I thought today I would give you a view of what my days are like at this culinary vacation.
8:30 am: breakfast. My breakfast includes strong Italian coffee with frothed milk, a slice or two of prosciutto, a small wedge of cheese, a slice of crunchy bread, some fruit, and a small glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. Sometimes I drizzle a tiny bit of honey on the meat and cheese.
We are free until 3, so I set off on an excursion. Today I visited Cortona. Oh!! Really gorgeous. If an artist designed a town to be the idyllic and stereotypical Tuscan town, it would look exactly like every one I have seen. It’s the kind of beautiful where you shake your head in amazement and declare out loud “Are you KIDDING me?!” Yes, the beauty of Italy is no exaggeration. It’s, if anything, so much more than you believe it could possibly be.
I return by around 1:30 and find the other students finishing up some amazing lunch. There is always plenty remaining for me. Around 2 I relax, walk around the estate, or sit in a chair on my terrace staring at my view. Here is my suite at the villa:
At 3, we meet in the dining room with Chef Paola, and she reviews all the dishes we will prepare that day. We remove the recipes from our books to take notes. There are usually at least 10 per day…some easier, some more challenging. All delicious! Today we made rabbit, Tuscan meatloaf, beet and potato ravioli, broccoli pasta roll, orange custard and shortbread cake, leek crepes, vegetables in puff pastry, biscotti, and pistachio crusted stuffed pork. We put on our aprons and choose a station in the kitchen. Then the magic begins! Paola begins giving us assignments. We each work on a few dishes. Today I made the leek crepes, orange custard for the cake, and the beet and potato ravioli. Pasta the old fashioned way, stretching and rolling it until it is as thin as silk, which is really hard to do without tearing it or getting it stuck to the surface. Around 6:30 we take a break and there is always some fantastic treat. I think the point is really to give the staff a chance to clean the mess we made before the final push to completion. There is a woman who speaks no English. Her job is mostly to continuously wash dishes so we always have bowls, measuring cups, pans, etc. We don’t wash – no time! Paola expects us to work hard and precisely and we do! She circulates giving advice, demonstrating technique, and performing quality control. I have learned to be very careful about the exact size things should be cut. She is strict! Here is our kitchen:
We finish by around 7:30 when she sends us out of the kitchen for a break before dinner, usually served around 8:15 (early by Italian standards). The dining table has been set by the kitchen assistant or the resort manager, Sheena, using flowers and branches from the estate to set truly gorgeous tables. The first night we all changed for dinner, but since then we are all so whipped we sit in chairs in front of the dining room fireplace and drink wine until the first coarse is served. Dinner is usually 4 courses, and I tend to have a few bites only of each. I am here to learn to cook, not eat, so I want to taste everything but I have finished nothing! Tonight our first course was an onion soup you eat with a fork. The next course was my ravioli and the broccoli roll. The 3rd course was a trio of rabbit, Tuscan meatloaf, and the vegetables in puff pastry. Dessert was the “Grandmother’s Cake” which was the shortbread layered with orange custard. Each savory course is paired with wine, and before dessert, they bring out (no exaggeration) at least 30 bottles of cognac, limoncello, grappa, etc. Then we sit around talking for awhile, before peeling off for bed.
When I return to my rustic and cozy room, I inspect it for critters and evict any uninvited spiders or (tonight) slugs. We are in the country here, and they have no screens. Part of the charm! I get ready for bed, and check in with home events, and sometimes write my blog. Then I fall asleep thinking about where I’ll explore tomorrow!
Buona notte, tutti!