From her garden planted with Italian vegetables, San Francisco cookbook author Viana La Place recreates the fresh flavors of her mother’s homeland.
For cookbook author Viana la Place, a garden is more than a collection of plants: It’s a living room, office, pantry and botanical scrapbook. After living in Salento, at the heel of the Italian boot, the California native re-created Italy in her San Francisco backyard, planting flowers, vegetables and herbs she’d encountered in her mother’s home country. La Place’s 100-by-60-foot garden now contains trees (olive, fig, lemon and bay), flowering shrubs and dozens of varieties of vegetables and herbs. She highlights her favorite homegrown ingredients in her new book, My Italian Garden, which contains more than 125 healthy, produce-inspired recipes like vibrant parsley-and-rice salad and hearty vegetable soup simmered with Parmesan rind. La Place keeps her preparations simple, which both maximizes the flavor of the fresh ingredients and maintains their healthfulness. “By the time produce gets to market, it loses a lot of nutrients and essential oils that make it taste good,” she says. “When you pick something and eat it quickly, nothing is lost in terms of flavor or nutrition. In that way, gardening is more than a hobby. You’re giving your body the most a plant can give you.”