chianti 8

Cooking like Italians means using simple, incredibly fresh, minimal ingredients.  But wouldn’t you love to know some secrets?  Well, ditto for me and my kids.  Thus a cooking class while in Florence (see “Spring Trip Part 5” post) was prioritized as a must-do activity.  The hubby? Not interested (in the cooking part, but definitely in enjoying the end results).

The Westin Excelsior knocked it out of the park with their recommendation for a class in the lovely Chianti home of Paola Paggetti (www.cookingwithusinchianti.com).  The day began when her husband Mario Anichini picked us up at the hotel at 10 am for the drive to the home. Mario pointed out many sites in Florence and then beyond.  Some were ancient sites, while others included several wild baby boar dashing across the road!

We got started almost immediately. We spoke with Paola the previous day to decide on the menu:  Bruschetta, fresh pasta (sauce to be determined), a veal dish, and finally tiramisu. We would learn how to make all the dishes and then enjoy them for lunch.  Below, what the French call “mise en place” — everything in it’s place before one begins.

Paola organized the order of the dishes based on the time needed. For example, the tiramisu requires chilling so that was up first up.  And the meat required some time to cook so we got that going as well.

Above, Paola teaching Sam the delicate art of “folding” ingredients required for the tiramisu.  Below, the proud team with our finished dessert. 

During the entire “course,” Paola pointed out key takeaways, including discarding the “core” of garlic cloves. I never knew that; in fact, it adds bitterness if left in.  Likewise the timing for adding salt to a dish (if at all), and the reason.

Of course, the biggie is making pasta from scratch.  Three ingredients. Flour (a superfine Semolina – see photo), egg, water. And a million possibilities. No fancy pasta machine either; just our hands and very clean wooden boards. Of course Paola’s years of experience benefitted us. In the end, it is all about how it feels — the texture of the dough, etc. So simple and yet so necessary to try again and again. Mario captured us in our very serious mood of trying to get it right. We did ok!

 Below, the garden tour. Clockwise from upper left:  bearded iris; apricots; artichokes; lettuces; fava beans.

Below, Mario with a basket of just-picked fava beans.  We shelled them and enjoyed with a bit of salt and olive oil.  Delicious!

The secret to the excellent bruschetta was not only preparing the tomatoes but the bread as well. Paola baked thin slices of baguette in the oven until just crisp.  We spread raw garlic on the bread before spooning the tomatoes.  And one must eat this immediately!  We did. Along with the most excellent and simple pasta with the highest quality butter (which label is shown below) and parmigiana of course.  Also shown is one of two bruschetta platters, and the veal stew.

All set for lunch in the lovely dining room below.

Have I made pasta from scratch since the class?  No. But every time I open my cupboard and see my authentic “00” superfine flour, I am one step closer.  I have the recipe in detail.  I just wish Paola were here with me to provide her excellent guidance.  At least I can be reminded of her beautiful philosophy displayed in her home, seen below.  I couldn’t agree more.