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Piano, Piano, Pieno: Slow Food from a Tuscan Farm

by Susan McKenna Grant

The unusual title of Susan McKenna Grant’s new cookbook, Piano, Piano, Pieno, translates from the Italian as “Slowly, Slowly, Full.” It is a reference to Slow Food, a movement begun in Italy in 1986 aimed at preserving traditional gastronomy and agriculture.

At the turn of the millennium, Grant left a successful career in computer software development to study cooking in Europe, and she eventually moved from Toronto to Tuscany to buy a farm. Called La Petraia, the farm had lain dormant for 50 years, and Grant, her husband, Michael, and some locals resurrected it in the spirit of Slow Food as a place devoted to organic agriculture and the preservation of traditional Tuscan cuisine.

La Petraia now functions as an agriturisomo, offering meals and accommodations to travellers. Piano, Piano, Pieno presents recipes Grant makes using almost exclusively ingredients produced on that farm. Grant starts off with a superb, 60-page section on baking breads, including instructional photographs and a primer on starters. She offers such recipes as potato bread, sourdough, ciabatta, and pizza dough. From there, she devotes one chapter to each course in a traditional Italian meal.

The antipasti chapter contains such delights as Deep Fried Sage Leaves and Squash Blossoms, and Fried Bread with Lardo (seasoned and cured pork fat). For first courses there are recipes for soups, polenta, gnocchi, and hand-made pastas (with more instructional photos). Second courses are meats, such as rabbit, pigeon, and wild boar. There are also chapters on one-dish meals, such as Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce, and vegetable dishes like Yellow and Red Pepper Stew. The sweets chapter, which details three types of honey found on La Petraia – acacia blossom, chestnut, and dark forest – contains such recipes as Pistachio Praline Semifreddo, and Ricotta Tart. Finally, a chapter on preserves tells us how to make treats like Cherries in Grappa and Walnut Liqueur.

Throughout, Grant provides copious servings of Tuscan history, culinary technique, and organic food science. With a mix of black-and-white and colour photography (by husband Michael), a highly attractive layout, and a surprisingly extensive bibliography, the result is one of the most enjoyable and authoritative surveys of Tuscan food in recent years.