Cibo e Arte…Italian Staples

During yesterday’s roam, Avery and I roughly zeroed in to the meeting point of today’s cooking class.  We were to meet our instructor in front of Teatro el Sale at 9:00 am.  We left the appartamento a little after 8:00 in order to give us a bit of time to grab a bite and a caffé.

Walking through the heart of the historic area at this time of morning was far less crowded and far less hot.  When we arrived outside the teatro, we noticed a couple about my age milling about as well.  Avery assumed correctly they were part of our group.

Our instructor arrived right on time, she is a Florentine food and wine journalist and shares her knowledge with others in the humble cucina of her casa.  Joining in this culinary adventure are Kerstin and Mikael from Sweden.  After very brief introductions, we begin our walk to Sant’ Ambrogio Market.  On the way to the market, basically the same speech about the authenticity of Sant’ Ambrogio I gave you in a previous post, is shared with us.  It is our instructor’s opinion that San Lorenzo Market is now overrun with tourism and so much is for show and of lesser quality.  During our walk and talk, one can gather that Kerstin and Mikael and myself know a bit about Italian ingredients as well as our way around a cucina.

When we arrive at the market, Avery is waning a bit (we did not deviate from our course to the teatro to get a bite to eat…as we all know at this point…I have issues of wanting to get to a place before a designated time and then get…let’s see, what can I use instead of “nervous”…I am then reluctant to leave), so I quickly return to my little pane guy who I bought those beautiful small “figlio” schiacciata from the other day, grabbing Avery a couple while she snags a peach or two.

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We then gather around, discussing what our menu might be for the day.  Mikael throws in that he would like to explore making a stuffed pasta.  Ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta makes the list.  I mention squash blossoms are in season and making fiori fritti would be great.  Mikael and Kerstin are all over that.  I also mention Salvia fritti and sage leaves are added to the mental list. We then decide we are more interested in exploring pasta than a traditional meat dish, especially in this heat, so it is decided we will make due pastas adding Tagliatelle with pomodori freschi e basillico to the menu.  When dessert is brought up, choosing fresh fruit and cutting it up seems to be a seasonal solution.  I hesitate for a second and then say I can cut up fresh fruit at home. In fact, with Elisa’s mom Mara, we made this light dessert in 2015.  I seem to remember a couple tablespoons of a liqueur of some sort being drizzled over the top.  For this class I would like to explore something needing a bit more techniques.  A traditional Crostata con la Marmellata is agreed upon.  Our instructor says she has homemade cherry jam perfect for this at her home.  I am excited to create this dessert I’ve seen in the window after window of the pasticcerias we pass.  This homemade tart was served when I cooked with Costanza and her family in 2015, but they had made it ahead of time.

The stroll through the outside market begins.  It is pointed out that 2/3 of the vendors buy their produce and are simply reselling.  I mention I  had noticed condensation on some of the vegetables which to me indicated they were not farm fresh.  (Mikael is impressed with my discerning eye.)  So we head over to the smaller section of farmer’s stalls.

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In this photo, the farmer is sharing the virtues of his melanzana…I can’t believe we left the market without one, but as I am assuming true Italian cooks do, we stay focused to our list.

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It was fun watching (and listening to) our needs being discussed with the local farmers.  This guy was my favorite.  It was obvious he was very proud of his produce.

Can’t you hear his, “eh, eh, eh…..” promoting his pomodoro?

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How could you have told that face “no”?  But we did.  We left without his pomodori or melanzana.

We went inside the market for our ricotta, uova, parmigiana and then wove our way to our instructor’s casa.

Walking through the streets look who I found…the Female version of the Male painting I loved yesterday.  If I ever had a Men’s and a Women’s restroom…I would use these photos as the signage.  Still haven’t found anything about the artist and never saw more than the two.

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These are the doorknobs of the building we enter.  Like most “houses” in Florence, the entire building once belonged to a noble family.  Now they are segmented off into purchased “homes”.

