Family's Move To Tuscany Shapes Daughter's Menu For Sara Jenkins and her mother, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, food is a family affair — and a family business. Nancy, a food writer, lived in an old Tuscan farmhouse in a steep mountain valley. It was there that she first introduced her daughter, Sara, to uncomplicated cooking and fresh, flavorful ingredients.

Family's Move To Tuscany Shapes Daughter's Menu

Family's Move To Tuscany Shapes Daughter's Menu

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Food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins and her daughter Sara, together in Spain in 1966. Sara, like her mom, is now also a cookbook writer. Courtesy of Nancy Jenkins/ hide caption

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Courtesy of Nancy Jenkins/

Food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins and her daughter Sara, together in Spain in 1966. Sara, like her mom, is now also a cookbook writer.

Courtesy of Nancy Jenkins/

For Sara Jenkins and her mother, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, food is a family affair -- and a family business. Sara has just opened Porsena, an Italian restaurant in New York's East Village, and runs the popular Italian pork carryout Porchetta. Much of the inspiration for her menus comes from her childhood experiences in Rome and Tuscany, where she visited with her family. Her mother is the author of several cookbooks and an expert on the Mediterranean diet.

When Sara was a child, the family lived all over the world -- England, Spain, France, Lebanon -- and finally Italy. In Tuscany, they bought an ancient farmhouse in a steep mountain valley. The year was 1971, but Nancy says that in many ways, it felt like the 1800s. Their neighbors had no running water, and it would take nearly a decade before Nancy could outfit the farmhouse with a telephone.

But it was in that Italian valley where Sara shaped her first formative memories of food. Every summer, after the valley residents had threshed the wheat, they threw a harvest festival. "Everybody sat down under a grape arbor," Sara recalls, "and this incredible feast came out. Very simple, all food made by them: olive oil from their trees, bread from their grain, prosciutto from their pigs, cantaloupe melons that came out of their garden, pasta with the eggs from their chickens."

And, of course, there was wine from their vineyards, but that didn't make much of an impression at the time -- "I was 8," Sara says.

Nancy Harmon Jenkins is the author of several cookbooks; her most recent is The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. Bantam hide caption

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Bantam

Nancy Harmon Jenkins is the author of several cookbooks; her most recent is The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook.

Bantam

Sara Jenkins' latest venture is Porsena, an Italian restaurant in New York's East Village. Carla Roley/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hide caption

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Carla Roley/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Sara Jenkins' latest venture is Porsena, an Italian restaurant in New York's East Village.

Carla Roley/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

But the appreciation for uncomplicated cooking and flavorful, fresh ingredients stayed with her. Sara was an acclaimed chef in several of New York's Italian restaurants, and in 2008, she and co-author Mindy Fox published the cookbook Olives and Oranges: Recipes and Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus, and Beyond. That same year, she and her cousin, Matt Lindemulder, opened Porchetta -- a sandwich shop focused on a traditional, Italian pork dish.

Sara says her mother warned her against going into the restaurant business -- "She said don't just become a cook," Sara recalls. But Nancy good-naturedly protests: "I never said anything of the kind. Never ever!"

These days, Sara and her mother don't cook together much; they're both far too controlling for that, they explain. But recently they made an exception. In Sara's New York, postage-stamp-sized kitchen, they joined culinary forces to make an Italian-inspired pasta -- long, fat, Bucatini noodles tossed with walnuts and caramelized red cabbage. (You can find the recipe for that dish below.)

"I'm very proud of Sara," says Nancy. "I don't get to say this very often, but I really think she's done a fantastic thing. She's a much better cook than I am."

But even now, mother knows best. Adds Nancy: "I probably know a lot more about food than she does."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Jenkins is the daughter of NPR Senior Foreign Editor Loren Jenkins.

The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
By Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Marion Nestle

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The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook
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Nancy Harmon Jenkins, Marion Nestle

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Olives and Oranges
By Sara Jenkins, Mindy Fox, Alan Richardson

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Title
Olives and Oranges
Author
Sara Jenkins, Mindy Fox, Alan Richardson

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