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Holly Ebel: From Tuscany, with love

Rochester's Sheryl Ness, a Kasson native, isfulfilling a food mission through herbook "Love in a Tuscan Kitchen."

Sheryl Ness and her husband, Vincenzo Giangiordano, prepare chocolate love cake for the 125 Live CookBook Club from her book "Love in a Tuscan Kitchen: Romance, Recipes, and Traditions of Italy" at 125 Live in Rochester.

By now, a good many of you have heard of, read about, even tasted some of the recipes from the book "Love in a Tuscan Kitchen."

If you haven’t, you soon will, because word-of-mouth and the efforts of the author are turning this treasure into a best-seller.

A cross between a cookbook and a memoir, it was written by Sheryl Ness, a Kasson native. It details the author’s search for "something," which she ultimately finds, fueled by chocolate cake, in a Tuscany kitchen.

Feeling restless after 30 years of working as a nurse at Mayo Clinic, Ness seized on an opportunity to go to Italy. So with a friend and as part of a small tour group (they were the only ones, it turns out), they took off to explore the people, the country and the cuisine.

So taken was Ness with the country, Tuscany especially, she returned to the area twice more. "I felt this connection, almost a pull, to that area," she says.


Her third time was a life-changer. On one of her final days in the town of San Gusme, Ness went into a restaurant she had been to many times before. This time, however, she ordered chocolate cake, a specialty there, as dessert. She describes it as a hot, decadent chocolate cake. It was so good she had to get the recipe, so she went into the kitchen and met its creator, Chef Vincenzo Giangiordano, the owner. There was an immediate connection between them.

As they got to know each other, they would both take dictionaries to find the words they wanted — he spoke very little English and her Italian was marginal at best. Even though she was back-and-forth with her Mayo responsibilities, the relationship grew and they were married in 2010.

She totally immersed herself in the culture of the town, from the daily life of the people to their celebrations, the countryside and the food — even cooking with the local women and earning the title of "The Chef’s Wife." (Adds Sheryl, "they couldn’t pronounce my name.")

All the time they were there, she kept a very detailed journal. Those notes form the basis of this book.

Especially of interest to lovers of Italian cuisine (and who isn’t?) are the 38 recipes, all authentic and going back generations, including some from Vincenzo’s grandmother and mother. Chef was making gnocchi with his grandmother from the age of 9, and that fueled his interest in cooking.

He trained at a traditional Italian culinary institute, Villa Santa Maria, and from there worked in restaurants and high-end hotels throughout Italy before opening his own, La Porta del Chianti. He has the recipes of everything he has ever cooked. (Another book perhaps?)

The couple returned to Rochester in 2015 for several reasons, one being Ness’ family is in the area and she wanted to be closer to them.

The other factor was that Vincenzo was wanting some additional culinary experiences. Since publishing the book last year, the couple has been involved in marketing it. Working together, they have done author’s talks in and around Rochester, including at 125 Live.


The two recently traveled to San Francisco to do a talk at Ominvore Books, a unique bookstore specializing in cookbooks. Other speaking engagements are in the works.

They also have done pop-up restaurant dinners featuring foods from specific regions of Italy. There is one planned June 24 at Misplaced Magnolia in Kasson. Cooking classes and demonstrations are also being offered.

Ness has also partnered with Amy and Linda Lorber, the mother-daughter team behind Gardenaire, the local business specializing in spice mixes, syrups and shrubs. They have even made an herb blend called Love in a Tuscan Kitchen and sell the book at their farmers market stand.

While Vincenzo is the man behind the pastas served at Terza, Ness describes him as a human pasta machine. Is there any chance they might sell some of their original sauces and other creations at the farmers market? Likely not, as they do not have a commercial kitchen. They are hoping to find one eventually.

D3: Recipes.

Concetta's mother tomato sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil


2 stalks of celery, chopped small (and add a few celery leaves, chopped)

1/4 small onion, chopped small

1 small zucchini, diced Into small pieces

1 whole garlic clove

1/4 green or red pepper, diced into small pieces

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes

10 ounces strained tomato sauce (Pomi brand in a box)

Salt to taste

Parmesan cheese grated over the top when serving with pasta

In a medium saucepan, drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the chopped celery, onions, zucchini and pepper. Saute for 2-3 minutes over medium. Add the can of tomatoes, squeezing them with your hands to break them apart. Then add the strained tomato sauce and stir well. Add the whole garlic clove at the end. Cover and simmer on low for 60-90 minutes. Take off heat and let it sit until you're ready to serve. The longer it sits the better it tastes. The vegetables are cut so small that they melt into the sauce. Just before serving remove the whole garlic and add salt to taste. Serves 6-8.

Fennel apple salad

2 apples, thinly sliced with skins for color (Fuji)

2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced (remove inner hard core of fennel)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 lemon, juiced

4 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved into thin pieces

Slice apples and fennel thin with a mandolin or sharp knife. Place in serving bowl and mix in lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Shave Parmesan over the top and mix well.Serve immediately.

Tortino di cioccolato

(Hot chocolate love cake)

6 ounces good dark chocolate, chopped (use 60-70 percent chocolate)

10 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 large eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375.

Melt butter and chocolate together in bowl over a water bath: Place a glass or metal bowl above a saucepan filled half full with water. Warm the water over medium heat. Water should not touch bottom of bowl. These can also be melted in microwave at 50 percent for 1-2 minutes. Set aside to cool. Beat egg and sugar together well until mixture is creamy and light yellow, 3-4 minutes. Slowly add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg and sugar mixture. Add the dry ingredients - flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Mix by hand with a whisk for 1 -2 minutes until mixture is smooth. Spray ten individual ramekins (4-6 oz.) with spray oil or coat inside well with butter. Pour mixture into ramekins, filling about 3/4 full. Bake cakes at 375 for 10-12 minutes - better to undercook than overcook as middle should be a bit melted. Turn ramekins upside down on individual plates. Serve with vanilla ice cream and berries.

"Love in a Tuscan Kitchen" is sold at Dwell Local, 602 Seventh St. NW, and at the Gardenaire booth at the Rochester Farmers Market. You can also order it through online sellers. Reach Ness directly at 507-250-7151.

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