Photo Torre del Tartufo sunday lunch.
Cooking and eating together remain an irreplaceable pillar of the Italian sociability.
In Italy, gastronomy is almost philosophy… and much more than that. It is pleasure and sociability: the perfect moment to talk, share a laugh and strengthen relationships. As a matter of fact, the importance of food, home cooking and eating together within the Italian culture has been scientifically proven.
Deborah Cameron, a world-renowned professor of English who teaches at the University of Oxford, and Don Kulick, a professor of Anthropology who works at the New York University, wrote about the subject in their outstanding book Language and Sexuality (2006, published by Cambridge University Press). The authors claim that food taste is actively socialized at dinner, and compare an American and an Italian family to explain their point. While some American family frames dessert as desirable, especially for children, and labels the rest of the dinner as mere nutrition and, sometimes (think about broccoli or brussels sprouts), even as some kind of punishment, Italian families talk about food and dinner as pure pleasure. For an Italian family, the dessert is not the great prize after a painful duty, but the cathartic moment that comes through an extremely exciting social and cultural journey.
It is something you can find in the way Italians talk about food, and the people who cook food. For an Italian child, food means family and parents, it is a comforting blanket that wraps everything with its delicate warmth. Eating together with his mum and dad a home-cooked meal, a little Italian gains the sense of stability and love he needs to grow up and be happy. The mother is usually the one who cooks, and this is another important aspect of this moment of sharing. She spends a lot of time choosing and preparing the right ingredients, those that make a house smell like home, an aroma that - if you are lucky enough to embrace it with all your senses when you are a child - will stay with you for the rest of your life.
The classic Italian mum owns the kitchen, a personal universe where she spends hours and hours, sometimes with grandma. She knows the right recipe for a cold day, when the family needs a ray of sunshine and the warm touch of a homemade dinner. She is perfectly aware of the ingredients you need to fight against a bad cold, and she is ready to cook them for you. And, of course, Italian mums are the best in the world when a special day comes around: desserts, traditional recipes… you name it. Considering all this, it seems quite natural that, for an Italian, nothing is better or more comforting than whatever mum cooks.
While people around the world, especially some people in England and North America, develop family traditions based on “home delivery” or “eating out”, home-cooked meals shared with the rest of the family remain a sacred, irreplaceable event in Italy. The person who cooks waits for the sincere comments of the rest of the family, looking at every expression, waiting patiently to understand whether or not the recipe hit the right spot. All this happens very slowly, while the different courses enter the room following an ancient rhythm carefully directed by the chef of the house. Flavors meet softly, mirroring the traditional combinations of the particular region where the family lives, adding a special cultural twist to a very intimate moment: a ritual passed from generation to generation, from mother to daughter, like an old esoteric ceremony.
Even a “moment with your friends” translates almost automatically in “dinner” in the Italian vocabulary, because eating together and sharing food are both metaphorical and practical expressions of commitment. Around the table, conviviality grows and relationships achieve their highest peaks. Eating together is a magical moment through which the beautiful reaches the sublime, and friendship turns into a rare form of intimacy.
The fact that in Italy women are those who traditionally cook can sometimes be misleading: men have always had their roles in the Italian culinary landscapes and rituals. In the past, men were those who gathered the food, butchered the animals, turned milk into the most amazing cheese. Even today, Italian men are usually those who are in charge of buying the right cold cuts, the perfect wine or the liquor needed to complete the dessert. Plus, especially in younger Italian families, men often cook as well, replicating what they learned from their mothers. However, even if the traditional dynamics that have characterized Italian families for centuries are changing, cooking and eating together remain an irreplaceable pillar of the Italian sociability.
It doesn’t matter if the members of the family live at a different pace, have different routines and do different things: Italians eat together, sitting around the kitchen table, every day, no matter what. And then, on Sunday, grandpa and grandma, daughters and sons, father and mother: the big family, all together. You could think about Christmas dinner as an example of the perfect Italian-style Sunday convivio. Different generations merge and embrace in front of the most delicious dishes you can imagine. The grownups enjoy some local wine, grandpa tells a story, the children laugh and grandma helps mum with the second course. Then the dessert, the coffee and the liquor. Maybe a friend comes around, or the uncle who lives on the other side of town, riding his bicycle. People talk about what happened during the week, how they feel. Everything is familiar and warm. A ritual that goes on and on, year after year. A beautiful celebration of life itself.
