In the kitchen of Casa Bellavista there is a large marble topped table. When students gather around this table, it becomes the nerve center for a Casa Bellavista cooking class. On this table, some of the finest traditional Tuscan dishes are prepared by students of Simonetta's cooking classes. Gnocchi, ragout di carne, pasta, insalata di farro, braciola di maiale alle erbe aromatiche, petto di pollo all florentina and many other dishes are created for the eating pleasure of the students.
Against one of the walls, shelves are laidened with fresh fruits and vegetables. Hanging on a rack against another wall is a large selection of pans and pots waiting to go to work in preparation of some of the finest Tuscan dishes students in the cooking classes will ever taste. On the menu for this day's cooking class are: gnocchi, insalata di farro, pollo alla fiorentina and a torta for desert.
While the potatoes boil in a large pot on the stove, in preparation for making fresh gnocchi, the students are busy rolling out chicken breasts
as the first step in preparing petto di pollo all florentina. Once the breasts are rolled to the appropriate thickness, they are layered with fresh spinich and fontina cheese. When the layering is complete, the breasts are rolled and placed in a pan with extra virgin olive oil in preparation for cooking.
The table is cleaned and prepared for the preparation of gnocchi which begins with the peeling of the potatoes. After the potatoes are mashed
they are mixed with flour, eggs and salt and kneaded into a dough. After rolling the dough into long strips it is cut in to one inch sections which are “grooved” so the gnocchi will hold the flavourful ragu sauce which has been simmering on the stove top since the cooking students diced and chopped the ragu ingredients in the early part of the class.
The gnocchi, having been prepared, it is now time to think of the insalata. On today's cooking menu is Insalata di Farro. As the farro cooks, olives, celery, tomatoes, capers and anchovies are chopped and diced.
These ingredients will be added to the farro once it is cooked and cooled.
A fine traditional Tuscan dinner is never complete without dolce. Today's class menu calls for the baking of a Torta di Fruita. Fruits are sliced and layered in a pan lined with freshly made pastry dough. While the torta is being finalized, the ragu sauce is given its final seasoning. The insalata ingredients are folded together.
While the table is being set, the new “chefs” take a break and prepare to enjoy the results of their afternoon's culinary accomplishments. After dinner, perhaps a little café or grappa...perhaps a little of each.
The experience of a cooking class at Casa Bellavista is rich with traditional Tuscan cooking. It is an afternoon and evening the class participants will take with them and remember as their stories of “cooking Tuscan” are shared with their friends back home.
Dave and Edie