Learning to cook traditional Tuscan food with a real Italian mamma

For my 30th birthday I was whisked away to Tuscany by my fiancee for a four day Italian adventure which included a full-on, traditional Italian cooking class on the Sunday.

We spent our first full day in the area exploring the Tuscan countryside around Chianti, and in the evening I was delighted to find out we were booked in to eat dinner in the middle of a magnificent wine vineyard. The four course gala dinner is an event held three times each year at the organic winery hotel we were staying at (look out for an upcoming post on the meal, and a hotel review about the fabulous Querceto di Castellina).

After a brilliant evening eating Tuscan food under the stars, we spent our Sunday morning and most of the afternoon learning how to cook traditional Tuscan recipes with the owner of the vineyard, Laura.

Laura is 71 years old, and teaches her Tuscan cooking class with enthusiasm on a daily basis with a profoundly deep knowledge for the ingredients and dishes she cooks up.  By the end of the day you will have whipped up more dishes than your stomach will know what to do with. Laura owns the winery, hotel and cooking school and runs the estate along with her two sons and daughter in-law Mary.

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During our class we made three antipasti dishes, two primi platti pasta dishes, and a main course with a vegetable side and dessert.

Antipasti – Appetizers 

Bruschetta with tomatoes and basil

Crostoni with stracchino cheese and sausage pork with truffle

Crostini with gorgonzola cheese and walnuts

Primi platti – Pasta dishes

Farfalle with zucchini and saffron

Penne with black olives and mushrooms

Secondi platti – Main course 

Filet of pork in shirt (pancetta)

Verdure – Vegetables

Spinach with raisins and pine nuts

Dolce – Dessert

Sheep cheese “alla Caterina del Medici”

The class started at 10 am, and we sat down to eat our feast at around 3 pm which gave us several hours in the kitchen for some hands on experience. We kicked off the day by preparing the sauces for the two primi platti pasta dishes and putting together the most delicious tomato and basil bruschetta topping I’ve ever had. The tomatoes in Tuscany are truly sweet with a bit of a bite to them, and the basil is fresh and smells divine.

The filet of pork in bacon took several hours on the stove (after wrapping it tightly in pancetta), and we drank red L’aura wine (yes it’s named after the chef), and chatted with the other students as we cooked up our lazy Italian feast.

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My top 3 favourite dishes were the crostoni with stracchino cheese and sausage pork with truffle appetizer, the bruschetta with tomatoes and basil, and the farfalle with zucchini and saffron. The pork was also outstanding, but if I had to choose, the three first dishes were my top choice as they were so simple and gorgeous without being overly filling or rich. There was something so beautifully simple about taking the truffle sausage out of its casing and placing it straight on bread which we then literally just popped into the oven for ten to fifteen minutes, and the bruschetta with tomatoes was fresh and light, and not too garlicky. We learned that the trick to a perfect tomato bruschetta is to put in several cloves of garlic (un-chopped but peeled) a few hours before serving, and then remove them when ready to eat. Presto!

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Laura’s Cooking Class was a great way to meet other travelers and spend a day really delving into the history and heritage of traditional Tuscan dishes. The first, but definitely not the last time we will be cooking up these Italian delights, but also not the last time we’ll be visiting Laura and her beautiful family in Chianti.

Grazie mille Laura! 

 

Cooking up a Balinese food storm in Sanur

Last summer we decided it would be fun to try a cooking class while holidaying in Bali and we found Caraway Cooking Class on TripAdvisor and quickly decided it was exactly what we were looking for. My boyfriend, mom and I were picked up at 4 pm by the owner of the school, the lovely Ibu Dewi, who drove us back to the cooking school, which is also her private home a little bit outside of Sanur.

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Cooking up a storm in Ibu Dewi’s kitchen.

When we arrived at the school Dewi’s best friend and young niece were both there to greet us, and we quickly got started on our lesson. We spent around three hours preparing traditional Balinese food, and we also ended up making Indonesian beef rendang (which is not something that is usually on the menu, but we requested it and Dewi was kind enough to go out of her way to show us how to make my favorite dish). Ma kasih ya Dewi! 🙂

We spent the late afternoon and early evening learning how to make homemade vegetable spring rolls, grilled chicken satay with peanut sauce, mi goreng (fried noodles), acar kuning (yellow pickled vegetables) and a coconut dessert. It was a truly spectacular day, and I would recommend anyone in the Sanur area to take the same class.

Our entire experience was very hands on, which we all really loved as we got to learn the intricacies of each and every dish we made, and obvs asked a ton of questions along the way. As I spent my childhood in Indonesia I’ve always been accustomed to (and loved) spicy food, but I really didn’t realize how many chili peppers typical Indonesian and Balinese dishes contain, especially in notoriously hot dishes like rendang.

One of the tricks to making awesome Indonesian food is to prep your herbs and spices before you start cooking, so that you can easily throw them in when their cooking time comes. We spent about an hour preparing all our garlic, chili, ginger and spices, so that once it came down to cooking everything, it all came together in a flash.

The final Caraway Cooking Class feast consisted of beef rendang slow cooked with coconut milk, red rice, grilled chicken satay with peanut sauce, yellow  pickled vegetables, mi goreng (fried noodles) and a beautiful coconut pudding for dessert.

This was the first time any of us had tried a professional cooking class (but certainly not our last), and we not only walked away with extremely happy stomachs and giant smiles on our faces, but also with a rich understanding for the basics of Balinese cooking.

Terima kasih banyak Caraway Cooking Class. Sampai jumpa lagi!