La Mia Firenze: Judy Witts Francini

judy witts francini
Photo credit: Judy Witts Francini

Judy Witts Francini is the cook and Tuscan food expert behind the blog Divina Cucina. Originally from California, Judy has been living in Tuscany for more than thirty years, where she teaches cooking classes and leads delicious food tours. She’s also the author of Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen, a charming cookbook based on recipes that are truly divine and, most importantly, “Tuscan husband approved.”

When I asked Judy about her career, she said she has always loved to cook. Before moving to Tuscany in the 80’s, she worked as a pastry chef at a five-star hotel in San Francisco and started her career as a cooking teacher in 1988, teaching classes for students on their study abroad programs in Florence. Living in the Tuscan capital for so long greatly broadened Judy’s culinary knowledge of Florence and  instilled in her a lifelong affection for the San Lorenzo Market, which she considers her second home.

In 1997, Judy decided to share her expertise in the Florentine food world by launching MangiaFirenze, a website that offered then futuristic market-to-table classes. “Thirty years ago, when I mentioned to people that I held cooking classes for tourists and American students, they would laugh at it,” she recalled. “Italians found it a weird thing to do.”

I asked Judy about her favorite places to eat in Florence and she said, “Old-school restaurants are usually my choice.” Some of her favorites include Trattoria Da Sergio (on the Piazza San Lorenzo) for a tender Florentine T-bone steak and flavorful primi, Osteria Giovanni (owned by members of the well-known Latini restaurateur family) and Trattoria Sabatino (in the San Frediano district), where I have grown up eating seppie in inzimino (cuttlefish with Swiss chard) on most Fridays of my life.

Judy shared with Foods of Florence her ricetta for Pesce Finto, a Florentine classic and one of the recipes from her beautiful cookbook Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen. Pesce Finto (meaning “fake fish”) is a fish-shaped pâté made of canned tuna and boiled potatoes that originated from people living in the Tuscan countryside, where access to fresh fish used to be almost impossible. Unfortunately, the dish has fallen out of fashion and is rarely to be found at restaurants in Florence.  Judy recommends to serve pesce finto as an antipasto or as a light second course.

Fake Fish (Pesce Finto)

From: Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen

By Judy Witts Francini


1 lb. potatoes

7 oz canned tuna, drained

Extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons capers packed in white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons vinegar


Boil unpeeled potatoes in salted water until tender.

Peel potatoes while hot and mash with a fork.

Add drained tuna and mix into potatoes.

Add whole capers to taste and a good splash of the vinegar that they are packed in.

Stir to combine.

Add enough extra virgin olive oil to form a smooth, soft consistency.

Taste to correct seasoning, for a nice tart finishing.

Give the pesce finto a fish shape on a serving dish and decorate with cucumber slices and capers.


written by Gaia

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