Travel

Il Campo Cucino, Part 3-Secondo

Posted by on Apr 24, 2013 in Cooking Class, Food, Il Campo Cucina, Travel | 10 comments

Secondo

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A secondo is traditionally the heartiest course, sometimes called the piatto principale or the main meal. Foods consumed in this course include different meats and types of fish, including turkey, sausage, pork, steak, stew, beef, cod (baccala, salmon, lobster, lamb, chicken, or a roast).

At Il Campo Cucina, our immersion into cooking and eating with lessons on several main course dishes continued.

Emannuela Giua and Marco Garossi, Podere la Fonte

At Podere la Fonte, we did not cook a meat course, but instead, participated in the making of two very hearty dishes; eggplant parmagiana (Melanzana Parmigiana), and Torta Pasqualina, a traditional Tuscan Quiche, typically served in the spring. Emmanuela’s hands once again rolled out a gorgeous sheet of pasta for enclosing a lovely mixture of sheep milk ricotta and fresh chopped, cooked Swiss chard and parmesan cheese, making indents for 9 eggs that would cook when baked in the pastry.

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Marco in turn layered slices of lovely violet eggplant that had been browned in sunflower oil between his sauce and parmesan cheese.

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Francesco Castiglia

Francesco Castiglia taught us the art of deboning a chicken to make Pollo Arrosto con Zafferano. The chicken was laid open, sprinkled with chopped fresh rosemary, salt and pepper, and was rolled and tied, ready to roast. Saffron from San Gimignano and stock from the chicken bones, sautéed in olive, was used to make a delicious sauce. Each serving of chicken was topped with a presentation of the sauce and sliced leeks. The chicken was fragrant and lovely.

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Luana Vaghegini

Luana’s deboning of a guinea fowl was different than Francesco’s in that the fowl was kept whole for stuffing, which is a feat that does not look simple. The dark-meat poultry was stuffed with chopped, cooked Swiss chard layered over slices of Pecorino Fresco. This cheese is aged only 3 months, and melts beautifully into the Swiss chard.

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Fifteen minutes before the guinea fowl was finished roasting, Luana poured a good amount of Vin Santo over the fowl and put it back in the oven. The dish was further sweetened by an accompaniment of caramelized onions—nothing more than onions, sugar, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and salt. Delizioso!

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Sue with our “chef” friends sporting their new Il Campo Cucina aprons! (From left to right, Sue, Debbie and Mary Anne; below, Anlsey)

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Il Campo Cucina, Part 2: Primo

Posted by on Jan 2, 2013 in Cooking Class, Food, Il Campo Cucina, Travel | 12 comments

Primo

A primo is the first course. It consists of hot food and is usually heavier than the antipasto, but lighter than the second course. Non-meat dishes are the staple of any primo: examples include  risotto, pasta, soup and broth, gnocchi, polenta, crepes, casseroles, or lasagnas.

At Il Campo Cucina, our hands-on cooking experiences were each wonderfully instructional and varied, and we generally made (and ate) at least 4 courses, as Italian tradition dictates. This is where we got down to business.

Podere La Fonte – Pici

Our first day of cooking found us immersed in the agriturismo world of Podere La Fonte, hosted by organic farmers Emannuela Giua and Marco Garossi. This beautiful and self-sustaining farm outside of Radicondoli is home to vineyards, olive groves, orchards, and an abundance of seasonal fruits and vegetables.

We were treated to learning to make a traditional Tuscan pasta dish—pici, or fat spaghetti. Pici are made with just three ingredients—semola flour, water and a little olive oil. After making the dough and letting it rest, we experimented with the pici roller, to make the long, thick strands of pasta. Emannuela’s expert hands worked the dough so adeptly; it took us just a little bit of practice to cut the dough into strands and then keep them from sticking together. The strands were placed with care on an antique embroidered linen and sprinkled with more semola until ready for the pot of boiling water.

Marco, meanwhile, tended to the sautéing of whole cloves of garlic in olive oil from Podere LaFonte’s trees until blond in color and very fragrant, over the open-hearth fire, for the Sugo Aglione (garlic tomato sauce) that would soon marry with the pici to create an amazingly simple but flavorful pasta dish.

Our fellow class members (and new friends!) taking notes.

Gratuitous cat photo 😉

Francesco Costagli – Lasagnette and Focaccia

At Villa Anqua on our second day of cooking, we were introduced to Chef Francesco Costagli, chef for Albergaccio Ristorante in Castellina in Chianti, which has one Michelin star.