On our Tuscookany courses you will teach Italian dishes that are great to prepare for a family sunday lunch or even a small family dinner also read our previous post 4 Reasons Why Everyone Needs an Active Holiday in Italy
Want to share some Sunday lunch tips? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below:5 comments | Add comment
Slow Travel - slow visit to Florence
Travelling is not a simple geographical movement from point A to point B.
It is an experience that involves all the 5 senses: an enriching, emotional journey. It means swimming in flavours and colours, touching cultures and home cooking, losing yourself in histories and stories while spaces and places absorb every drop of your being. Too often, however, all this magic gets lost in midst of some form of rushed tourism. You just have to see as many things as you can, as fast as you can. You take hundreds of pictures to remind yourself you were actually there, even if you don’t actually believe it. And while you rush through beauty, travelling never enters you, never conquers you… never changes you. You suddenly turn into a postcard collector, and you forget you could have been a traveller.
There is, however, an alternative:
It is called slow travel www.slowtraveleurope.eu It is a tourism that rediscovers travelling; a journey built on the idea that only slowness allows the traveller to really see and appreciate both cultural and physical landscapes, stress free www.huffingtonpost.co.uk. Slow travels are about emotions and aromas, voices and backgrounds www.magazine.wsj.com. Through the slowness of his own journey, the traveller finds himself in front of an ocean of details, all the little things that speed and postcards cannot catch. It is pure magic… and a lot of fun!
One of the best places to slow travel is Tuscany.
With all its small details and treasures. “But how do you actually slow travel”, you might be asking. Let me show you: come with me, slowly through Florence, a place made of art and history, but also flavours, home cooking, smells and sounds, just like the region of which this marvellous city is the capital. This will be the perfect example, and also the first step of your slow travel through the magnificent Tuscany.
You will need a pair of comfortable shoes, because walking is always the best way to go slow, and it also the best way to be ready to discover every little dark corner. In a city like Florence, every street can hide an unforgettable masterpiece. In fact, for centuries the town has been an extremely important commercial, artistic and cultural hub. This is the place where the Renaissance was born, a source of never-ending inspiration for architectures and artists across Europe.
Begin your day with an Italian breakfast, enjoy a good cappuccino and a warm pastry. The wonderful Pasticceria Giorgio, which the people of Florence simply call Giorgio, will surprise you with its sweet masterpieces. You will find it in via Duccio da Boninsegna. Or you can always walk down to via Marconi, where you will certainly find a charming spot to enjoy the notes of your cappuccino. Find a table, sit and start a conversation with a real fiorentino, a local citizen. This is the best way to kick off your day and discover all the secrets unknown to the mainstream fast tourists.
Start walking through the city centre. Admire Palazzo Pitti and stop to be carried away by the beauty of the famous Giardino di Boboli, one of the most exquisite examples of Italian garden you will ever encounter. You will find fountains and caves, sculptures and other masterpieces: it is a real open-air museum. Forget about the camera and let the space guide you through its own perfection. Keep on walking, slowly. You can buy a focaccia in the little shop in via Giuseppe Verdi 36, it will take you about 15 minutes to get there. You should also taste some of the cold cuts that made Tuscany famous all over the world. They are excellent. The manager is called Pino, you can trust him. The prices are extremely fair and you will have the chance to experience the flavours of ancient traditions and real Italian home cooking.
Say goodbye to Pino and move towards the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. It is one of the biggest churches on the planet: an immensely fascinating building with a façade made of pink, green and white marble. If Pino’s food gives you enough energy, you will be able to climb the stairs and reach the top of the dome to enjoy a beautiful view of Florence. Inside the church, you can find the marvellous frescos painted by maestro Vasari. The church tower was designed by Giotto in 1334. Certainly, you can’t miss the baptistery and its door, which was made by the sculptor-goldsmith Lorenzo Ghiberti. It is called La Porta del Paradiso, literally “Gates of Paradise”: an overwhelming masterpiece made of wood and gold. According to the legend, Michelangelo himself said that the door was beautiful, like the gates of paradise, and that’s where the name comes from.
