Perched high on a Tuscan hilltop with views for miles across vineyards and valleys is the beautiful and historic Villa Vignamaggio.
We were lucky enough to spend a few days at this little slice of heaven and one of the highlights of our visit was an Italian Cooking Class experience.
The class started with a warm welcome from the lovely Viviana who took us for a wander outside to collect fresh herbs for the dishes – fragrant bay leaves, rosemary and marjoram.
Arriving in the kitchen we were greeted by Maria, the head of the kitchen, who would be our teacher for the class. We had pre-selected our menu when we booked, six delicious dishes to highlight the best of Italian Tuscan cooking:
Crustless Zucchini Flan
Melanzane alla Parmiagana
Ravioli with Spinach and Ricotta Cheese
Baccala alla Livornese
Crostata with Blackberry Jam
There were only two of us in the course, so it was a very intimate hands-on affair, where we had a chance to assist with preparation of every dish.
As keen cooks ourselves, it was the little tips and tricks we learnt from Maria during the day which were invaluable – adding a few leaves of fresh marjoram to tomato sauce to cut the acidity, using a mix tipo ’00’ flour and whole flour for the ravioli and learning just the right thickness of pastry to make the perfect crostata.
One of the highlights was the creation of a delicious sauce to accompany the Zucchini Flan. It was made simply from mixing 3 tablespoons of milk cream and 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese, simmered over heat then removed. An egg yolk was added before quickly whisking and seasoning with salt. It is one of the most delicious cheeses sauces we have ever had, and it took only a couple of minutes to prepare.
The quality of the food was also wonderful, with most of the fresh products and olive oil coming directly from Vignamaggio’s extensive kitchen garden – juicy ripe red tomatoes bursting with flavour, rich purple aubergines and fragrant green basil.
Once all of the dishes were prepared and in the oven it was time to be pampered, we were seated and poured a glass of delicious wine from the cellars and treated to each of the dishes, plated and served up as if in a restaurant.
A long leisurely lunch with flowing wine, was the perfect way to cap off a great cooking experience.
Maria and Viviana (pictured above) really went out of their way to ensure we had a wonderful time, and while Maria spoke little English (and us next to no Italian!), we managed to converse through the help of Viviana and the simple language of good food.