Emiko Davies is a rare triple-threat in the culinary world. On her personal blog and in her column for the website Food52, the cook, writer, and photographer employs her full range of skills to tell stories about food that are richly evocative of the cultures from which they spring.
The same goes for her debut cookbook, Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence (Hardie Grant Books), which she wrote, photographed, developed recipes for. In it, Davies finds narrative threads that can tie even the simplest recipe to a fascinating aspect of art history, the culture of the city, or her personal connection to an ingredient or dish. In her hands, the cookbook goes from a utilitarian guide to something that can be as transportative as a novel.
The book is divided into five chapters, jumping from pastry and bakery specialties to the humble trattoria food and meat dishes that Florence is best known for. "Florentine cuisine is down to earth, unfussy, and you don't need to dirty too many pots to make a meal," says Davies. "The food is naturally really easy to make at home."
Her favorite aspect of the food culture in Florence is the emphasis on fresh, in-season ingredients. "The seasons play such an important role in how and what things are eaten—and not just fruit and vegetables," she says. "I wait all year for September to roll around just so I can pop into the bakery to pick up a slice of schiacciata all'uva, a not-too-sweet focaccia with dark, oozy wine grapes. It's sticky, delicious, and [its star ingredient is a nod to] the main thing happening at that time of year—the grape harvest for wineries all over Tuscany."
Here, Davies shares a Panzanella recipe from Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence. (Fun fact: 16th-century Florentine painter Bronzino once wrote a poem about this classic salad.)
Panzanella (Tomato and Bread Salad)
9 to 10½ ounces stale country-style bread (ideally a few days old)
½ red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup red-wine vinegar
2 small cucumbers
1 large handful arugula, rinsed and dried
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
20 basil leaves, torn
How to Make It
Prepare the Bread
Remove the crusts from the bread and cut the bread into chunks. Put the bread chunks in a sieve and pass them under running water briefly to moisten. Squeeze out any excess liquid, then let the bread sit in the sieve for 10–15 minutes until springy. Crumble it into a large bowl.
Prep the Vegetables
Place the red onion in a small bowl with half the vinegar and cover with cold water. Set aside while you put together the rest of the salad. Quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Chop into 2 cm pieces. Peel the cucumbers, slice them lengthways, and spoon out the seeds with a teaspoon. Chop into pieces.
Drain the onions and place in the bowl with the bread. Add the tomato, cucumber and rocket. Season with salt and pepper, and dress in the olive oil and the rest of the red wine vinegar. Toss to combine. Add the basil leaves just before serving.
Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence (Hardie Grant Books), $25, barnesandnoble.com.