I can barely keep up! We’re doing and eating so much and I’m tired by the end of each day, so you’ll have to excuse my light posts.
Yesterday we had our first cooking class with Serena Masari — a chef on the staff of the faculty club of the University of Siena (and who also races bicycles) — and her 76 year old Mama, whom we all called Mama!
We spent about three hours preparing a supremely fantastic meal! Here’s the menu:
For appetizers …
- Fried zucchini blossoms and sage leaves (exquisite)
- Figs (from Mama’s garden), pecorino romano, grapes and honey (from chestnut and mixed flowers, also from Mama’s garden)
- Panzanella (with many veggies from Serena’s garden)
For first course/pasta …
- Homemade fettucine with porcini mushrooms, tomatoes and wild mint (it looked like thyme — I’ve never seen it in the U.S.) sauteed in butter and olive oil (Mama made the olive oil)
For main course …
- Saltimboca and sauteed spinach
For dessert …
The class was hands-on, down and dirty, hard-work cooking. Serena kept us all busy, encouraged us and taught us the whys and wherefores of everything we did.
The porcini fettucine was hands-down the best pasta dish I’ve ever eaten. (Serena dissuaded us from sprinkling it with parmesan. Tuscans never put parmesan on fish or mushrooms — it’s nearly a law! Apparently they feel the strong taste of the cheese drowns out the delicate flavor of those foods.)
The tiramisu was unlike any I’ve eaten in America. The custard base was sugar and many eggs yolks beaten by hand (by several of us — our arms got tired) until thickened and pale, mixed with mascarpone cheese and stiffly beaten egg whites. The lady fingers were dipped not in coffee, but vin santo, a sweet Tuscan wine. It also featured “fruits of the forest” (strawberries, blueberries and raspberries). Phenomenal.
There was a lot left over and I intended to have tiramisu for breakfast, but by this morning it had mysteriously disappeared …
We don’t yet — but will have — Serena’s recipes at some point, and I’ll share them here. But I have a feeling precise measurements won’t be included.
Today most of our group took a day trip to the Cinque Terre. One of the things on my bucket list was to visit and hike part of the famous trail.
The entire day was like a comedy of errors — wrong exits, closed trail segments, dead ends, long boat rides and more. I won’t bore you with further details. But we laughed tons and got sunburned, and managed to walk and jog the trail (I jogged, at least, but not because I wanted to) and ride boats and trains. But best of all, the weather and food were wondrous.
At a town called Portovenere (not officially part of the Cinque Terre, but in Liguria just before the famed coastline) we had fritto misto — mixed fried seafood. Prawns, tiny little fish (I suspect maybe fresh sardines and anchovies?) and calamari SO very delicately fried.
This was followed by Trofie pasta (unique to Liguria) in pesto (which originated in Liguria). I’m not sure how they made the pesto, but there wasn’t a speck of chopped basil visible in the light green sauce. It was almost as if it had melted. The mouth-feel was unbelievably creamy and sumptuous. The ultimate comfort food.
So far on this trip I have experienced three beyond-outstanding dishes:
- The Best Pasta Dish I’ve Ever Eaten (porcini fettucine)
- The Best Calamari I’ve Ever Eaten
- and The Best Pesto I’ve Ever Eaten
Tomorrow morning we’re off to visit San Gimignano, then to a wine tasting/vineyard visit and lastly a cooking lesson in a restaurant.
I’m in heaven!