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What do you know about the Feast of Seven Fishes served on Christmas Eve?

Posted on december 23, 2020 by The Tuscookany Team
What do you know about the Feast of Seven Fishes served on Christmas Eve?

What do you know about the Feast of Seven Fishes served on Christmas Eve?

It’s a popular theme for the Christmas meal in America celebrated on the 24th December. The meal consists of seven courses each one showcasing a delicious Italian seafood dish. But, where and when did this tradition start? If you are keen to learn more about the origins and get some delicious recipe recommendations for this Italian Christmas tradition, read on.

All over the world people come together with friends and family to eat and drink at Christmas Time. If you would like to learn more about why people eat together, read our blog: “Bringing food to the table helps to bring people together”.

The Feast of Seven Fishes is both popular in America and the south of Italy.  How did it start and why is it so popular in the US?  The ancient tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic custom of abstinence from meat and dairy products on the eve of certain holidays, including Christmas.  Whilst the tradition of enjoying a large meatless Christmas Eve meal was (and remains) common across Italy, as well as many other Roman Catholic-dominated countries, the origin of the Feast of the Seven Fishes has its roots in southern Italy.  The area, which is surrounded by bountiful coastline, has been known for its seafood for generations. It's historically poorer than the rest of Italy, with locals preferring fish because of its relative affordability, and with the knowledge of today, it is also good for the environment. 

In the Catholic liturgical calendar, there are special days of abstinence (where followers are advised to avoid meat) and days of fasting (where followers are advised to reduce their food intake, usually to just one meal a day).  Before reforms were made in the 1960s, 24th December, the day the Roman Catholics call The Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord, was a day to fast and abstain.  Worshippers were generally allowed to break the fast in the evening.  The Feast of the Seven Fishes, seems like an obvious solution! You have a large and hungry Catholic-Italian family that hasn’t touched food all day.  None of them are allowed to eat meat.  What else is there to do but prepare a giant evening meal of pasta and seafood!  We sure are happy with the reform!!

The number seven is rooted back in ancient times and it can be connected to multiple Catholic symbols: in fact, the number seven is repeated more than 700 times in the Bible.  Also, according to the Roman Catholic Church, seven are the sacraments, the days of the Creation and the deadly sins.  Or perhaps it commemorates the day Christians believe God rested. Others say the number is just a good marketing tool used by restaurants!  Indeed, the earliest newspaper article found containing the phrase “Feast of the Seven Fishes” is a 1983 advertisement for a restaurant in Philadelphia!

Not every Italian has heard of the “Feast of the Seven Fishes”, even though it is seen as an authentic Italian tradition. This is because of the biodiversity of Italy: the country boasts so many differences between the north and south.  Each of the 20 regions has a different culinary tradition for the cena della Vigilia, or Christmas Eve meal.  For example, in Roma, the tradition calls for minestra di pesce, fish-based soup; and in 

Tuscany, the celebration includes a few essentials like chicken liver crostini and tortellini served in broth.  Of course, for any Italian family, it wouldn't be a Christmas feast without Panettone and Pandoro.  If you want to learn more about Panettone, take a look at our blog: “Want to impress friends and family, bake a fluffy Italian Panettone!”.

In 1861, the regions of the Italian peninsula joined to form a single nation.  The states of the south (which had formerly been the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) would suffer for it. The new government began allocating most of its resources to nurturing the north, causing poverty and organized crime in the south (which already had problems) to worsen.  The situation plunged southern Italy into such poverty that approximately 4 million people from the region moved to America between 1880 and 1924.  It’s no surprise that those immigrants took their tradition of big, fishy Christmas Eve meals with them, making it a popular Italian-American celebration today.  The meal may include seven, eight, or even nine specific fishes that are considered traditional. However, some Italian-American families have been known to celebrate with nine, eleven or thirteen different seafood dishes.  If you are that ambitious, check out these 50 recipes: .

Although none out of the three Tuscookany villas are located by the coast we use a lot of fresh food but generally prepare less fish dishes than in the south of Italy. However, our Italian and Mediterranean cooking classes teach some beautiful fish recipes such as Spanish Paella and Sea Bass in a salt crust and of course Baccala.  And much like The Feast of Seven Fishes we are Pescetarian friendly during out Italian cooking classes.  Our chefs can adapt the menu to cater for all your dietary requirements.  If you would like to get some inspiration on Tuscan seafood, here is a link with 4 recipes.   Come and cook with us next season at our Tuscookany cooking classes in Italy and we will teach you to prepare these delicious fish dishes.

Now for one of our favourite fish dishes: 

Triglie alla livornese (Livorno style mullet)

From our Flavours of Tuscany cookbook

Ingredients:

(Serves 4)

12 mullet of about 100-150 g each (4-6 oz) each

500g (1 lb) of tinned tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

Parsley

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt 

Pepper

Instructions:

  • Clean and wash the mullet carefully.

  • Sauté the chopped parsley and garlic in a skillet with oil and add the tomatoes as soon as it starts to brown.

  • Add salt and pepper, leave to cook for about 20 minutes, then add the mullet.

  • Cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes, without turning to avoid breaking the fish.

  • Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

Another version of this recipe is to flour the mullet, fry quickly in hot oil, then add to the tomato sauce.

Bon Appetito!

Let us know if you cooked fish for Christmas Eve and if it was this Mullet or something else?

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You can smell the Chestnuts roasting here in Tuscany this autumn.

Posted on november 18, 2020 by Tuscookany Team
You can smell the Chestnuts roasting here in Tuscany this autumn.

Tuscookany, Casentino, Chestnuts in Tuscany 

Are you dreaming of eating roasted chestnuts at thanksgiving around a crackling fire? Fall is the season for roasting chestnuts! Even though the chestnut is popular worldwide, the use of the European chestnut as a food originates in Italy, but how did it gain its autumnal reputation? 

These delicious nuts typically fall off the chestnut tree from mid-September to November and are harvested by simply picking the nuts off the ground. In general, a ten year old chestnut tree can produce up to 20 kg of chestnuts in a season. If you want to know why chestnuts are considered a festive snack, look at this article: Roasting chestnuts: a holiday tradition for many.

The chestnut tree is a part of the genus Castanea, which accounts for the Italian word for the nut: castagne.  In October and November there are Roast Chestnut festivals, organised all over Italy, called “castagnata”.  Castagnatas are dedicated to chestnuts and the different ways that you can eat them.  There are poems, legends and stories associated with particular chestnut trees such as the Castagno dei Cento Cavalli (the chestnut tree of one hundred horses) on the slopes of Mount Etna, which is said to be the largest and oldest chestnut tree in the world. This particular tree had a circumference of 57.9 m! Although the 4,000-year-old tree has now split into several large trunks they still share the same root system.  Legend has it that the chestnut tree of one hundred horses earned its name after sheltering a mysterious queen and her company of one hundred knights and lovers during a stormy night on the mountain. More information on this incredible tree can be found here: Hundred Horse Chestnut Tree

Chestnuts are eaten raw, roasted, dried, candied, pureed or made into flour, all over the world. They are, however, especially popular in Mediterranean countries. Thousands of years ago the Greeks, near the Mediterranean Sea, weren't able to grow many grains so they started to harvest the chestnuts to make use of their fat, fibre, mineral and vitamin content.  They are full of vitamin C, zinc, folate, potassium, copper, selenium and magnesium.  This versatile food is a great source of nutrients and all you need to do is go into the woods and collect them. 

It has been said that the first ever chestnut to be roasted was in Rome during the 16th century, as they were sold on the street as a snack.   To this day they are still a very popular authentic street food throughout Italy.   The Italian name for a roasted chestnut is ‘caldarroste’, and they are sold in paper cones on the street.  They’re quick and easy to cook.  See below how you can roast them yourselves.   

Even closer to home is the Casentino Valley where our villa, Casa Ombuto, is located and also close to Tuscookany’s other villa, Torre del Tartufo. Historically Casentino used to live from the produce of chestnut flour.  

The chestnut is still an authentic ingredient in many Tuscan recipes, for example, in soups, cakes, breads, sauces, mousses and salads.   If you join one of our autumn classes next year at Tuscookany we can have fun together cooking with delicious local chestnuts. In the mean time, look at this amazing chestnut thanksgiving recipe: Thanksgiving Stuffing with Roasted Chestnuts and Spicy Sausage.

The chestnut tree is not only famous for giving us the rich nut but also provides a great wood.  Chestnut is of the same family as oak, and likewise its wood contains many tannins. This renders it very durable, gives it excellent natural outdoor resistance and saves the need for other protection treatment. Much of the wood used in our villas, Torre del Tartufo and Casa Ombuto, are made from chestnut wood. Casa Ombuto is even surrounded by 10 acres of chestnut forest!  We have paid homage to the chestnut tree and all that it has given us by naming one of our favourite suites after it, ‘Castagna’. Many Italians pick their own chestnuts from wooded reserves, which charge by the final harvest weight, much like the "pick your own" berry or corn patches in the US.  Customers carry home their basket of "castagne", and roast them. The cooked chestnuts are wrapped in a large cloth and rolled along the tabletop to loosen the shells. Many a fall evening is spent in Tuscany around the fireplace, peeling piping hot chestnuts straight from the embers and washing them down with the season’s new wine. If you are unable to visit Tuscany this autumn for this authentic experience then here is how you can roast chestnuts in your oven at home.  They will make a great thanksgiving Aperitivo!

1. Gather your fresh raw chestnuts together and preheat the oven to 425 F/220 C

2. Using a sharp knife, make an X-shaped cut on the round side of each chestnut. This critical step keeps them from exploding from internal pressure when heated and makes peeling easier after roasting!

3. Arrange chestnuts on a baking rack or baking sheet.

4. Transfer the chestnuts to the oven and roast them until the skins have pulled back from the cuts and the inside has softened. The actual time required will depend on the chestnuts but will be at least 15 to 20 minutes.

5. Remove the nuts from the oven and pile them into a mound in an old towel. Wrap them up and squeeze hard - the chestnuts should crackle!  Allow them to sit for a few minutes.

