A taste of Tuscany – Italian food masterclass
The scent of fresh rosemary and garlic floated in the air. Overhead there wasn’t a cloud to be seen in the blue sky.
If I closed my eyes for a second, it wasn’t hard to imagine myself in the Tuscan countryside, among the rolling hills where hilltop villages gleam golden in the sun, and those aromas promise mouth-watering Italian food to come.
I wasn’t, alas – I was in Surrey on a bright winter’s day, at an Italian masterclass with luxury villa specialists Bookings For You. And while I have to wait until next month for the Tuscan sun, on my planned long weekend staying in one of their villas just outside Volterra, I did have a string of delicious dishes to console me.
Created by the Giovannini family, who own the fabulous villa Country Relais and Spa Le Capanne where I’ll be staying and have run pastry shop Dolceria del Corso in Volterra for three generations, it was a reminder that you often need only a handful of simple, quality ingredients for classic Italian cuisine.
And that the results are so luscious that packing elasticated trousers might be a good plan.
Having chopped the sage, rosemary and garlic to stuff our wild boar thigh, tightly tied up to slow roast in the oven and later bathed in three quarters of a bottle of white wine, we got down to the business of concocting more dishes, from bruschetta and crostini with chicken livers to two types of pasta plus melanzane alla parmigiana for those not eating the wild boar.
Well… if I’m honest, we mostly watched the experts – Giancarlo and his wife Fabiola, son Dario and his wife Vera – took copious photos, drooled surreptitiously and occasionally lent a willing hand, while memorising their expert tips.
Never use a food processor to cut your herbs, for example, as the heat can affect the flavour. And after having baked your bread for five minutes (flipping half-way through), you don’t need to rub quite as much garlic onto your bruschetta as you think.
With many of the ingredients transported from Tuscany by car, including the wild boar – caught on their land – and olive oil and olives from their own groves, the flavour of the seasonal, fresh produce puts supermarket purchases to shame. Although we were allowed to use British-bought tomatoes for the topping.
Cooked almost to the consistency of pate in a glass of white wine (Vin Santo for preference) along with garlic and more sage, blended chicken livers were mixed with unsalted butter before topping more bread.
Then pasta dough, freshly made and rolled out, was filled and cut into ravioli shapes, or transformed into pici pasta, like fat spaghetti, drizzled in olive oil the colour of afternoon sunshine and topped with parsley, mint, basil, garlic and pecorino cheese. What could be simpler? But so good, I went back for a second plate.
And that wild boar, meltingly tender after cooking slowly for hours, with the salty sharpness of black olives complementing the meat.
Perhaps it was fortunate I had to leave before dessert – though it certainly didn’t feel it! Classic tiramisu, along with the Giovannini family’s signature creation of Millefoglie Crema Chantilly e Frutti di Bosco, a cream covered extravaganza of cake and fruit.
But with the original pastry shop just half an hour from our amazing nine-bed villa, I shall have to find time to make a detour from Florence and Siena (and the pool attached to the restored farmhouse) for at least one taste.
PIN FOR LATER
Disclosure: I was invited to the masterclass by Bookings For You, and paid for my time to attend. My stay in Tuscany will be courtesy of Bookings For You, for the purposes of review. All opinions and sheer unbridled gluttony are my own.
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