So with yesterday’s bike ride feeling like a success, I was looking forward to my 2nd Florencetown “tour” with the Food & WIne Academy, Firenze cooking class. I had so enjoyed my class in Roma and was hoping for a similar experience.
Since I knew my way to the meeting point, I did not rush. Instead, I stopped at a classy looking Pasticceria I had noticed yesterday. It is very pretty and formal inside. The waiters behind the counter were maybe a bit snooty, but I do not know how to say “Ya work…in a pastry… shop” in Italian, so I let it slide. I am sure they get their share of tourist, but it seemed like a local spot as well.
They serve a molto buono cappuccino and tasty pastries….good call Paige.
As I approached the Florencetown office, crowds were beginning to gather; biking tour over there, walking tour (with Giulia this morning) over here, horseback riders…?….in the van, and the cooking class, over there. I was a bit worried, they kept sending people over to stand with us. I wondered how many people were in each class. In Roma, we had 12 and that seemed good.
When our chef introduced himself, he counted us off “ventiquattro, va bene”. 24 did not seem very va bene to me, but ….
Our chef’s name was Andrea. If you remember, Andrea was also the name of my chef in Roma…what are the odds? Both tall, dark and handsome….again, what are the odds….OK, here in Italy, those odds are with you.
Andrea first asked if anyone had any food allergies. One vegetarian….”va bene”.
He told us that first we would walk over to the market where people will explain us many things and we will shop for the meal.
On the walk I got to chat with Andrea a bit. He told me that “The girl-a (Giulia) had-a said-a you-a took-a tour yesterday-a too?” I told him yes and that tomorrow I would do one more. “Busy-a holiday…no?”
All the florencetown workers wear these white t-shirts with their logo on them along with the word ALUMNI. I asked Andrea if they sold these? He told me, I might want to ask them tomorrow. I said that since I will have taken 3 tours, I would kinda be an ALUMNI….he started laughing and said, “I-a was just-a thinking the same-a thing-a. You-a think-a like-a Italian…first-a we think-a of an easy-a way to do it and then-a….we do it.”
The market was wonderful! I would be so disappointed if today were my last day in Florence and I did not have the chance to return. The experience was heightened of course by being with someone the vendors knew and joked with.
Our first stop was to a….I guess you would say a condiment vendor. She “explain to us” many interesting things.
Our first education was in formaggio. We tried several different pecorinos. As I am sure you are aware, this is a cheese that is made from sheep’s milk. She added different condiments on top to balance the flavors. “Everything-a in Eeeatly eeesa balanced.”
Side note- this is why Tuscans do not put salt in their breads. Yes, the original reason was because there was a very high tax on salt and the poor could not afford, but the OTHER reason is because the Procuitto and the cheeses are all very salty and they balance out the bread.
There was one honey that we tried with truffle in it. Right now, I am, again, sure you are aware, is the Black truffle season. The white truffle, they call “Diamonds on the Table”. A white truffle, I forget what weight she said, but not that much, would cost about 6000 euros….so, aptly named.
We then got to sample parmigiano reggiano. They are PROUD of this stuff! She was telling us that the quality we were tasting doesn’t even make it to the states-a. She says “theeesa stays-a in Eeeatly”.
She educated us on how to serve different aged cheeses. For example, a young cheese, “eees-a too much-a fresh-a for my spaghetti.”
I am learning that Italians are all about highlighting ONE special ingredient, not overpowering things…and boy, don’t get them started on the “chef’s” we have on our TVs.
Her thought is summed up by saying , “I think-a theees eeesa so silly”.
Next came Olive Oil….
I finally understand what the term “cold press” or “extra virgin” olive oil means. She is a very good teacher. Now if you ever see “Extra Extra”….again she says, “theees eeesa for the market….I think-a theeesa eeesa so silly”.
She told us about all the different kinds of olive oil she has and what she does with each and when. She also added, “eeeef-a something-a eeesa to appen at-a my house-a…I take-a my keeeds-a and-a theeesa (holding up a bottle of olive oil), no husband. Theeesa eeesa a normal here-a.”
I think a highlight, although I loved all of her specialties, was the Balsamic education. I had no clue before this.
We had leeetle spoons and we tried different ages and different “flavors”. I learned that it is aged in barrels, much like wine….that is why there is a juniper and a cherry, because of the type of wood the barrel is made out of. The smaller the barrel, the more the surface of the barrel touches the vinegar (I did not even know it was made from grapes!) and the more expensive it is….that coupled with the age.