6. Unwrap the towel before pulling and snapping off the dark shells to reveal the creamy, white chestnuts.  While peeling, make sure you also remove the papery skin between the shell and the chestnut.

7. Be sure to wash them down with a glass of Italian wine to get the full experience!  To learn more about wines look at our blog: Call a friend and open a bottle of wine, as this story is juicy! 

Enjoy!

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Five beautiful Italian regions you need to visit very soon!

Posted on december 03, 2019 by Tuscookany Team
Five beautiful Italian regions you need to visit very soon!

Five beautiful Italian regions you need to visit very soon!

If you have ever visited Italy there is a high chance that you were in Milan, Rome or in the region of Tuscany. However, Italy consists of 20 regions that each have their own capital city and are full of history, culture and beautiful cities. In this blog we will distinguish five famous regions and explain their characteristics, differences in Italian cuisine and tell you more reasons why you should visit them.

Tuscany

Of course on top of our list is the beautiful region Tuscany. It is not a surprise that Tuscany is used as the setting for many theatre plays, movies and television shows. Due to its wonderful landscape full of olive groves, fields of sunflowers, vineyards and stone farms, this region is surely a must visit when you are in Italy. The ancient medieval castles and Renaissance cities such as the capital city of Florence and Arezzo take you back in time to the 10th century BC when the Etruscans inhabited the region. The regions cuisine is famous for its truffles, mushrooms, cheeses and exceptional wines and oils. Other beautiful cities in Tuscany include Lucca, Siena, Pisa and Chianti. All the magical characteristics of this region make it the perfect place for an Italian cooking course.

Emilia-Romagna:

This region lies in the Northern part of Italy and borders Tuscany, among other regions. The capital city is Bologna famous for its Piazza Maggiore, the two gigantic Torre degli Asinelli and the San Luca Basilica. In the Emilia-Romagna region you will specifically find the delicious Parmesan cheese, Parma ham and aceto balsamico di Modena, originating from the, you may have guessed it already, cities Parma and Modena.

Sicilia:

This region is the biggest region of Italy in km2 and also one of the five regions with special status: allowing them their own legislative, administrative and financial power. The capital city is Palermo, a former Greek colony. The beautiful city contains 8 UNESCO world heritage sites, making Italy the country with the most of them worldwide. Sicilian cuisine is known for cannoli, a popular pastry and arancini, rice balls fried in breadcrumbs.

Lombardia:

Lombardia is the most populated region of Italy, with more than 10 million inhabitants. Its capital is the beautiful city of Milan making it one of the most economically important regions of the country. A dish you should definitely try here is risotto ala Milanese: a yellow risotto dished not to be missed in the Italian kitchen. Moreover, since Lombardia is covered with mountains, polenta is also a well-known dish in the region. Served with cheese and butter, this doughy meal is perfect for cold winter nights!

Lazio:

Last but not least: Lazio, the region which includes the capital of Italy also known as the Eternal city: Rome. With its beautiful ancient buildings, roads and churches, Rome is a must-see for everybody visiting Italy. Did you know that modern Rome has 280 fountains and over 900 churches? Lazio has a typical cuisine full of traditional pastas and meat cookery.

Even though these are probably enough reasons for you to visit all the aforementioned regions: we fell in love with Tuscany and never want to leave again! 22 years ago, when Pippa & Lars visited Tuscany during a holiday, they fell in love with both the setting and the magical feel of the region and therefore founded Tuscookany.

Do you want to visit Tuscany too and discover the beauty of the region while learning how to cook, relax and have a great time? At the Tuscookany cooking course in Tuscany, you can do just that!

Where would you like to go next? Please tell us in the comments!

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Terrific Truffles at our Torre del Tartufo villa

Posted on september 19, 2019 by Tuscookany Team
Terrific Truffles at our Torre del Tartufo villa

 

Read more about the product that changed the Italian cuisine...

The truffle is a member of the fungus family.  It is a seasonal product, although when dried and bottled in olive oil it is available throughout the year. Truffles grow under the ground in France and Italy. They are found by special truffle dogs, which are trained to find a specific scent that is difficult for humans to smell.  In the past, the Italians and French used pigs to find the truffles. However, the pigs often ended up eating the tubers rather than bringing them back!  This is why they switched to more trainable dogs.

Due to the difficult process of finding and harvesting of truffles, it is a very costly product. How costly? Well, the most expensive truffles ever sold were two white truffles that together weighed 1 kg.  At an auction in Alba, Italy, they were sold for €90.000! No wonder that the truffle’s nickname is ‘diamond of the kitchen’!

Truffles are divided into two sorts: white and black. The black truffle is associated with oaks, hazelnut & cherry and is harvested in late autumn and winter. The white truffle is found mainly in Italy, especially in the Piedmont region and around the cities of Alba and Asti. A similar truffle to the white truffle is the whitish truffle, which is found in Tuscany!

