What I Learned Cooking in Tuscany — With 3 Cool Cooking Tips For You

October 21, 2010 § 14 Comments

In addition to shooting guns and canning jam, taking a cooking class in Italy is another item on my bucket list. Last week, I was lucky enough to fulfill this wish in Cortona, Tuscany, home to Frances Mayes of Under the Tuscan Sun fame and Il Falconiere, a 20-room inn with a Michelin-starred restaurant and cooking school (click here for their website).

Il Falconiere was built as a villa for a famous poet in the 17th century. It was then the family home of Riccardo Baracchi, the current proprietor. Riccardo, his wife, Silvia, and son, Benedetto, continue the family tradition of growing grapes and wine-making, which began in 1860. The restaurant and cooking school use produce grown on the property: olives and the resulting olive oil, fruits from trees lining gravel pathways and vegetables from a garden near the swimming pool.

Il Falconiere grounds at dusk

A close college friend, Leah, who lives in NYC, and I had decided to spend a week together meandering around Italy. Leah was happy to help me realize my food-obsessed desires (more on the others in a later post) during our trip.

So on a sunny Tuesday, we walked into the Baracchi family’s kitchen, which also serves as the setting for cooking classes.

The warm, cozy kitchen

We nibbled on pecorino made just south of Cortona and salami made just north, sipping the Baracchi family wines while getting to know the other four class participants. Coincidentally, all six of us were pairs of women who had been friends for years and had decided to spend time traveling in Italy together — what a great way to connect with a long-time friend, no?

Over the next four hours, we learned to cook a menu showcasing the best seasonal ingredients and traditional Tuscan dishes:

Stuffed zucchini blossoms

Zucchini blossoms stuffed with minted ricotta

with basil sauce and pine nuts

Pici pasta with cherry tomatoes

and chili and herbs


Veal medallion

Veal medallions with citrus-olive tapenade

on herb skewers

Pear & pine nut tart

with chocolate sauce

We trimmed zucchini blossoms with giant tweezers…

Chef Richard wields his favorite weapon

We whipped up a filling of ricotta, mint and chopped zucchini sauteed in olive oil with garlic and stuffed the flowers, an activity everyone enjoyed more than they expected…

Leah and me: Fun with pastry bags

We made pasta dough, learning that pasta in Tuscany is traditionally made with flour and water but no eggs, because they were thrifty cooks and saved the eggs for other uses. After letting the dough rest, we rolled it out, sliced it into bars and attempted to transform each bar into long, thin “snakes”, as Chef Richard called them. It took us a while to get the hang of it, so some noodles were appropriately serpentine while others looked more like squashed caterpillars. Ahh, well…we have time to let the magic of habit-forming apply to making pasta from scratch!

Kneading the silky dough

We stuffed veal medallions with a filling of garlic, herbs, black olives, orange zest, bread crumbs and pancetta, wrapping them in lardo (thinly sliced, cured pork fat) and skewering them with fresh herb sprigs before searing them in a pan and finishing them in the oven…

Veal medallion with wild fennel skewer

We assembled and baked the pear tart and awaited dessert eagerly, taking in its rich aroma. (I’ll share that recipe with you next.)

Then the six of us sat down to enjoy the meal that we’d made, each course accompanied by Baracchi family wines. We’d learned new recipes and cooking tips, and over dinner, we shared stories about our friendships and our lives. There we were, laughing, eating, drinking — together in food.

Leah, Chef Richard and me


3 Cool Cooking Tips For You!

1 — Baking stuffed zucchini blossoms in high heat (400 degrees Fahrenheit) with a bit of vegetable stock crisps the edges and is a lot easier than frying them.

The finished zucchini flowers, baked at 400 degrees

2 — Using sturdy herb sprigs as meat skewers is an easy way to impart aroma and flavor while also adding beauty to your finished dish.

Veal medallion with fresh bay leaf skewer

3 — Placing meat on a square of parchment paper while searing it in a skillet allows you to brown the meat over high heat without burning it.

Veal medallion searing on parchment paper


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