With the 16th century grainary at Anqua as Il Campo’s kitchen for our lesson, Chef Francesco took us through several wonderful dishes as we watched intently, took notes, rolled pasta, and drank wine. Especially beautiful were the Lasagnette (Ricotta e Bietole con salsa di Pomodoro). After rolling a gorgeous sheet of pasta thinner than a pie crust, Chef Francesco cut the pasta into 3” squares with a fluted pastry wheel. A mixture of fresh sheep milk ricotta, cooked and chopped swiss chard, eggs, and nutmeg was layered in dollops between the squares of fresh pasta, then sprinkled with shredded Parmesan for baking.

Francesco checking Linda’s work.

Sue finishing up assembling the lasagnettes.

Of particular note are the presentation skills possessed by Chef Francesco. Finished with a splash of olive oil and pomodo sauce, the lasagnettes were as delicious as they were beautiful!

We also enjoyed the Focaccia with tomato, and most of us have attempted this at home with almost equally good results!

Luana Vaghegini – Parmesan Flan and Risotto

Chef Luana Vaghegini is a native Radicondolian, having grown up on a local self-sustaining farm. She is now a personal chef and caterer.

We marveled at the efforts Luana put into making her silky Parmesan flan and flawless risotto. These two dishes were perfetto! Luana owned the most heavy duty whisk that we’ve seen! She used it to make an ethereal Parmesan flan that was divine, yet it required strength and stamina to make it that way. Same with the risotto… so much stirring, accomplished with a knowing technique and love. In same the way that the flan was so perfectly smooth, the risotto had the perfect bite, and was dressed with a gorgeous red wine reduction.

Plating the flan with thinly sliced pears, freshly ground pepper, and of course, EVOO.

Preparing the risotto.

Time to eat and celebrate with new friends.

After a long day of cooking (and drinking wine), we pack up to cook another day!

Ready for the next lesson…

 

Chef Fulvio Tomasetta – Tortellini

Our last night with Il Campo Cucina was spent cooking at Il Bel Canto with Chef Fulvio and his lovely wife, Claudia, from Bologna.

Chef Fulvio shared with us three critical lessons, probably the most important of our cooking time in Tuscany:

  • “Cooking must be from the heart”
  • “Armonia perfetta” (perfect harmony)
  • “Mangiare e numero uno”

This fun and engaging evening was spent learning the art of preparing tortellini. In a friendly competitive atmosphere filled with laughter (and a good deal of wine), we made and rolled the pasta, cut it into squares using a Tagliasfoglia cutter, made the meat filling and rolled it into pea-sized balls, and patiently learned to shape the tortellini by wrapping it around your finger and pressing the edges together.

Chef Fulvio slaps down some store bought tortellini and ask us, “What is this?” We all respond, “tortellini!”. He says, “No, cat food!” Then he proceeds to show us what real tortellini is!

The tortellini were served in brodo and were just delicious.

We had an incredible amount of fun that evening, learning, laughing, talking, eating. There was even a mayonnaise-making competition! And another beautiful sunset to cook by.

At the end of each day’s cooking lesson, we enjoyed sitting down with the chefs and eating our meal together…and usually, it was at a pretty big table! Salute!

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Il Campo Cucina

Posted by on Nov 25, 2012 in Cooking Class, Food, Il Campo Cucina, Travel | 7 comments

The Courses of Il Campo Cucina – October 2012, Part I

Italians traditionally divide a main celebration meal into several different courses. As we reflect on our week at Il Campo Cucina, our experiences were as sumptuous as any fully-coursed Italian celebratory meal. It seems only fitting, then, to follow this menu by sharing the food, wine, people, and beauty of Tuscany, Radicondoli, and Il Campo Cucina, course by course!

 Aperitivo

The aperitivo opens a meal, and it is similar to an appetizer. Most people gather around standing up and have drinks such as wine, prosecco, champagne, or spumante. Occasionally small amounts of food are consumed, such as olives, crisps, nuts, cheese, sauce dips, little quiches or similar snacks.

There are times when the forces of God, nature, and the world align so completely and seamlessly so as to bring people together to create a perfect set of circumstances. That was our week with Il Campo Cucina. The Italians call it “destino.” It was meant to be. From the moment that Marlane Agriesti Miriello pulled an impromptu visit to a thousand-year old grain mill out of thin air, completely off the program, to fill an hour’s time on our way to La Speranza for lunch, we knew we were in for something special. She charmed Giuliano, a man clearly not used to visitors (and especially 9 non-native Italian women) and brought him from a place of skepticism to that of a kindly tour guide, even grinding wheat into flour in his mill for us to see. We had been transported back to an ancient time and were spellbound from that moment, Throughout the week, we got used to Marlane making magic for us at every turn.

