Tuscany: Rolling hills, fine wine, fascinating history and, of course, phenomenal food. While visiting Tuscany it was only
appropriate that to supplement our (impressive amount of) eating we learn to create as well.
Our family enrolled in an afternoon cooking class at the Badia a Coultibuno, a beautifully preserved eleventh-century abbey-turned-vineyard, restaurant, inn and cooking school. Following a brief tour of the grounds, the wine cellar and the library we were lead to the kitchen where we met the formidable Tuscan chef Andrea.
In heavily accented English, Andrea instructed us through slicing buttery zucchini and choosing the most flavorful basil. He trained us to crush day-old bread between our wet hands to create Panzanella (recipe below) and invited us to drink olive oil- straight- to understand the intricacies of the flavor and harvest of the fruit.
Italian lunches do not disappoint, and we created a bean soup, Panzanella salad, pork with potatoes and vegetables, and a desert. Of course, each course was paired each with a beautiful wine from the vineyards. Andrea joined us for our meal, regaling us with the stories of his culinary career and his opinions on the art of cooking.
With our delicious creations and the Badia’s fine wine in our bellies, we set off for a cat nap on sunny bench in the abbey gardens. Perhaps it was the hard work or the authentic experience, but our home-cooked meal at Badia a Coultibuno was one of the culinary highlights of our journey through Italy.
Panzanella: Serves 4
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 loaf of crusty country bread (approx. 1lb) sliced or torn into 1-inch pieces. Unsalted Tuscan bread is the most authentic
Ground black pepper
1 large red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 large tomatoes (Roma variety is best)
1 bunch basil
- Moisten the bread under the faucet. It should be moist all the way through. Gently squeeze excess water from the
bread with your hands. The bread should crumble, not clump or collapse in a soggy mess.
- Shred the bread into a large salad bowl. You can crumble the bread down until there are very fine pieces, or “breadcrumbs” that resemble couscous.
- Cut the cucumbers and tomatoes into 1/2 inch pieces and add them to the bowl. Thinly slice a red onion and shred the basil, adding them into the bowl and mix with your hands for the most authentic experience.
- Add the vinegars and olive oil and mix completely, add more olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
- The salad can be served immediately or chilled for 30 minutes in the refrigerator before serving.