You can spend the rest of the day walking through the renowned Galleria Degli Uffizi. A day won’t be enough to absorb all the beauty you will find there. As a matter of fact, you can probably lose yourself in this incredible museum, where you fill find masterpieces of some of the greatest artists of the history of humanity, including Cimabue, Raffaello, Caravaggio, Leonardo da Vinci, Parmigianino, Rubens, Rembrandt. Words won’t be enough to express the feelings that will assault you. The price of the ticket is 6,5 euro, and the building itself is worth the price. If you love art, this will be a lot of fun: a memorable experience.
When dinnertime comes around, you can choose a restaurant and enjoy a typical dish. Walk around the city centre, and let the magic of Florence guide you. A nice place is the charming Osteria di Giovanni, in via del Moro 22. The so-called osterie are typical Italian restaurants, often family owned, perfect for the adventurers who travel through Tuscany. When you sit at the table, before the starters, the owners will probably bring you a few exquisite tasty treats that will make you fall in love with life itself. I am talking about traditional Tuscan dishes, home cooking, maybe a little bit of ribollita or passata di ceci, or even a slice of local salami. When it comes to the first course, pasta is the unquestionable queen of Tuscany. Try some homemade tortelli, they are delicious. You can also enjoy the classic bistecca fiorentina, if you are in the mood for a delicious second course. It is a very thick steak, perfectly cooked to be juicy, tasty and tender. And what about some roasted potatoes? They are the traditional side dish. Before the coffee, you have to try vin santo and cantucci, traditional Tuscan cookies served with sweet wine: a sublime experience.
If you are looking for something cheaper, you can always go to Beppa Fioraia, where a Tagliere Beppa, a mix of cold cuts, homemade jams, pate and other home cooked special treats, costs only 10 euro. A Chianti, the house wine, is always your best choice here. Of course, you can find many other osterie and restaurants. Ask around, the people of Tuscany are always more than willing to give you some tips and guide you towards a nice little place. They love their cities, and they are righteously proud of the local food.
After the dinner, relax and drink something in one of the many taverns you will encounter not far from the restaurant you chose. You will easily find one that offers live music, gorgeous wine, some more delicious home cooking and an unforgivable atmosphere. Have fun!
A day spent travelling slowly through a town or a village in Tuscany won’t allow you to see everything, but it will certainly give you the chance to truly experience everything you see. Breathe in places and spaces, enjoy aromas and home cooking, and start the next day with new points of reference and a new wonderful journey… slowly.
Please leave a comment or suggestions about Slow Travel?
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"Photo: Organic vegetable garden at Torre del Tartufo"
Secret Benefits to Eating In-Season Produce
The owner / chef / waiter had just set down heaping plates of salad at our table.
Now he was staring at us from behind the counter, with an expectant smile.
“I’ve been here before. He’s proud of using only seasonal ingredients. Wants to see you take your first bite!” explained my dinner companion, helpfully.
It was quite odd. My shy salad, in a spotlight.
Shrugging, I crammed in a fork-speared mouthful. And, then… I understood what the fuss was about.
The little restaurant is closed now, sadly. I don’t even recall the name. But those savoury sprightly greens still dance in my taste-bud memory.
You probably don’t need much convincing about in-season produce trumping their limp, imported counterparts for sheer taste. But there are many other perks besides flavour and texture.
Food shipped over long distances loses flavour and freshness. Not to mention incurring some dents and bruises along the way.
But imports can also drive up transit fuel costs.
And even if produce is grown relatively nearby in greenhouses, off-season hothouse fees are hefted onto the overall price.
Farmer's markets are a good place to start your food shopping. Produce is unloaded quickly while yields are still fresh, so there's an incentive to sell at lower prices.
