Tuscany Cooking Classes: Flavors of the Region
Just as there's so much to see in Tuscany -- from big cities like Florence to small ancient villages off the beaten path -- there's also so much to eat. While the region's food might be known for its simplicity, there is still plenty of variety in the cuisine of the land, which you can discover during a number of our Tuscan cooking classes in Italy.
In general, spices are rarely used throughout Tuscany, as chefs let the flavors of the fresh ingredients speak for themselves. But olive oil and wine are popular ingredients in many meals, in large part because of the plethora of olive groves in the region. In Tavarnelle Val di Pesa, for one, a meal isn't complete without using some extra-virgin olive oil, among other typical products, whether you're making a three-course meal or fresh pasta.
And fresh pasta surely abounds. Every town seems to have their own homemade pasta traditions, although the pasta is typically always made with flour and water. In Cortona, during our Tuscany cooking lesson at Locanda del Molino, make anything from tagliatelle to ravioli paired with sauces.
Meals always start with antipasti as well, and in Tuscany, ribollita is a popular dish; this stew is made with vegetables and, most importantly, leftover bread. Bean soup is also a typical starter dish, as is beans with pasta, because Tuscans absolutely adore beans, and for good reason. Cooked beans doused in olive oil may be a simple dish, but it's also a heavenly one that you won't find replicated easily elsewhere.
Grilled meats also abound in the region, including in the charming town of Figline Valdarno, where the meat industry and bovine breeding has been an important trade for centuries. During our cooking vacation "A Classic Tuscan Table with Chef Claudio," guests can peruse the market, which includes all sorts of fresh food, including cuts of meat at the local butcher. In Tuscany, cuts of meat can be cured -- like sopressata and prosciutto -- or used in such hearty meals as bistecca alla fiorentina, which is often made using local Chianina beef. One important thing to note is that Tuscans often serve rare meat, so if you prefer your meat cooked to medium, be sure to let them know!
As for dessert, gelato is one of the most popular. While it is widely available today throughout the country, it's Italian origins are both in Sicily -- where they used fruit juices in ice cups -- and in Florence when the Medici family held a frozen dessert contest. Back in the Renaissance, the dessert was more like a sorbet. Today's gelato is creamier than its ancestor, and there's no question that it is the most sought after dessert in Italy by tourists and Italians alike.
While these are some of the more popular dishes, there is an enormous array of Tuscan dishes, and so many of them are based on the food that is currently in season, such as this pappa al pomodoro recipe from "Cook in the Heart of Chianti."
The International Kitchen offers a multitude of Tuscan cooking classes and vacations in places like Florence, Colle Val D'Elsa, Pisa, and elsewhere.
What is your favorite Tuscan meal or recipe?
By Liz Hall