At our Tuscookany cooking classes in Italy, we love to cook with truffle. One of our villas, Torre del Tartufo is even named after the product! The villa got its name from the truffle estate surrounding the villa, making it famous in the area and wonderful for seeing how truffles are found. The villa dates back to before 1700 and is a wonderful place to learn how to prepare tartufo in many delicious recipes. Are you curious about the little truffle dogs and their ability to find the truffles? Every week at Torre del Tartufo we invite a local Italian farmer and his lovely truffle dog to show off his talent and to find the truffles in the areas surrounding the villa. See for yourself how these dogs work their magic trick!

But, if you are not a fan of the product, don’t worry: our chefs know how to cook with and without them and will try to adjust to your wishes!

What recipe with truffle is your favourite? Let us know in the comments!

Hope to welcome you in Tuscany soon!

The Tuscookany team

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Are you always wondering what the different courses are in an Italian meal?

Posted on july 19, 2019 by Tuscookany Team
Are you always wondering what the different courses are in an Italian meal?

Do you have a hard time understanding the menu in an Italian restaurant? What are the different courses and what will be served with each?

Italians love their food and dining is one of their most precious moments of the day. This means getting together with family and catching up on the day, combined with a delicious homemade meal prepared by the mother and/or grandmother, and an excellent Tuscan wine. Italian Nonna’s (grandmothers) can spend a whole day in the kitchen for dinner (cena) as five different courses are prepared by her for the family. Imagine doing that every single day!! The Italian course structure provides wonderful opportunities to serve amazing food for a dinner party and makes sure everyone has something to enjoy. In this blog we show you the difference between the courses (piatti); Aperitivo, Antipasto, Primo, Secondo e contorno and Dolce.

The history of the Italian meal structure

Traditionally, meals in Italian families take two to three hours, or even longer, and really focus on the slow life. Italians love food and are passionate about eating.  This is especially true of the Sunday lunch, where families gather in a restaurant to eat together.  It’s very lively and an important time to catch up with loved ones. It is never rushed.  It always starts with Buon Appetito! Wishing everyone a good appetite and a great meal.

Aperitivo & Antipasti – Course one and two

The aperitivo opens a meal and in that way is similar to an appetizer. This is often done standing up and gathering the dinner guests, together enjoying a wine, prosecco, Aperol Spritz or gingero.  These drinks are combined with olives, crisps, nuts or cheese. It is the perfect moment to welcome your guests and wait for everyone to arrive.  After the aperitivo everyone is invited to take a seat at the table where they will be able to enjoy the second course: antipasto. The antipasti is ausually a cold and light starter such as salami, finger foods, vegetables, salmon or prawn cocktails.  This is a perfect starter to awaken your taste buds and get your guests longing for more.   Antipasto actually means “before the meal”

Primo Piatto – Course three

Primo means “first” in Italian and is thus directed to the first main course of your dinner. This course consists of a warm dish and is usually slightly heavier than the antipasto. The dishes are mostly non-meat and could comprise of pasta, risotto, soup, gnocchi, polenta or lasagna. There are an endless amount of options for the primo piatto so you will never get bored.  It is strange for non-Italians to see that pasta is just the first course in Italy, whereas the rest of the world sees pasta as a main course. This is a mistake often made within the course structure of the Italian kitchen.

Secondo e contorno – Course four

After the antipasti and the primo piatto, the second main course is served. The second course consists of several plates such as your contorno (side dishes), insalata (salads) and your secondo piatto (second course). This course includes different types of meats and fish, which might consist of turkey, sausage, pork, steak, beef, cod, lamb or chicken. This is the most important meal of the Italian course structure. The side dishes of vegetables, which are raw, cooked or grilled and are meant to be shared across the table, (LINK TO VEGETABLE BLOG) and are served alongside the secondo piatto. This pairing makes it easy to serve meat with a robust plant-based dishes, which will delight every guest. The salad is mostly an easygoing salad with some seasonal greens and a simple dressing or frequently you would add your own oil and vinegar to your taste.  In this way the salad accommodates everyone at the table.

The first two courses are often served combined with white wine; this third course is mostly served with one of the well-known Tuscan red wines made from the Sangiovese grape.

Dolce – Course five

If the above four courses haven’t blown your mind, this one will! Dolce means sweet in Italian and thus refers to the dessert.  I can’t help but recall all the Italians desserts I love when thinking of the word “Dolce”.  The most popular desserts are Tiramisu, Panna Cotta, Torta della Nonna and Panettone.  The desserts are often accompanied by a scoop of homemade Italian gelato or sorbetto and, of course, let’s not forget the Vin Santo (dessert wine), which regularly accompanies it.  Dolce differ in taste nationwide, but the ideas are mostly the same. They are often followed by a coffee, used as a digestive, which is served as a very hot espresso in a small cup. After the coffee the ammazza caffe is served, which concludes the meal. This of course comprises of the famous Italian liquors such as Amaro, Limoncello, Grappa or other herbal drinks.

Cooking Course in Tuscany

During an Italian cooking course at Tuscookany the chefs will teach you all types of dishes from aperitivo to dolce. You will learn to prepare and cook all five of them, so you will really get to understand the difference!  We start with an Aperitivo on the lawn, which is often an Aperol Spritz.  Following this you might be surprised to see a millefoglie with vegetables served by the chef and then, of course, comes the primo; fresh and homemade pasta. The secondo could be a nice braised beef in red wine, complemented with a vegetable tart and fresh salad.  The dolce is served together with a selection of Italian liquors and the Italian almond cookies; Cantucci.   

