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!