Mellowing in Italy - Siena, Sunday 2007 May 13

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May 13th 2007
Published: June 2nd 2018
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Again, cooking school started the day. Today we were full of giggles, making lots of jokes and puns – lots of fun and laughter. Hourly, in the background, were the Sunday bells peeling from around the city.

The translator was new (to us). She was Deanna, a Canadian from Hamilton whose family is originally from Abruzzo. She is studying for a particular degree between Master and PhD. She wants to do a PhD in linguistics so she can teach Italian at a college or university.

The menu today started with Bruschetta with Olives – finely chopped green olives, garlic, Italian flat parsley, chili pepper, salt and pepper and olive oil. When it was served, more olive oil was drizzled on the bruschetta.

We made lasagna. First the meat sauce was done in the familiar way, although with less emphasis on tomatoes. It should simmer for a minimum of three hours, so ours wasn’t perfect. Leila made a “perfect” béchamel sauce – her secret is to take the rue off the stove, add the hot milk all at once, and whisk. We all made the noodles, following our ravioli technique, except using one teaspoon of oil instead of two

Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore
teaspoons of water. (All her measures are cutlery which we don’t have – a teaspoon is smaller than in our cutlery and the tablespoon is almost a serving spoon.) For the lasagna we cut our dough into rough rectangles about 4” x 5”, "rough" because we are not a “factory” she said. Leila layered Béchamel (white sauce), noodles, meat sauce and Parmesan for three layers. Mozzarella and ricotta in lasagna is from Southern Italy, she told us. Her style makes it much lighter. From the remaining dough we cut tagliatelle (long strips), which was later served with just meat sauce. Frequently we are served two pasta dishes at the first course (which follows the antipasto).

The second course (also called the meat course) was stuffed and rolled turkey breast. Leila cut the turkey breast so it made one piece about an inch thick. Pesto and a modest amount of sausage meat were placed on it, and it was rolled and tied. She browned the two rolls she made in a pot with the lid on and then added white wine for simmering. Moist, tasty. This was accompanied by roasted vegetables, which were cut into 1-1/2” pieces and very slowly
Refectory, Abbey of Monte Oliveto MaggioreRefectory, Abbey of Monte Oliveto MaggioreRefectory, Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore

Note tie rods holding the walls together
cooked in the oven, of course with “a bit” (!) of olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper.

We also learned how to make our favorite “cantucci” (biscotti). They are easy to make. The secret is that they are baked once, cut on an angle, and then baked again. And a chewier version can be made by adding more butter. As usual, these were served with Vin Santo. Our cookies were the best we’ve ever had!

Our original schedule showed us cooking 9:00 -12:00, eating 12:00 – 1:00, and returning to the hotel for the afternoon excursion. This is a joke because we never eat before about 1:30. So today Michele arranged for the bus to pick us up outside the city walls, a ten-minute walk from the school.

Monte Oliveto Maggiore is about an hour from Siena, through the always gorgeous lush hills. As do all monasteries, it dominates a high hill, although this one is still forested, which is unusual.

Unfortunately, as a prominent building of refuge, it was severely bombed during WW II. To my mind, an amazing amount was left to be restored. After a short steep walk up hill and then down hill,
Stairwell to libraryStairwell to libraryStairwell to library

Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore
we came to the public part of the cloisters. The frescoes by Il Sodoma, a colleague of Michelangelo, have been fully restored within the last few years. The cycle around the garden purport to show the life of St Benedict, who founded the monastery in the 4th century. However, Sylvia, again our guide, told us that the Renaissance painter made up most of the stories he painted – about twenty frescoes, each about 12’ x 12’. He inserted himself in some, and because he liked animals, he added them more or less at random, e.g., a tapir drinking from a pool. Also, he had a wickedly comic hand with devils.

Upstairs we saw the library. Tragically, some centuries ago, thieves stole all the valuable books and paintings in the night. Only one large bookcase with marquetry doors is left because it was too heavy to steal. Now the library houses a collection of relatively new books (18th century) to illustrate how the room might have looked. A few works that were traced and found over the years are now housed where there is tight security in the Vatican Library.

