When Lorenza De Medici, famous author and cookbook writer, founded the Badia a Coltibuono cooking school over 20 years ago in the Chianti region, she provided an idyllic setting for visitors to learn the secrets of authentic regional Italian cuisine. Highly-trained Tuscan chef Andrea Gagnesi is carrying on her original idea while adding modern techniques and recipes to his teachings.
I was fortunate enough to visit the school when I visited Italy last September and witness an actual class. Chef Andrea’s English is excellent and the group of tourist/students were captivated and enthusiastic.
The rustic kitchen in this 1000-year-old abbey is amazing. Add to that ambiance the juxtaposition of the freshest possible display of simple-but-exquisite ingredients (like fresh sheep milk ricotta, beautiful garden vegetables, and the abbey’s own organic e.v.o.o) and you have magic.
On the particular day I visited, Chef Andrea created a number of courses.
Among these were freshly made Paccheri (a rustically cut pasta) with a sauce made from uncooked tomatoes and fresh herbs, individual servings of eggplant parmesan, and an aromatic Panzanella (a Florentine summer salad of bread and tomatoes). The dessert was individually baked crostate (tortes) with extra virgin olive oil dough instead of the usual butter dough (pasta frolla).
My fellow traveler Ginny and I were lucky enough to sample all the courses among the general ooohs and aaahs of the students.
The cooking courses are held from March to November, and offer a splendid chance to immerse oneself in the unique lifestyle and hospitality of a 1000 year old abbey while savoring the fantastic tastes and sights that this beautiful region offers.
The lessons are taught by Tuscan Chef Andrea Gagnesi who has a perfect command of English , a natural easy going style and a hand’s on approach, Andrea ensures that guests bring home authentic Italian recipes and menus to be used year round for all occasions.
Cooking School: http://www.coltibuono.com/pagebase.asp?s=18&s2=61
Chef Gagnesi’s Blog (With Recipes): http://andreagagnesi.blogspot.com/
Don’t miss this celebration. And if you can’t make it this year, why not plan for 2014?
As Described in the ItalianNotebook, the citizens of Assisi as well as all the Franciscans are celebrating the new pope and hoping for a visit to this place of peace and international brotherhood.
Are you ‘singing in tune’ with life? I’ve written before about the importance of paying attention to each detail of a process. We used the freshest of eggs as an example of detail.
Tuscans use this approach to life in general, paying attention to each aspect or each moment along the way of any process. It is with each inspired brush stroke that Leonardo painted his masterpieces and with each perfect note that Puccini constructed his melodious operas.
In fact, music can be used as an analogy to many ways in which Tuscans approach life; paying attention to each single note, not going “off-key” or “out-of-tune…”
I was recently reminded of the “off-key” aspect in a conversation I had near Lucca with Maria a.k.a. “The Pasta Lady” at the villa Maionchi estate. Maria and her sister-in-law Alba take 100 of only the freshest, newly-laid eggs each morning to make pasta by hand for the Villa Maionchi restaurant. They also make those amazing vegetable soups (with bread or farro) found only in Lucca.
I have tried to replicate the Lucca soups by using the classic recipes. Soups made anywhere else never taste quite like those in Lucca. The reason for this is that the Lucchesi (people from Lucca) are famous for the use of Erbi (wild greens) found in the surrounding areas of Lucca and in the Garfagnana region. There are wild asparagus, tomatoes, lettuces, bitter greens, etc.
Maria attended classes in Lucca at a cooking school dedicated to these Erbi. She shared with me that there are more than 100 varieties of Erbi and that it takes much studying and field experience to learn them all. I found this interesting because, until now, the mothers and grandmothers from the Lucca area (including my own grandmother) have gathered Erbi for thousands of years handing down their knowledge from generation to generation. I suppose it’s a sign of modern times that aspiring cooks are going to an official cooking school to learn Erbi!
Besides soup, Erbi are cooked in pies, as a side dish and even in some desserts. Maria explained that the most important thing she learned at this school was to always use the right taste and balance of Erbi in any preparation. She was taught to be sure that the preparation contained no wild green that “stonava” (stonare means to be “out-of-tune” or “off-key”). In other words, when cooking, you should always make sure there is no ingredient that clashes with the others and that everything blends together harmoniously.
The concept of food being balanced and “in tune” is one often used in Tuscany. It goes side-by-side with the philosophy of paying attention to each detail. All ingredients used in each step along the way should complement each other and form a great-tasting end result like the notes in a musical symphony. Tuscans use the “out-of-tune” guide as an aesthetic barometer in many ways: In fashion, art, cooking, architecture and in family life, it is important to make sure things are always “In tune.” Do you cook in tune? Is your life in tune?
Tuscan wine, passion, food and romance
I am often asked how wine fits into the Tuscan lifestyle. Wine is intrinsic to life in Tuscany as the ancient Etruscans cultivated wild grapes to make wines in the area that is now Tuscany since before Roman times. The Tuscan way of life is based on passion and wine in Tuscany is no exception.
