Posted by: lucylastic | November 4, 2008

Return to Tuscany………… Part 2

Well, we’ve been back for over a week now and I finally have the time for Part 2. it will be quick, because, although I enjoyed the holiday tremendously, I am now more interested in putting the recipes into action than talking and writing about them.
I have done some searching for pictures, as, unlike some of our more enthusiastic American fellow ‘learn to cook’ers’, I couldn’t raise the energy to photograph every step, every dish, all the chefs and whatever else stayed still long enough to be captured in a bezillion ‘0’s and ‘1’s. I can’t be bothered with photos much at all really, though a picture paints a thousand words of course.

Anyway, Day 4 and we’re hard at it again in the Castello kitchens, it’s Gnocchi day, which means more kneading, potato pureeing and lots of rolling and chopping – there’s a very industrious production line in the dining room, (which has good tables for rolling) but I go in search of something more to my taste – and I find it in Vin Santo and Honey Semi-Freddo. I defy anyone not to adore this dish, it’s a stage beyond zabaglione really – after mixing vin santo, (like Sherry, but nicer) with acacia honey and eggs over simmering water until they quadruple in volume and froth up energetically, mix into a large bowl of whipped cream, flavoured with a splash of amaretto, (or anything else you have to hand). The two should be lightly folded, tipped into a paper or cling-film lined loaf tin and put into the freezer. It’s so easy – but so sublime – and it doesn’t clump up like other home-made ice-creams. Of course, the clue is in the name, it’s ‘semi’ freddo – or half frozen – so you never get a fully hard set, but it holds it’s shape well and is delicious alongside chocolate tart or poached pears – both produced by other members of the group.

One of the things I like is that we don’t all do the same thing all the time, there are different groups doing different tasks, but there are some pushy players and if you’re the shy and retiring type, you may find yourself forever the carrot chopper and never the glamorous stew maker. I heard a few grumbles about this, but overall, most people got the chance to do what they wanted to and to be fair, Katie and Giancarlo offered to repeat anything at all that people felt they had missed out on for any reason.

Day 5, a trip to the Florence food market – if it had departed at 10.00am, I would have been on it, but it departed at 7.30am and I wasn’t. Food markets are OK for whiling away a few minutes, but there’s only so much rapture to be had over a stall selling nothing but mushrooms – I’m obviously far too much of a suburban girl – I love to cook, but it’s absolutely fine by me if my food arrives with a nice young man called ‘Pawel’, on a Tesco’s or Ocado van. Sorry. But, a very nice lie-in later, I am being indulged by Stefano, who is cooking me breakfast and offering to let me lend a hand with the preparation for the wild boar with chocolate, the star of the Gala Dinner later. Ideally, marinate your wild boar for 24-48 hours, but if you can’t a few hours or overnight will do – high quality chocolate and cocoa, (added in small quantity) really set this dish apart from other stews, as do the generous quantities of rough red wine, sweetened with vin santo, a mixture of herbs and spices and the wonderful aroma that wild boar has – closer to beef than pork (almost) it was superb.

But first, the anti-pasti lunch – created by the weary returning shoppers and enjoyed by all, I was even roped in to ‘fry these brains, Lucy’ – a task I had never undertaken before, (season them lightly, dip into a light batter, deep fry for no more than 2 mins – result – soft, perfectly fried brains – yum! I didn’t rush back for seconds, but they were by no means the worst thing I have ever eaten!!!!! A bit bland actually, and a vague taste of liver.

The selection of produce that came back from Florence was wonderful – and looked very similar indeed to the pictures above – I enjoyed baked aubergines in vinaigrette, prawns, beautiful ripe tomatoes, sliced fennel and artichokes, mushrooms galore – raw and cooked, all wonderful, slow-roast pork, rendered pork fat, (pork scratchings), cheeses, fruits – fresh clementines, blackberries, juicy pears with pecorino cheese and honey, I could go on………………….

As well as the boar, we had gnocchi and ravioli starters at the Gala Dinner, we were all encouraged to dress up, there was lots of wine flowing, a very varied selection of stuffed vegetables – I had never had stuffed cougette flowers before but they are wonderful – spicy, more flavoursome than the courgette ‘bulb’ and lend themselves to delicate fillings like creamed cheese or lightly scrambled eggs and peppers. There is still left-over tiramisu available, but pineapple carpaccio, (marinated with a strange basil and honey mixture) was very tasty, as were the Italian pancakes and doughnuts scattered with toasted nuts and fruits. A feast – and I was far too full from the rest of the week to really appreciate it.

Day 6 was ‘goodbye day’. A leisurely buffet breakfast and a chance to ask final questions, check recipes and make plans to keep in touch. Giancarlo, Katie and Stefano took the time to write personal messages in all our souvenir cook-books and a final light lunch was served before we all headed back to the airport. There’s only one airline flying direct from the UK to Florence – Meridiana – a real find, cheap prices, lots of leg room and the convenience of being 20 miles away, as opposed to Pisa, which was treble that and where many people had flown into.

Arrivederci all!





  1. Really enjoyed your account of Tuscany Lucy, you really brought the flavours and smells to life. The wild boar with chocolate sounds divine, as does the santo and honey semi-freddo.

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