During the cooking lessons, the most fun part is that you will be paired up with different cooking partners; so you will be able to get to know the whole group and prepare these delicious courses together.   Sounds a bit daunting?  Don’t worry; the chefs will always be there to help you.  The chef will also show you how to present your food to show it off to its best and during dinner you will be given the opportunity to tell the rest of the group what the secrets are to your dishes success.

Buon Appetito and share this blog if you think it was interesting!

The Tuscookany Team

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Oh my Olive: different types and colours explained!

Posted on july 09, 2019 by Tuscookany Team
Oh my Olive: different types and colours explained!

Do you know what the difference in shape and size tells you about the taste of Olives?

When you visit Italy you might get a little overwhelmed by all the different varieties of olives as they come in all sizes, shapes and colours. Olives are either cured or used for one of the core ingredients of the Mediterranean cuisine: olive oil.  As the oil is used in almost every Italian dish it is not surprising that Italy is the 3rd largest producer of olives worldwide. It produces over 2 million tonsnes of olives per year! Holy Molive!

Luckily, at Tuscookany Cooking Vacations Tuscany we have chefs that know all the ins and outs about olives and even better: they will teach you the best recipes to pair them with! As we have over 1000 olive treas in the gardens of our villa's we could really say we know all the ins and outs of this precious snack.

The olive tree is amongst the oldest cultivated trees in the world, being grown even before the written language was invented. Olives have been harvested for over 7000 years and there are many myths and stories about olives in the ancient times.  A story by Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, goes that a vine, a fig tree and an olive tree grew in the middle of the Roman Forum, and the olive tree was planted to provide shade. Moreover, ancient authors commented on the olive as one of the most perfect foods!

An olive can be distinguished by its size, shape or colour. What many people don’t know, is that an olive gets its colour from the moment it is picked from the tree. In other words, if every type of olive was left on the branch; they would all, eventually, turn black!

For an olive, it is all about the cure: the process that turns the naturally bitter fruit into a deliciously salty snack. Just like olive oil, curing olives is a time consuming and detailed process. Olives can be cured by water, sun-dried or brined, all creating different flavours and textures. The difference in curing will show on the olive’s skin: brine-cured olives have smooth, plump skin where salt or oil cured olives are lightly coated in oil and have wrinkled skin. Did you know that an olive is considered a fruit? It has a stone, just like a nectarine or an avocado!

Below you will find out about three types of olives in order of intensity of flavour:

1. Bella di Cerignola

This olive is from the south of Italy, specifically in the Puglia region. The olive is part of the ‘Denominazione D’Origine Protetta’, meaning they can only be cured in a certain method in this specific region, making it the champagne amongst olives! The Bella di Cerignola is a huge olive and has a firm texture. Whether it is green, red or black, it is mellow in flavour and pairs well with fruit and cheeses from the middle and south of Italy.

2. Gaeta

These popular dark purple or black table olives are from the Lazio region. They are typically brined and then stored in oil. In contrast to the Cerignola, the Gaeta olive has a tart, citrusy flavour. Due to their fresh flavour, the olives are perfect to pair with dishes like spaghetti, salads or chicken breast. The chefs at our Tuscan cooking schools know how to cook with them and will teach you how to use them in some lovely fresh recipes.

3. Oil-cured

These are usually from southern Mediterranean regions, such as Sicily. The oil-cured olives get their black colour through oxidation in the curing process. They have a chewy texture and a pleasantly bitter flavour. This flavour goes well with strong cheeses and ricotta, as well as on top of a homemade pizza or focaccia!

 

At Tuscookany, we use olives in all kinds of recipes. During our cooking classes in Italy, you can have olives as an aperitivo or on top of your own homemade pizza! Moreover, some of the lovely spaghetti, ravioli, or risotto dishes can contain olives too! During the cooking course you will learn all you need to know about these tiny but delicious fruits.

What is your favourite kind of olive? Or do you prefer olive oil instead? Let us know in the comments!

Kind regards,

The Tuscookany Team

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Bringing food to the table helps to bring people together

Posted on july 06, 2019 by Tuscookany Team
Bringing food to the table helps to bring people together

There’s more than just the food on Tuscookany’s menu

George Muller quipped that the only problem with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you are hungry again! Perhaps it is true that often, Italian food is rich and delicious, but if one starts off thinking that a week spent cooking in Tuscany is only about feeding one's stomach, that's the start of the problem. At Tuscookany, the food is only one part of the menu. Other ingredients are the camaraderie and the juicy memories, the fragrant friendships and the mouth-watering and delicious experiences that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Bringing food to the table is a means to bring people to the table too; if you think of almost any celebration, across all cultures, food is right there, centre stage. Many peoples’ fondest memories revolve around food. Paola, Tuscookany’s chef for the Italian cooking course at Casa Ombuto, clearly remembers rolling out the pasta dough with her mother every Sunday morning. As she got older, and more skilled, she remembers her mother sending her to their neighbours to roll the pasta dough for them. What better example of how food brings people together?

