Florentine by Emiko Davies

Oh my, this is a properly beautiful book.

When I say it is like a book from a different age, from the 60s, from my mother’s shelf, say, I mean that in the very best way imaginable. This sort of design and presentation is enough to make me dizzy; from the orange paper edges, the paper quality itself, the use of fonts … it has a kind of timeless visual appeal and tactile folio sensibility that restores my faith in the survival of printed books.

Even the smell of the book is exquisite.

An extended love letter to Florence, its people, places and history – and above all else, its “earthy and rustic, at times even austere food” – Florentine is part cookbook, part cultural exploration of this amazing city. The photographs throughout are stunning, and I love both the full panels and smaller detail – and the overall variation in styles that means the presentation of the book is not predictable, but has a natural, album-like approach that is incredibly endearing.

Did I say this book was exquisite? Did I?

And the food, this incredible food. I have never been to Florence, but if ever it has been brought to life through the celebration of its cuisine, this must be it. The writing has a kind of intense veracity to it, and seems to get completely under the skin of this economic and delicious cooking.

I love in particular the opening section, La Pasticceria (The Pastry Shop) with page after page of doughnuts, cakes & tarts. There is a photograph of a Zuccotto, a ricotta and chocolate sponge, that leaps out at me in its glorious pinkness, like some extravagant anemone framed by its marble background. It really is like something from the very table of Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Of course, quite a bit of this book – a lot probably – is out of my skillset, and likely the reach of my local shop. But that is not the point – this is a kind of elevated cookery writing that is still a book about how to make things, and an introduction to a way of cooking, but is also as vivid a voyage as any travel writing. It’s wonderful.

And I will cook lots from it. I have already made the Fagioli all‘Uccelleto (Beans in Tomato Sauce) which is exceptionally simple, and yet, and yet, in its execution has a kind of magical interaction of the least ingredients that has you shaking your head at the depth of the final result. Likewise, I made the Braciole Rifatte (Crumbed Beef in Tomato Sauce) which – with the exception of wishing I’d bought better meat – is the kind of rich super-filling broad dish that you dream about. These are brilliant recipes.

I love the no-nonsense truth of it all, too. “For those who like their meat well done, ” she says of the bloody Florentine Bistecca, “there are two options: either be adventurous and try this as it should be eaten, or eat something else.”

Class.

At the back of the book, there is an address book. An address book for those lucky enough to head out to Florence and sample these wonders at first hand – the wine bars, the panini spots, the Gelaterie … And, if you want to read into the background of Florentine‘s world, Davies has both a detailed glossary, and further references. Such is the impact of this passionate book, that I’m very inclined to follow these, and read more.

From the Florentine-Style Peas to the Polenta with Tuscan Kale, from the photograph of the wine windows to the step by step images of the building of Cornetti … from the story of the Renaissance Supper Club to the story of Emiko Davies herself … this book is superb.

“In Florence,” she writes, “history has a way of weaving itself through every aspect of life, and food is no exception.”

This outstanding book very much is an exception and quite easily my favourite cookbook this year so far.

Did I mention it was exquisite?