Ciao Andrew! It has been a pleasure reading your novel, Cucina Tipica, about my favorite topics – food, wine & Italy. I’d love to take this opportunity to ask you a few questions so we can all get to know you a little better.
We have a lot in common, a love of Italy, food, writing and I see you are also an educator as well. Tell us a little more about yourself, including your Italian heritage.
Ciao, Kelly! Thanks so much for the Apertivo Chat! It’s great to be with you. And, yeah, we do have a lot in common. I’m 100% Italian American from a pretty big New York area family; my strongest connection to this heritage was the food: feasts every Sunday at my grandparents and on certain holidays where we ate just as much but less like peasants. I learned to cook from my mother who was into more than just typical Italian-American fare, and from this grew a love of cuisine/wine from all over the peninsula, especially the central regions. This love became so profound that I vowed to live there during my first visit to Venice – Florence – Rome .
What inspired you to choose Italy, and Tuscany in particular, as the setting of your novel?
So, when I decided to live in Italy, which would be for one year, I chose Florence as it was the place that felt most exciting to me. While there, I was also embarking on my new career as a writer and, eventually, a teacher. I wrote most of what would be my first novel, The Domino Effect, while living in a barn in the hills directly south of Florence in the commune of Bagno a Ripoli. Upon return to the States, I wrote a lot about Italy for magazines/websites and eventually returned to Italy for a summer to teach travel writing in Rome at John Cabot University. It was while in Rome that I (finally) got the idea to set a novel in Italy. I used characters from my many experiences in Italy and set the story in the very barn and nearby area where I lived all those years before in Bagno a Ripoli. It’s very full circle for me.
Read more about the areas of Tuscany that inspired the setting of Cucina Tipica on Italy Magazine.
I love that each Italian region is so unique. Tuscany has such an allure. What are some food, customs, or other features that are unique to Tuscany? What are some of your favorite cities that you’ve visited and things you’ve done in Tuscany?
What makes Tuscany unique to me is the topography, those rolling hills studded with cypress trees or the more dramatic landscapes of the valleys where vineyards line the slopes topped with fortified locations, like Montalcino or Montepulciano, or the quaint villages through the region and especially in wine country. Of course, Florence is magical, a place I never grow tired of visiting. I don’t know if this counts as a custom, but I love how the people of Tuscany, especially Florentines, are so elegant.
Let’s talk food and wine. What cucina tipica do you recommend people try when they visit Italy? Do you have any favorite Italian wines?
The food is reflective of each region’s bounty, and I can only suggest the cucina tipica of where you are. In Tuscany, it is best exemplified, in my opinion, by ragus of cinghiale or lepre (hare) over pappardelle (maybe with some black truffles over the former), bistecca alla fiorentina, fried rabbit, pappa pomodoro, ribollita, panzanella salad, lardo, chicken liver pate…I could go on…
As far as wines go, again the region determines the choice, but if we’re talking Tuscany, I love all the Sangiovese-based wines, especially Chianti Classico Riserva, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The Super Tuscans sometimes blow me away, especially Sassicaia and Tignanello. Of course, local wine is always welcome.
If I were to eat/drink outside of my beloved Tuscany, it would be in Piedemonte. White truffles over tajarin (pasta) washed down with Barolo or Barbaresco…(don’t tell Tuscany).
I see you live in Brooklyn. I’ve been to NYC a few times, and have had some of the best culinary experiences in the US there, although I didn’t get to try any Italian food. Are there any Italian restaurants that you recommend for an authentic experience?
Kelly!!!! No Italian food when in New York?!? OK – next time you come, I’m taking you to eat. What’s nice is that Italian in New York can be high end or more casual. On the high side, my favorite is Maialino in the Gramercy Park Hotel. I also love La Carota and Bar Pitti, respectively, in the West Village. Out in Brooklyn we have Lilia in Williamsburg, Frankie’s Spuntino (by me) in Carroll Gardens, al di la in Park Slope, and – my new favorite – Lillo in Cobble Hill which is a hole in the wall with very few tables and authentic Roman fare.
If you want old school Italian-American, we can go to Dominick’s on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.