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

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


NPR's Daniel Zwerdling made a foray into the New York kitchen of a mother and daughter duo whose dishes are inspired by the time they spent in Tuscany.

DANIEL ZWERDLING: Some mothers and daughters both love to knit. Some mothers and daughters love to play tennis. Sara Jenkins and her mother both live and breathe food. Sara's written a cookbook, maybe you've seen her on TV.


STEPHEN FRIED: Hey, welcome to "Beyond the Dish." We have a very special day for you today. We'll be meeting with Chef Sara Jenkins from the acclaimed Porchetta Restaurant in the East Village.

SARA JENKINS: Unidentified Man: How are you?

JENKINS: How are you?

ZWERDLING: Sara's mother is Nancy Harmon Jenkins. She's been writing cookbooks and articles about cooking since Sarah was a kid. So, it seemed like it'd be the most natural thing in the world to ask mother and daughter to cook together. We went to Sara's apartment. She has one of those tiny New York kitchens, like a postage stamp.

JENKINS: Oh, look at that. A lovely cast iron pan.

ZWERDLING: Sara's going to teach us how to make long, fat bucatini noodles tossed with caramelized purple cabbage.

JENKINS: Cut the cabbage in half. And then I'm going to slice it nice and thin.

ZWERDLING: And then she'll add walnuts and bacon and breadcrumbs.

JENKINS: I like to fry my breadcrumbs in olive oil and I like to season them with garlic and parsley and a little bit of chili. So, I'm just going to chop it all up.

ZWERDLING: And finally, she'll stir in a healthy stream of cream. Meanwhile, her mother Nancy's going to make a salad.

JENKINS: Do we have some parsley in here?

NANCY HARMON JENKINS: I bought parsley for my salad. Do you want it for yours?

JENKINS: I want some parsley.

HARMON JENKINS: Well, you can have some but not all of it. All right?

ZWERDLING: And as they dice and slice together, it doesn't take long to realize that this mother and daughter have a powerful bond - and the usual mother- daughter tension. In fact, Sara says her mother tried to discourage her from going into the restaurant business.

JENKINS: She said don't just become a cook.

HARMON JENKINS: I never said anything of the kind. Never, ever.

ZWERDLING: Nancy Harmon Jenkins used to be married to a foreign correspondent. So, the family lived in England and Spain.

HARMON JENKINS: And then a year and a half in France and then back to Madrid again and then to Beirut.

ZWERDLING: Then they moved to Rome and they bought an ancient farmhouse in Tuscany, in a steep mountain valley. That was back in 1971. But Nancy says in some ways, it was like the 1800s.

HARMON JENKINS: Our next door neighbors, whom we got to know very quickly, they had no running water inside the house.

JENKINS: We didn't have a telephone until 1981, I think.

HARMON JENKINS: We had what we called a valley telegraph. Somebody would call me at the bottega up on the main road, which was the shop on the main road. A person would call and would say I'd like to speak to Senora Jenkins please. And they would say, oh, senora, (unintelligible). And it would go back and forth all the way down the valley until it got to me. I would jump in my chinquchento(ph), drive up the road, pick up the telephone and say, pronto.

ZWERDLING: And let's just pause talking for a while. What do you do next?

JENKINS: We're going brown the bacon and let all the fat sort of render out of it and then we'll brown the cabbage in that fat.

ZWERDLING: Some of Sara's first food memories are from that valley in Tuscany. Every summer, everybody in the valley had a harvest festival right after they threshed the wheat.

JENKINS: And everybody sat down under a grape arbor because they all still had grape arbors then. And this incredible feast came out very simple, all food made by them, you know. Olive oil from their trees, bread from their grain.

HARMON JENKINS: Prosciutto from their pigs.

JENKINS: ...from their pigs with cantaloupe melons that came out of their garden. Pasta would be eggs from their chickens.

ZWERDLING: You're forgetting the wine, I think.

JENKINS: Oh, and the wine, yeah. But I was eight.

HARMON JENKINS: Are you going to put the rest of that cabbage in too?

JENKINS: Yeah, but I'm not ready yet.

ZWERDLING: Mother, stop pushing.

JENKINS: Please, mother. I can do it myself.

ZWERDLING: Sara's raising her eyebrows.

JENKINS: So, I'm going to add the walnuts and the rosemary now.

HARMON JENKINS: We had walnut trees in Tuscany.

ZWERDLING: Finally, almost everything comes together in that cast iron pan - melted cabbage, crispy bacon, the walnuts and herbs. Sara stirs in some cream.

JENKINS: Organic cream.

ZWERDLING: Now, if people were wanting to cut down a little more on fat in this dish, could they leave out the cream?

JENKINS: You could totally leave out the cream.

HARMON JENKINS: I mean, use low-fat cream, why not?

JENKINS: I don't know if that would work.

ZWERDLING: So, when did the two of you start cooking together?

HARMON JENKINS: We never really cook together.


HARMON JENKINS: Yeah. I mean, I'm a very...

JENKINS: She's a very controlling person and I am also a very controlling person.

HARMON JENKINS: It's hard for two controlling people to work in the kitchen together.

ZWERDLING: I do detect, I think, a teeny bit of mother-daughter...


ZWERDLING: ...rivalry in the kitchen.

HARMON JENKINS: Well, I don't think it really is rivalry. I'm very proud of Sara. 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. I probably know a lot more about food than she does, on the other hand.

ZWERDLING: And now Sara drains the pasta that's been roiling in a big pot.

JENKINS: OK. Now, one has to eat immediately because pasta has to be eaten when it's hot.

ZWERDLING: Force me. And so what do you call it? What's the Italian name?

JENKINS: There is no Italian name for this. It's not Italian.

ZWERDLING: For NPR News, I'm Daniel Zwerdling.

HANSEN: And, by the way, Sara Jenkins is the daughter of NPR's senior foreign editor Lauren Jenkins and you can find the recipe you just heard at

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.