If you want to know a culture, you need to learn how they cook. Their philosophy on food and the way in which they prepare their meals, demonstrates many different aspects unique to that particular country. Therefore, on our first full day in Florence, we set off to learn about Italy through a Cooking Class!!
Andrea, our guide, started our tour with the local market, San Lorenzo, to show us how to shop like an Italian. Fresh, quality ingredients were the theme of the lesson, stressed by buying most of all the day’s ingredients fresh that morning. The first stop within the market was Christina’s stall, which specialized in different olive oils and balsamic vinegars. She gave us an explanation of how the different products were produced and how they were used in typical Italian homes. For all of my American readers, I will share one of her pieces of advice: Extra virgin olive oil means that it is made on the first press of the olives. It is therefore impossible to have extra extra olive oil. It is just a marketing ploy.
Another gem of information she gave us, is that when buying balsamic vinegar look for the region it comes from (Modena) and the gold coins that tell you how long it’s been aged. If it is good balsamic (not with colorants) you will not need to make reductions, it will be fruity and sweet by itself.
Here are some of the different foods offered throughout the market! Note there are many parts of the animals that we are not accustomed to seeing/eating in the States, as Andrea our chef reminded us, Italians tend to use all parts of their animals and stress the importance of quality of ingredients instead of masking them with many many many spices.
Our final stop in the market was with the local butcher who ground the fresh beef for us for our bolognese! Here he is holding the meat used for the famous Florentine Steak (which will be fully described in a later post).
After leaving the market we headed back to the kitchen to begin cooking!
Our class started with the most important dish first: dessert. We learned how to make a Tirimisu from scratch. Below are the various stages of each of us whisking the egg whites (furiously) until they stood firm.
And finally we were successful! Look at how those whites just stick to the bowl!!!
Next we learned how to mix together the marscapone with the rest of the ingredients to make a delicious light filling.
With all of the layers complete, it was time to show off our creative side and construct our individual cups. Can you guess whose is whose???
With the Tiramisu in the fridge we moved on to the main portion of our meal: the pasta!
We cracked the eggs into the small wells of flour and with a fork beat until the mixture started to come together. The trick is to work on a marble slab and scrap all of the flour to push all of the ingredients together. Then there is the up, down, quarter turn kneading and when finished to seal the dough together, you place your ball seam down and tightly wrap it all in saran wrap.
Here is what our finished balls of dough looked like.
We had a lovely bottle of red wine while starting to make our meat sauce, Bolognese. It is of importance that I have said that it is a meat sauce not a tomato sauce, as it has become synonymous in many regions outside of Italy. In fact there are no real tomatoes in the sauce, instead just a little bit of tomato paste. Andrea told us that a true Bolognese sauce’s color should be orange brown.
By the time we got the sauce simmering it was time to roll out our pasta dough. The key is lots of flour and patience.
Then it was time to form the dough into its final form. From the middle we made our raviolis, which were filled with ricotta and parmesan cheese. And the outer edges were cut into thick strips for the Bolognese sauce.
And with the food finally finished it was time to FEAST. Below are our two compelted dishes that we were able to share with the two other couples who joined us for the course. It was amazing to hear the different stories as together we spanned all corners of the world.
At the end of the course, much to our surprise Steve (Dad) won the award for the best pupil; therefore, if anyone in Sacramento would like some delicious pasta, you now know whom to go to!!
To aid with our digestion, we headed out for a stroll of the city leading to the DaVinci Museum. This small museum recreates some of his famous inventions to give a physical idea of his creativity and genius. I particularly liked the hands on exhibit, discussing levers and pulleys.
After we headed towards the river, exploring the small shops along the way. In one we found NUTELLA, which comes in all shapes and sizes!
As it grew dark we made our way along the Arno River, crossing the Ponte Vecchio to the other side of the city. Since we had devoured so much delicious pasta earlier in the day we were not particularly hungry. Instead we headed into a local bar and grabbed a round of drinks. I had my first Aperol spritzer of the trip, and it was the perfect culmination of our first full day in Florence.