This article is from the September 2016 Issue of Forever Young

 Tuscan Country Cooking Class

By Steve Tuck

This June took us back to our very favorite holiday location --- VILLA LE TORRI on Via Poppiano, San Quirico in Collina, near Montespertoli, just Southwest of Florence! This was our second visit --- two full weeks of Heaven! We were there in 2014 and only stayed for one week. Now our new minimum is two! The best testimonial to Gabrielle (the owner) and his “6-star” Villa is the fact that 75 – 80% of his visitors are return guests!!! His best advertising is folks like us --- previous guests who refer others who refer others and the chain goes on. And no wonder, Gabrielle and his wife and Mom and Dad work tirelessly to ensure that your stay is THE vacation you will never forget!

One of my joys in life is cooking. I love to experiment. Of course I have my favorites. Rack of lamb with a good Shiraz, well I don’t think it can be beat. (My wife thinks guests might be tired of my fav, but I haven’t heard any complaints yet!)

But Tuscany is famous for the views, the wine and the cooking!

Much to my delight, Gabrielle has added a weekly Tuscan cooking class right at Le Torri. As soon as I learned, I booked in, along with my good travelling companion, George. (Our wives opted to just come to the dinner we’d create; not partake in the lesson. They vegged by the pool, a great alternative, and they still got to taste the results!) The class is held for 2 to up to 9 people. We were just four ---- perfect, like a private class! The course was in English and was held in the large dining room/kitchen cooking class area on the second floor of the Villa Le Torri. (A room we had never seen before!)

This is a four/five hour hands-on cooking class, and includes the cost of the food and wine and the final dinner we prepared ---- all from scratch! Our chef, Pierpaolo Moroni, made us feel right at ease in the kitchen. We donned our aprons, and started working on the pasta sauce, the tomatoes having been already prepared in boiling water for our peeling and coring. Only the flesh was to be used. Then the cucumbers, onions, carrots, celery, and other ingredients had to be chopped and added to the tomatoes. We also kneaded the ciabatta and once it was baked, we got to taste test it during the lesson! Mmmmmm!

Making Gnocchi with fresh potatoes turned out to be a lot simpler than we all thought! The main course was boneless pork chops very thinly sliced. Our dessert was maybe the simplest and we worked on it first ---- one of my favorites, crème caramel right out of the ‘frig. Making the pasta was so much fun. An egg, some flour and salt and work it with your fingers. Then, after shaping it, it goes through the hand-fed, cranked pasta maker. WOW! Who would have thought making linguini was so easy? The zucchini flowers stuffed with some cheese (like a paramigiano type) and anchovies was easy, and once stuffed, just a twist of the flowers to get them ready for the dipping in a very light batter.

The pork had been marinated in vin santo, white wine and milk at the start. Two hours maybe in this marinade. Then everything started to come together. (Of course, we did stop from time to time to have a glass of Italian wine! This is an Italian kitchen after all!!!)) Finally bringing it altogether, the pork was quickly deep fried in olive oil (what else in Italy?!?) and likewise the zucchini flowers, very quickly deep friend.

Gabrielle assisted frequently, as did the chef’s wife --- she did the part I dislike the most, the cleaning up! Finally, our wives were invited to join the long dinner table to see what their husbands had created, along with the newly married senior couple from California.

(Another nice part of visiting Villa Le Torri is that you get to know others at the initial Saturday night welcome buffet dinner, included in the price of your stay. This retired couple had lost their partners and met on the internet! Social media is not only for the young but also the young-at-heart!)

The chef taught us various techniques in creating the different dishes. He made it all so simple!

He also instructed us on not cooking too long or you lose the goodness. Flavours and smells filled our kitchen.

The dinner was complete with wine being poured in ample supply ---- no one was driving anywhere!

Gabrielle told me that about 60 people had taken up the cooking class in the first season. All, like us, had enjoyed it immensely. It had been on my bucket list since I first started traveling, whether to Provence or to Tuscany, our two favorite destinations in the late Spring/early Summer.

He has an idea that I think will be a neat addition for his future guests….some basic Italian lessons. Maybe a few hours once or twice a week? For folks like us who intend to return, knowing a little more than “CIAO” would be great.

We have recommended Villa Le Torri to a lot of folks. One such couple (from Kamloops) have been back twice and now have others from the U.S. who are following them. Neighbours of ours just got back from a family holiday with their son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren (teenagers) along.

All sing praises of this Heavenly destination!!!!

We have our aprons hanging in our kitchens, a souvenir of our Tuscan cooking class adventure!

(I have a confession to make, though, and that is making the pasta is easier when you just take it from a box! But my cousin in Toronto married a wonderful Italian girl, and Mary tells me she makes her pasta from scratch, just as we were taught. She also has the inspiration of her Italian Mom at her side, which makes cooking all the more fun!!!)