She said, and Andrea echoed a couple of times throughout our class, that much of what we buy is cheap and full of chemicals…alcohol and powders she kept saying. That is why we get headaches from cheap wine and cheap balsamic….because it is not made from the grape itself, but from all the residue and then mixed with keemiculs….Andrea said he has tried to read the ingredients on “mayonnaise” for example and he said, “I deeed not-a understand-a….I had-a to-a stop-a. To understand, I think-a, you-a must-a be-a a keemicul.”…..I think he meant chemist, but…..
Anyway, enough about the condiment education, but it was worth the price of admission!
On to the market, Andiamo!
Just like with my class in Roma, so much of what we learned was about the history and culture of the people of the area and of their food. I think as with many of our heritages, some of the best dishes come from cooks being frugal; using what they had, not wasting parts.
And speaking of not wasting parts, may I introduce you to the lesser known parts of a cow.
This vendor prepares, and has always prepared the one specialty sandwich of Florence, Lampredotto. Made from the 4th, and final, stomach of the cow….I tell you what else would be final…
What I do like about this is the way Andrea explains it, “We here-a in-a Eeataly, are-a honest-a about what-a we-a are-a eating-a….When you go-a to buy a bouuugar….at a place-a that-a makes-a millions of-a bouuugars….how-a can you-a trust-a what is eeena that-a bouuuugar?”
Andrea tells us how to prepare a steak. He says never add salt until the end. “Salt, Pepper, a bit-a of-a extra virgin olive oil….I didn’t invent theeesa, but eeeta is true-a.”
Something interesting that Andrea talks about several times is to only use 1 herb. If you are going to use basil, use basil, not oregano and thyme as well. He says in Italy they choose their ingredients “seemple, 3 or 4 ingredients only”.
As we start to head over to the kitchen, which is just across the street from the market, Andrea reminds us that shopping is part of the cooking.
Now let’s get cooking.
This is where it starts feeling a bit crowded, but it ended up working out well.
We all worked together (2 “teams”) to make the components for the Tiramisu.
Andrea gives a little background and demo and then we are to prepare our own. He says to make sure we can tell ours apart, because they will be going into the fridge. I think, is he serious. How are we going to make 24 little cups look different?
So then I start thinking….I want to make a template, but I do not have any supplies other than this cheap paper towel…so I tear a little heart out of my paper towel, lay it on my top layer of cream, and sprinkle my coco powder….the paper sticks a bit, but I get a “Aaahh, bene Paj” from the chefs. So, points for our team for resourcefulness….
Our work was rewarded with a treat.
Bruschetta and Chianti! First Andrea wanted to make sure we ALL knew how to say bruschetta…he said, “I don’t-a want-a you-a to-a embarrass yourselves-a. “Brusketa” is the correct pronunciation. He also said that it just means “toast”. That they consider bruschetta toasted bread with garlic rubbed on it, olive oil and salt. The toppings are simply toppings.
And it was wonderful. Fabulous olive oil and tomato slices.
Little tip from Andrea-
Slice your tomatoes, do not dice for bruschetta. The dices “make water” which can make your toast soggy,
Then came time to create the main courses; Ravioli with burro e salvia and Tagliatelle with Bolognese. Half of us stayed at the tables and made our pasta, the other half went with Andrea into the kitchen to make the sauces.
This was a different type of pasta than we made in Roma…so now I know how to make TRE!
First Andrea demonstrates…
And then it was our turn…
Now for the sauces….
Time to enjoy.
Andrea was a wonderful teacher, chef and host. He seemed to genuinely enjoy what he does and does for other. His comments like, “ooohh-a, what-a have-a you-a made here-a? Eeet-a eeesa so creative.” Those comments were usually for the older men in the group.
Any time someone would request more wine, it would appear. The Food & Wine Academy of Florence is very generous with portions.
And guess what?
Although I was skeptical as to whether this class could compare with my Andrea Uno class, I had no need to worry! I HIGHLY suggest taking the time for this unique experience if you are visiting Firenze.
When we exited the building, a downpour was in progress. With a full belly, a light head and a happy heart, what did I care.
I quickly got by bearings started on my merry way.
As the rain begin to increase with the accompaniment of Italian thunder, I popped into a small cafe.
As I stood there, dripping and trying to read the spreading ink on my map, a woman came up to me and asked where did I need to get? She reoriented my now disintegrating map and said I was very close.
Come to find out she is American meeting a friend from Austin here for a month long jewelry workshop. She said when I had passed her on the street, my turquoise ring caught her eye and the jingle of my charms her ears…she gave me her phone number and email in case I cared to meet up with her group later.
I removed my shoes and dashed out again, finding my B only blocks away.
I spent the remainder of the evening in my room with the windows open, enjoying the wind, rain and thunder and writing you.