Having toured the food stalls and markets of Florence we were off to our second half of the adventure. In very short order we were transported to the hilly outskirts of Florence and entered the beautiful property of our host. A late summer garden, outdoor pizza oven, tables for eating ‘al fresco’ and an amazing kitchen space both for group cooking awaited us. The site was amazingly designed to fit the purpose.. John you would have loved it. We donned our chef aprons and were ready our Tuscan Cooking Experience
Soon under the careful guidance of our master chef, Carmela ( I am hoping I got the name right) a woman who has been feeding her family home cooked meals, singing and dancing her way through the kitchen.. She spoke Italian— we all caught what we could from her effective full body descriptions of what we were to do—but not to worry, Elisa was on hand to translate her instructions.
We began by preparing bruschetta….which is pronounced with a hard C not a ch sound as so many of us have come to do in North America. The fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and bread purchased that morning were soon prepped. Bread on the outdoor pizza oven/barbecue and soon we are tasting the first results of our journey into Tuscan food.
It was quickly established that this group loved a nice ‘vino’, both to accompany the food as well as to enhance the cooking experience and so the wine began to flow…
Next was group prep for the ‘bolognese sauce’ –interesting very few herbs in this sauce, simply garlic, onion, celery and carrot finely chopped, hamburger meat, wine and tomato sauce. Trick of course is to let it simmer on the stove for several hours.
While the sauce bubbled away, we received a demo in how to make pasta … really had no idea it was so easy. Shortly the whole class was making their own pasta.. Carmella demo’ed how to take pasta and turn it into all the forms of pasta we simply buy in bags at the store.. today we made tagliattelle to go along with our ‘Bolognese’. But now we knew how to make agnolotti, cannelloni, capellini fettucini, etc. It turned out making a pasta serving for one, was fun and quick..I did wonder how long one would have to work to prep Pasta for a family of 6 however…..so it is likely I will continue by pattern of buying fresh pasta at the local grocers…which here in Italy….is really good!!!!
Pasta ready we moved outside to be joined by our second Tuscan chef. She is a pizza specialist and works in a Firenze pizzeria. She had prepped the pizza dough the previous night..apparently she preps hundreds of small pizza dough balls for her work at the pizzeria. We were paired off and set to it to create our personal pizza’s ..fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella al fiori, basil, ham, artichokes.. and of course Olive Oil to top it off. While we did not duplicate our chefs skill in pizza throwing, we successfully baked our pizzas in the 800 degree wood fired out door pizza oven..pizzas were done in a minute and 20 seconds… HOT OVEN is the trick clearly!!!! And then we ate them sitting outside taking in the stunning country side.
So, antipasti and pizza consumed, ‘Primi’ course bubbling (sauce) and drying (pasta), it was time to turn our attention to the ‘secondi’ which was to be the lovely pork tenderloin we had purchased at the Mercato Centrale and the ‘contorni’ (vegetable side dish) in our case roast potatoes. The tenderloin had been cut to specifications by the butcher. The meat had been removed from the bone and then the bone section reattached with kitchen string. The bone of course adds lovely flavour but having it removed in advance eases the carving when the meat is complete. Simple herbs ( garlic, rosemary and sage ( I think) were rubbed onto the meat. The potatoes were salted ( heavily). Both of these dishes again received a healthy dose of olive oil, drizzled of course.. it is note worthy that this is a staple for all food prep in Italy. According to Carmela very healthy and much better than butter… I decided that olive oil must be a diet food in Italy.
And as our roast was cooking we were given a final lesson in preparation of ‘dolce’ –as a group we prepped Tiramisu and then prepared our individual dish of same. We also collected whipped up some gelato..while all dishes here to had benefited from a liberal doses of Olive Oil… the ‘dolce’ had healthy doses of Liquor.. marsala wine in the tiramisu and amaretto in the gelato!!!!
So having completed our lessons, all the while enjoying the chianti and the company, we moved outside to enjoy our Tuscan dinner ‘alfresco’.
Elisa had warned us in the morning that we would have a fulsome Tuscan meal…and indeed that was certainly the case!! A good thing none of us had dinner reservations that evening.. I doubt any of us could have consumed another bite.
Carmela topped off the evening by awarding us all our personal Tuscan Chef School Certificates. What an awesome experience..highly recommended should you come to Florence.