Learning to cook the Italian way at Tasty Tuscany

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Al fresco dinners at Tasty Tuscany

 

As I mentioned on Tuesday, MGG and I have just enjoyed 8 days. in Tuscany, 6 of which we spent immersed in the world of Italian cooking with Manul and Paolo at Tasty Tuscany.

Perched on a hillside (count the hairpin bends getting up there, all five of them!) it’s idyllic, peaceful (if you ignore the cicadas) and surrounded by olive trees. And it has a kitchen that I could happily live in, and a huge marble table that any would be chocolatier in particular would have huge envy of.

 

The marble kitchen table at Tasty Tuscany ready for lessons to begin

 

The 6 nights there give you a good combination of cooking lessons, and trips out around the local area. Let’s face it, it was nearly 30°C most days at midday, and not many of us amateurs would choose to be cooking in that heat, so lessons were at 5pm, ready for that evening’s meal.

The three lessons focused on a northern dinner, a southern vegetarian dinner and a Tuscan dinner, so reflecting three diverse styles out of the many that actually make up “Italian” cooking. As Manul says, these are family dishes, not restaurant dishes and actually, for me, that makes them much more useful. We’ve already cooked some of them again since our return home.

The style is very relaxed, there were three of us staying, with a maximum of six, which the kitchen can comfortably accomodate. It doesn’t need any particular level of skill, just enthusiasm, the ability to follow instructions, and to just enjoy. The wine usually came out at some point in the process and there was lots of laughter.

And then there were the dishes. We can’t really decide which we liked the most, but we’ve already cooked the pork loin in vin santo again along with the white cabbage and dried fruit salad.

 

Pork loin with vin santo at Tasty Tuscany

 

Tomorrow will see us revisit the cannelloni with aubergine rolls (and I didn’t think I liked aubergine before this trip), and probably the chocolate chip cantuccini as well.

 

Cannelloni with aubergine rolls at Tasty Tuscany

 

We enjoyed all the meals, particularly when it was cool enough to eat outside (though take industrial strength mosquito repellent, they’re real biters up there) and I loved how many different salads we did.

 

View of the main house at Tasty Tuscany

 

The rooms are comfortable, though don’t come expecting 5 star facilities (this is not the trip for you if that’s what you need). Plenty of space, beautiful views, though we were so busy that we didn’t see much of the rooms. There’s also a gorgeous saltwater pool, perfect around 6pm if you’re not cooking for a pre-dinner dip.

 

Pool with a view at Tasty Tuscany

 

I’ll write separately about some of the trips we did from here, as we loved many of those adventures too. I would highly recommend this trip if you are looking for a holiday that’s a good mix of activities and sightseeing, busy times and some down time, great food and meeting new people. I’d love to go in October/November when you can get involved in the olive harvest and all the steps involved with the oil extraction.

If you’re a last minute kind of person, I believe they do have some availability in August and September, so get in touch with them now. Your tastebuds will thank you!

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The 12 things I learnt in Tuscany (and want to learn again)

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MGG and I have just been in Tuscany for just over a week, and whilst there are many things that I’ll write about in more detail, I thought you might like a taster of 12 things we learnt (and would happily learn again, given most of them are food and drink related). Here goes:

 

Cappucinos only come in one size in Italy

  1. Cappucinos only come in one size: perfectly sized. No buckets here. And don’t order it after about 11am. Yes, it really is not the thing.

 

Italian pastries are delicious

2. Italian pastries are delicious. From freshly filled cannoli to mini sfogliatella, we loved them. We couldn’t pronounce some of them properly, but we got there.

 

The way to start every good Italian meal

 

3. Antipasto was our favourite way to start a meal. Meats, cheeses drizzled with honey and a selection of bruschetta were almost a meal in themselves, and truly delicious way to start a good evening.

 

Our first cooking lesson at Tasty Tuscany

4. Learning to cook food from a variety of Italian regions at Tasty Tuscany was an excellent way to spend 6 nights of anyone’s holiday. So many wonderful dishes and techniques, definitely highly recommended by us.

 

There's more to Italian wine than Chianti

 

5. There’s more to Italian wine than Chianti. The one on the left was my favourite, but as it’s about £30 a bottle here then I’ll be saving it for great days.

 

You should always follow the queue

6. Sometimes, it’s worth following the queue. This is Pizza Da Felice in Lucca. Always queues out the door, but darn tasty pizza by the slice.

 

Because pizza isn't always round

7. We discovered pizza isn’t always round, harking back to its starting point and buying what you could afford by the slice.

 

Salad can be the most colourful thing on the menu

8. Salad can be the most colourful thing on the menu. And regularly was, with a whole load of different flavours. This one was carrot, beetroot and apple.

 

Coffee art taken up a notch

9. The Italians like their coffee art colourful and full on. Not just swirls in the milk for them. Or maybe just this one place in Certaldo.

 

Florence Central Market Food Court

 

10. Florence Central Food Market was probably our favourite sight in the city. Let’s face it, it was 30° outside, and crowded. And the food was better in their food court than most other places around. We had 3 meals here.

 

A breakfast table with a difference

11. Our favourite hotel of the trip had the most incredible breakfast spread. Given this was just one of the tables, and there are only five (wonderful) rooms, then Relais San Lorenzo in Lucca gets a huge thumbs up from us.

 

A Spritz and a snack, perfect

 

12. The Spritz is my favourite apertif. Keeping this one going, Aperol on its way to the house shortly (Ocado have a third off currently).

So, lots of great stuff to follow. If you’re tempted, there’s space at Tasty Tuscany in August.

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