Italian Fare and AMORÉ! How one woman’s dream came true over chocolate cake


Sheryl Ness, The Chef’s Wife and author of “Love in a Tuscan Kitchen: Savoring Life Through the Romance, Recipes, and Traditions of Italy” shares my deep love of Italy and its food. I first met Sheryl and her husband, Vincenzo, this year when we entered their quaint, recently remodeled “Italianized” kitchen as Vincenzo was prepping the recipes below. I immediately had a connection to these two beautiful people, remembering my vacation to Italy in September 2017. After sampling the bruschetta, downing the risotto and finishing off the dessert, I was excited to start reading Sheryl’s book. Not only did these dishes remind me of Italy, but I could see the love Sheryl and Vincenzo had for each other just by being in their presence, and I wanted to learn more about their whirlwind romance in Italy. 


When I returned home that evening, I began reading the book with fervor and even emailed her later that night to tell Ness how much I was enjoying it. I also liked how she describes the book: “’Love in a Tuscan Kitchen’ is a different kind of love story. The book tells a story of my love for the people, traditions and foods of Italy first, then by chance, how I fell in love with a chef, Vincenzo,” states Ness.


“What I appreciate most about Italian food is that each dish is made with fresh, simple ingredients and created in a way that you can taste the love and care in each bite,” Ness tells me. I agree. The food in Italy is so simple and prepared with such love from whomever the chef is, that you savor every bite.


“Love in a Tuscan Kitchen” has been gaining admiring reviews, such as this from Midwest Book Review, June 2018: “A wonderfully entertaining, thoroughly engaging read with the added bonus of authentic ‘kitchen cook friendly’ recipes. ‘Love in a Tuscan Kitchen: Savoring Life Through the Romance, Recipes, and
Traditions of Italy’ is unreservedly recommended.”

If you love Italian food, want to visit Italy for the real stuff and just can’t right now, read this book—it will take you there. 

The description from the back cover will entice you to read it:
“This enchanting memoir will transport you to the cobblestone streets, lush hillsides dotted with grapevines and olive trees, and unique characters that create the backdrop for Sheryl’s Italian love story. ‘Love in a Tuscan Kitchen’ is sprinkled with traditional recipes she collected along the way and flavored with rich accounts of how her dreams were fulfilled many times over while living in a picturesque village in Chianti.” Recipes are from the book “Love in a Tuscan Kitchen: Savoring Life Through the Romance, Recipes, and Traditions of Italy.”


Risotto with Zucchini and Pistachios

  • 1–2 small zucchini, halved and sliced thin (or 1 cup of fresh vegetables, such as asparagus, mushrooms, peas)
  • 1–2 cloves of garlic (minced)
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1–2 vegetable bouillon cubes dissolved in boiling water (around 1–2 quarts)
  • 1 cup Carnaroli risotto rice (Hint: use ½ cup for every two people)
  • ½ cup white wine (cooking wine or regular white wine)
  • 4 Tbsp. butter
  • Salt (to taste)
  • 4 oz. Parmesan cheese (grated)
  • ½ cup chopped pistachios (unsalted)

Assemble all ingredients and start by sauteing the sliced zucchini and minced garlic in olive oil for 5–10 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside. 

Bring 2 quarts of water to boil. Add bouillon cubes to dissolve. You can also use canned, boxed or homemade vegetable stock for this. Broth should be warm when adding to the rice as it is cooking. Keep the broth close to the rice on the stove in order to ladle it easily into the rice as it is cooking. 

In a saute pan, warm 4 Tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat and add the rice. Stir 1–2 minutes until rice is slightly toasted. Next add the ½ cup of white wine and let the wine evaporate. As the wine evaporates, add one large ladle of broth and simmer the rice. Broth should cover the top of the rice. Keep the rice on medium to low heat to simmer while cooking. 

Every 2–3 minutes, add another ladle of broth to the rice and stir. It’s not necessary to stir constantly. Continue adding broth until the rice has cooked 10–12 minutes. This is the midpoint of cooking, and time to add the cooked zucchini. 

Next, add in the cooked zucchini (or other vegetables) and continue stirring and adding broth every few minutes. Test the rice at around 20 minutes to see if it is done. Normally, risotto rice takes 20–25 minutes to cook. Mixture should be creamy, white and tender (not hard inside) when you eat it. 

Once the rice is cooked, take off the heat and add in 4 Tbsp. of butter and 2 oz. of the grated cheese. Stir well and add salt to taste. If needed, add another ladle of broth depending on the consistency of the rice. It should be creamy, not runny and not too sticky. 

Spoon into individual bowls or plates for serving, grate remaining Parmesan cheese over the top along with 2 Tbsp. of the chopped pistachios and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (if you prefer). Serves 4.

Recipe note: Carnaroli or Arborio rice can be used to make risotto. You can find this in the dry goods area of the grocery store near other types of rice or in the Italian specialty area of the store.


Tomato Bruschetta 

  • 3–5 fresh tomatoes 
  • Olive oil (extra virgin) 
  • Salt 
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 3–5 sprigs of fresh basil leaves (torn into small pieces)
  • 1 loaf of Italian bread or French baguette (sliced) 

Slice the fresh tomatoes, reserving the seeds. Add to bowl and drizzle with olive oil (enough to just cover the tomatoes). Sprinkle salt to taste and stir together. Add the torn fresh basil leaves and let sit for a few minutes. 

Next toast the bread slices in the oven at 425° (or on the grill) until just brown, around 5–6 minutes. While the bread is warm, rub the garlic clove over each side of the toasted bread. Spoon the tomato, basil and oil mixture over the top and serve. Serves 4. 

Recipe note: When making tomato bruschetta for a larger group, estimate one tomato per person and adjust the rest of the ingredients accordingly.


Tortino di Cioccolato (Hot Chocolate “Love” Cake) 

Chef Vincenzo Giangiordano 

  • 6 oz. dark chocolate, chopped (use 60–70 percent chocolate) 
  • 10 Tbsp. unsalted butter 
  • 3 large eggs 
  • ½ cup sugar 
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour 
  • 1 Tbsp. cocoa powder 
  • 1 tsp. baking powder 
  • ½ tsp. salt 

Preheat oven to 375°

Melt together the butter and chocolate in bowl over a water bath. You can create a water bath by placing a glass or metal bowl above a medium saucepan filled with water (half full). Warm the water over medium heat. The water should not be touching the bottom of the bowl. Set aside the melted chocolate to cool slightly. You can also use the microwave on 50 percent power for 1–2 minutes to melt the chocolate and butter together in a glass bowl. 

Beat the eggs and sugar together well with a hand or stand mixer on medium until the mixture is creamy and light yellow—around 3–4 minutes. Slowly add the melted chocolate mixture (a little at a time) to the egg/sugar mixture. 

Next add the dry ingredients: flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Mix by hand with a whisk for 1–2 minutes until the mixture is smooth. 

Spray 10 individual ramekins (4–6 oz. size) with spray oil or coat the inside well with butter. Pour the chocolate mixture into the ramekins, filling about ¾ full. 

Bake cakes at 375° for 10–12 minutes (it’s better to undercook than overcook these, the middle should remain a bit melted). Turn the ramekins upside down on a small plate to turn out each individual cake. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream and berries. Makes 8–10 cakes. 


Dawn Sanborn is a professional photographer, world traveler, food lover and a hopeless romantic.