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Published: June 27th 2014
Mark got up this morning, looked out the window and said, “It looks like the picture on the Contadina tomato paste can.” True that! Lovely!
We had joked with Paola and Simonetta last night about “ish” Breakfast, they said, was at 8:30 “ish.” We took the “ish” a little too literally and didn’t wander downstairs until after nine. We apologized and they said, “You’re on holiday. No worries for you.” Breakfast in Italy, Simonetta said, is always sweet. Today’s breakfast was bread and homemade jams (apricot, quince, plum and fig) and a lovely tart with a peach jam in it. It was the perfect start to a lovely day.
It turns out that the sisters do one-day lessons as well as lessons for people who are staying at the farm. There was supposed to be another man with us this morning but he had a problem so had rebooked for tomorrow. That mean the first cooking lesson was just us—fun! The lesson was with Paola who took us to the second kitchen down the stairs. On the way she told us a bit about the house—it was built in the 1200s and was a peasant house. Her parents bought it as a summer home because her mother loved the country and it has been in the family every since. The kitchen for the lessons was large and well set-up. The first thing we made was focaccia. She tasked Mark with this which turned out to be a great thing since bread is one of the things he is most familiar with making. This bread was made with both flour and potatoes since, she said, the potatoes help keep the bread moist. He riced the potatoes, mixed them with the flour, water, yeast and sugar and a little salt, kneaded the bread, sprinkled it with salt, oregano and halved cherry tomatoes. There was a scary moment when he cut his first tomato and Paola and I looked at each other and she said, “No fingers in the focaccia. I think I get you a cutting board.” He did a great job and kept saying, “This is fun!” While the bread was rising, we made a stuffed shells with a stuffing made from buffalo mozzarella, chopped olives and tuna. Next came the gelato base which I stirred up and Paola put in the gelato machine. After that was done, we sliced yellow and red bell peppers and layered them with breadcrumbs, olive oil and capers. By this time, the focaccia had risen a second time and we put that and the peppers in the oven. Paola handed off the stuffed peppers to her daughter to put in the oven upstairs. She then showed me how to butterfly a chicken breast and I did than and cut it into small pieces. Meanwhile, Mark was using a knife to peel garlic. Paola poured some olive oil in a pan, added some sage and the peeled garlic and I cooked that until it just began to brown. That, she said, was only to flavor the oil. I removed those things and then added the floured chicken pieces and cooked those until brown on both sides. Paola made a sauce out of olive oil, hot chili pepper and marsala wine. When the chicken was browned, we added it to the sauce to let it finish cooking. Dinner-complete! Paola was funny and conversational and a very good teacher. We had such a good time!
After we finished cooking, we had a 10 minute break and then it was lunch with the family featuring our cooking. The daughters, apparently, love the stuffed shells and were very happy that was on the menu today. Everything was delicious. I was a little concerned about tuna in shells with olives but it was really delicious. Then we followed that course with the chicken, roasted peppers and focaccia and finished off with the gelato. And of course everything was accompanied with Chianti Classico, which we both drank quite sparingly. Lunch was delicious and the family ate heartily, especially the girls and those shells. Paola said they were saying that their record was 12 shells each. Paola said, “Why would you do that? You’d get sick!”
After lunch (which was really dinner) we took naps and then Simonetta took us out into the country to a winery and to a little village called Radda. The countryside is just breathtaking. The winery we visited was housed in an old fortress from the days when every town was it’s own state and so were constantly at battle with neighboring town and city states. Simonetta took us into the cellar and showed us the large French oak barrels, smaller French oak barrels and talked about the wine aging within. She also took us to a room with smaller barrels made out of cherry and some other wood and she said these were used to age the van Santo. After the tour we had the tasting. We learned that to be called a Chianti Classico, 80% or more of the grapes need to be sangiovese grapes grown in the Chianti region of Tuscany. A Chianti wine can actually be made from grapes grown in many parts of Italy but Chianti Classico grapes must be local. Simonetta said, “It’s compulsory.” We tasted Chianti Classico from 2001 which I found a little brown and heavy but ark liked and 2007 which we both enjoyed. The woman running the tasting, Barbara, began to pull out multiple years of the same wine so we could compare. It was very interesting. They also had one white wine, a chardonnay which was quite light and delicious. She said it was aged in stainless steel for most of its life and then spent about 3 months in oak so it was a nice mix of oaked and unoaked chardonnay. We had a few bottles shipped back to the states and took a bottle of the vin Santo and chardonnay with us. She gave us the chardonnay as a gift. This is, after all, red wine country!
After the winery visit, we went to Radda, a little walled village with a windy market street. We wandered in and out of the shops and bought a pretty table runner. Then Simonetta took us back to Toscana Mia, chatting all the while about Tuscany, the countryside, the wine and the food, and answering all questions. What a delight!
Dinner was two kinds of topped bread (one with cheese, one with a bell pepper spread), salad, focaccia (thank you Mark!), cheeses and salami. Oh and wine. The girls chatted happily together. Turns out they are going to see One Direction tomorrow night in Milan which the 14 year old is very excited about and the older one is going because mama said you will. It’s compulsory, which is a big saying in Italy we are finding. We sat at the table and talked with Paola and Simonetta until 10:00, at which time I boldly said, “Could I ask for some gelato?” They said, “Yes, yes!” And then asked the girls if they wanted some. “Si!” came the happy answer.
After a wonderful dinner, we retired to the sitting area and worked on blogs and email again until right now. What a relaxing, magical, special day. Tomorrow, another cooking lesson starting out with a market visit which means tomorrow’s breakfast is not “ish.” 8:00, at the table. There will be other couples joining us for the cooking lessons tomorrow which should be fun. What a great day! Buonanotte!
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