I already had one week of Awaiting Table under my belt, but this past summer I could no longer control my longing for southern Italy and decided to sign up for a second session at the school. After all, my orecchiette technique still left something to be desired. I selected the San Martino celebration at the Castle in Spongano and by mid-August was counting the days until departure.
The week flew by, highlighted by daily visits to the market, planning our daily menus, and early morning sessions at the bar for cappuccino sustenance. The staff, who organized the cooking sessions and our castle stay, added so much to the experience with their good cheer and local knowledge. Add numerous chats and lessons by the fireplace with a crackling fire, hands-on cooking in a well-equipped, atmospheric kitchen, and delectable, candle-lit meals with a convivial group of people and you’ve got a perfect vacation.
The castle is an elegant venue that makes the experience even more special. Bedrooms are spacious and comfortable; a great hall (with the fireplace) provides a focus for conversations and room for a large dining table where we gathered for lunch and dinner. Because everyone is living under the same roof, it is easy to get to know the fellow cooks. The castle grounds include a large swimming pool, a small orchard of citrus trees, and enough rosemary, lavender and bay leaves to supply all the cooking schools in Italy.
Yes, we repeated some of the dishes I had cooked before, but they were good the first time and better the second time. Better yet, this is simple, uncomplicated food that I can easily cook in my own kitchen at home. I tried my hand at things I’d never done before--cleaning octopus, squid and cuttlefish and cutting up rabbit. And this time, I think I got the hang of making orecchiette, the signature pasta of the Salentino. That, however, will not stop me from coming back a third time--there’ll always be something different on the menu and more to learn.
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