We ended in the serene church. Again, the only original piece
Why God Punished Florence, life of St BenedictWhy God Punished Florence, life of St BenedictWhy God Punished Florence, life of St Benedict

Frescoes by Luca Signorelli and Antonio Baza
is a marquetry lectern; the top half turns, to allow the priest to move about and still read from it. It is no longer used, only displayed in a side chapel. The old, former choir is also beautifully carved wood with marquetry panels about 15” x 15” all around the stalls, perhaps forty feet long on each side.

We had a brief stop in the gift shop. Aside from the usual postcards (I bought a couple to amplify my photos) and religious items, there was an extensive offering of tinctures, mixtures, tisanes and honey made by the monks. Unfortunately, subsequent to the severe restrictions on liquids in carry-on luggage, international tourists do not often purchase these things. Packing them in checked luggage is risky due to air pressure concerns. This has also affected sales for all the Italian wineries.

Meat Ragout

200 g ground beef

100 g ground pork

400 g fresh or crushed canned tomatoes

1 red onion

1 small carrot

Italian parsley

1 stick celery

Olive oil

Red wine

Salt and pepper

Two sage leaves


Finely chop all the vegetables and simmer,
Former choir stalls Former choir stalls Former choir stalls

Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore
stirring often. When the vegetables have changed colour, add the meat, letting it brown on a high heat. Add a glass of red wine and leave to evaporate. When the sauce begins to sizzle, add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook on a low heat, occasionally adding stock for at least three hours. Add the sage leaves half an hour before the sauce is cooked.


1 litre of milk

120 g butter

100 g flour

White pepper



Heat the milk and put to one side. Melt the butter in a pan and then add sifted flour. Stir the mixture well. Remove from the heat and add all the milk. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg. If the Béchamel is to be used as a stand-alone sauce, cook an additional 10 minutes.

Stuffed Turkey Roll

800 g turkey breast

4 slices of prosciutto, or sausage meat

Bread crumbs



Olive Oil

White wine


Salt and Pepper

Slice open the turkey breast like a book (about 1 inch thick). With a mallet, flatten out the meat

Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore
well. Add salt and pepper. Place the slices of prosciutto over the turkey breast. Chop the garlic, parsley and add the bread crumbs and add a small amount of oil. (May be mixed in a food processor.) Spread over the slices of prosciutto. Salt and pepper to taste. Roll the meat tightly and tie it with kitchen string. Brown in a pan with a small amount of oil, add some white wine and cook for about 45 minutes, adding a bit of broth.

Cantucci Biscuits

400 grams flour (2+ cups)

250 grams sugar (1 1/3 cups)

150 grams (or more) shelled whole almonds (3/4 cup)

3 eggs plus 3 yolks

16 grams baking powder (about 1 tsp)

orange or lemon essence or grated rind


Roast the almonds for 10 minutes in a hot oven and cool before adding to pastry.

Whip 2 eggs and 3 yolks with sugar. Add flour, baking powder, some drops of orange essence and some salt. Lightly knead the pastry dough to a workable consistency, then knead in the almonds. Form two “logs” of
View near Monte OlivetoView near Monte OlivetoView near Monte Oliveto

Mythic landscape
pastry, fairly high (as they will subside slightly in the oven). Place them on a non-stick sheet pan or on parchment paper, and brush them with a whipped egg. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and cut into characteristic biscotti cookies. Bake them again for 10 more minutes, just to lightly dry them. Check often to prevent burning. For chewier cookies add 70 grams (1/3 cup) melted, cooled butter to the flour mixture (may need to increase amount of flour).


3rd June 2018

I loved the marble floors in the cathedral. Such a lovely town.
7th June 2018

I agree, the marble work in Siena is exceptionally beautiful.
26th June 2018

Activity range
I like the range of activities in your program day - from hands-on cooking to historical/art touring. A nice mix.
27th June 2018

Activity range
Yes, I like a good mix of activities, learning, site seeing, eating, drinking....

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