12 September 2016

2015 ITALY Gaiole in Chianti 33 - I'm Not a Cook ...

With that said, this was probably the closest I ever came to being one. What a fun day! It always feels good to "play in the flour" and to create.

The Badia a Coltibuono cooking school was founded by Lorenza de' Medici (Stucchi).  She was an editor to Vogue magazine, wrote children's books, and owned a woven goods store. Her yarns were used by famous designers like Calvin Klein and one of her fabrics was used for a wedding gown which is now in the Fashion Museum of Paris.

She wrote over a dozen books about food, recipes, and the heritage of Italian cooking. She had a television show on American PBS titled "The De' Medici Kitchen" and was named to a short list of the world's most famous cooks. In 1980 she started the culinary school here at age 54.

I had heard about her cooking school several years ago, but never thought in a million years I would be attending. Our instructor today was Villa Chef Benedetta Vitali (in center with main assistant on left and Chef John on right).

All ingredients were fresh and much came from the garden we saw outside the kitchen window.

Some noticed the beautiful stone sink which we learned was at least 400 years old--well worn to a smooth surface, but still in use. I loved the blue and white ceramic tiles used in the back splash.
The kitchen was filled with one big marble work table on which we all gathered and worked (instead of the 2-position metal counters you see on TV cooking shows). We all faced each other and learned by sight what the others were doing as we worked.

Walls were lined with shelves and drawers filled with cooking utensils and hanging items like copper pots or molds. Spices, herbs, fresh, home-canned, and pickled ingredients filled the counter tops. Oh, to have this for our kitchen at home.
Steve was tasked to pour the Chardonnay wine to go with our sheeps's milk pecorino cheese sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. There was a little balsamic on the side. He did his best to assure we all had an equal share.

That gave us a bit of confidence and courage to get in the cooking spirit of things. Even me! Immediately we started chopping, rolling, frying, dressing, stuffing, spooning, kneading, slicing, etc. We learned how to weigh ingredients rather than using measuring tools, what type of flours/semolina to use for pasta, that we should keep knives sharp, how to cut veggies safely, and much more.

On the menu, schiacciata ("smashed") flat bread was tackled first. There were two styles--one with fresh tomatoes and one with house-produced olive oil and fresh rosemary.

Ravioli Pasta with ricotta and spinach filling in fresh tomato sauce was a highlight. We all got a chance to make and knead the dough, turn out the thin strips of pasta circles with the pasta roller, and fill the ravioli with cheese and spinach.

Benedetta worked on the pork filet in a vinsanto ("holy wine") sauce.
Cauliflower and broccoli bake with parmigiana cheese was next. This was an extra dish not listed on the day's menu. I think it was made especially for me (as the veg head), to fill in for the pork.
The parmigiana de melanzane was so fun to put together. It was stacked layers of baked eggplant slices, buffalo mozzarella cheese, garlic, olive oil, fresh chunky tomato sauce, parmigiana cheese, and oregano.
The dining area where we scarfed up all the wonderful dishes we had just prepared, was rustic in a classic setting. Blue and white table cloth, insignia dinnerware, and food served family style. Of course, house wines were on hand to enjoy with lunch.

We ended the meal with a sweet dessert wine and almond biscotti cookies (homemade, but not by us).

We all really enjoyed this day of camaraderie and cooking, and agreed it was a highlight of the trip. We learned so much about ingredients, technique, herbs and spices, and food in general. I might even be inspired to try some of these recipes at home.

At last we retired to a sitting room for a mini snifter of grappa or cup of espresso and more biscotti. A perfect ending to the event ... that is if we couldn't have a nap.

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