Cooking in an Italian kitchen
Approaching the door of Maria’s apartment, all nine of us could smell the yeasty scent of fresh-baked bread. She answered our gentle knock, smiling, her red apron dusted with flour. “Buon giorno! Benvenuto!” she said, ushering us in with the wave of her hand into a room with ornate drapery hanging from the windows, and a beautifully set table. Just beyond it was a small kitchen, perfectly sized for one. I wasn’t sure how nine visitors would fit, but she made it work, seating us in a circle in the middle, around the wooden island covered with ripe vegetables, rich-smelling herbs and spices, hunks of cheese, and delicious loaves of bread.
This is why my family and I had traveled to Siena, Italy.
My mom always wanted to take a cooking class in Italy, from an Italian chef. Her travel agent found Maria, who offered personal, private cooking classes for small groups—which she taught in her own home. After quick introductions (in English), she handed each of us an apron and we set to work.
One very important lesson we learned right away: there is a reason for every ingredient, whether for flavor or texture. No dashes of this or that, no impulsive flourishes. Italian cooking is intentional, with the simplest ingredients creating the most memorable meals.
First up: bruschetta—not a complicated dish, except that many people make it so, adding all sorts of fancy toppings that take away from its simplicity and deliciousness. My mom cut the bread, my dad chopped the tomatoes, I ripped up fresh basil, and my friend peeled a clove of garlic. Maria placed the bread on a baking sheet, slid it into the oven, and let it heat up until the inside of the bread was a little crusty. We gently rubbed cloves of garlic on the bread, giving it a slight golden color. Then we topped each piece with tomatoes, basil, salt, and a drop of extra virgin olive oil. Presto … bruschetta! We nibbled happily as we moved on to the next recipe.
She showed us how to cook two different pastas as primi dishes, and a flavorful veal dish as the secondi. We were each given tasks, and once completed, we ate. The minute we finished, we began working on the next delicious creation. The whole class was topped off with a glass of Italian wine and a sweet treat.
To book your next epicurean journey, contact a AAA Travel Agent today either online or by calling 866-499-0857.
– Vanessa Day