It was on our Bucket List. Not only did my husband and I dream of an extensive trip to Italy, we also wanted to take a cooking class somewhere in the Tuscan region while we were there. It sounded so romantic and cosmopolitan in our minds.
We ended up with a mere 16 days to see Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Florence, Tuscany, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Siena, San Gimignano, Milan and Venice. That left only a small window of time to actually take that cooking class. With extensive research, we found an organization called In Tavola (“on the table”) and booked our cooking session for our first full day in Florence. It became a highlight of our entire trip. I recommend it to other travelers with similar dreams.
The instructions we were sent after getting our confirmation stated that we would meet our contact at the Santa Trinita Plaza. This turned out to be across the Santa Trinita Bridge and within sight of the famous Ponte Vecchio. The badge-wearing representative showed up promptly, checked her list of participants, and walked us down a winding path to the cooking school.
We were divided into three teams of 6 students with a chef at each station. We washed our hands thoroughly and put on aprons.
The cooking class focused on homemade pasta, 3 types of sauce, and panna cotta for dessert. Conducted in English, lots of friendly hand gestures were thrown in for good measure. Our chef/teacher enjoyed flirting and keeping us loose and laughing. The pace was rapid because we had all those dishes to prepare for our lunch. However, we never felt pressured in any way.
To be sure our finished meal was timed perfectly, we started by preparing the dessert. We used gelatin, milk, whipping cream, sugar, and a real vanilla bean over medium heat to make a rich custard and filled ramekins to refrigerate while we proceeded with the pasta and sauces. We also pureed a strawberry/sugar mixture for later.
Then the more labor-intensive steps began. We made two kinds of pasta, one with eggs and one with water. We kneaded and rolled with rolling pins, and then learned to use a pasta machine to make the dough thinner and thinner and thinner.
The first sauce was raw tomato sauce where we vertically cut many cherry tomatoes and then added garlic, olive oil and basil. Our chef declared, “When you think you have enough olive oil, add a little more.”
We filled homemade tortellini dough with a potato mixture, then folded the pasta over and cut it into individual squares, pinching the ends together with our fingers.Other sauces included a white meat ragu with ground turkey, ground chicken and veal, and another with porcini mushrooms. But, oh, the fresh herbs. That is the heavenly aroma that will linger in my mind forever. In addition to the fresh garlic, we used fresh rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, and parsley. And, always, there was PLENTY of extra virgin olive oil. In the final few minutes of preparation, the pastas were placed in boiling water and cooked to a perfect al dente and then ladled onto serving platters and topped with the sauces.
Enjoying the Fruits of Our Labor
For the last step before we went down to the dining room, set up in the basement. The refrigerated ramekins were emptied onto serving plates, and our light, fresh strawberry sauce was spooned over the panna cotta. Beautiful.
While the staff did all of the clean-up, the hungry students savored every bite of the meal we had prepared. We also enjoyed some last minutes of conversation and camaraderie.
There are many options for taking cooking classes in and around Florence. You can schedule one class or an entire professional course, depending on your available time, budget and ultimate goal. In Tavola offers a full range of options, and their prices are very reasonable. You can read about their current offerings on their website, http://www.intavola.org. The 3 hours we invested in the experience were very satisfying. Next time maybe we’ll try the 4-course dinner class, or the pizza and gelato class or the market tour and cooking class. Buon Appetito!