And big bins overflowing with produce are a clue as to what’s in-season at larger grocers.
Seasonality isn't limited to produce. Some meat and game have peak seasons. And since meat is a pricier item in shopping carts, it's smart to keep an eye on time of year.
PACKED WITH NUTRIENTS
Nutritional value breaks down soon after harvest so longer transit times and refrigerated storage cause damage to compounds in fruits and vegetables.
Phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals are more likely to be preserved with in-season items.
You also expand your nutritional range over the year by switching things up every few months.
There are less pesticides, too. Smaller, organic farmers tend to spray crops with natural, safer chemicals.
AVOID FOOD RUTS
Large grocery chains dull our awareness of seasonality with the ready availability of off-season imports.
It can be fun to drum up meal ideas based on what’s in-season. And your taste-buds get treated to regular changes, dodging any "food lulls" that come from buying the same stuff all year round.
WHAT'S IN-SEASON RIGHT NOW?
Certain produce have more than one crop. For example artichokes are harvested in the Spring and Fall. Carrots and onions can grow year round in temperate climates.
The following list is a good starting point if you like to plan your shopping list ahead:
- - Brussel Sprouts - Kale - Leeks - Celery - Cauliflower - Onions - Radicchio - Spring onions - Sweet potatos .....
- - Clementines - Grapefruit - Pomegranate - Pears - Lemons - Apples .....
- - Cabbage - Celeriac - Lettuce - Mint - New Potatos - Pepper - Purple sprouting broccoli - Spinach .....
- - Apricots - Honeydew - Limes - Strawberries - Grapefruit - Pomegranate - Rhubarb ......
- - Tomatoes - Zucchini - Cabbage - Carrots - Cavolo nero - Courgette - Fennel bulb - Garlic - Lettuce ......
- - Blackcurrants - Blackberries - Cantaloupe - Raspberries - Cherries - Gooseberries - Redcurrant .......
- - Broccoli - Endives - Mushrooms - Swiss Chard - Turnips - Aubergine - Beetroot - Broad beans ......
- - Blackberries - Chestnuts - Dates - Lemons - Nectarines- Pears - Plums .......
For a more complete listing check out this handy seasonality calendar on the BBC Good Food Site: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/seasonal-calendar/all
Want to share your thoughts on eating in-season? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below:0 comments | Add comment
Imagine yourself in a large rustic kitchen.
Inside a sprawling Tuscan villa.
It sits among endless rows of sun-speckled trees and breathing hills.
There’s convivial laughter all around you. The earthy scent of basil and garlic wafts through the air. Pappa al Pomodoro soup simmers cheerfully on the stove nearby.
You’re learning how to prepare an authentic 4-course Tuscan dinner. With a master Italian chef!
The menu may include scrumptious layered eggplant with buffalo mozzarella. Drizzled with a velvety pesto cream. Now, picture yourself rolling out your own fresh pasta. Homemade Gnocchi anyone?
How about Limoncello Tiramisu for dessert?
It’s easy to see why.
1. Great for Everyone
Cooking school vacations can be an alluring prospect for singles who find traveling alone intimidating. They’re a fitting alternative to group tours - a better way to mingle with local people and engage with fellow tourists.
Also, organizations are discovering that culinary classes are a fun, effective team-building exercise - everyone works together in the kitchen.
Families can bond over the experience, because, let’s face it, nothing brings people together the way food does! Children develop a healthy respect for tradition and are exposed to new cultures in a creative way.
Couples find plenty of romance in the settings.
Seniors benefit too. Travel is often a major part of the lives of retirees, but having dutifully followed the usual sightseeing circuits earlier in life, a fresh, engaging adventure can be attractive. So there’s a growing trend towards active holidays among older people, as this Huffington Post article points out.
2. Health Benefits
Active vacations are, well, active. Now, of course you’ll have quiet moments taking in the breathtaking scenery. Or perhaps lounging languidly in the sun, sipping a glass of Chianti.
But let’s face it. You’ll often be on your feet, with your sleeves rolled up - making pizza in a wood burning oven, for example. Or stirring up a savory sauce!