Food for thought….

There is something so liberating and altruistic about cooking for others. It's a kind of elemental impulse: to feed someone else, to nurture them and to look after them. It makes one feel that one is being the best of all humans. It is no wonder that grown men and women go all misty eyed when they remember their grandmothers’ meat ragu.

Walking into the kitchen of a chef at work; full of delicious aromas and flavours can transport you to another time, another place: a memory of someone or some occasion that can instantly bring a smile to your face. By reconnecting with your past, you’re allowing yourself a moment of nostalgia in which you can relive the same happiness you felt at that moment. Each of Tuscookany’s chefs share recipes with you that they grew up with, and that they remember making with the special people in their lives. While all our chefs are sharing their memories of cooking, you have a chance to create your own memories with both new and old faces during your cooking classes.

Cooking with people allows for bonds to form and relationships to develop. Arguably, the best relationships develop over working together to achieve a goal – and what better goal to work towards than serving up a delicious dinner after an afternoon of cooking classes in Tuscany!

Tuscookany: a winning recipe

At Tuscookany one cooks with an entire chorus of new found friends: like-minded, excited to be learning and experiencing, and full of enthusiasm and goodwill - all nourished daily by fresh, homemade and traditional Italian food. Using locally sourced and seasonal ingredients has long been the logic of Italian food-making: it cannot help but be a celebration of the here and now, the local, the colourful and the delicious.

Spending a week cooking in Tuscany is a winning recipe: good food, like-minded people, staggeringly beautiful surroundings and plenty of time and guidance to make this an unforgettable memory.

 

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Are you wild about mushrooms? Get to know these wild mushrooms!

Posted on may 02, 2019 by Tuscookany Team
Are you wild about mushrooms? Get to know these wild mushrooms!

Get to know the ins and outs of cooking with wild mushrooms in Tuscany and what to pay attention to.

The sound alone has you guessing that “funghi” mushrooms are an Italian delicacy, however cooking with these funghi is not as easy as you think. Funghi is a word used to describe all types of wild mushrooms including well-known Porcini and Chanterelles mushrooms and truffles. The Italian kitchen is famous for the use of wild mushrooms in their Pasta’s, meat dishes and Pizza’s. Cooking with fresh wild mushrooms is definitely an experience you should try at least once while cooking an Italian dish. The exquisite difference taste between the cultivated mushrooms and the wild ones is remarkable. But never go outdoors to find these funghi by yourself! Always use a guide to help you “hunt” these mushrooms that has knowledge on the mushrooms and is trained in recognizing the most sought after varieties and discerning the poisonous types. And even though you come back from the hunt empty handed; this is also part of the adventure.

Edibility

The most common wild mushroom types are Porcini (known for their reddish-brown colour and woodsy flavour), Chanterelles (known for their trumpet shape), Pioppini and morels (known for their spongy look). A nice fun fact is that the ancient Romans called the Porcini mushrooms hog mushrooms as pigs were overly fond of the Porcini mushrooms as a food source. Therefore Porcini literally means “little pig” in Italian. Wild mushrooms are used in an infinite variety of dishes within the antipasti, primi piatti and secondi piatti. Even in the contorno (side dishes) Italians love to add mushrooms to increase the flavour and texture of the main dishes. But mainly the wild mushrooms are used in pasta and pasta-filled dishes such as tagliatelle, Fettuccine ai funghi and lasanga. The rich, heady and meaty mushroom flavours make the wild mushrooms a versatile ingredient for numerous dishes. As they give grace to an elegant stew or source as well. Therefore the dishes are often accompanied by a graceful red wine such as a Barolo.

Conditions

Weather conditions are the key factors in producing a good mushroom season, which requires a perfect combination of rain, sun, warmth and humidity. Therefore the peak season for mushrooms hunting in Italy is from April to early November. But as it stays warmer longer in the south, areas such as Calabria and Sicily seem to have great tasting mushrooms until late December even. Different mushrooms can be found in different places in the forest and in different types of forest. For instance; porcini and chanterelles mushrooms are mostly common in chestnut, pine or oak forests as these seem to have the most ideal habitat for the wild mushrooms.

Tuscookany

When you go out for mushroom hunting there are some things you should be aware of: always use baskets and not plastic while gathering mushrooms, mushrooms should not be washed when cooking them (just clean of the dirt), most wild mushrooms must be cooked before consumption and some even should be boiled before cooking.

In Italy, wild mushrooms are dried at home, often using wooden crates used for transporting fruits and vegetables. These mushrooms are spread out in the boxes and left to dry in sunny and warm places. Most important is to keep the mushrooms in a dry place, as humidity is the enemy of all dried mushrooms! Hope these tips help you to get your wild mushroom cooking spot on so you can amaze everyone with your new learnt skills. Want to practically learn how to gather and cook Tuscan funghi and get to know what dishes are best combined with these funghi? Try one of our Tuscan cooking classes by our Italian chefs, they will know all the tips and tricks and help you through the hassle. But do not forget; the fact that the adventure contains a whiff of danger and guessing is part of the allure.

