Cooking at a Farmhouse in Tuscany
I decided to book a food tour while I was in Florence, and it ended up being one of my favorite activities on this trip! Isak was our food guide and chef for the day, along with Carmela (the host and owner of the kitchen).
In medieval times, the chef was actually one of the best paid because he would keep the family healthy (a lot died back then due to war, diseases, the plague, etc.). During the Renaissance, there would be elaborate banquets where there would be a tendency for sweet and salty meat dishes (the chef would add sugar/honey to them). Italian chefs would create innovative food dishes never heard of before, and Catherine de Midici actually brought over Italian influences when she married Henry the 2nd because she didn't like the food in France!
Salt was used as the currency back then, and Isak also gave us a brief history about the salt wars that occurred between Florence and Pisa. This is why there is no salt in Tuscany's bread because of the increased taxes on salt!
Since it was a sin to throw away bread, it is used in many different recipes (papa pomodoro, la panzanella, etc.)
The old market used to be at Piazza della Repubblica, where the first commodity used to be wool. Wine became very lucrative afterwards and as wealth increased with the help of the Medici family and their banking system, the Florin was created -- the first accepted international currency.
Merry-go-round in the location of the old market.
The Medici Coat of Arms.
Il Mercato Centrale Firenze Market opens from 7am - 3pm, and this is where Isak got the meat and cheese for the dishes.
Since 1872, Nerbone is known for their boiled meat sandwiches (lampredotto bollito). Arrive before noon -- or else the line gets long!
With 400,000 tons and 400+ different kinds of cheese, I would have been lost without a guide! The two cheeses needed were Parmigiano-Reggiano (parmesan) and mozzarella. Parmesan is only made in two provinces and are typically aged between 2 to 7.5 years. From the black buffalo cattle, Mozzarella di bufala is twice as expensive as regular mozzarella with its sweeter, milkier nuances, and can be eaten with tomatoes and fresh basil. For pizza, the best mozzerella is one that retains water content so it doesn't spill all over!
After getting the cheese and meat (there was just as many different kinds of meat as there were cheese) from the market, we headed over to the kitchen in the tuscan hills. The kitchen is surrounded by olive groves in the Tuscan hills, and I couldn't believe how charming it was! The view was also breathtaking.
View from the kitchen.
Left: Olive trees.
What sets Tuscan food apart from other Italian food is the amount of Extra Virgin Olive Oil they use...or abuse I should say! There are three presses of olive oil, and it makes up for the lack of fat in the meat.
This Balsamic vinegar is very sweet, and is great on strawberries, ice cream, and even on plain bread!
A very simple prep: the bread is toasted and topped with tomatoes, basil, garlic, sea salt, and a LOT of extra virgin olive oil!
Tip: Use the end of the blade to smear/crush the garlic to get juices out.
RAGU MEAT SAUCE:
For the pasta, Carmela (the other chef who owns this kitchen) had us mince veggies which included celery, carrots, onions, and garlic. We used a Mezzaluna (luna: moon-shaped), which is essentially a rocking blade to make mincing vegetables a lot easier and quicker.
In addition to the minced veggies, 18oz of tomato puree and half a bottle of red wine were included in the meat sauce.
As the meat sauce was cooking for the pasta, Isak showed us the technique on how to make our own pasta from scratch! Click on the gallery below to see the individual steps:
Isak also showed us how to make different forms of raviolis, using the edge of the fork to crimp the edge (so they don't open up in the water). After seeing a demonstration, we tried ourselves.
Typically, the thinner the noodle, the thinner the sauce. Wider noodles usually use a more robust meaty sauce. The pasta is then cooked for 7-10 minutes in a pot of boiling salt water.
The pizza was made outside, overlooking the gorgeous Tuscany view.
Making the pizza sauce (basil, tomato puree, salt, EVOO).
Right: the finished pizza!
Putting toppings on our own pizzas.
When using a wood oven (use either oak or beechwood), the temperature needs to be 700°F. Remember that when cooking the pizza you need to rotate it so all parts cook, all while keeping it in the same position within the oven (because the wood is all on one side of the oven). The pizza is ready after cooking for one minute and a half!
While waiting for everything to cook, we enjoyed the view and Carmela's charming backyard:
Fun fact: spaghetti and meatballs is not Italian as they eat them separately, but when the Italians immigrated and realized they didn't have 3 hours to eat, they combined both into one dish.
After eating the pizza for lunch, we went back inside and made dessert -- my favorite part! After making the tiramisu, we let it chill in the fridge for an hour.
Bottom three images: coffee, mascarpone, ladyfingers.
With a whole day of prepping food, everyone was definitely hungry. Lucky, we had a big dinner coming our way featuring all the food we've made this whole day.
Egg pasta w/ ragu meat sauce:
Left: Roast pork w/ rosemary and garlic. Right: Patata al rosmarino (roast potato with rosemary and sage).
After the hearty meal, Isak concluded by giving us all cooking certifications, and we were free to enjoy the rest of the evening with a full stomach! Thank you Isak for showing us a great time centered around food, and to Carmela who welcomed us into your beautiful kitchen! I would recommend this to anyone where food is an important part of your experience when traveling; check them out here!
Afterwards, a couple people from the tour group and I decided to walk over to Piazzale Michelangelo to enjoy the rest of the day. Click here to read about the Iris garden and to see a stunning sunset overlooking Florence!