Ancient decree of the grain mill

Guiliano

No sooner did we arrive at Il Bel Canto, our home for a week in Radicondoli, that we realized this was no ordinary magic. We were surrounded by the palette of beauty and serenity that is the quintessential Tuscan countryside. We had everything we could ask for in our accommodations. Every morning, I jumped out of bed to open the shutter to take in scenery that looked like a live painting, looking out the window often to make sure I didn’t miss a hue or perspective that wasn’t there an hour ago. One morning, there was a vibrant rainbow—how was it that what was already beautiful could be made more so by such a magnificent streak of colors across the sky? We surely had to be in heaven.

Il Bel Canto was so aptly named, because all of the elements in its surroundings created a good song. The trees, grass, sky, the clouds, hills, the village lights in the distance, the olive trees, the lone pomegranate tree, the 16th century stone structures, the vegetable garden, the rooster crowing up the hill–were among the instruments that created this beautiful symphony! Nothing, however, could compare to the magnificent sunsets, that changed as if with a brush stroke, in every next moment. There were chairs set along the ridge just to honor this daily feat of ever-changing beauty with thousands of years of iterations, and the realization was then, that Tuscan’s do not tire of their beautiful surroundings, nor do they take it for granted. Un salute alla vita!

Il Bel Canto

Watching the Tuscan sun

Marlane Agriesti Miriello, bidding us salute!

 

Antipasto

The antipasto is a slightly heavier starter. It is usually cold (not in all cases) and lighter than the first course. Affettati (sliced meats),  charcuterie, salami, hams, (mortadella, Parma ham), cheeses, (mozarella, scarmorza), sandwich-like foods (panini, bruschette), vegetables, cold salmon, are examples of foods eaten. 

Anqua. Just saying the word emotes the remembrance of another heavy-duty dose of magic. Anqua is a 16th century castle, built on the ruins of a 12th Century castle in Radicondoli. It still belongs to the same family who originally built it, one of the oldest of Siena. On our first visit, we were entranced by our first glimpse of the enormous grounds and expansive vista, but that almost didn’t compare to entering the magnificent rustic dining room, simply and anciently elegant, complete with roaring hearth fire, where once, all the cooking was done.

Inside Anqua

Anqua, outside

We were graciously welcomed by Count Andrea Pannocchieschi d’Elci and friends. Could that beautiful table be set for us? Were we the guests waiting to experience a fabulous wine tasting by Level I Sommelier, Luigi Pizzolato. Could this night be any more special? How had we been able to be immersed so quickly into an Italy that most travelers never get to experience? If we pinched ourselves too hard, would we wake up?

The wine tasting was informative and warmly engaging. Italians are very proud of their wine (and that is an understatement). We tasted San Gimignano Vernaccia and paid much homage to the Sangiovese grape, Luigi’s favorite (and mine). “Know the grape, the farm, and the age” and you know a lot. It was sad to learn that due to the summer’s drought conditions in Italy this year, it would not be a good year for Italian wines.

Sommelier, Luigi

Taking notes

Andrea and friends

The jewel of the evening was the magnifico dinner. The jewel of the dinner was the ovuli mushroom. It is more precious than the porcini, and both were at the height of their season. (We often saw cars pulled over at the side of the road, with their occupants in the fields and forests searching for the revered porcini). The ovuli were picked the day before on Anqua’s property. The antipasti of the evening was simply chopped ovuli mushrooms, onion, olive oil and nipotella served on crostini.  It was divine.

The precious, celebrated ovuli

We were treated to Andrea’s fresh tagliatelle with porcini as the primo. Absolutely heavenly. Il Secondo was thinly sliced pork.

We finished the meal with a dolce: Vin Santo cake. This simple and not too sweet cake is made with Santo Spirito and ground walnuts. These beautiful and tasty courses and more of Andrea’s wine from Anqua’s grapes, and the warm and spirited company and friends of Marlane that we shared this amazing dinner that evening will stand out as one of our most memorable meals–ever. We were special that night, and we knew it

 

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The Year in Review… Or, Be Careful What You Wish For, Part I

Posted by on Jan 1, 2012 in Family, Food, Photography, Travel | 1 comment

Substituted champagne with tangerine margaritas this year.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I have preparing this entry in my mind for a couple of weeks now. I haven’t been diligent with this blog, so I wanted to play catch up. It might not have been so daunting if I had kept up with blogging as events were happening in my life. It’s called procrastination. Yes, many of us are guilty of it, and I admire all of the bloggers that I follow for their tenaciousness for blogging at full speed. My sister and I started this blog to talk about food and life, and I think the first life lesson that I want to pass on is – this is hard! It’s work!! I get that now, so I am not going to consider this a New Year’s Resolution, I’m just going to commit myself to doing a good job, which means I am going to have to gain confidence in my writing skills and implement practical time management strategies to edit my photographs as I make them. Hmmm… a bit daunting already.