Have fun cooking!

The Tuscookany team

Find below our delicious Mushroom risotto recipe for 6 persons:

Ingredients

- 400 g arborio rice 

- 1 small onion 

- 100 g porcini mushrooms 

- 1 l chicken or vegetable stock 

- 1 small bunch of chopped parsley 

- 1 glass of dry white wine 

- 100 g grated parmesan 

- 2 Tbs olive oil 

Directions:

1. Soak the Porcini mushrooms in lukewarm water for half an hour. strain and reserve the liquid.

2. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the mushrooms, parsley and fry gently for a few minutes. Season to taste. Reserve.

3. Heat the stock in a saucepan.

4. Chop finely the onion, brown in a skillet with olive oil, add the rice and let it toast for a few minutes, stirring.

5. Add the wine and the Porcini liquid and let it evaporate stirring all the time.

6. Add the mushrooms and a few ladles of hot stock just to cover the rice. Simmer, stirring always until the rice has absorbed nearly all the liquid. Continue to add more stock as soon as the previous addition has evaporated.

7. When the rice is cooked ( 35 minutes or thereabout ), remove the pan from the heat, mix in the parmesan and serve immediately. 

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Italian Caffè: everything you need to know and more!

Posted on may 02, 2019 by Tuscookany Team
Italian Caffè: everything you need to know and more!

At Tuscookany, you will learn everything about coffee: from pronouncing, to preparing and of course enjoying!

Even though coffee may have been invented in Ethiopia, Italy is where the magic is at for true coffee lovers. The Italian word for coffee is ‘caffè’ and this may refer to either an espresso or a European coffee bar. The Italians are well known for their special attention to the preparation, the selection of the blends and the use of accessories when creating many types of coffee, which basically makes Italy the coffee capital of the world! Interested in the origin of the espresso, 10 ways to prepare an espresso or how you can enjoy an espresso in the Tuscan hills at one of our cookery schools in Italy? Keep reading!

As you may or may not know, coffee is made from coffee beans from a coffee plant. The most popular kind of coffee is Arabica, from the Coffee Arabica plant in Ethiopia. Did you know that Arabica coffee makes up approximately 60% of coffee production worldwide? The second most popular coffee is Robusta, which is made from the Coffea Canephora plant, which also has its origins in Africa.

There is a whole process that goes by before you can enjoy your cup of coffee. After plucking the beans from the plant they first have to be peeled, cleaned and dried before they can be being roasted. These roasted beans can then be ground.  The roughness of this the grind will be determined by the preparation method. For example, Turkish or cold brew coffee have a thick grind, whereas espresso is made from the finest grind. After grinding the beans, you can use a French press, a Drip or, of course, an espresso machine, to prepare the perfect cup of coffee! At our Italian cooking classes in Tuscany, we have a great espresso machine that you can use whenever you wish!

Did you know that the modern steamless espresso machine was invented in Milan, Italy in 1938? No wonder the Italians love their espresso!

Achille Gaggia was the first to invent a machine that forced water to flow over the coffee grounds at a high pressure, which produced the unique creamy top layer of the espresso called the crema. From applying for a patent in 1938, the invention spread in coffee bars and restaurants across Italy and the rest of Europe quickly. The Italian-based company Gaggia, named after its founder, still produces espresso and cappuccino machines to this day.

Whereas most people think of filter coffee or cappuccino when ordering a cup of the black gold, the Italians have tens of sorts of coffee, all made with their lovely espresso. We’ve listed the 10 most popular types of espresso for you:

10 types of Espresso drinks

  1. Caffè:
    The list leader is the classic espresso, and its name means expressly prepared. Order a caffè in Italy and you will get a small cup with a very concentrated coffee. In need of a lot of caffeine? Try ordering a ‘doppio’, which means a double espresso!
  2. Ristretto:
    Thought an espresso was small? Ristretto, which means restricted, is only 15-20 ml, which is roughly two sips! The amount of ground coffee is the same in both espresso and ristretto, only less water is added in the process.
  3. Macchiato:
    This is a very popular drink in Italy and it means stained. You make a macchiato with 2 oz espresso and steamed milk.
  4. Cortado:
    Cortado is the Spanish baby brother of the macchiato and this type has equal parts of espresso and warm milk, which makes the cup ‘cut’ in half.
  5. Americano:
    Probably one of the most popular espresso types is the americano: espresso with hot water. The espresso is extracted on top of the water, which gives it a milder and sweeter taste than a regular espresso. The story goes that American G.I.’s in Italy would dilute espresso with hot water during World War II, to imitate the coffee they were accustomed to at home. 
  6. Cappuccino:
    At Tuscookany, we love cappuccino. The coffee, named for the color after the colour of the Capuchin monk’s robes consists of 1/3 part warm milk, 1/3 part milk foam and 1/3 part espresso.
  7. Latte:
    Latte, which means milk in Italian, is made with 3 parts milk to 1 part espresso. It is regularly served in a tall glass.
  8. Flat white:
    This is the lovechild of a latte macchiato and cappuccino and the flat white is made with espresso and warm milk. If you think a latte macchiato has a great taste but too much milk and a cappuccino has too much foam, you definitely have to try the flat white! 
  9. Mocha:
    The mocha is the perfect drink for chocolate loving coffee drinkers. It is made with espresso, milk and chocolate and definitely worth a try when you are in Italy!
  10. Mezzo:
    Mezzo means half and this drink combines an americano with milk. Perfect if you’re not a coffee drinker or if you like your coffee mild and with milk!