There’ll be no reaching for fast food either.
We’ve already talked about how healthy the Mediterranean Diet is - it can prevent cancer and heart disease. And you’ll be cooking with fresh, seasonal, local produce and meats. Which means the very best ingredients go into every dish. Good for the environment too.
3. Impress Your Friends (and Yourself!)
Not only will you return home refreshed, you’ll also sport sharpened culinary skills and brim with inspired meal ideas, as well as fun new wine-pairings. Cooking at home will be enticing!
4. Cultural Immersion
A cooking holiday is a wonderful way to steep yourself in new cultures - literally offering a taste of local flavour firsthand.
Discovering how to prepare authentic meals from a native chef is a rich initiation into different lifestyles. An intimate glimpse into tradition.
You’ll also learn about provincial and regional culinary variations.
For instance, there are 20 regions in Italy - each with its own unique approach to food preparation and ingredients. Tuscan cuisine relies heavily on olive oil, for example. And often uses local wild game (wild boar, rabbit, pheasant etc.,) in many classic dishes.
An Italian or Mediterranean food escapade is an attractive option for anyone looking for a unique travel experience.
Active vacations are the way to go!
Had a great experience with a cooking holiday? Want to share some travel tips? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments below:0 comments | Add comment
A recipe from the Italian cookery course at Torre del Tartufo created by one of our Tuscookany chefs - Franco Palandra
Baked Spaghetti with Eggplant
"Involtini di spaghetti alle melanzane"
250 g spaghetti
1 bunch basil
3 cloves garlic
½ litre home made tomato sauce
¼ cup olive oil
1 glass sunflower oil
2 medium size eggplants
1 handful grated parmesan cheese
6 small slices pecorino cheese
salt & pepper
- Cut 12 thin slices of eggplant and dice the rest.
- Fry the eggplant slices and diced eggplant separately in hot sunflower oil and place on a paper towel to absorb the oil.
- Chop the garlic and fry in olive oil. Cut the basil with scissors and add.
- When the garlic reaches a golden brown colour add the diced eggplant and after a few minutes add the tomato sauce, keeping a little sauce on the side for serving. Cook for 10 minutes.
- Boil the spaghetti in boiling water with salt. Boil for ¾ of the suggested time on the packaging, strain and add to the tomato sauce.
- Remove from heat and add parmesan cheese and toss the pasta.
- Place 2 slices of eggplant on the table, making a long strip.
- Place some spaghetti in the middle (try to divide the pasta in 6 parts) and wrap it.
- Once the 6 portions are made place on a baking tray and add a slice of pecorino cheese to each one.
- Bake until the cheese melts.
Let us know how it worked out - you can add any questions or comments down below.
Have fun cooking!
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Polenta an old Italian dish we will teach how to prepare at the cooking classes in Tuscany.
As it is known today, polenta derives from earlier forms of grain mush (known as puls or pulmentum in Latin or more commonly as gruel or porridge), commonly eaten since Roman times. Before the introduction of corn from the New World in the 16th century, polenta was made with such starchy ingredients as farro, chestnut flour, millet, spelt, or chickpeas. (Wikipedia)
Polenta has a creamy texture due to the gelatinization of starch in the grain. However, it may not be completely homogeneous if a coarse grind or hard grain such as flint corn is used.
Historically, polenta was served as a peasant food in North America and Europe. The reliance on maize, which lacks readily accessible niacin unless cooked with alkali to release it, as a staple caused outbreaks of pellagra throughout the American South and much of Europe until the 20th century. In the 1940s and 1950s, polenta was often eaten with salted anchovy or herring, sometimes topped with sauces. Also look at the explanation by Julie on Huffingtonpost
Tuscookany found some great recipes on line:
In the Tuscookany cookbook "The flavours of Tuscany" we have the Polenta al sugo Toscano on page 106.
Happy cooking!!0 comments | Add comment
Italian Mediterranean Diet – the healthy way of living
By Franco Palandra- chef at Tuscookany – Cooking vacations in Tuscany
Do you realise how healthy an Italian Mediterranean diet is? The Italian cuisine is typically Mediterranean which entails eating a lot of vegetable, fruit, cereal, fish and in particular white meat.
