There was no way I was going to Tuscany for a week without making time for a cooking course. I must admit I didn’t do any research but my travelling companion, Ms L, had picked up a flyer at Books For Cooks, for a Tuscan cooking school at Villa Pandolfini and we went with it.
As avid amateur cooks we decided to go for the advanced cooking course. We had cooked alot of Italian before and were keen to get some top tips how to improve and learn some new techniques. We were seemingly slightly early to arrive. The was no one to greet us so we sat in the sun. The chef for the day then arrived with bags of food he had just bought from the market for our lessons. The day course started leisurely at 10am, it was Italy after all, and finished promptly at 3pm. We did make alot of dishes in that time.
All the dishes were made as a combined group effort with alot of input from the chef. There were 7 of us in the class on this occasion. I got excited when I saw the courgette flowers come out. I thought we might be stuffing them with a some great cheeses and frying them in a light crispy batter. They were chopped up and added to the risotto, lost in the pot of rice. I think we all got a courgette or onion to chop for this and a few of us did some stove top risotto stirring. Oh yeah, one of the girls grated the parmesan and I helped plate up before sitting down to eat.
One of the best dishes of the day was the simplest. It was one we recreated back at the Tuscan Farmhouse too. You may have found when you visited Tuscany that the local bread is a little flavourless and becomes hard very quickly. This is typical Tuscan bread made without salt. It is a style that dates back to the 12th Century when the Pisans were a strong maritime power and controlled the import and sale of salt. In order to show power over the Florentines and increase revenue they increased salt prices. Tuscans of the time decided not to pay their high prices for it, so they made their bread without it.
This is the perfect thing to do with it, it’s called Fettunta. Toast it, rub it with the cut side of a clove of garlic, drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt, add a glass of red and your set.
The next dish I was not so keen on. It seemed wrong to me to put that sticky balsamic all over such beautiful Parmesan but the flavours did balance. The sweet balsamic against the salty Parmesan, not something I will be repeating though.
So after that little interlude we were back to it. Veal involtini was the next dish we prepared. We all had one veal to pound out thinly and roll with proscutto, sage, spinach, and ricotta. They were then cooked stove top and set aside.
The chef then demonstrated a leek flan with Ms L assisting in the egg cracking process. At times she looked like she could have been running the class! The flan did look appetising with that golden top, when brought out of the oven.
Making pasta was something we had hoped we would do. Both of us had made pasta before but we were hoping to learn some new shapes or techniques to perfect the pasta. We all made our base egg pasta dough and then waited in turn to machine roll it our ready to fill with our spinach and ricotta mix the chef had just prepared. There wasn’t much supervision at this stage as the chef was assembling and finishing off other dishes so we could sit down and eat.
As a result some of out pastry was rolled out thick and some too thin making it unpleasant to eat once cooked. I guess that’s all part of a cooking course.
We also made some rosemary baked potatoes to go with the finishing meal. It does all look a bit pale but it tasted lovely, except the veal which was very over cooked and tough to chew. The cheese that exudes from the involtini also had that curdled look.
Our dessert was a simple ricotta cake with pine nuts and mixed peel. It was made mostly by the chef.
The course included the apron we wore for the day and a small paperback book of Tuscan recipes used at the school. I did enjoy the day but it was not what I expected at all, keeping in mind that this was advertised as an advanced Tuscan cooking course (it has since been renamed an Italian Immersion). It is definitely geared toward the tourist wanting to do an Italian cooking course to round off the Italian holiday experience.
The 5 hour course cost €190.