Florence in a skillet
Florence in a skillet …
I visited the Duomo,the Uffizi ,the David,and the Ponte Vecchio and thought this was Florence but it wasn’t …
Next , I took a walk along the Arno and got lost in the maze of narrow streets and alleys ,walked the city at night and thought this was Florence but something still felt left out.
Next day I tried my hands on haggling at the San Lorenzo leather market for a Florentine souvenir and was pretty darn sure this was Florence but nah .. not really .
I ate a gelato , sunk my teeth into the ribs of Bistecca alla Fiorentina ( Florentine steak ), had a Mozzarella and wine night , attempted the ultimate five course Tuscan dinner ( scored 4 on 5 ) and thought this was Florence . This time I stood pretty close to satisfying my checklist but still a feeling of lull lingered ..
Why wasn’t I getting my ultimate Florentine experience ? What was amiss? I had done it all.I had reached the end of my to-see/to-do list .”What next ?”, I wondered. As I sat in my hostel lobby listlessly flipping the pages of my Lonely planet guide , I decided to walk up to the receptionist asking for suggestions but stayed put.With my ass comfortably sunken into the leather couch, back slouched and demotivated spirit ,I thought to myself , “ What would she possibly suggest ? Yet another walking tour ? Yet another museum ? Yet another restaurant ? Is this what Florence is all about ?” My eyes languidly scanned the lobby and landed on a pamphlet . It read – ‘Take a cooking class’. Hmm ..interesting ! How about a some Italian cooking while in Italy ? It sounded like a fancy idea .
Next morning I woke up and headed to our meeting point – Mercato Centrale (Central Market) .Lined with fruit and vegetable sellers on one side and butchers, fish mongers, deli on the other , this place was a beautifully orchestrated PRODUCE symphony ! Really ! The market was gradually filling with early risers buying fruits and vegetables,meats and spices , sampling prosciutto , cheese and everything that goes with it – homemade sauces, chutneys, 12-year-old balsamic vinegar ,infused oils. People flocked at the butcher’s to get the freshest cut of the day.The market however noisy and loud had a rhythm to itself .A rhythm that wanted me to spend the whole day browsing .Our group spent a significant amount of time tasting and trying different things and then purchased ground pork and beef , some vegetables , a loaf of freshly baked bread and headed to our wonder kitchen.
“So here’s our lunch menu ?” , said our Chef.
“We’ll start with Bruschetta , followed by servings of Pappardelle Bolognese and Ricotta Ravioli paired with Chianti Classico and finish our gourmet experience with mouth watering Tiramsu”.
I thought to myself,”This is perfect.We get to wear fancy professional aprons , sit around a marble slab , sip wine, get a few cooking tips from the Chef while he prepares us a feast. How awesome is this ! “ .
and then he said ,” Alright then, let’s get to work .“
Wait !! Whaaaat ??!!??
Anyhow, I took our culinary project in stride and got to work.First on the list was making Tiramisu since it had to be refrigerated and served cold.
Here’s the recipe .
3 large eggs
500 grams [~12.3 oz.] Mascarpone cheese
Espresso or Strong Coffee
Boudoir biscuits/ Lady fingers/ thin cakes
Sugar (to taste)
Fairly simple directions :
Separate the egg whites and yolk.
Whisk the egg whites till they become foamy.
Whisk the egg yolks and mix sugar and then add mascarpone cheese in it.
Now mix the egg white foam with the egg yolk .
Layer your bowl with this mixture and top it with lady fingers dipped in coffee.
Keep repeating this process till you hit the brim.
They have a saying in Italy,”It isn’t an authentic Tiramisu if the eggs are electronically whisked” and GAWD !! does whisking egg whites give you a upper arm workout !
“Is it done yet ? “ I asked my Chef.
“How about now ?”
“OK now ?”
“God ! When will I know this is done ?”
He could sense I was loosing my patience. He replied ,”The only way to tell that this is complete is when you tilt the bowl of foamy egg whites over your neighbor’s head and it doesn’t fall”.
Wait ! Whaaaat ??!!! ?
You can’t be serious but apparently he was. So , I smiled at my neighbor and very politely asked her to offer me her head for experimentation.I apologized in advance and she hesitantly agreed.
Voila ! It didn’t fall. My egg whites were just perfectly whisked ! Bravo !
I was onto the next step and the next and the next and eventually had my Tiramisu all set to be put aside in the refrigerator.
I even topped it up with a lady finger broken in half symbolizing ‘V’ for Victory !
Then came the pasta .
This was the grand daddy of all surprises. Laid in front of us were 2 cups of flour, 3 large eggs and a teaspoon of salt.
“What are we supposed to do with this ? Where is my pasta?” , I asked.
“This is is your pasta “,replied the Chef pointing at the flour. “Go make it “.
Wait ! Whaaaat ???!!
So there I was again. Whisking and Whisking ! Whisking together the flour and salt with a fork and adding the eggs and whisking the eggs with them too.Once enough flour has been added, it started forming a very soft dough and firmed up in a bit .I started flattening it out with a roller and divided half of my pasta in the shape of pappardelle and the other half as ravioli squares.
It was now time to fill in some ricotta and make luscious ravioli ! Yum !
Once done , we headed to the chopping station to learn the fine technique of equidistantly cutting vegetables.I tried my hands on it briefly and left it soon enough with the fear of chopping my fingers in which case we’d be having ‘Pappardelle Fingerese‘ instead of ‘Pappardelle Bolognese’ 😛 .
We put the stove on and sautéed the veggies .Next came the meat.This was a fairly unique technique .Usually when we add meat , we squish it and mix the minced meat with the sauce.However , our chef gave us an insider tip to let the outer surface cook and then break it down in a quadrant . Let that cook and then break it down further till all of the meat blends in completely with the sauce .
It was all coming together.The pasta sauce was ready. All we had to so was to slip our pappardelle strands in it.
For the ravioli we made a simpler sauce with butter and sage and top it up shredded Parmigiano Reggiano.
Lunch was almost ready . We poured ourselves a glass of Chianti Classico , laid out our plates and forks , passed on the dishes across the table but before we all dug in , I stood up to raise a toast.
Here goes ,
“I couldn’t find Florence in the Duomo .
I couldn’t find Florence on the streets .
I couldn’t find Florence along the Arno .
But I found it in this cooking class.
Yes, I found my Florence in a skillet !
To Florence .. “