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When we enter, and first stop is down to the basement to grab a jar of the marmellata di ciliegie.

We then climb a couple sets of stairs and enter our instructor’s casa.  No time for tours, we wash our hands, grab a glass of water to keep near us and get started.

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The windows you see there over look the street the Accademia Gallery is on.  So we are currently neighbors with The David….not too shabby!

Because the sun blasted through those windows…they were not open, but just parted a bit, allowing a little air to move through the cucina.

I mentioned earlier that in looking for a cooking class, I was wanting a hands on one.  Although our instructor did much of the work,  she would ask during a task, “Does anyone want to try?”  Of course we all did.  It was agreed that no matter how many times you have done a task, you can always learn something new from someone new. Interesting discussions were sparked by one of us sharing a different method we had previously explored.

The sequence of the menu’s preparation was this-

Because the market did not have spinach, chard was chosen.  Our instructor even shared she has made this recipe before with dandelion greens.  The green was cleaned, taken off the stem, then blanched.

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Next the crostata was made.

 

And popped into the oven to bake as we work.

Time to make the pasta.  We start with the tagliatelle.

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One egg for every 100 grams of flour.  360 grams of flour was OO and 40 grams was “hard” or “strong” flour.  The metric measuring always throws me off a bit, but i just listen and follow along as best I can knowing I can convert later.

The eggs were mixed with the flour, then we all helped kneading it until smooth and elastic.

Next came the pasta machine.  Mikael, Kerstin and I have all used one before but this was Avery’s first experience…a pasta machine is now on her “want” list.

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Once we had individual pieces the thickness desired, we cranked it through the tagliatelle teeth.

 

 

While the tagliatelle is drying, we cut the small, cherry tomatoes in half as the garlic and a bit of dried pepper simmers in the olive oil.  We are informed that in an Italian cucina, the garlic is never pressed.

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Once the garlic has cooked a bit, it is announced, “What the aglio has to give-a…eeettta has-a given in this moment.”

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In go the pomodori e basilico, simmering as we work.

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The chard has cooled and Mikael has squeezed all of the water out.  “At this moment” (that term is used a lot as well as “listen” when our instructor is about to answer a question we have.  At first Avery wondered if she were being reprimanded, but it is just a segue word much like “allora”.  Taking a cooking class, any class, in a different country is more about culture than simply about the food preparation.)  Anyway, “At this moment” we add a bit of the chard to the pasta dough set aside for the ravioli and add ricotta to the squeezed out chard.  It is explained that this step is a very personal one.  She likes more spinach (or in our case chard) than ricotta, so she mixes the ricotta in slowly until she gets the color she is looking for.  Later, Avery and I discuss we would like more ricotta than chard…so as said, it’s personal.  IMG_1303The Parmigiano Reggiano is added before any salt, tasting as you go.  Too much parmigiano can over power the mixture.  Nutmeg and salt are added to taste.

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When it is time to prepare the pasta, we roll it out the same way we began the tagliatelle. At this moment, Patrizia gets out a pasta cutter…which proves useless, so we go old school with a knife.

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We begin adding filling and then the instruction on how to fold is given.

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The fold looks easy enough, but there’s a twist and a bit of finesse needed.

Avery is the first to master…Brava!

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Before we move to the blossoms, another gizmo is pulled out, attempting to pit the olives purchased.  Again…useless…back to a knife… as I’ve always been told and agree with… a cook’s hands and a good knife are the necessities.

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Olives and brined (rinsed) capers are added to our pomodori sauce.  I have never added olives to a sauce, but will in the future.  They add a nice depth of flavor as well as color.

Time for the blossoms.  The batter is mixed just like Anna and Mara did when we were at Castagneto Carducci in 2015…flour, water, a bit of salt and you want a thick cream consistency.

