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This cookbook – its title a nod to the Italian expression brutto ma buono (ugly but good) – takes us back to the basics of authentic, honest, and simple cooking. Here you will find dishes that are less about presentation than they are about taste and flavour – from comfort food to relaxed dinner party staples.

The food of Florence rests on just a few humble ingredients brought together in the rough-and-ready style of everyday cooking, but ultimately with flavour at its heart. 

Russell offers outstanding recipes from his restaurant, Trattoria Brutto, but the book is also a love letter to one of Italy’s most beloved cities (and in particular the bohemian district of Santo Spirito). With captivating stories and gorgeous photographs accompanying fabulous recipes, this is a beautifully bound cookbook for foodies, home cooks, and lovers of Italian cuisine.

Recipes we love: Vitello tonnato, Penne with Tomato and Vodka, Roasted Squash with Borlotti Beans and Salsa Verde, and Three-Ingredient Meringue Hazelnut Cookies.


Penne with Vodka and Tomato Sauce: Pasta alla vodka

Penne alla vodka is one of the most popular pasta recipes for a reason. The rich and creamy tomato sauce is otherworldly - try it once using this authentic recipe from London-based restaurant BRUTTO and you'll return to it again and again.

I first had this dish at the cult restaurant Alla Vecchia Bettola on a busy corner by a main road on the outskirts of Oltrarno in Florence. It’s one of those slightly kitsch recipes that was popular in the 1980s and which has been enjoying something of a revival in Italy and further afield as it is also been referred to as Gigi Hadid's Pasta. 

Despite the potentially gimmicky nature of the addition of vodka, it works exceptionally well and is a favourite at BRUTTO. Most supermarket penne is rigate – with ridges. If you can find penne lisce – smaller and without ridges – this makes a much more authentic version of this dish



2 × 400g tins of plum tomatoes

1 x large onion, finely diced

extra virgin olive oil

flaky sea salt

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

½ tbs chilli flakes

1 tbsp dried oregano

200ml vodka

320 gr dried penne lisce (or penne rigate if you can’t find the smooth variety)

4 tbsp double cream

2 tbsp caster sugar

grated Parmesan



1. Drain the tomatoes, reserving the juice for another purpose.

2. Place a large, ovenproof saucepan over low to medium heat and gently sauté the onion in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with a pinch of salt for 12–15 minutes until glossy and translucent, being careful not to let the onion brown. Add the garlic, chilli flakes and oregano and combine, stirring for a few more minutes. Pour in the vodka, increase the heat a little to bring to a very gentle bubble, and cook until the liquid has reduced by a third. Preheat the oven to 140°C.

3. Meanwhile, cook the penne in plenty of salted boiling water. Drain the pasta. Remove the tomatoes from the oven, and add the double cream, sugar and half the Parmesan. Using a stick blender, create a smooth sauce. Immediately add the cooked penne and stir until fully combined. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and serve in four warmed bowls, with the remaining Parmesan on the table


The author: Russell Norman was an award-winning restaurateur, writer, broadcaster, and founder of the POLPO restaurant group. As well as writing several successful cookbooks, Russell contributed regularly to Esquire magazine and in 2021 opened the much-acclaimed Trattoria Brutto in London. 

Trattoria Brutto 35-37 Greenhill Rents, London EC1M 6BN, United Kingdom. 

You can’t help but have a great night out at this wonderfully relaxed trattoria. It comes with gingham tablecloths, a great signature negroni and a menu of keenly priced Tuscan favourites. 

Mila Groen