Thursday, September 2, 2010

Back to Cooking

Two of the wonderful people I have met during my stay are Scott and Nicole from Brisbane Australia. They are our token “couple” of this week and I enjoy their company immensely. This morning they were heading off to Poppi and to the ceramic factory that is located nearby. They were kind enough to ask me to come along as they have a car here and I do not. Scott managed to do a fine job navigating down the very steep hill in the Citroen, but forgot the he needed to drive on the right hand side of the road. After a brief scary encounter with a truck coming heads on, and a gentle reminder from both Nicole and I, he managed to get back on the correct side of the road. We had great fun on the way over recounting the many funny events of this week. It’s amazing how well you can get to know a group of people in just a few short days. It was not long until we arrived at the ceramic factory. We had a lovely time looking around at all of the beautiful pieces – from plates to enormous jugs. I knew I wanted to get something, but I wanted to make sure it was just he right item. I was immediately drawn to this beautiful clock that had the crest of Poppi (which includes a fleur de lis) along with some red that would definitely work in my kitchen. I finally decided on this piece and cannot wait to get it home.

If I were to ship it I would have had to pay over twice the price, so hopefully I will manage to get it home in one piece. Scott and Nicole also bought a couple of beautiful pieces. After our stop here we did go by Lorj, a clothing shop with all of the leading Italian designers and then we went on in to Poppi. It is a very charming town, again, up on a hilltop. We found it to be very quiet compared to both Arezzo and Anghiari.

We walked around the castle and up and down the streets. We stopped at a little place and enjoyed un caffé. Since we had class today we headed on back and had lunch with the rest of the group. Today’s lunch was a light one consisting of some fresh greens and a side of the pasta we had made the day before. It was topped off by the panna cotta that Ingmar and I made on Tuesday. I am not typically a fan of this dessert, but this was fantastic. I am learning to like many things that I have shied away from in the past. I caught Franco down in the garden picking some fresh tomatoes that would be used in today's courses.

It was once again time for our class. We had a full line up and this time I was on the entrée. Nicole and Dinah were also both on the team. We were preparing tonight’s entrée which was monkfish served with a mushroom sauce and fresh truffles (I was about to find out how fresh a little later). As per my request earlier in the week we also were going to make some ossobuco. Believe it or not we were also assigned a third dish which was Franco’s own beef stew made with pears and white wine. It’s amazing how much more comfortable we are with the kitchen at this point – we know where most things are located. It’s also funny how we all work together amazingly well. I spent a better part of the afternoon chopping vegetables for each of the dished while Nicole and Dinah prepared the meats. We had our usual afternoon “break” and this time we had fried zucchini blossoms. These were so simple yet so delicious. We also started on the wine a little earlier than usual! I spent the break in the hammock listening to the chatter and taking it all in.

Before we went back to work we had a visit from one of the local truffle hunters. An area just behind the villa is a truffle “farm” and today they use dogs to sniff them out. It was neat watching the dog work even if he did only find a few truffles.

However, it was enough to serve with the entrée we were preparing for tonight. We went back to the kitchen to continue working. I think we were all getting a bit lively this evening and you could see Franco just saying “oh my goodness”! Nicole and I realized that we failed to add the wine to our beef – we called Franco over and told him that we had misread the recipe – we thought we were supposed to drink the wine. He said “no problem”. Tonight we worked very late, until almost 8:00.

We quickly freshened up and came back down for dinner. Today had been warmer so we opted to eat outside. Our first course was parmigiana made with eggplant. I need to see exactly how it was made, but it was outstanding. I have gone from disliking eggplant to wanting to make it as soon as I get home. Our pasta course was the pasta we’d made earlier with fresh clams in a white wine sauce. (Mom and dad you will absolutely love this one!). I could have eaten an entire meal of this. It was now on to the monkfish with mushrooms and fresh truffle from earlier in the day. I’m not normally a huge fist fan, but this way very nice. We also served some of the ossobucco that we had prepared and it was a big hit. Dessert was a farmer’s cake with plum sauce. I’ll have to say this was my least favorite dish of the week. It just didn’t do much for me, however, considering how much dessert I’ve had that is probably a good thing! We sat around after dinner having our Limón cello and enjoying to scenery and company. Franco and Paola joined us as well. I think we are amusement for him in the evenings! We had our usually group that decided to go down and try out the hot tub again. They had cleaned and refilled it today, but they must have really stoked the fire because it was extremely hot. None of us could take it for very long. We all eventually got out and headed up to bed. Tomorrow is our free day and I think I will be going to Cortona with Scott and Nicole. Should be another great day!

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