Tour and Dinner in San Gimignano

Would you believe that after our amazing cooking class, there was more planned for that same day? After the cooking class, some of us took naps, while others decided to go for a walk. I got to enjoy wandering around the villa property with my sister Emily (hermana!).

We met Gina Stipo to spend the evening in San Gimignano. First we went to San Gimignano 1300, an amazing museum that included a reproduction of the town from the 1300’s. We learned all about the history of the town, and especially its towers.

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The town originally had 72 towers, which were built as symbols of familial power. Many of the towers were torn down over the years, but there are still 13 standing.

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After the museum, we wandered around the town some, visiting piazzas and climbing to the top of a hill to see a view of the entire town and the surrounding landscape. Beautiful!

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Before heading to dinner, we enjoyed an apertivo in the Piazza della Cisterna. We tried drinks recommended by Gina, including Spritz (prosecco and Campari) and various little snacks. The Italians never have drinks without some type of food.

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After enjoying our apertivo, we headed to an amazing dinner in a small restaurant in San Gimignano. My meal started with stracciatella, which ended up being a shared appetizer due to its size! It was delicious.

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Next, both Jon and I enjoyed ribolitta, a Tuscan vegetable and bread soup. Gina taught us how to top it with slivers of fresh onion and flavorful olive oil. Although it is incredible to think that we would have room for anything after all the food from the day, we all managed to save room for at least a little bit of world famous gelato from Gelateria Dondoli.

I love how the little bins of gelato are decorated with bits of their flavoring. Much more attractive than plastic bins of ice cream like you see in the US!

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With all the amazing food and activities, it was hard to believe that this was just our first full day in Tuscany! More to come from our Italian adventure. 🙂

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Cooking Class in Tuscany

After spending another day in Rome and doing some additional sight-seeing, including visiting the Colosseum and Imperial Forum, it was off to Tuscany to meet up with my family.
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We had a fun dinner the first night prepared by Gina Stipo, our culinary host for the week, that included salad with fennel fronds, farro, yummy cheese, and of course wine. The next morning after admiring the beautiful views from the villa, it was off to our Ecco La Cucina cooking class!

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The menu was truly a feast, including cheese soufflé on a pear salad, freshly made pasta with artichokes, roasted rabbit, asparagus, and biscotti. Yum!

We started off by preparing the rabbit, which was roasted with oil-cured olives, chunks of orange, sage, rosemary, and white wine. Getting it ready for roasting was as easy as putting the rabbit in a roasting pan, burying all the flavorings under it, pouring white wine over it all, and then sticking it in the oven. I think there might have been some liberal doses of olive oil, as well.

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Like any good meal, this one started by making dessert early on. Gina had us prepare two flavors of biscotti: orange almond, and orange anise seed. I’ve made orange almond before, but the orange anise seed was amazing– of course, I am quite fond of licorice-flavored food!

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We also added sugar, orange zest, baking powder (which is vanilla-scented in Tuscany!), and almonds for the first batch. The second batch used the same ingredients, except we swapped out anise seeds for the almonds.

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Once the dough was formed, most of us got a chance to roll out a log of biscotti. The biscotti then went into the oven for the first baking.

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Next, we processed all of the artichokes for the pasta sauce – no canned artichokes here! Before this, the only artichokes I had ever tried to prepare were to be steamed and the leaves eaten with butter. It was surprisingly easy to peel off the tough outer leaves, clean the inside, and quarter the hearts for the sauce. Of course, it might have been slightly easier with Gina demonstrating the proper technique and results!

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One of the really fun things about the class was how Gina got everyone involved in the preparation, not just the practiced cooks. Jon even proved his fitness as a sous chef with his expert garlic chopping. 🙂

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After the artichokes were prepared and the garlic was chopped, we started a simple sauce for the pasta with butter, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and the artichoke hearts. Mom was the expert lemon squeezer.

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Next it was on to the really fun part of the class–making homemade pasta to go with the artichoke sauce! We mixed together flour and eggs, eventually forming a dough. Gina showed us how to make a well in the flour and use our fingers to start the dough.

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After everyone took turns kneading the pasta dough, it was time to roll it out. I have a pasta roller attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer, and always thought using a hand roller would be really difficult and require you to grow an extra limb to manage it and the pasta. That was not the case, though it helped that there were lots of people to maneuver the dough once it got really long.

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Once the dough was rolled out to the right thickness, it was on to the chitarra to cut the spaghetti. This part was really fun: you sprinkled semolina onto the chitarra, placed a piece of dough on it, and then used a rolling pin to cut the noodles using the wires of the chitarra. In a lot of ways, this part was easier than using my pasta attachments. The spaghetti just falls neatly under the wires, so you don’t have to worry about catching all the pieces (and stepping on the pieces that inevitably fall on the floor).

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Pretty little piles of spaghetti!
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Earlier in the class we had prepared cheese flans to go on top of a pear salad. While the pasta was being cut, the flans came out of the oven and were placed on the salad for a delicious starter.

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We headed out to a beautiful covered terrace to start our meal with the cheese flans.

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After whetting our appetites, it was back to the kitchen to finish the pasta. Once the pasta was cooked it went into the pan with the artichoke sauce and a little of the cooking water to thicken the sauce.

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A little cheese was mixed in, then it was back to the terrace to eat pasta. Yeah!

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While we were enjoying the pasta, the rabbit miraculously made its way to the table along with some asparagus. Even though none of the rabbit made it to my plate, it looked delicious!

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After all this food, it was hard to imagine there was still dessert. The biscotti was “well-guarded” (and maybe adequately sampled!) so there was plenty left for us to enjoy.

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The biscotti was served with Vin Santo and fresh strawberries. It was a perfect end to the meal and a fun and informative cooking class!

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Stay tuned for more posts from our Italian adventure! 🙂