Friday, April 25, 2008

Tuscany! Week 4

Buon giorno tutti!
A very busy Week 4 comes to a close, as I write to you tonight. This week we studied the foods of Toscana (Tuscany). On Monday and Tuesday we spent our time in the kitchen cooking some regional dishes. In our pastry class we made a cake called Zuccotto. Several of us had successful creations, and they were sent down to the main kitchen to be served at lunch on Tuesday. Perfect timing for Larry’s arrival!

On Wednesday our guest chef was Valeria Piccini from Montemerano, a southern Tuscan town ( It was obvious to all of us that she is some what of a rock star in the Italian foodie world. Our teacher was quite reverent, and other teachers from the school kept “popping” in to say hi. She made some amazing dishes, and was a lot of fun to watch. Larry spent some of the day tooling around Parma, but returned just at the end of class to sample dessert. It was fun to have him experience my day. After class we had the first meeting for our stage. (Pronounce the “a” like “ahh”) I have to start thinking seriously about what region I would like to be in, and what kind of chef I’d like to apprentice under. Decisions – decisions!!

On Thursday and Friday we had a school field trip, and happily Larry was able to come along. (Another glimpse into my world!) We spent Thursday sightseeing Siena. What a fabulous way to celebrate our 4th anniversary! We both remarked all the way to Siena how beautiful the countryside was … just amazing. On our guided tour through the town we saw the spot where the famous Pallio race happens in July and saw the banner of the winner – the Goose Contrada. The Duomo of Siena is quite magnificent and beautiful. Our tour guide took us through that structure as well. Then in the late afternoon we visited a veal (cattle) farm which was quite interesting. We drove back to Siena to stay the night.

On Friday we got to see two wine producers: Castello Banfi ( in the Montalcino, and Isole e Olena, in Barberino Val d’Elsa. They were about an hour from Siena – so another beautiful drive through the hillside. Banfi is quite famous and quite huge. The estate, at the top of a hill, is a huge castle. Their nearly seven thousand acres of vines surround the castle. The second producer was much smaller. He also had a beautiful estate, in the small town of Isole. Both wines were fabulous, but the general consensus was that we all liked the smaller operation better. He was so much more passionate bout his process. It was slightly larger that Castellano, who we visited in Piemonte; but the comparison was the same. The smaller producer puts his heart and soul in to every bottle. Once they get to a certain size, it seems to become more mechanical. I suppose that is the same for most things?

We left the group around 7:00 and headed to Florence. Checked in and went off to find some dinner. We wandered around after dinner and took in the sights. Since we only had a day we decided to think small and see two things: the Uffizzi Gallery and the Duomo. The Uffizzi was amazing. It was once the home of a Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent, a play on words I had to endure all afternoon! (lol) We ended up spending many hours wandering through the most spectacular collection of the renaissance period. We saw several famous Botticellis: The Birth of Venus and Primavera; not to mention Carravaggios and Da Vincis. When we finally emerged we realized we were not going to have time for the inside of the Duomo. (A trip for another time!)

So off we headed for Lucca. It took us a little maneuvering to find the right entrance to the small city, and then the hotel. Lucca is an ancient fortress city that still has a wall around it. It’s said that Caesar, Pompey and Crassus decided to rule Rome as a triumvirate, in 56 BC. It’s also the birthplace of the composer Puccini. Well, we both absolutely fell in love with this beautiful city. So much so, that we decided to put off our side trip to Pisa and wander around all day. After lunch we climbed the 230 steps of the Torre Guinigi (good way to work off lunch!) for a magnificent view of the city.

So that brings me to tonight. After our simply wonderful day in Lucca, we had, what I can only describe as a hellish drive to Cinque Terra. What should have taken an hour and half, ended up taking us four. The autostrada (expressway) was closed for a good portion of our trip and we ended up taking side roads all the way up the coast. All I can say is thank god we had Hertz’ Magellan GPS system in the car. We were able to find roads in the pitch black.

So tomorrow (Monday) we’ll be taking the trail that links the 5 towns of the Cinque Terra and then heading back to Colorno in the evening. This week classes will be dedicated to the Emilia-Romagna Region. I’ll be taking another field trip at the end of the week to see a parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar production. (yum!) Larry will be heading home on Wednesday. (I’m trying to not be sad yet.)

Enjoy the photos and look for my next installment, next week! Ciao!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Week 3 - Guest Chefs from Veneto and Friuli Giulia

Buon giorno tutti,
Week three is finished. All in all, a quiet week. This week we studied the regions of Veneto and Friuli Giulia.

On Monday our guest chef, Bruno Barbieri, was from the Veneto region – specifically the city of Verona. He came with 4 assistants … it was a little amusing, given the size of the kitchen. Anyway, he is apparently quite famous in Italy, appearing on their version of the Food Network regularly. He actually reminded me of an Italian version of Bobby Flay. I’m attaching a picture of our class with him. He’s on the far right without a toque. (Yes, that’s me standing in the back row!) I loved his basic philosophy on foods – (paraphrased) “remember, mediocre ingredients give you a mediocre dish. It’s important to bring your personality to your food; it will translate to your guest.” The foods Veneto are described as being the most elegant of the northern regions. In our wine class we tasted some really lovely spumante and soave wines from the region.

On Wednesday our guest chef was Andrea Canton, from the Fruili region. He apprenticed under Gualtiero Marchesi, the founder of ALMA. He was really wonderful, a total contrast from the personality of Bruno – quiet and reserved. Fruili Giulia is another of the very northern regions that has a very basic rural cuisine, blending Italian with Slavic and Austrian nuances. A lot of farming and vineyards. I did like the dishes Chef Andrea created – one of which I got to help one. (I am happy to inform you that I make the best quenelles in the class! Lol) I wish I actually had a picture to show you – one of my classmates took a video shot of me making the stuffed gnocchi (in the shape of a quenelle) but not a still. I tried to email the short video but the file is too big. Oh well!

We cooked on all of the other days, making dishes from the two regions. I’m attaching some of them for you to see. I guess my favorite was the Cialzon – yes, sounds very similar to “calzone.” From the Fruili region it’s a stuffed pasta with many different kinds of fillings. Literally you could go from village to village, and each would claim theirs as traditional. Generally speaking the most traditional is made with a plum filling. The one we made was a combination of savory and sweet, filled with spinach, bread, parsley, raisins, chocolate. Topped with a savory cheese from the region. The other dish I got a real kick out of making was the Cuttlefish with Black Risotto. I used the ink sac from my cuttlefish to color the risotto.

So, no school sponsored field trips this week. So on Saturday I did my shopping and laundry and on Sunday walked around Parma.

I am really looking forward to this week. Larry is arriving on Tuesday. On Thursday and Friday this week we are taking a school field trip, and he is going to come along. (yeah!!) We’re going to be studying the Toscana (Tuscany) region this week. On Thursday – our anniversary - we’ll be in Siena visiting olive oil and parma ham producers and Friday two vineyards. We’re thinking we’ll spend the weekend seeing Florence and Pisa, then drive back along the coast to Cinque Terra on Monday. (Yes, I am cutting school for a day!) But enough of that .. lets save that for next week’s installment!

Have a great week and enjoy the photos!
Molto Amore!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Buon Giorno! Week 2 in Italy

Buon Giorno!
So here I am, the end of week two, lots to tell you about! This week our guest chefs came from Piemonte and Trentino. The Trentino cuisine was surprisingly interesting and tasty. It’s a cross between Austrian and Italian. The chef was lot of fun. I’m attaching his web site to see some shots of his food. ( As you can see, his food is quite beautiful. The chef from Piemonte by contrast was almost 20 years his junior – but you could tell immediately how talented he was. One of the things about Italian cuisine that I find refreshing is their intense authenticity about their specific regional food. They use the food from their region with a great passion.