I guess the best place to start for this entry is to explain the latter part of the post title. BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR. In February, I turned fifty years old and so I wished for myself a year full of adventure and experiences. Of course, when you wish for something like that, you are only think of good things. Well, I got the good, the bad and the ugly on a scale like I’d never experienced before. I’ll spare you most of the details on the bad, because then it would sound like I was complaining. The best thing to do with bad things that happen are to turn them around into good things. So to put the good in context, here are the bad things that happened this year.

BAD THING #1 – The Fire

The Fire

The Day After

You never expect something like this to happen to you. Thankfully, no one was hurt. At first, we thought all was lost, but thanks to the volunteer fire departments (all 27 of them) that helped control this fire, we are grateful. If you live in an area where you are serviced by volunteer fire fighters, DO ANYTHING YOU CAN TO SUPPORT THEM! They do this for free. They risk their lives. Their families support them by bringing food and coolers of water while they are doing their job. Even the county sent our food trucks and port-a-potties for this all nighter. The next day, about 100 people were out of work and many of the employees were there to witness the fire. That night, they knew they were out of a job. It was hard to watch what was happening. As a photographer, I wanted to record the event. I could take pictures of the burning building, but as an owner of the company, I couldn’t take pictures of the people watching, especially the employees. It was just too personal and too painful. By the next morning, there was hope. Everyone got together to work to rebuild. We have many people to thank for the recovery, not just the employees, friends and family, but also competitors who helped manufacture our products so we could still fulfill our customer orders. Within a couple of weeks, we started bringing people back to work and even hired more people to get production moving. This is the part where I wish I was a better writer, because I know that I am not adequately able to express the emotional complexity of such an event. So many people did so much to help us out, above and beyond anything that we could have expected, that is, except for the insurance company, but that’s another story.

BAD THING #2 – Illness

Both my husband and I were hospitalized this year will serious illnesses (not at the same time). I’ll post a picture of him, but not of me. I’m too vain. I don’t want you to see me when I haven’t showered in seven days. I took his picture to keep as a reminder as to how fragile our lives are.

Randy

As for my illness, it relates to what I wished for. I set out to have an adventure or two this year. The first one I had to cancel because of the fire. I was headed to Italy with other photographers. Later in the year, I jumped at the chance for another photography trip to Africa. I got cellulitis from a flu shot when I started getting immunizations for the trip. A one in a million occurrence. I was in the hospital for a week. Now, if I chose to sit at home and be comfortable, that wouldn’t have happened. If I chose to live my life like that, I would wither and die. That was already starting to happen. I forgot what it was like to take chances and throw myself out there. I accept the consequences for that and I hope that I will continue to learn and pursue new creative outlets. I’m not even quite comfortable writing this blog. Not sure I really have something to offer, but if I don’t do it, I’ll never know, and I’ll never be able to learn from it.

BAD THING #3 – Losing My Eyesight

This is a tough one. At the age of forty six, I was diagnosed with Glaucoma. I had already lost some vision in my right eye, but almost five years later, with surgery and numerous eye drops, it’s still a battle. I can’t drive at night anymore. It’s difficult to focus my vision. At first I thought that it would deter my ability to make photographs, but I am finding that the camera is more like a prosthesis. It can see what I can’t. I will probably write more about this in the future as I work it out.

Stay tuned for BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR PART 2 – The good stuff that happened in 2011 (and more foodie stuff)

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Barbadian Lunch

Posted by on May 2, 2011 in Food, Travel | 7 comments

Well, this post is a bit late, but after my experience of making a video to attend the creativeLIVE Food Photography workshop with Penny De Los Santos, I realized that I need to get my butt in gear and stop making excuses for not posting. I do the work, but I delay on posting. It may be that visual expression comes easier to me than using words to express my feelings and experiences.


About 6 months ago, my husband and I were in Barbados. We befriended the taxi driver (Anthony) who picked us up at the airport and he became our tour guide for the couple of days we were there. I asked him about the local food. He volunteered to take us to lunch where we could get authentic local fare. I was excited about the little adventure. But upon arriving at the ‘restaurant’, I was a bit surprised. When we pulled up, my husband and I thought he was getting out to ask for directions, but no, this was the place. Looked like we were just going to order our food from a roadside cafeteria and eat it in the taxi. After our friend ordered for us, we were guided around back to a bar, where we could order a drink and sit and eat. Whew! At least my husband could get a beer. He wasn’t too keen on the whole experience. On the other hand, I was thrilled! The food was starchy and quite bland, but I was out of my comfort zone, and that was a good thing.

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Roma

Posted by on Jul 22, 2010 in Travel | 6 comments

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