Day 4, Part 1 was a fantastic learning experience. I know what you might be thinking, ‘Really Rashmi, photographing interiors was fun?’. Yes, yes it was. I learned so much. I enjoyed it so much.. I didn’t think that was possible!
After our delicious sandwiches, we headed back to the hotel. We would soon be getting into a taxi and making an hour long drive into the Tuscan countryside to the home of Giulia Scarpaleggia. If you follow the food blogs and love Italian (ahem.. Tuscan) food, then you know all about Jul’s Kitchen. Giulia holds cooking workshops in her home (the same one she grew up in.. her apartment is just above her grandparents.. at one point she needed an onion to whip up an impromptu dish.. she just went downstairs and borrowed one from her grandmother!). From the balcony of her kitchen, you can see the rolling hills of Tuscany. It is kind of like a dream. Giulia was so warm and welcoming. She gave us aprons to wear and soon we were all cooking under her expert guidance.
side note : the following are a mix of digital, film and cell phone photos.
Here is a peek at all the props she uses to style her food photographs. She is not only a fantastic cook but also a great photographer.
Handing out aprons to everyone. I adore her kitchen. Everything was organized so beautifully.. I could hear angels singing.
Any experienced cook knows that the first thing you make is dessert.. And so, we started with Cantuccini, a very typical Tuscan dessert that is dipped in Vinsanto. What I found intriguing was there was no butter involved in this recipe at all. We mixed and measured two batches of Cantuccini. The first batch with orange peel and almonds and the second batch with cardamom, fresh ginger, pistachio and other more typical Indian spices (picked out by my cousin). I loved the little stories that Giulia weaved into the evening.. how each egg has a code stamped on it and what each number means, how as a little girl she didn’t get Vinsanto to dip her cookie but water instead. Her love for her food is apparent by the way she talks about it, the memories associated with her childhood and cooking with her parents and grandmother.
Here she is referring to her own cookbook, I Love Toscana.
Giulia told us about Tuscan bread (it has no salt.. and the reasons why.. just flour, water and natural leavener) and how it is a staple in homes. Next up was bread soup. What’s that you say? Bread with soup? No Bread Soup. I told you those Tuscans love their bread! Pappa al pomodoro (tomato bread soup). The task of cutting up the mirepoix (soffritto in Italy) was handed out to us and some of us may have fared better than others (looking at my cousin right about now). While the bread was soaking in the water, Giulia said she would make a quick Panzanella. She took some of the bread that was soaking, squeezed out the added tomatoes, cucumber, onion, fresh basil, olive oil, salt and white wine vinegar. Oh my word.. it is so good. It is easy enough to make, but you have to transport yourself to Tuscany to really get those fresh and delicious tomatoes. I have never tasted tomatoes quite the same here. I could have eaten the entire bowl of Panzanella myself. I might have done just that and was remiss in not taking any real photographs of it.
We also made these tremendous sandwiches with chickpea cake, Cecina, and eggplant . A fine paste is made with the chickpea flour and water, salt, pepper and oil and then baked in the oven to get a flat bread. Cecina can frankly be eaten by itself it is so damn good (and also gluten free).. but Giulia did not stop at that. She sliced eggplant and baked them in the oven at the same time.. once they were out she seasoned them with parsley, salt and all kinds of other goodness that I forget. So the bread and inside it the Cecina and on top of that the eggplant. I die. So good. So so good.
Here is Giulia explaining the finer nuances of Cecina to us..
She also asked us to step outside in her garden and pick out some herbs … so we did and then took some photos too…
Next we made some Crostoni.. the delicious big brother of Crostini. We made Crostoni with Tuscan bread, sausage and stracchino. I had never had Stracchino cheese before. I don’t know how to describe it.. like a looser mozzarella perhaps? Why waste time thinking of words.. easier to dig in and eat it. This was so simple to make and so delicious.
While we were waiting for all this cooking and baking to take place (so exhausting waiting for food to cook.. hehe), Giulia brought out some fava beans and pecorino cheese (new and aged) and truffle honey. Yes, truffle honey. This is the perfect picnic food and a classic Tuscan appetizer. At this point I was ready to abandon my family, my children, my career and my life, move to Tuscany and ask Giulia to marry me.
Last but not the least we made some Bracioline al Pomodoro and stir fried zucchini. Breadcrumb and egg and breadcrumb and egg coated veal. Holy cow! So good! (Also, as a Hindu, I am not supposed to eat the cows.. but for now we shall just say that the Italian cows are not hindu so its okay).
Once everything was made, we all sat down at the beautiful table that Giulia had set and ate and ate and drank wine and talked and had the best time. Giuilia told us about her love for Bruce Springsteen , the workshops she attends and the classes she teaches. Her love and passion for Tuscany was so apparent.. it was a joy to be in her presence. You must follow her on instagram.
I took a few moments to step outside on the balcony to take in the beautiful views outside and inside Giulia’s home. You can have the best ingredients and the most delicious food in the most incredible location, but without friends and family to share with, did it really happen?
Much too soon, dinner was done. Giulia kindly signed our copies of I Love Toscana, we said our goodbyes and with our hearts and bellies full of goodness and life, we took the taxi back to our hotel in Florence. Another brilliant, memorable, life changing day in Florence. No big deal.
To see more photos and Leela’s version of events.. go here:
Grazie mille Giulia!