I was invited to take part in a Tuscan Cooking Class held by italian chef Anna Bini and sponsored by Tuscany Now. I confess I was not familiar with Anna and I am even less familiar with Tuscany’s food heritage. Italian regional cuisine is very different from area to area so I was keen to find out more about one of our country’s most famous regions.
After a sample of very good Tuscan cold cuts (including a ‘sopressata’ made with pig’s head, so different from ‘our’ sopressata) and a two pecorini (the aged Pienza was fantastic) we headed upstairs where we were introduced to the chef and our teacher for the night.
Anna immediately struck as a feisty lady – in her late 70s she’s full of life and energy and, like most of us Italians, can be quite bossy when it comes to doing things her way! We were going to find this out fairly soon.
She explained the first dish she was going to make, which we were then due to replicate. A fresh zucchine flan, made with some courgette and courgette flowers brought for the occasion from Italy. I love courgettes, and I love the flowers which I never eat here in London but always make the most of when I am back home.
The flan Anna prepared consisted of deep frying the courgettes with garlic, parsley, butter and olive oil then after draining and chopping them, mixing them with beschamel sauce (we used pre-prepared, but I normally make it myself).
Adding half a stock cube to salt the mix, this is then followed by pouring the mix into a donut shaped tray, buttered and breadcrumbed. In the oven for 20 minutes or so.
While each of us had a station to make our own dishes, Anna came over and looked at what we were doing. I got told off first for chopping the courgettes in discs, like I am used to (they cook quicker!) rather than how she had (sort of long cubes). I was also told off for heating the butter and oil in the pan first.
A few of us where then told off for bashing our food too much.
Anna said ‘You need to be gentle, firm but gentle, not mash it up too much. The food likes to be caressed!’. I can so easily see myself at Anna’s age (or much much sooner, according to @bmcboy) turning into her and telling people to do things my way!
While our flans cooked, we were shown the second dish. This was completely new to me, as it was braised chicken livers and I have never in my life cooked liver! I do not even particularly like liver either, whichever animal it belonged to so it was with some curiosity and trepidation that we looked on to Anna to follow her guidance.
It was actually a very easy dish to make, and incredibly full of flavour. This was also the dish that came out in many different versions. Some stirred too much (you know who you are!) and the liver broke into pieces. Some burned the delicate meat (me..), some others used the wrong stock (Anna uses stock cubes instead of salt, a habit I do not think I will take up for anything other than risotto and stews).
Once the flans finally came out of the ovens, we were starving! We plated up by turning them upside down and placing the livers in the middle. We all tasted each other’s and I think we all did pretty well.
Im not too sure that the combination of the two dishes was something I would repeat – they are both fairly heavy dishes, but we thought that the livers, served maybe with rice or greens, would be great. It is surprisingly quick to make so I think I may have to overcome my fear of the cut and go for it!
|Hot and Chili and her creation|
Anna was lovely – she came around to see all of us, offering tips and her enthusiasm was clear. She is passionate about her food!
It was great meeting her, and everyone else.
We also left with a fab goodie bag with some Tuscan wines and a bottle of extra virgin olive oil from Petroio.
Thanks Tuscany Now and Stephen at Propellernet for inviting me to this fun event.