In addition the most important element is the fact that the Italian use olive oil for cooking in large amounts instead of animal fat. Olive oil helps to clean the coronary tracts and this, combined with a high volume of coloured vegetables, prevents disease. Furthermore the Italians take heed to follow nature and only eat what is in season. It’s not only tastier but if you eat according to the season you will be eating a variation of different coloured vegetables. Each different colour has a different antioxidant, which helps prevent diseases including cancer.
Dr. Ancel Keys was one of the pioneers to promote the Italian Mediterranean diet. He was the inventor of the K ratio for soldiers. He studied the eating habits of the Italians in the South of Italy during the 2nd world war. He was surprised to discover how much older Italians became compared to other European countries and questioned this. He studied their life style and eating habits and came to the conclusion that the Italian Mediterranean diet was the reason. Their diet lengthened their life without any side effects..
Another important “secret” is the Italian social life. Eating is a communion of sharing food between the family, celebrating events like the harvest of the main vegetables like wheat, olives and grapes. These events are like a big party for the whole community, dancing and eating. Sharing those happy moments together gives healthy “pills” to the brain and fights depression. Even the daily market visits create a good mood when the mama’s meet each other, sharing gossip, recipes, or bargaining with the traders.
There is an expression that foreigners often use to describe Italians: Italians don’t eat to live but live to eat and this is so true! For us Italians we will always find an excuse to celebrate with food and wine.
In the sixties and seventies the Mediterranean diet changed due to the economical boom and people started to have a better life and associated the Mediterranean diet more with poor people. Fortunately now many Italians are going back to the traditional Mediterranean diet as they realise that this is a better and healthier lifestyle.
There are big differences between the Italian food in the North and South and it comes together in Tuscany, in the middle of the country, which takes the best of both North and South hence the wonderful Tuscan cuisine with influences from both regions.
At the Tuscookany cooking courses we inspire our guests to cook Italian style, with the Italian colours, spices and oils. Doing this with joy and sharing the food that we have prepared at dinner with a good glass of wine surrounded with beautiful scenery of Tuscany and great company.
What else can I say, there is no diet like Mediterranean in the world, you can follow any other diet for any reason, but this cannot be done for years, there will always be some side effects that will cause the body to suffer, but the Mediterranean diet can be done all your life.
Ancel Keys is the proof. He passed away at the age of 101!3 comments | Add comment
Tuscookany and Olive Oil.
Virgin olive oil is one of the few man made products that have remained uniquely unchanged through the centuries: The technique has existed with out rectification for over 6.000 years.
Virgin olive oil has particular qualities in comparison to all vegetal oils and animal fats as it is extracted from the fruit rather than the seed.
It seems that the origin of olive oil can be traced back to Armenia and Turkestan, before reaching the Mediterranean area. Remains of olive-presses have been discovered in Palestine, dating back to 4.000 BC.
Olive trees are cultivated throughout the island of Crete in 2.500 b.C. where an ancient ware house has been discovered containing eight hundred thousand liters of oil. This oil would have been used as a reserve against famine years or readiness for export.
For Greeks, olive oil was sacred, and to this day it is still forbidden to uproot olive trees. Due to the mild climate there are trees in Greece that are hundreds of years old. In Greece olive oil is the basic ingredient for cooking and is used today as it has been for thousand of years.
Romans discovered olive oil during their conquest, and it quickly became an irreplaceable ingredient in the dishes. Ippocrate, was one of the first recorded people to realize and promote the health giving properties of olive oil, and it is Plinio who said "olive oil and wine are two liquids good for the human body".During the middle Ages the largest producers of olive oil were the monasteries, and fortress-farms in Tuscany.
But by the 12th century, an important change came about in agriculture. Isolated farms came together in villages protected by walls. These urban centers created a social and economic revolution that created a desire to eat better and thus coincide with a rise in the demand for olive oil.
The 16th and 17th centuries in Italy were a time of wars and disorders, this bought about a crisis in olive oil production. Olive trees remained under cultivation only with in the Tuscan region.