Are you excited to prepare your own espresso, macchiato or americano and drink it with a view of the Tuscan hills? Come to our Tuscan cooking vacation and enjoy your caffè all week long! Indulge in coffee at our cooking classes in Italy, whether you like yours early in the morning or after cooking classes in the afternoon! Drink coffee at breakfast, during the cooking classes or at the pool: at Tuscookany we understand that there’s never enough coffee! Especially if it’s Italian coffee J ! You will even be working on your health, as drinking coffee can also have a healthy effect on your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing!

What is your favorite Italian coffee? Let us know in the comments!

Kind regards,

The Tuscookany Team

 

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Aperitivo: an Italian tradition you're about to love

Posted on march 26, 2019 by Tuscookany Team
Aperitivo: an Italian tradition you're about to love

At Tuscookany, we love aperitivo: it is impossible to imagine the Italian cooking culture without it!

The Italian lifestyle is all about moments with friends and the Classic Aperitivo is no exception to the rule. According to Italians, having a pre-meal drink whets your appetite and this typically bitter cocktail goes well with salty snacks. Bars and cafés offering Aperitivi will be busy from about 6.00 pm to 9.00 pm and during this time you will either be brought a plate of Italian snacks and appetizers, or you will have complimentary access to a full buffet. Although the snacks are not meant to replace dinner, they certainly can. For example, if you are having plans in the evening to go to the ballet or royal opera, you can definitely indulge in an Italian cocktail with some snacks before entering your evening program.  Although Aperitivo is a traditional northern Italian phenomenon, the trend is catching on in the southern part of the peninsula as well. Florence, Arezzo in Tuscany and even Rome all have Aperitivo scenes and they are a great way to start your evening or wrap up your Tuscany cooking class!

History

Antonio Benedette Carpano who created one of the first types of Vermouth in 1786 is said to have invented the Aperitivo. The distiller claimed that his combination of white wine and spices stimulated the appetite and was therefore more suitable to drink before dinner than red wine. Antonio certainly marketed this aperitif effectively, as his vermouth automatically became one of the most popular Aperitivi. Did you know that in Milan they have their own version of the Aperitivo invention story? According to the Milanese, it was not Antonio Benedetto Carpano who started the tradition, but the Lombardian Gaspare Campari, the inventor of the, yes, you’ve guessed it, the famous Campari.

Aperitivo bites

When walking into an Italian Aperitivo Bar you will be amazed by the displayed foods ranging from bruschetta and olives to platters full of focaccia and even quiches and pizzas. Also indispensable in the Aperitivo scene are the finest cured meats and cheeses. Curious about the different kinds of cured meats? Among the most popular are Coppa, Cacciatore, Bresaola and Prosciutto crudo. All usually smoked and cured with a variety of spices, herbs and wine. They are definitely worth a try during your stay in Italy. More into cheese? Italian cheese platters are among the best in the world, with fresh burrata, pecorino and parmigiano. Want to learn more? Our cooking classes in Italy offer the ins and outs on the most delicious Aperitivo bites!

Aperitivo drinks

Among the famous Aperitivo drinks is the Negroni; its strong and fruity flavour is almost an inseparable part of the Italian culture. But did you know that Aperol Spritz is also one of Italy’s most famous aperitif cocktails? The Spritz, invented in the 1950’s by the Aperol brand to increase the sales of the liquor, made its comeback in the 2000’s when actress Amanda Rosa Da Silva used the phrase “Happy Spritz, Happy Aperol” in TV commercials worldwide. Aperol is now among the best-selling liquors in Italy.

Making an Aperol Spritz is simple: fill a wine glass with ice, pour prosecco halfway up the glass, then pour Aperol to the rim of the glass and top with soda water. Garnish with orange to create the authentic Spritz. This 3-2-1 recipe is easy to make, yummy to drink and therefore perfect for late afternoon drinks in summer!

At Tuscookany, we understand the Italian kitchen but also the traditions. During the cooking classes in Tuscany, our chefs will teach you how to prepare a classic Aperitivo and even better: also, to enjoy them. Learn how to make the perfect Negroni or Aperol Spritz and accompany your cocktail with prosciutto, homemade focaccia, or bruschetta. After the Italian cooking course but before dinner there is room for a dip in the pool or time to relax and refresh. As the saying goes, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’, we know that this time is also great for some Aperitivi while watching the sun go down under the Tuscan hills.

Enthusiastic about this Italian tradition? Come and learn to cook with us at Tuscookany cooking school while enjoying an aperitif accompanied by delicious Aperitivo bites.

Kind regards,

The Tuscookany Team

What would be your favorite Aperitivo at our cooking classes in Italy? We would love to hear from you in the comments!

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