This time last summer, I was cooking up a storm on a beautiful estate in the heart of Val d’Orcia. Il Poggiolo is located between the world-renowned wine regions of Montalcino and Montepulciano, and I visited both as a participant in “tasting Italy – a culinary journey in Tuscany”.
It was the first-ever Tuscan cookery week for Jack and Silvia of My Fresh Attitude (and formerly co-owners of Laughing Lemon), whose food philosophy I admire. After enjoyable evenings in their cozy demonstration kitchen in Oerlikon, near Zurich, I leapt at the opportunity to join them in Italy for a full week of cooking and exploration of the region.
Trips to markets in Tuscany
Everything started with fresh ingredients, which meant several trips to area markets, ogling—and buying—extraordinary specimens of every Mediterranean fruit and veggie imaginable.
Pasta, risotto & more
Jack and Silvia are accomplished culinary professionals, and were generous in sharing their expertise throughout the week and after, as questions arose. Our time together was also satisfyingly hands-on. Jack set a fearsome pace for kneading dough, then put us to the task.
Silvia patiently demonstrated technique for making garganelli , the hand-turned grooved tubular pasta similar in shape to penne. It was my first, and possibly my last, time to wield a pettine, the comb-like implement used to form this pasta. We made seafood ravioli from scratch, and cooked up three kinds of risotto. It was an eye-opener to compare preparation and results for the different rice strains, as prepared in several regions of Italy.
We also made focaccia, flavored with rosemary from just outside the kitchen door. And grissini. And cannelloni di crespelle, stuffed with spinach and prosciutto.
Seafood & fish
One day we headed for a fish market near the coast, and returned for an afternoon of learning our way around sepia, squid and several types of fish. The fish stew that resulted was served for dinner with grilled toast. Our main course that evening, was sea bream in a sauce of capers and anchovies.
Just about every meal kicked off with a sampler of fresh and aged pecorino cheeses, and an assortment of cured meats, such as prosciutto, salami and bresaola. The fresh fare produced simple dishes, perfect for warm evenings on the terrace, and gave us opportunities to try different fish preparations. The exception was our final evening, when two local fellows showed up to grill Florentine Steaks, enormous slabs of T-bone beefsteak. I’m not much of a carnivore, but it was a popular choice. For more on this, see last summer’s post from Florence.
We tried a number of traditional desserts such as panna cotta with strawberries, as well as fresh fruit plates. And we closed the week with a frenzy of cookie-making: brutti ma buoni (“ugly but good”) from Piemont; orange and almond biscotti; and Ligurian amaretti, absolutely the best amaretti I’ve ever tasted. Our cookie trio was served with afternoon coffee, with little sacks of leftovers to bring back to Switzerland.