DAY 5 – Journey to Tuscany
April 15, 2017, Black Saturday and I’m off to Tuscany! From Roma Termini Station I took the Frecciargento high speed train to Firenze Sta. Maria Novella Station. I bought my ticket online at Trenitalia website for 47 euros.
It only took about 2 hours then I arrived at Firenze Santa Maria Novella Station, which is the central station of Tuscany.
From there I rode a local train to Figline Valdarno Station for about 25 minutes and arranged a pick-up service with my host outside the station.
I was fetched by Mr. Nazareno Betti, father of my host Matteo Betti. I will be staying at IL Maraviglio, a family-run bed & breakfast in Reggello, a country town about 40km outside of Florence.
The moment I stepped inside, I smelled the heavenly aroma of a chocolate cake baking in the oven.
The kitchen is downstairs where I met Serena, Matteo’s girlfriend, and she brought me to my room.
Back in the kitchen I met other guests including a newlywed couple from San Diego, California in their honeymoon. We all sat there talking about are travel experiences while watching Serena prepare dinner.
Matteo arrived from the farm and offered us a glass of Prosecco, an Italian sparkling white wine.
As soon as Matteo and Serena were done cooking, we all sat in the dining room and enjoyed the food.
It was probably the best meal I ever had so far in Italy! I believe that the key elements in Tuscan cuisine are farm-fresh ingredients, simple cooking techniques and really good homemade olive oil (yes, they make their own olive oil from their olive grove.)
After that delightful dinner, Serena surprised my fellow guest with the birthday cake she baked earlier.
We all enjoyed dinner and the conversations over wine after. We stayed in the dining room until almost midnight just talking to each other and sharing experiences. I now understand that Italians does not only love to cook and drink wine but they also love to spend time with family or friends at the dinner table mingling and bonding with each other.
This is one of the things I love about traveling. Making new friends from other parts of the world and enjoying delicious local cuisine. My first night in Tuscany is truly memorable and I will always remember this forever.
DAY 6 – Easter Sunday and Cooking lessons
April 16, 2017 Easter Sunday.
I had a long and relaxing sleep last night. Much needed after traveling for the past 5 days in Italy. It’s a beautiful day today. The sun is up, the weather was perfect and I see the beautiful landscape around.
I walked out to breathe the fresh Tuscan air. The view from the terrace is spectacular. Rolling hills with vast green landscape, vertical cypress trees, old rustic houses and flowers in full bloom.
When I came back the house, breakfast was already served at the dining room.
After breakfast, Matteo pulled me and Carmel into the kitchen to start with the cooking lessons. This is one of the reasons why I booked this B&B because they offer cooking lessons to their guests and they have the best rate that I researched so far. At 60 euros per person and in a relaxed homey setting I think it’s a good deal for a cooking enthusiasts like me.
First, Matteo taught us how to make a traditional Tuscan dessert, Torta della Nonna (Grandmother’s Cake). Its custard baked on a pie crust covered with a pastry topping. First we made the custard by mixing egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and milk then heating it on low heat with constant stirring. Carmel watched over the custard while I do the crust. I mixed the flour, baking soda, salt and eggs and rolled it to form the crust.
We baked the crust for a few minutes. At that moment we can already smell the creamy custard. Carmel took it out from the heat and let it cool on the side.
While waiting, Nazareno came in to teach us to cook two dishes, Sugo Nero (Tuscan Meat sauce, usually for pasta) and Pork & Lamb Arista (Italian Pot Roast).
To make the Sugo Nero, first we chopped and grind garlic and Soffritto, the trinity of onions, celery and carrots. Then we also grind the chicken liver and gizzard to make them the same size as the ground pork and beef that we are mixing it with.
Then we sautéed the vegetables with the ground meat, liver and gizzard; put in some wine, their homemade tomato sauce and water and let it simmer for long hours.
While the Sugo Nero is simmering, Nazareno taught us how to cook the Arista. First, Nazareno prepared the Pork and Lamb by doing a butterfly cut on the meat while Carmel and I chopped some garlic and sage.
We rubbed the butterflied pork and lamb with the chopped garlic and sage with salt and pepper.
Then Nazareno taught us how to tie the stuffed pork and lamb with a string before searing them in a deep roasting pot with their homemade olive oil.
The pie crust for the Torta della Nonna is done and cooled. It’s time to pour in the custard. Matteo told me to shape it like a small hill and covered it with a thin layer of pastry topping and then baked it in the oven for a few minutes until the pastry topping is golden brown.
Break time while appreciating our beautiful view.
When the wine on the Pork/Lamb Roast dried up, Nazareno poured in a bit more wine and water to deglaze the pot and turned over the meat. This is to make sure they have even coloring and flavor on all sides.
Next, we cooked some vegetable side dishes.
We cooked Peas with Pancetta. We sautéed garlic, sage and pancetta in olive oil then threw in the thawed frozen peas. Seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Then we cooked Artichokes. Matteo taught me how to clean and chop the artichokes, soak them in water with lemon juice to prevent them from browning. Then we sautéed garlic in olive oil then threw in the chopped artichokes. When the artichokes are tender, we sprinkled more lemon juice then seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Done.
Matteo’s family is starting to arrive. Her sister Giulia set up the table while we are finishing cooking.
The Sugo Nero has been cooking for about 4 hours and it’s time to mix it with our pasta which is fettucine. The pork and lamb is done also so Nazareno did the honor of slicing and putting them into the serving plates while I spoon the reduced sauce to the pork and lamb.
LUNCH IS READY!
It’s now time to taste the fruit of our labor! Buon appetito!
When it’s dessert time, Matteo and I went back to the kitchen to plate the Torta della Nonna. He asked me to dust some powdered sugar on top before slicing them.
It was a big family feast! But what I love most about today is that I was able to experience the authentic Tuscan-style home cooking, feeling the energetic atmosphere of a real Italian family dining together and of course I really enjoyed the delicious homemade meals we had. I thought yesterday was great but today was even better.
After that amazing lunch experience, I sat on a ledge by the terrace as I watch the sunset and change the colors of the surroundings making it more dramatic and charming.
I really had an amazing weekend in this beautiful B&B. It was a refreshing break from the busy itinerary I had in Rome and a perfect recharge sanctuary for my upcoming travel to Florence. I can really say that this is probably the best part of my trip so far.
…To be continued (Part 3 – Florence and the Renaissance)