Mellowing in Italy - Siena, Monday 2007 May 14

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May 14th 2007
Published: June 10th 2018
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Concentrate and learn!Concentrate and learn!Concentrate and learn!

Lella and Canadian translator
I am writing on May 15 on the steps of Basilica di Santa Crocein Florence while waiting for other tour members who paid to go inside. I think I will be here next week, so I chose to look at the leather workshop attached to the church, in the former monastic cells. After a full day, I’m mentally exhausted. The wind is blowing briskly, which is apparently unusual for Florence. The weather is changing – 29 degrees Celsius yesterday, but today sunny and cloudy and windy and cool, which is quite different from May 14.

Yesterday started with our last cooking class. Lella welcomed us and warned us that the preparations were lengthy for the dishes on the menu. We were astonished by the four large pots of beans (cannellini) steaming away - she explained that half is for a demonstration the next day. One “pot” was a flask, specially designed for cooking dried beans. It originated in the mountains. People would have the old style of chianti bottles (in the wicker baskets). They would put the beans in a bottle, stopper it, and leave it on the coals of the day’s fire. In the morning the beans were cooked! These days the
Had to have this photo!Had to have this photo!Had to have this photo!

Lella is a bit distracted.
large bottle looks like chemistry flask stoppered by a cork with a small pipette. The foam collects on top of the water, but the water doesn’t seem to boil. Lella cooks with it using a diffuser on her gas stove.

The first dish was a hearty bean stew. Vegetables such as celery, onion, and carrots were cooked thoroughly in olive oil. Then lots of Tuscan black cabbage was added. (We tasted it raw, but all agreed we don’t have it at home.) She suggested substituting kale. She also added some Swiss chard for flavour. Tomato paste and water/broth were added, and the vegetables cooked more. After some time she pureed 2/3 of the beans and added them for more cooking. Then she added the rest of the beans whole for texture. I think I will make this, as it will freeze well – but I probably won’t give it the dried bread treatment. She served it to us with toasted bread at the bottom of the bowl, to soak up the soup. She said it could be served in a tureen with alternating layers of bread and soup.

For the meat course we made skewers. The traditional recipe was for

Happy and proud
pork livers in sausage casing, which we did have in our first restaurant meal at Due Arches. However, too many visitors don’t like liver, so she had us make the skewers with cherry tomato, veal steak (not milk fed), Tuscan bacon (thick cut), bread, sage leaf, chicken, sausage, and sage leaf. She insisted on this order so the ingredients flavour each other optimally, and indeed the skewers tasted good. She baked them in the oven with olive oil and more sage on top. They were served with more cannellinii beans in a light lemon vinaigrette. She said to only serve these if there were no other vegetables. (Why?)

Dessert was a cream cake, layers of rich batter, pastry cream, and pine nuts. Rich with light texture.

Our afternoon, or what was left of it, was free time. A bunch of us were interested in kitchen items as a result of our lessons. First, we stopped at an ceramic artist’s store in the same business complex as the cooking school. Apparently Michele had advised him to stay open to get our business, because he was closed all other times. I bought a shallow dish as a gift. Then we
Siena streetSiena streetSiena street

Straight up!
wandered by the pools of Siena’s original water supply to look at the carp. I hadn’t seen the pools before, even thought they are about fifty feet away – you have to let your eyes adjust to the sun to see the fish. Then you can see that the carp do indeed keep the water clean.

From there we struggled up the nearly vertical street behind the Cathedral of St. Catherine (same street that was closed off on the Sunday of my arrival), to a rather posh cooking store. They didn’t have any “spatule de ligne” or other mundane tools. A couple of blocks on we checked out the grocery store (mainly food) that has typical products of Siena region. We bought a few little things, like a tube of tomato paste, by far the best way to package it.

And then we moved on to the much more promising department store. It was in the same piazza as the post office and was built in three floors under a restaurant. And the bottom floor had a great selection of kitchen tools. I was tempted by a wooden knife for Teflon pans which I didn’t much need. I did get another
Light bracketsLight bracketsLight brackets

Fascinating designs for every contrada
pair of “spatule”, although the shape isn’t as good as the others. And I got a tool that is half wooden spoon and half spatula, with a flat end for making firm contact with the bottom of the pot. And I bought a strong whisk, even though I have had little success with them in the past, because it was so much cheaper than in Calgary. Plus I bought a fridge magnet and two decorated clothespins, because they were cute.

As we walked back through town – crowds, heat, narrow stone passage ways - I enquired if anyone else wanted to go to a café to have a drink and experience the ambiance, rather than going to the Pinacoteca (art gallery). Everyone did. So we found a café on Il Campo and had drinks while watching mostly tourists. As we sat down, a wedding party went into the town hall, all dressed in fine clothes. As we stood up to go, they came out of the town hall, and the whole Il Campo cheered and clapped!

Zuppa di Fagioli

300 g cannellini beans, soaked over night

Pork rind (optional)

200 g Tuscan black cabbage (or kale, turnip greens, savoy or Swiss chard)

4 very ripe tomatoes (or tomato paste and water)

1 onion

1 carrot

1 stick of celery or leeks

2 cloves garlic

Chili pepper

1 sprig rosemary

Olive oil

Stale bread

Cook the beans with the cut-up pork rind in plenty of water. Meanwhile, finely chop the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Brown with the rosemary and chili in lots of olive oil. Add half a glass of hot water the tomatoes. Stir fry until dry. Add chopped kale. Add Swiss chard if desired. Use an immersion blender to puré 2/3 beans in cooking water and add to soup. Cook down, stirring often. Salt to taste. Add 1/3 of the whole cooked beans with water. Top with chopped red onion. Serve over stale bread.


10th June 2018

Interesting that it's the shape that matters in wooden tools, also. I have some silicon tools that tend to sit in the drawer - I chose poorly, I think. I like your flexibility with respect to justifying your (small) purchases - their unavailability at home, their lower price, and "just because." I never know whether to go for it (after all, when will I be here again?) or to restrain myself. But I'm more likely to regret passing up an opportunity than having something that sits in the drawer.
15th June 2018

These excellent tools are now widely available in bamboo at Dollar Stores. My Italian ones have cracked a bit, but I still relish the experience in my memory.
14th June 2018
Had to have this photo!

Nothing Better
Love taking cooking classes in Italy.

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