It is during the 18th century that we see a considerable increase in the demand for and production of olive oil. During this period Italian olive oil was internationally recognized as the finest available and was exported to England, Belgium, France, Russia and Germany.
During the 19th century, considering the continuous increase in the market, olive groves appeared up and down the coasts and over most of the hills of central and southern Italy. By the end of the century, out of 97 provinces of Italy, 67 were cultivating olive trees.
By 1950's a wave of thought spread through the western world contesting the health giving properties of olive oil, despite its connotations as peasant food.
In United States, in the 1960's a study conducted by Ancel Keys statistically proved that poorer persons in the Mediterranean area were not affected by cardiovascular disease.
During a visit in Greece and Italy, Ancel Keys, noticed that considering the high consumption of fat (mainly olive oil) the rate of cholesterol and cardiovascular disease is very low.
The Mediterranean diet began to gain popularity and olive oil sales and production have been increasing ever since. At Tuscookany the Tuscan Olive Oil is one of the most important ingredient for nearly all the recipes that are tougth by our Tuscookany chefs.
Tuscookany Cooking School
By Jeannette Anne Davey
We arrived at the site of the Tuscookany Cooking School after playing what felt like our own version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. We had an overnight flight from the US to Rome, a train from Rome to Arezzo then a taxi ride that culminated in an interesting climb up a steep gravel road to get to Torre del Tartufo (Tower of the Truffles) in Chiaveretto, Italy.
After a very informal check-in process, we were shown to our rooms which far exceeded our expectations. We were in our own little 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom villa which included a living room complete with fireplace and kitchenette area.
We had a small orientation and tour of the grounds (large solar heated swimming pool, wood heated hot tub, sauna, steam room, gardens, laundry facility) followed by dinner. By the end of the night I counted 51 bottles on the table. I never knew so many liqueurs existed (artichoke liqueur, anyone?!?) At 11pm, although the party was still going strong, we were about to drop and called it a night.
Monday started with breakfast (which we almost missed as the beds were so comfy we slept until 9am!) then a stroll around the grounds followed by lunch.
After lunch, Chef Franco (who has been the chef here since it opened 9 years ago) handed out aprons (which had our names on them) and gave us a tour of the kitchen. We looked in every drawer to know where things were and instructed to remember it all. Basically we just got familiar with the workings of the kitchen. We were divided into 4 groups (appetizer, pasta, main course and dessert). Each day we will make a different part of the meal so by week’s end we will have done one of each. We were also put in teams which change every day so by the end of the week we will have worked with everyone here.
The group of 13 participants (6 from Canada and 7 from the US) varied widely in experience and expertise. Everything from those who had attended several cooking schools before to a husband who came with his wife and admitted that he doesn’t cook, he was just here for the wine! Franco seemed to be able to be in 4 places at once, somehow keeping complete control over every team at all times. He had a way of making everyone feel comfortable and was able to assign tasks which fit our abilities.
We learned a lot (did you know if you wet and wring out parchment paper it will mold itself into a cake pan perfectly?) but mostly we had fun. Franco understands that we aren’t here to become professional chefs, it’s a cooking vacation.
At dinner, as each course was served, the responsible team members were toasted, cheered and complimented on their portion of the meal. The wine flowed freely and the liqueurs came out once again.
The other cooking days were much the same with breakfast, some time to enjoy the villa and grounds, lunch, cooking class and a party atmosphere at dinner again toasting and complimenting the cooks as each course was served.
One of the most interesting things about the school was how much what we made was influenced by the season. We cooked dishes based on what Franco could get locally as well as what we could pick right there on the grounds. For example, we made a cake with figs but 2 weeks ago the same cake was being made with berries, two weeks later it would be made with apples. We made sweet focaccia from the grapes growing over the table. There was a full herb garden where we would pick what we needed to season our dishes and all the truffles came from the property (thus the name).
We had a culinary tour one day which took us to a vineyard for wine tasting, an olive oil making facility (more tasting and lunch), a textile factory and a goat farm where we were tasting again, this time different varieties of goat cheese.
