Tuscan Cooking Adventure

 

 

Ponte Vecchio Florence Italy

In the fall, I embarked on a culinary adventure to Tuscany that still leaves me spellbound — it was an incredible time filled with amazing people, adventures and food. We had spent some time in Florence years ago and I was excited to return and dig deep into exploring the cuisine and sharpen my skills in the Tuscan kitchen.

with Kim and Joanna

Kim, Joanna and I (somewhere in Tuscany)

 

Italy is vast and the culinary regions are distinctive. Lucky for us, we had enlisted Peggy Markel to be our guide. She seemed like the perfect person to contact when we began dreaming up this trip. With over two decades of building relationships, Peggy was able to connect us with the greatest chefs of the region. The bonus — she’s lovely, talented and knows her way around every corner of Tuscany.

table-at-cibreo-cafe

We dreamed and schemed (along with those Nervous Nelly moments about leaving my kids) and before I knew it, I was packing my bags to spend ten days with six fun friends cooking, eating and drinking with the masters of this region. It was nothing short of epic. I made it, the kids made it, and now everyone is reaping the benefit of homemade pasta and ragu!

Olio Nuovo

During our stay the first pressing of olive oil, or olio nuovo, was just becoming available.

 

 

tellaro-cove

The cove in Tellaro

fish

We began with three days in Tellaro on the Ligurian coast, cooking fish (in every which way) with the masterful Angelo Cabani and his lovely wife Giovanna of Locanda Miranda.  This was followed by a hands-on tutorial in the hillside with veteran chef and instructor Piero Ferrini and his wood-burning oven. From there, we were off to an outrageously fun and insightful introduction to butchering in Panzano with the famous Dario Ceccini at Antica Macelleria Cecchini.  We moved onto Florence to experience the culinary wizardry of Fabio Picchi at Cibrèo. Lastly, because we just hadn’t had enough, we  finished with a day in Montefiridolfi making pasta at Fonte de’ Medici. Can you say lifetime bucket list check-off times five?

First up, dearest Angelo…

Angelo Cibani at Locanda Miranda

Locanda Miranda

Dishes at Locanda Miranda

Locanda Miranda

The common theme in all the kitchens we visited was to source the best quality ingredients you possibly can find (PERIOD!). This means always cooking seasonally and not settling for second rate ingredients.  I’ve always tried to follow those tenants in my own kitchen, but came home inspired to bring that philosophy into every meal, snack and cocktail that comes out of my kitchen.

In the kitchen at Locanda Miranda

Cactus in Tellaro

Tuscan vineyard

Something we found funny was the arrival of potatoes at just about every meal. When I think of Tuscan food I think of pasta, risotto, bistecca alla fiorentina, which we enjoyed and cooked in abundance. However, I was surprised at the amount of potatoes we ate, simply boiled or steamed, always doused with olive oil and fresh herbs. The next time you eat a potato think Tuscany.

potatoes-at-usignoli

Wood oven roasted chicken in Tuscany

Here is the kitchen at Fatttoria Degli Usignoli.  We made most of our fourteen different recipes in this wood burning oven.

wood oven at Fattoria degli usgnioli

Blue kitchen Tuscany

The Maestro Piero conducting with Peggy translating.

Peggy and Piero at Usignoli

Watch for this Cavolo Nero and Polenta recipe  — coming soon!

Cavolo Nero and Polenta

Onto Panzano where we went to learn from the butcher Dario Ceccini. Dario is famous for nose to tail butchering and extraordinary care for animals.

If you’re a vegetarian you may want to skip this part…

Chianina Cattle

The massive Chianina cattle known for producing  bistecca alla fiorentina.

Group photo with Dario Cecchini

Group shot with Dario.

We toured the butchering facilities and watched them break down an entire leg.

handsome-butcher

crostini-with-lardo

Mixing rosemary and black pepper in the lard

Elbow deep in lard, it does wonders for dry hands.

Darling Tommy was our guide and led us through the farm, butchering, cooking a bit in the kitchens, restaurants and shop. He had us laughing the entire time.

with-tommy-and-joanna

Don’t ask, but I think I was driving a vespa through the restaurant.

with-tommy

crudites

A few token vegetables , always a good idea.

Back in Florence we were fortunate to spend time in the kitchens with Fabio at the Teatro de Sale, Caffè and the Trattoria. Pinch me.

cibreo-outside

fabio

Fabio

Dishes at Cibreo

Fantastic fare at Cibrèo

Then Kim, Joanna and I headed back to the country for an intensive pasta making course because we just hadn’t had enough!

joanna-and-kim

vines

rolling-out-pasta

Joanna always wins the best hair award.

 

pasta-fresh

fashionable-friend

The fabulous, funny and fashionable Pat, in the kitchen at Miranda.

From all of these adventures in all of these kitchens I was struck by the thought and encouragement to put away recipe books and focus on the ingredients. They prompted us to look to your soul, your heart and your past when preparing food and do it with thoughtfulness and love. I learned about many techniques, ingredients and history, but this sentiment is what has stayed with me most back in my own Santa Barbara kitchen. Ad amare i miei amici.

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8 thoughts on “Tuscan Cooking Adventure”

What a beautiful, not to mention, inspiring post! My eyes and my mouth were watering! I want to make some pasta immediately and it’s early morning! Thank you.

Love, love, love your pictures and post! Oh how I wish I could step into the computer and be there! This tugged at my Italian heart:) What a fun memory for you. xo

Fabulous recap..very heart-felt and inspiring.. I feel like you just stuck me in your bag and I came along. Thanks for sharing Val

Was hoping to learn the secret to the cibreo caffe polenta which i consumed in 2000 and has been the gold standard of polenta for ever since. Did you make it on your adventure? Willing to share recipe notes with a stranger who would be forever grateful.
Mu husband says honey
I say tons of butter but there is something i can’t figure out
Thanks!

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