Wine appreciation in Tuscany goes well beyond wine tasting – it is a total sensual experience! Where else can sip wine and savor food made with the freshest most delectable ingredients resulting from recipes going back hundreds of years? In Tuscany, wine and food are intentionally meant to ‘marry’ well.
If you are looking for a romantic wine getaway, ideal locations in Tuscany include the high peaks of the Apuan Alps, the cypress-outlined, rolling hills of the Chianti area, jagged seaside cliffs, the enchanting Tuscan islands or the beautiful beaches of the Italian Riviera. It does not get much sexier than the self-assured way Tuscans dress or carry themselves. Stay a while and learn to fit in with the locals.
As for specific wines, Chianti is one of Italy’s robust reds and there are over 10,000 acres of vineyards in the Chianti area. How long will it take you to cruise all that acreage with your rented red Ferrari?
If great restaurant explorations are your cup of tea, you have but to choose from a list of world-class offerings around the Tuscany region. Or, you can go exploring country roads and discover your own favorite romantic hideaway with “Mamma” cooking in the kitchen and the rest of the family making you feel welcome.
Did you know that Tuscany’s wines go way beyond Chianti? The world-renowned Brunello di Montalcino area is ideal for having an exquisite meal with your lover in a beautiful castle among the vineyards and olive groves while enjoying pasta, cured meats, crostini, bruschette and an array of world-class cheeses – all this and one of the world’s great wines.
You can be tantalized by the blending of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon used to make the full-bodied Super Tuscan Wines. Or, if you find decadent desserts more alluring, try pairing one with Vin Santo (a Tuscan dessert wine). A stand-alone sweet wine for staying “in the moment” is a sweet Vino di Meditation or wine to meditate on.
The ultimate experience may be to visit Tuscany in the autumn harvest season to get your arms around the grape gathering and crushing then taste the wonderful result of your labors. Some winemakers in Tuscany still stomp grapes with their feet and welcome visitors to get in on the action. Squishing grapes with your toes in the middle of a picturesque landscape and involving all your senses is quite sexy indeed.
According to Italian news sources ASCA-AFP, ruins of a villa in all probability belonging to Emperor Vespasian (Roman emperor from 69 – 79 AD) were discovered about 70 kilometers (circa 44 miles) northeast of Rome on August 6. Coincidentally, Italy is commemorating the two thousandth year of Vespasian’s birth this year.
The villa is situated in the little village of Falacrine in the province of Rieti in what used to be the Sabine territory in antiquity.
Leading the group of international archeologists on this dig is Filippo Coarelli, a professor from the University of Perugia. Coarelli stated:
“The villas of this period generally don’t bear any inscriptions which makes it difficult to attribute ownership. But there are many indications, including the location, that lead us to believe that this is the villa where the Emperor Vespasian was born.”
Everyone loves Julia Child as evidenced by the opening of this week’s much-anticipated movie “Julie and Julia,” sure to be seen by foodies and food buffs all over the world.
During her long television career, Julia was known as the “French Chef.” Julia studied at length in France at the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school. However, Julia and her husband were gourmets and loved food from many nations. In fact, according to a Julia Child biography on Answers.com, Julia’s passion for cooking originated during her assignment to China in 1941 where she was influenced by her future husband Paul’s passion for food.
What you may not know, is that Julia Child had a great love for Italy and Italian food as well. This one-woman dynamo hosted an annual luxury tour to Italy for food buffs during her long career.
At their best Italians are tenacious, resilient and infinitely curious. These traits are perfectly personified in 76-year-old Leonardo Altobelli who just obtained his tenth university degree in biotechnology.
Leonardo (from Ansa in the Foggia area), is a retired physician, married with children and the ex mayor of his native town Troia.
“There is nothing extraordinary about this,” says Leonardo. “I only study before each test.”
His first degree was in medicine followed by degrees in law, political science, the arts, philosophy, agriculture, science of tourism, history of science, social history and this last one in Biotechnology.
One wonders what he might do next!
In the streets of Pontedera (province of Pisa), Italy, passers-by are doing double-takes at the sight of the new DustBot. These Wall-E-like robots (also reminiscent of R2D2) can be summoned by the inhabitants of Pontedera to dispose of different kinds of waste and recyclables.
A project and creation of the students of the Scuola Superiore di Sant’Anna of Pisa, a scientific research institute of the University of Pisa, the DustBots are part of a 3-year project aimed at finding new ways to dispose of urban trash. The project is gathering world-wide interest.
In a typical Italian family, the Nonna (grandmother) is often the source of strength and wisdom for the entire family. La Nonna can also be the teller of tall tales, the one who passes down family history, the spouter of proverbs for any situation and a multi-talented marvel who can cook like Mario Batali and sew like the little mice in “Cinderella.” The nonna is the one you run to when you have a bruised knee or a broken heart but also the one who may discipline you and teach life’s most important lessons.
My friend Ada of My Italian online – Il mio Italiano online has shared with us 8 household tips handed down to her from her Italian nonna: