My husband and I were hoping for a day of cooking lessons that would improve our Italian cooking skills in a practical way, and provide both delicious food and a window into real life in a Tuscan hill town. Our experience with Alessandra met and exceeded all of our expectations.
Our day started out in a cafe on the piazza. Our companions for the day were a wonderful family of 5 from Australia. We got to know our cucina-mates a bit over cappuccino. We studied the menu for the day, and discussed were we would be shopping. Alessandra provided us with a folder which included our menu for the day, a collection of good common sense from Alessandra's "Real" Italian kitchen (much of which she dispensed to us in person through the day), and all of the recipes for the food we would be preparing and eating.
We walked from the piazza to the butcher shop, which was quite an interesting visit. Coming from the U.S., we are used to having a lot of nutrition information posted on our food containers...But a whole different set of information is posted in the Italian butcher shops (at least, it was in this one....Like, where the cow was born.) I was impressed by Alessandra's commentary on the freshness of the meat in Italy. It explained a lot about why it's hard to get a bad meal here.
Alessandra's husband then picked us up in a small van, and we headed down the hill to their home. We stopped nearly there at a beautiful market, where they had the most colorful vegetables and fruit. While we were there, Alessandra took us in the back to see the virgin olive oil cold-press facility, and explained that process to us, which I found very interesting. Then, on to their home.
We really had the feel of a day spent with friends, fixing a fine meal (although we kind of ate the meal as we went along). Everyone helped--we all made pasta, made espresso, stirred the ragu, whipped the egg whites, etc. Alessandra of course did the directing and a good bit of the work, but this was not a class where you just watched someone else cook. You helped! I really like the hand-on aspect.
Alessandra's family came and went throughout the afternoon (it was a normal school day for the kids, with everything that entails); while Alessandra spoke perfect English and that was the language we conversed in, I enjoyed very much the back and forth of the family in Italian. There were dogs and cats around but never bothering anything or anyone (the dogs were penned up in the far back yard). Their home was charming but unpretentious. We ate on the back patio. The house lot is narrow (houses touching on both sides) but deep, and there were flower pots and other decorations around. The weather was lovely.
The food was delicious, fresh, and plenty without being overfilling (it would have been a lot for one meal, but stretched out over 6 hours, it didn't seem too much). Alessandra is a great storyteller, and along with the food we got generous servings of conversation with her and the other guests.
When we return to Cortona, we will do this again!
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