We prepare the blossoms, twisting off the end of the stem and removing the stamen.  I may have already mentioned that these blossoms are the male, non fruit bearing blossoms.  We are told the female is not used and that the flavor is not the same.  I think they are not used because they produce the fruit and if it is all you can get your hands on, one wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

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Peanut oil is recommended for the frying.

It is declared that the blossoms are ready when they resist to the touch.

We enjoyed the blossoms and the salvia right out of the pan not waiting for them to accompany the main meal.  Just like at home, those who hang in the cucina, reap the benefits.  Sprinkled with a little more sale, the blossoms were amazing.  These moved up Avery’s list of favorite bites real quick.  The salvia was a bit bitter.  This was attributed to it being picked at the end of the season.

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Time to boil the water.  Once the pastas were done, we gathered around the table, joined by our instructor’s daughter, to share our meal.

Everything was wonderful and enjoyed by all.  Our favorites…fiori fritti, tagliatelle and the crostata…molto buono!

During our time with Kerstin and Mikael, I mentioned the cucina store Bartolini.  Our instructor underscored this was a shop anyone who enjoys time in the cucina should visit.  So upon our exit, the four of us made our way over.

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On my last visit to Bartolini, I purchased my cuccchiaio lungo after seeing one in action at Le Menagere.  This visit, I purchased a mezzaluna I had eyed.  The handles are a beautiful olive wood and the blades engraved with “bartolini“.  We said our arrivedercis to Kerstin and Mikael here as they continued to peruse the shop.

Being SO close to the Accademia, I suggest to my worn out little chef  we check out the line.  I tell Avery I will be happy to purchase the more expensive ticket for her to skip the line to go visit David, but when we get there, the “company” Danita and I bought from say there are none of those special tickets available.  So, we buy a couple bottles of water and get in the not too longish line waiting as I try to keep Avery distracted.  Being on our feet in a very hot kitchen, making small talk and staying engaged did take its toll on us.

For a brief time in line, I watch this artist at work.  It is so difficult not to buy a piece from everyone you see.

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And then it is time for Avery to enter.  I tell her I will be sitting right here on the curb whenever she comes out.

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As I wait, I am happy she is spending a bit of time inside.   For anyone I have ever spoken to, seeing Michelangelo’s David proves to be more moving than they expect. A while later, when Avery emerges, the look on her face and the spring in her step tells me the same was true for her.

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I love I have been able to share another “first” with my figlia.  Whether “Art” is your thing or not, as I tell my students, these experiences make you a more well-rounded person and a wonderful table companion.

How do you reward your child for having a great day?

Gelato, certo!

La Scuola di Cucina

 

Today I am very excited to begin my day at il Mercato Centrale.  One of the two cooking classes I signed up for the other day “made” and it starts at 11:30.  The reply email they sent said I needed to come early so I could get the paperwork completed before class began.  I showed up bright and early, completed my paperwork then got a bite to eat for breakfast and worked on writing you.  Wifi is free at il Mercato Centrale so I thought I would make the most of it.  The wifi at Bencidormi is much like the wifi at my first appartamento in Firenze, although you “have” wifi, it isn’t strong enough to allow  you to get your emails.imageI work for about an hour and then it is time for school to begin!imageThe name of the cucina area of il Mercato Centrale is you see above “La Scuola di Cucina of Lorenzo de’ Medici” and it is worthy of the Medici name…state of the art everything.  I’m excited just to be in here.  There are only nove of us and as luck would have it…I get my own cucina…everyone else had to double up.imageClass begins by an interpreter explaining that our english speaking chef is ill and an italian speaking chef will be filling in and she will be interpreting.  Again…LUCKY us!!  Along with the chef and the interpreter, there is a sous chef to help us.

