In the early evening on May 15th, me and my Giuseppe grabbed a cab with a couple of our fellow travelers and went back to Piazza di Santa Croce where we met up with other group members to head off to a cooking demonstration with Gabriella Mari at Scoula di Arte Culinaria.
The school is on the smallish size and with 35+ in our group, we were crammed in like little sardines which was made all better by the passing of the wine.
On the menu, Fettunta which is Tuscan unsalted bread, sliced thinly, crisped and brushed with olive oil (recipe below) and dolloped with Tuscan beans. Gabriella explained how these Tuscan beans simmer in a pot on her stove every week and are a regional staple.
Anna passed around the bruschetta and we all ate it up. Cheryl and Joe, I mean Giuseppe, looked pretty happy about it!
Gabriella grabbed a couple of volunteers, Andee and Cynthia, and got started on the main course, pici pasta with tomato sauce, and the dessert, tiramisu with fresh strawberries. (recipes below)
Andee pureed the fresh strawberries slated for dessert into a nice liquid and dipped the lady fingers into the tasty puree. Strawberries were at their peak during our visit to Italy – and they are different from the fresh strawberries I’ve had from home. The skin is thinner and they are juicy. What a delicious mess! And the lady fingers are different too so when Giuseppe and I whip up a batch of tiramisu, I will be going to the little Italian grocery at 51st and Charlotte Pike to get my shop on. The cookies Gabriella used were thin and super crisp, more like wafers than the biscuit style lady fingers we can find locally unless we hit a specialty store.
After the lady fingers had been dipped and arranged in a shallow dish, Cynthia covered them with the custard and then they were topped with fresh, cut strawberries. Tah Dah! The final dish, not the most beautiful, but it was quite tasty. We had tiramisu three times in Italy … all good, all different.
While the dessert was being assembled, Gabriella had enlisted the aid of Dimi to help make our fresh pasta.
Gabriella put a pile of flour on her cutting board and made it into a shallow well, that way, extra flour can be stirred in from the outer edges as needed. She filled her “well” with water and Dimi got to work blending. In the last photo, Gabriella is showing Dimi how you can blend the ingredients together if your hand is in the shape of a claw, with fingers spread and tips on the cutting board.
Gabriella and Dimi work the dough and handed it over to Morgan to roll into thin strands of pasta. Andee had strained the tomatoes so that no skin would go into the sauce. And she had sauteed the garlic in olive oil, added a bit of chili powder and then added the tomatoes to the mix. Go Andee!
We had Yum on The Way!
And here you have it … Morgan’s lovely hand-made pasta and the final dish (a little blurry … wine focus issue perhaps, but certainly allowable in Italy!).
The pasta was nicely flavored and so it was Bon Appetite! … however, this was a tasting really and so as we walked away off into the night and back to our hotel, my Giuseppe was heard to say … “I’m hungry.” That Joe, he’s always hungry!
The Recipes Below are Courtesy of Cristina Blasi and Gabriella Mari of Scuola di Arte Culinaria “Cordon Bleu” in Florence, Italy.FETTUNTA O BRUSCHETTA (Bread and oil starter) It is a popular appetizer of the center of Italy – serves 4 people - 4 slices of Tuscan or Ciabatta bread - 8 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil - 1 clove of garlic, without the core - Freshly ground black pepper - Salt to taste For Fettunta Toast the bread then rub with garlic. Sprinkle over salt, pepper and oil and serve it warm. Sometimes tomatoes, boiled black cabbage or white boiled beans can be added on top of it. For Bruschetta to the ingredients mentioned above you add: - 2 tomatoes, seeded and diced - 1 tsp oregano - Few leaves of fresh basil - Extra salt and black pepper Toss these ingredients together and then share the mixture on top of the fettunta PICI ALL’AGLIONE (Tuscan home-made pasta with garlic tomato sauce) – serves 5 For the Pici - 1.1 bl (500 gr) all purpose (plain) flour - 1 whole egg (optional) - 1 cup (250 ml) water, or less if egg is used, about Sift the flour and make a well. Keep some of the flour on the side in case you do not need it. Add the water and egg and all the flour if it needs. Mix for about 15/20 minutes. It is going to be a soft but not sticky dough. Wrap in plastic and let it rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. After that time cut the dough in long strips and roll on a well floured board until you get a thick “spaghetto” shape. This process is called “appiciare,” in other words “making pici.” Place them on a well floured cheese cloth. It is better not to let them dry to avoid the breaking up. Bring water to a boil, add the salt and boil the Pici for about 4-5 minutes, depending on the size. For the Sauce - 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil - 8 medium size cloves of garlic, peeled and cored - 1 chili pepper (or to taste) - 2 lb (800 gr) peeled tomatoes, pureed - 1 tsp sugar - Salt to taste Cut in garlic in pieces. In a sauce pan heat the oil with the garlic and the chili pepper then add the strained tomatoes and sugar. Let simmer for about 30 minutes. Add salt to taste and process if it too course. Serve hot with cooked pici. Optional: grated Parmesan cheese.
TIRAMISU ALLE FRAGOLE – serves 6 people - 1 lb (500 gr) Mascarpone cheese - 4 eggs - 4 tbsp sugar - Pavesini or Savoiardi (typical Italian biscuits) - 500 gr (1 lb) fresh strawberries - Brandy or a different liqueur to taste - Salt as needed Mix the yolks with the sugar and mix till fluffy. Gently incorporate the cheese, then fold in the whites previously whipped with a pinch of salt. Process and sieve half of the strawberries and cut the remaining ones in dices. Moisten the cookies using the processed strawberries (and the liqueur if desired). Prepare the dessert in a bowl by forming layers with biscuits, diced strawberries and mascarpone mixture. Keep in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour. Serve cold.