We had one free day. Some people choose to stay at the villa. Our group took the train into Florence for the day. That evening everyone came together for a dinner of leftovers from what we had cooked earlier in the week.
The staff could not do enough for us and really made us feel like Torre del Tartufo was our home, if even just for a week. Although admittedly, most of us don’t have someone at home washing the dishes as fast as we can dirty them and constantly cleaning up after us. That was a nice treat!
Some of what we made:
Squash Tart: Eggplant Pudding:
(Fig) Farmer Cake with Rosemary Gelato:
Pizza :(we each made our own then cooked it in the wood fired oven)
Beef in Red Wine with Smashed Cauliflower:
Semifreddo di Zabaione & Vin Santo:
Wild Boar Stew:
(just in case you are wondering if it really was wild, the people cleaning the boar found buckshot in it!)
Octopus: Pumpkin Ravioli:
Swordfish stuffed Squash: Rack of Lamb:
Soft Cake with Cream of Ricotta: Tiramisu:1 comment | Add comment
When you see a truffle, you can’t help but wonder what the big deal about it is. It’s often described as knobby looking potato and yet, it is this visually unappealing truffle that is considered the diamond of the culinary world. What is it about this clump of dirt that has people scrambling over themselves to get their hands on it? Considering the fact that even the smallest amounts of it, cost a small fortune, here are a couple of things you might want to know about truffles before you try its aroma.
A truffle is a fungus.
A truffle is a fungus, plain and simple. It usually grows under Oak, Birch, Pine, Hazel trees. They are usually found underground and need to be ‘hunted’. Truffles are widely grown in forested areas of Europe, North Africa, Middle East and North America. At Torre del Tartufo we have 2 Hectare (5 Acre) of truffle fields.
Types of Truffles
There are two main types of truffles, Black Truffles and White Truffles. White truffles are slightly more sought after and expensive than the black truffles, because they are a little rarer to find that the black ones.
Truffle season is usually from November through March. Black Summer truffles can also be found in July.
Cutlivation | Harvest | Truffle Hunting.
Have you ever heard of the phrase, an expensive mistake. There could not be a better example than in the case of truffle harvesting. Collecting them requires experience and training. Hunters prefer to use dogs or hogs to help sniff out the truffle without damaging it. The only real danger here is of the hogs eating the truffles! Some of the more inexperienced truffle hunters tend to use rakes, where they rake out the truffles from their hidden spots, but in this case sometimes the immature truffles are also raked out, reducing the quality.
Truffle hunting has become quite the tourist attraction these days. In Torre del Tartufo we try to have a truffle hunt once a week when we have the cooking classes in Tuscany.
Be sure to use the truffles on the same day and no later than the third day after you get them , lest they lose their wonderful earthy flavour.
Truffles can be used in several forms, like truffle salt, truffle oil, truffle Vodka, however, there is nothing to compare to using it in all its fungus glory. One should never try to cook white truffles, because it causes the truffles to lose their flavour under heat and are much better off as shavings. With Black truffles however, you can afford to cook it (bare minimum cooking, mind you).
Would you believe that people travel all over the world just to see and buy something that often resembles a clump of dirt? Believe it. Here are some of the festivals,in the Tuscany area which celebrate this culinary royalty.
San Giovanni d’Asso: This Tuscan Truffle Festival takes place during the second and third weeks of November. A cluster of stalls selling white truffles as well as food stalls and restaurants selling food infused with truffles. As simple as it may sound, it is definitely an experience of a life time.
San Miniato Truffle Festival: San Miniato is a small town in the province of Pisa, in the Tuscany region in the lower Arno Valley. 25% of Italy’s truffle production happens in this area and it only makes sense that there is a special festival to celebrate all things truffle. A group tents with a beautiful duomo serving as the backdrop, this festival is a dream come true for all food lovers. From full truffle to olive oil infused with truffles. Restaurants pop up purely to make some amazing food to showcase truffles. It’s a truffle dream come true. This festival happens in the second, third and fourth weekends of November.0 comments | Add comment