Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tuscany Part 3: Cooking Lessons

Aside from the wine, the best part about Tuscany is hands-down the food. Therefore, we decided to book a cooking class during our visit to the region. We found 'Taste Tuscany' on tripadvisor and signed up for a class on our final day in Siena.
The class took place in the home of Lesley, who is a UK ex-pat living in Italy with her partner and 3 year old son. Lesley served as sous chef and translator for the Italian cook who didn’t speak a word of English. Since we visited Italy in the lowest of the low tourist season, we had the course all to ourselves, which meant we got to pick our own menu.
There were 5 pre-set options for a 5 course lunch, and choosing which one was probably the most difficult decision of our lives. Menu One seemed the most appealing except for one small thing: Chicken Liver Pate. However, the promise of Tiramisu for dessert prompted us to choose this menu in spite of chicken guts as an appetizer.
The course was fairly intimate and not at all the professional environment we were expecting. It was a cozy house with an idyllic Tuscan kitchen and an unbeatable view of the hills. I fell in love with the home and it’s rustic farmhouse charm.
Due to the atmosphere it was easy to imagine ourselves living is such a relaxing place, and the crisp and clear winter day made it an even more memorable experience. We started the lesson by making the Tiramisu.
This has been a long time favorite dessert of ours so we were thrilled to learn to make it from scratch. It’s actually fairly easy to put together, and since it doesn’t require any actual baking, it’s pretty much a fool proof option for me. I was in charge of whipping together the cream and shredding a bar of chocolate while Jonathan had the fun task of soaking the lady fingers in a coffee and dessert wine mixture.
I used to say there was nothing more attractive than a man walking his dog. I retract my earlier claim. There is nothing more attractive than a man making Tiramisu from scratch. 
Once the dessert was put together and put in the fridge to settle, we moved on to the chicken livers. And they were even more disgusting than I thought, since apparently a secret ingredient for liver pate is sardines. Yep. I had to clean a sardine, pull out its spine, and mix it in with some chicken liver. And then I had to eat it spread on bread.
Luckily we also made bruschetta which was a great chaser for the other appetizer.
For our next course we made a caramelized onion and goat cheese tart. I’m a sucker for anything with ‘goat cheese’ in the title, which is another reason why we chose this menu despite the chicken liver course. The tart was absolutely heavenly.
Next up we had chicken pinwheels stuffed with parmesan and prosciutto. For our main course we had homemade picci pasta with a pesto sauce and tomatoes. Making pasta was extremely labor intensive, but therapeutic at the same time.
The instructor complimented Jonathan on his natural pasta making abilities calling him patient and precise. That might be the first time anyone has ever called Jonathan patient, but I will attest to his perfectionist tendencies.
You need to cook fresh pasta shortly after making it, and shouldn’t let it sit for long. It’s probably too high maintenance for me to make for a dinner party, but it definitely tasted better than the store bought stuff.
The pesto sauce we made was also scrumptious, making the fourth course of our meal quite a success.
Finally we had reached the pinnacle of our efforts and it was time to taste the Tiramisu.
Hands down, best tiramisu I have ever had. Even though I had already eaten 4 pre-cursor courses, I was able to have seconds of dessert.  
Not only was the food (apart from the chicken liver) enjoyable, but sitting outside in the sun was such a nice treat. We’re in full on winter in Aberdeen so even when it’s sunny, the sun is low in the sky and the rays simply aren’t strong enough to give off much warmth.
We soaked up the vitamin D in Tuscany, and enjoying the sunny skies while eating great food and drinking smooth wine is really what we were hoping to do in Italy.
We were really blessed that even though we were there in December, we got to enjoy a bit of warmth during our trip. Marco, Lesley’s cat, was also enjoying basking in the sunlight, and he made quite an interesting dinner guest.
Lesley made for great conversation as well. Since she is a UK native, she gave us all sorts of tips of great sights in England and Wales, and it was also interesting to learn about what it’s like to be an expat in Italy. We exchanged war stories and had a few laughs about the crazy differences between America and the UK.
It was the perfect way to end our time in Siena, and we both think that a cooking class is a great way to learn about life in a different country, especially one in which the food is such an integral part of the culture and the identity. I think we will definitely look into more classes like this on our travels throughout Europe.
What are some of your favorite things to do on vacation?

1 comment:

  1. This is such a great idea. My husband and I booked our vacation to Tuscany last week. I have been looking forward to the Tuscan villa rentals that we were able to get. I think I may have to look up a cooking class. I can't believe I did not think of it before. Thanks for sharing