On Friday we took a field trip to the Piemonte region, starting out at 6:00 am. We visited the town of Alba famous around the world for tartufo (truffle) hunting. We didn’t actually go on a real hunt, as the industry is managed quite closely by the government. You need to have a license to hunt for them. I gather it’s some what like lobstering in the US. If you are caught you get either fined or can go to jail. So at our “mock” hunt, there were tartufo strategically “planted” for our enjoyment. It was quite amusing. After our hunt we went to a town named Roddi and met a family that trains the dogs that really do hunt. It was high up on a beautiful hill overlooking the Lange valley, famous for Barolo producing.

Our next stop- you got it – a vineyard. The Cappellano Winery, now managed by a fifth generation, was so lovely. It’s everything you could imagine in a small family run business in the heart of the Piedmont region. We spent almost two hours with the founder’s great-great grandson. He produces Barolo and a Barberesco wines. We got to taste several, and they were marvelous. (

Our last stop (yes, it was a long long day) was Torino at a wonderful massive food market called “Eataly.” (Someone in our group thought they were building one in NYC?) Food and wine every where – all Italian, and all completely awesome. I was of course immediately on overload, and immobilized. I wasn’t sure where to turn and start! (For you New Yorkers – think of Chelsea Market, but multiplied by 10!)

Saturday I headed to Venice with three of my comrades from class. It was a tough start as we got home at 2:00 am on Saturday morning. It was really hard getting up at 7:30 … but I’m so glad I did. The train ride was so civilized and picturesque! We arrived in Venice, via Bologna at around 1:30 in the afternoon. After getting lost for about an hour we found our hotel and headed out. The streets are tiny and winding. Around every corner you find wonderful little shops with Venitian blown glass and carnival masks. We shared a bottle of Prosecco at Florian, a famous caffe on the Piazza San Marco square, extablished in 1720. ( After that, another hour of searching for our restaraunt for dinner! We stayed through Sunday and made our way back to Parma this evening.

I hope you enjoy the attached photos .. I am also adding a couple of shots of food I made this week. One is my veal tonnatto. The sauce (a mayonnaise) is a fine emulsify of tuna, anchovy and capers. Chef Paolo seemed duly impressed with it. The other is ravioli I made with fresh egg pasta, filled with finely chopped veal, spinach and fresh ricotta, topped with a clarified butter. Another thumbs up. ☺

Ciao until next week! Maria

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

My First Week in Italy

Hi everyone!

I wanted to share a few pictures with you from my first week in Italy.

The culture shock is slowly wearing off and I think I'm getting in to the groove of things. At the beginning of last week the time change threw me for a loop. As luck would have it, we had a pretty easy first day. We got a tour of Colorno - which I don't think is even on the map it's so small, got our uniforms and knife set, and went shopping. (an event in itself! haha) My apt is a 15 min walk to school. The school is inside the old Ducal Palace of Colorno, once the home of Maria Louise, Napoleane's wife. It's quite grand and beautiful. (If you Google it you can see a picture of the building.)

My days are structured a lot differently thank my time in NY. In NY I cooked everyday. Here we are only cooking 1 or possibly 2 days a week. The majority of the time is spent observing guest chefs. It's kind of like watching a chef cook on the Food Network, but up close. They spend a lot of time talking about their philosophy about food and how it connects to the region. (Really really cool for me!)

Each week is devoted to 2 or 3 different regions. In addition to the chefs coming I have two wine classes a week and two history classes a week that tie to the region. Last week was Liguria and Lombardy, this week will be Piemonte and Trentino Alto Adige. We're going to be taking a field trip to a town called Alba in the Piemonte region on Friday. In the morning we're going on a truffle hunt and in the afternoon we're going to visit a winery called Gaja. The plan is to have dinner in Torino (Turin). They structure the trips so we can stay over and sightsee on Saturday.

Other than missing Larry insanely, I'm glad I'm doing this ... it's just so cool!

Miss you all!!