Before leaving on our trip I decided I wanted to take a cooking class while we were in Italy. I had no idea how to find a place or how much it would cost, I only knew I wanted to do it …and boy did we enjoy the experience!!!
The Search Is On
To start searching of course I started with a Google search “cooking in Italy” and came up with classes for schooling, and cooks but not quite what I was looking for.
I thought about Olive Garden and looked into their Tuscany class where their cooks go to be trained, but that was not in our price range nor what I wanted. I was on the look out for a day class, where I could cook some Italian recipes and possibly learn to make pasta from scratch.
On one of my trips to the library while doing research I brought home some cooking magazines, which is nothing out of the ordinary, and in the back of a Rachel Ray magazine there was an article on cooking abroad. THAT is where I found Organic Tuscany. I sent an email out right away to them, not sure if it would be understood (having been written in English, not Italian) but I was confident since they were advertised in an American magazine. I wasn’t sure I would get a response back since some emails I sent overseas got no reply and surprisingly I did (in less than 24 hours) and they seemed to meet all the expectations I was searching for. Needless to say I was super excited to have found exactly what I wanted.
Throughout my email communications with Tina & Manuella I was unsure where Jeff & I would be coming from prior to the class so we waited to talk about directions to get to them until the day before. Payment was to be paid in Euros on arrival and basically everything was set up through email between me and the ladies.
Traveling To the Unknown
On the day of the class we left our hotel and headed to the bus station. Tina & Manuella had given me specific written directions with matching pictures of where we should be arriving, which we were able to print out at our hotel and carry with us.
We were to catch the 9am bus out of Florence and once we spotted our stop, Manuela’s husband Silvio was going to pick us up and drive us the remainder of the way. And that is exactly how it went.
Welcome to Organic Tuscany
Upon our arrival we were greeted by all the local dogs including Silvio & Manuela’s dog Sheila, a ginormous Great Dane! She was so cute and was seriously the same size as me when I was standing up.
We left Sheila at the door and Silvio brought us into his home. We put our stuff down and we were introduced to Manuela. Silvio explained that Tina usually does the translating for Manuela, but today he was going to fill in for her.
We washed our hands and Manuela explained the ingredients she had already laid out for the menu I had chosen prior to our arrival. We then walked out to their backyard, with scissors in hand, prepared to cut some fresh herbs – the last of the needed ingredients. After a quick explanation by Silvio of the neighboring areas from his perspective we went inside and got started.
Silvio, Manuela, Jeff and I all worked together to create the day’s meal. Originally it was supposed to be just a class for me, and Jeff would be coming along to taste it all in the end (get a little work done) and of course take the pictures and video as I worked. However, when we got there and got started Manuela & Silvio asked if he could help because four sets of hands are better than three, and we had a lot of preparing to do. They are very much used to working with large groups and just having the three of us would have taken a lot longer than if Jeff joined in and helped…so it was Jeff’s first real cooking experience too!
Just as I cook my Christmas dinner for the family each year with multiple courses, we prepared our menu jumping back and forth between recipes in order to best use our time. Manuela guided us on what to do when and in the end Silvio gave me a printed copy of all the recipes for home. We made:
- Crostini Stracchino and Sausage
- Crostini with Salsa Verde
- Crostini with mushrooms and herbs
- Pappa col Pomodoro
- Potato Gnocchi and Potato & Spinach Gnocchi with butter sage cream sauce
- Pears and Figs Tarte Tatin
We started working on the dessert first. While jeff was caramelizing the pears & figs, I was working on the dough. Manuela handed us each a fresh fig to try, but we weren’t quite sure what it was because we had only ever seen dried ones and weren’t quite sure she was telling us to taste it, but we did and it was so delicious that we wound up stopping in Rome at a fruit vendor on the street days later to buy some as a snack.
The next recipe we worked on was the Pappa col Pomodoro. After boiling the tomatoes for a little while I then peeled the skins off and chopped them up. Then chopped up some hard Tuscan bread and added it along with some other ingredients to the pan to cook.
And while we were working a butterfly flew in through the window. At first I was caught off guard, but Manuela & Silvio welcomed it with a “Bonjourno!” and a few seconds later after fluttering around our heads it flew back out the window, which was followed by a “Ciao”. It was such a fun moment, it reminded me of the movies.
As we finished the main dishes we carried them directly into the dining room where the table was already set for four. The very last dishes we prepared were the Crostini’s, which were the appetizers. All four of us sat down to enjoy our meal and everything tasted amazing! Manuela even pulled out some of the stuffed turkey a group had made the day before for us to try. The gnocchi with sage cream sauce was, in my opinion, the greatest thing I had ever had in my life. Manuela taught us many little tricks while we were cooking everything and I was glad to have been able to work with her & Silvio.
Not Your Typical Class
Organic Tuscany teaches week long courses and large group courses at another location. Since we were just two people we were able to work with Manuela & Silvio in their home, with ease!
I gathered many ideas looking around and working in their kitchen for when we begin to update our kitchen, including the beautiful Tuscany view out the window, haha
It’s A Family Affair
While we were enjoying the fruits of our labor their daughter came home from school. It was a fun experience talking to her about her travel experiences (having recently visited New York City) and her schooling (not enjoying math class) and other classes (as she’s working on juggling hula hoops). I think Jeff has explained it best when we’ve talked about the conversations we had with Manuela & Silvio’s daughter. Her English wasn’t perfect and it was so cute the way she would be talking in English, turn to her dad and ask him in Italian what the translation is, then continue talking to us with her newly defined word to finish her sentence in English.
When it was time for us to leave I really didn’t want to! I wanted to learn more Italian cooking tricks from Manuela, discuss more Italian/American differences with Silvio, chat longer with their daughter and play a while more with Sheila. We had gotten to know this family over the short time we spent with them, cooked a delicious meal together and they now felt like part of our family.
I can’t wait to re-make the meals we cooked with Organic Tuscany, in my own kitchen. I’m just hoping I’ll be able to find all the ingredients to do so!
Soon we will post a few video clips from this cooking journey.
What kind of amazing, on location experiences have you had? Let us know in the comments.