I imagine biking along old country roads, sun shining, olive trees and grape vines on either side of the lane, with a large basket overflowing with fresh tomatoes, crusty bread, beautiful figs and a bottle of Chianti. Can’t you just picture it? I have never been to Tuscany, so it is on my bucket list of places to go.

When my dream trip was cancelled due to the pandemic, my disappointment faded slightly when I remembered I had a new book on my shelf about a Tuscan love story: “Love in a Tuscan Kitchen: Savoring Life Through the Romance, Recipes and Traditions of Italy” by Sheryl Ness.

I know it’s such a cliche to “travel through books,” but that cliche has never been so relevant, or tempting—especially when it includes romance, Italy and tales of amazing food. I’m in.

I met Sheryl and Vincenzo while on a trip to their new home in Rochester, Minnesota, where they hosted a holiday dinner called “A Night in Italy.” Vincenzo cooked us a meal of lemon and rosemary potato tartlets, eggplant parmigiana and tiramisu, and we peppered him and his wife Sheryl with questions about each of the dishes, what they ate at home and how Vincenzo—an Italian chef—was adapting to life in America.

Sheryl and Vincenzo were warm and welcoming, so I couldn’t wait to grab a copy of her book and learn more about their story.

The book shares the journey of a Minnesota nurse first falling in love with Italy and then falling in love with a Tuscan chef and moving to the village of San Gusme, located in the Chianti region nearest to the cities of Siena and Florence. Her story truly takes the reader into the daily life of this dreamy part of the world, including its history, customs and people, as well as the challenges of modern day living.

You meet a number of men and women who have lived in the village their entire lives and learn about how the townspeople come together and share duties for annual festivals, weddings and everyday tasks. You learn what it is like during the quiet, non-touristy months and how younger generations are carrying on age-old traditions, such as harvesting grapes and olives for wine and oil each year and keeping historical villas and farms alive.

Traveling south from San Gusme, you also get to experience Abruzzo, Italy, where Vincenzo’s family is from. As with many Italian regions, Abruzzo has its own unique traditions and culinary specialties and you learn about what holidays, weddings and other celebrations consist of (hint: so much delicious food!).

While you read about the more glamourous parts of this love story, Sheryl is also honest and authentic in sharing the challenges that come with following your heart—no matter where you are.

The book includes 35+ recipes from Sheryl and Vincenzo’s kitchen, his San Gusme restaurant and his mother’s Abruzzo home, including hearty Tuscan Ribollita soup, lavender and ginger biscotti, Cacio e pepe and even the chocolate “love” cake that brought the couple together.

While we are all spending more time at home, dreaming about trips we planned or want to plan, “Love in a Tuscan Kitchen” is a way to experience life in small-town Tuscany and inspire ideas for future Italian adventures. Even though I can’t bike those beautiful country roads with my fresh vegetables and Chianti, I have bookmarked most of the recipes so I can still eat like I’m in Tuscany!


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