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Under the Tuscan sun

(article, Liz Crain)

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Ilva Beretta is originally from Sweden. But since 1994 she's lived in a small village in northern Tuscany where, she claims, "once upon a time, they tell me, there was a restaurant here." 

Two years ago, Beretta started her stunningly photographed food blog, Lucullian Delights, as a way to communicate with people beyond her rural community. Her blog includes the food that she prepares for her family, which often incorporates local ingredients and fresh herbs. 

[%image ilva float=left credit="Photo courtesy Ilva Beretta" caption="Ilva Beretta"]
p(blue). Blog: Lucullian Delights 
Average posts per month: 50
Blogger: Ilva Beretta
Age: 47
Blog place of origin: On the hills outside Pistoia in Tuscany, Italy
On her blog, Beretta has an endearingly earnest and forthright tone. She regularly adds dollops of emotion and introspection to her posts. In fact, she recently wrote about a wonderful dream she had about fellow food blogger Pille Petersoo of Nami-Nami.
How would you characterize the food of Tuscany, particularly in the area where you live?  
Meat! They eat a lot of meat here, and sometimes when I’m at the butcher’s I’m amazed by the amount people buy. Small and skinny grandmothers buy kilos and kilos of meat, and I often wonder how they manage to bring it home on their own. 
Tuscan food is quite rustic and I think it’s very good winter food. I prefer food from the south in the summer, although nothing beats a pappa al pomodoro or panzanella when it’s hot.
You write fondly of your butcher; what's he like?
Oh, Tiziano is wonderful! He has a no-frills butcher store where he sells the best meat I've ever eaten. His salsicce are divine and he makes wonderful salami, not to mention his finocchiona, a typical Tuscan salami with fennel seeds. I really understand why people come from far away to buy their meat from him. 

[%image panzanella float=left width=300 credit="Photo courtesy Ilva Beretta" caption="Panzanella (bread salad)"]
Where do you source your other foods? 
I shop at the market in Pistoia, in supermarkets, or in the shop in the village closest to us. During the summer and early autumn, my neighbors often give us fruit and vegetables, which are obviously the best that we eat.
Where do you get your peperoncinos and how do you like to prepare them?
The best ones I buy in a great little shop in the middle of Pistoia where they sell Calabrian peperoncinos, the best in Italy. I buy them dried. They are quite small but very, very hot. Sometimes I buy fresh peperoncinos, but they are never as good as my Calabrian ones.
What types of professional photography do you do?  
Right now I’m working on a big commission of photos for a food encyclopedia by a Canadian editor, but I also sell photos for calendars and for websites as well. I really enjoy food photography, even though I’m not into food styling as much as food bloggers like Lara Ferroni or Béatrice Peltre who are very talented food stylists as well as photographers. I'm working on a personal food project that hopefully will result in something soon.
Do you have any other jobs?
I have a Ph.D. in English Renaissance poetry, and I used to teach history of book illustration at the University of Siena before I decided to have our third and last child. I really love doing research and still get scholarships and grants for smaller projects, but photography is taking over more and more because it’s easier to combine with having a family and living in the country as we do. I can work my own hours and when it suits me.

You often cook with fresh herbs. Do you have an herb garden? 
Yes, I have fresh herbs right outside my kitchen door where I grow sage, rosemary, thyme, mint, lemon balm, lavender, and oregano. I realize that I am fortunate to have fresh herbs all year round, and it’s one of the things I really like about living where we do. 
If pressed, do you prefer Italian or Swedish food?  
Let’s put it like this: I definitely prefer Italian for everyday food, but I think that Swedish cakes and sweets are better. 

[%image promo-image float=right width=400 credit="Photo courtesy Ilva Beretta" caption="Sage-steamed snap beans with bell pepper, rucola, and pine nuts"]
Why do you participate in food-blog contests and events?  
I find it stimulating. The Paper Chef event forces you to be creative within the limits of the chosen ingredients. I am also a Daring Baker, which means that because of the monthly challenges, I’m forced to follow a recipe once a month. I usually cook without recipes, so it’s good exercise for me.

I also host a food-blog event about heart-healthy eating, The Heart of the Matter, together with Joanna Cary of Joanna’s Food. Food is so important for our health, so through this event we are building up a recipe base of heart-healthy food over at The Heart of the Matter blog so that readers can browse through all the entries we get for the round-ups.
What were your family meals like while growing up?
My mother disdained ready-made food; she grew up on a farm and always made genuine food for us. She was a great cook and I admire her very much. She taught me and my brother to cook, and I remember cooking dinner for the whole family from the age of 10. 
My father cooked as well, and he had certain types of dishes he made, but it was my mother who kept it all going. Dinners were quite formal etiquette-wise, but not in terms of discourse. There were always good discussions and friends were always welcome to join us at the table.


h1. Liz's favorite posts


1. Chocolate cake with whiskey and pine nuts
2. Sage-steamed snap beans with bell pepper, rucola, and pine nuts with a dash of balsamic vinegar
3. Rosemary lemon curd
4. Lime-braised Brussels sprouts
5. Show us your kitchen — The Roundup

What are your family meals like now, with your children and husband?
Chaotic, I would say. Someone is always complaining about not liking something that is being served because, with five in the family, it’s not easy to make everyone happy. A lot of talking and opinions, so much so that sometimes I think I’m going crazy when I have four people talking to me at the same time.
What foods will never be prepared in your kitchen?
I never cook hot dogs, ready-made food, etc. Well, sometimes I have to, because for certain occasions the children can choose what they want to eat. Until recently, they always chose ready-made food. 
It makes me feel real bad, especially when they were younger and had to write essays like “What I did for New Year's Eve” and such. They would write what they had eaten and it often looked as if we were feasting on great food and gave our children cheap ready-made. They obviously didn’t write that they had chosen it themselves.
What was the last meal that you prepared for your family?  
Yesterday I made fresh potato gnocchi for dinner. 
p(bio). Liz Crain is a writer based in Portland, Oregon.

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