As is normal for me, while they are introducing some things, I take peeks inside the cabinets and drawers, in awe of my piccolo cucina.imageimageOne of my favorite features (which some of you may have but I do not) are the pop up outlets.  When the sous chef showed it to me and I giggled and ooohed…I am sure she thought…”here we go”.imageNow for today’s lesson.  We will be making-imageOur ingredients are-imageAs any good teacher does, Chef Alessandro first demonstrates how to create the dough and the individual fusilli. He says that originally fusilli was made using knitting needles but  we can use anything to twirl the dough around…even  the stick of an umbrella he laughs…no-a excuses-a.  We will be using little, wooden skewers.    He takes the time to demonstrate how to make several other types or shapes of pasta using the same dough; orecchiette or “little ears”, pappardelle, and scialatelli to name a few. You can tell this man enjoys his job.  Here he is telling us to “Make-a a leeettle rope-a”.image Each cucina begins making their own dough.  Chef Alessandro walks around giving feedback and assisting as needed.  This place will not allow you to make an inferrior product.image

As we finish kneading our dough to a smooth, elasticy, consistency the interpreter tells us that Chef Alessandro has said, “Since the dough has done so much sport, it must rest.”  We wrap it in cellophane and begin our pesto.  I have made pasta dough before and I have made pesto before, but I have never made a pesto with fresh tomatoes.

We begin by taking the juice and seeds out of our tomatoes.  If I were at home, I would save this to add to bread crumbs as I learned in Costanza’s cucina.  But here we just use the meat of the tomato, blending it a bit with our hand blenders.imageNext we add the remaining ingredients; ricotta (which I have also never used in a pesto), basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and salt.  With the garlic, Chef said that it is a matter of taste.  He only like to add a little to his.  He also advised us to always take out the small heart or root in the garlic.  He says it is better for the digestive system if you do.imageimageAnd then at the end, add olive oil.  Tuscan Olive Oil has a very forte or strong flavor so it is suggested it not be used for delicate flavors.imageAnd of course, it is always important to taste to see if you need to add anything else.  I found it interesting that although each cucina had the very same ingredients, each pesto was a different color and texture.imageTime to set aside the pesto and return to our rested pasta dough.

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You can see how tedious this work is.  The Chef adds that it is fun to get a group together, open a bottle of wine sitting around talking and rolling and sipping.  This, he says, makes the dinner, the evening and the friendships that much better.

At one point, Chef Alessandro came by my cucina tossing my fusilli about a bit saying, “Aaahhh…you-a are-a very aaanggryyy.” “Cosa?”, I replied.  He said, “You-a are-a very aaaannnngggryyyy.”  And then I got it.  “Hungry?” I said patting my belly.  “Si, si, aaannngggrrryy.”  I said, “Hungry” patting my belly and stressing the H and “Angry” making an angry face and growling.  He started laughing.  As he walked off I heard him repeat, “Aannngrrryyy…gggrrrrrr!!!!”.

Once the fusilli was created, we turned our water to boil, salting it before adding the pasta.  We were to boil our pasta for 3 minutes.  imageRemove pasta from the water with a strainer, transferring to a mixing bowl.  Chef A said this pesto can be served room temperature or heated.  He warned though that heating does change the flavors.  He said what he likes to do is to add the pesto to the pasta, then while mixing for 2 minutes (the interpreter laughed at his precision) add a bit of the hot pasta water to create a creamy texture.  This is what I chose to do.imagePlate, garnish and then top with a drizzle of olive oil.imageAnd there you have it, Fusilli con Pesto alla Siciliana.imageimageBuon Appetito!imageThere I am up there on the Big Screen.imageAfterwards, Chef Alessandro graciously autographed our aprons and posed for photos.imageimageI have participated in several different cooking classes during my last two visits to Italy.  This is one I highly recommend.  I think the 50 euro fee is a bargain.  You get to work in a fabulous cucina, top notch instruction from chefs that are qualified and love what they do, enjoy a wonderful meal that you prepare, wine and you get to keep the apron plus a little folder and pen they provide.

Bravo Cucina de Medici!!