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Journey to Italy begins in mid September 2011

Sights in and around Jesi

Jesi had become my home for 2 months and the sights and sounds in this beautful town are locked in my memory.

The alley just outside my apartment

 

The seemingly endless flight of stairs that I climb almost everyday

 

 

 

Stairs to the bookshop

 

 
 
 
 
 

Main street in Centro

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Autumn leaves

 
 
 

Vineyard

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The view from our apartment

 
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Maceleria

Bistecca

Last week, we had a 1 full day just on meat alone. The butcher brought half a cow and half a pig, and they were huge! He literally butchered the carcasses before our eyes.
 
It was a treat for me as I’ve been thinking of Bistecca alla Fiorentina since I saw it on an episode of Jamie Oliver’s road trip to Italy. Usually, you can only technically call it Bistecca alla Fiorentina if the beef comes from the Chianina valley, and Chianina beef is supposed to be the best(supposedly in the world) and the most expensive. But alla Fiorentina style of cooking is just grilling the meat on high heat, then sprinkle coarse salt and drizzle olive oil on the meat just before serving.
 

Seared outside, rare inside

So what is the big deal with Bistecca alla Fiorentina? First of all, it’s a T-bone steak cut of very good beef, and it has to be at least 5cm thick! Each piece weighs a minimum of 750gm. The ones we had in school weighed almost 3kg for 2 pieces. That’s about 1.5 kg per steak! The best part is, the outside is seared brown, but the inside is totally rare. Here, the way to eat is to go rare, not even medium rare. I’ve eaten more raw beef in these 6 weeks than I’ve eaten in the last 6 years! 
 

Salsiccia

 
After lunch, we made fresh sausages. The maceleria taught us how to season the pork and make the sausage. The quality of the pork is superb, and can be eaten raw. Yes, raw! I didn’t believe it when he first told us we could eat the sausage raw, so he took a piece and fed me with it. Yikes! It’s the first time I’ve eaten raw pork, and it actually taste pretty good with the spices.
 
The only reason we could eat it raw when it’s fresh is because, the pig belongs to him, and he had raised it on a farm he knows, and he decides what to feed the pigs and knows the health record of all his animals. If we buy from the market , we can’t eat the pork raw, because we don’t know where it comes from and how healthy it is.
 
Well, other than learning about meats and the various cuts, the thing I’m most proud of, is that I filled and tied the entire string of salsiccia that you see here, all by myself. I made sausages! I brought some back to my apartment, cooked them for dinner. It was the best sausage I ever ate. Buonissimo!
 
 

Prova – Exam Trial

Torta di Mele

Last week, we had a trial test to prepare us for the actual exam this coming week. Everyone had 3 hrs to prepare a complete dish and serve it for 10 people. The other students either had meat or pastas, so I took dessert.

I prepared Dolci di Mele 2 tipo (Apple dessert 2 ways). The first was Torta di Mele which was a recipe from the first Marche chef. My husband always tells me that my food taste great, but the presentation usually needs some work. I was quite happy with how my Torta di Mele turned out, so I hope it’s good enough for him too.

The second one was Strudel di Mele, which was a recipe from the Trentino chef. The Rennet apples used in that recipe were very tart, and I didn’t really like it when the chef first made it. So, I made a zabaglione to go with it to soften the tartness.

Dolci di Mele due tipo

I used a lot of Vino Santo, a dessert wine, in the zabaglione, so it added more flavours to the dessert, and hopefully, made the traditional desserts more gourmet.

The chef who came a half hour before lunch to survey the kitchen as we were putting the final touches together, commented on each dish after that particular course was served. All of us did great, there were no disasters.

When the chef evaluated my dessert, he commented on how the tartness of the Rennet apples in the Strudel was balanced by the zabaglione. And he said it was ‘Ottimo’. That, made my day.

Fifth week – Liguria

Pansotti al Sugo di Noci

 
We learned that although, Liguria is not well-known like Tuscany(a neighbour just south of Liguria), the region had the most number of traditional dishes in all of Italy. In fact, many familiar dishes originated from Liguria, including Ravioli.
 
Pansotti is a type of ravioli, and the filling is made with ricotta and spinach. Sounds familiar now, right? Ricotta and spinach is probably one of the most popular filling for ravioli. Here, it is served with a Walnut Sauce.
 

Seppie a Zemin

We also made Cuttlefish(Seppie) stew using a very traditional method known as Zemino, adding thinly sliced vegetable like swiss chard, and cooking till you get a dense sauce. The cuttlefish was so tender, and it was cooked for 40 minutes!
 
Usually, we are afraid to cook it for too long for fear that it would become tough, but the trick here is to simmer till it is soft. Now I know what to do with all that cuttlefish we catch when we go fishing.
 

Coniglio alla Liguria

 Liguria is a very narrow region flanked by mountains to the east and by the Mediterranean Sea to the west. In the south, is Tuscany, and in the north is France. They don’t have much flatlands and therefore not many animals or cattle, which means they don’t have much milk and butter. The diet there is very healthy, consisting of mainly vegetables and legumes and fish, and using a lot of olive oil, olives and pine nuts which grow in abundance there. Sounds like the Mediterranean diet to me. This rabbit dish is the only meat dish we cooked, and the sauce is made with sofrito(onions, carrot and celery), and olives and pine nuts. Very healthy. 
 

Stocafisso Accomodato

Also made with olives and pine nuts, is another dish called Stocafisso. Basically, stockfish(stocafisso) is codfish that is dried and preserved. It is rehydrated and then added to the sauce to cook till tender. Stockfish is  different from Baccala, which is also preserved cod, but is salted. Baccala needs to be soaked in water for more than a week to hydrate and to wash off the salt.
 
For those who are new to preserved cod, all I can say is that it’s an acquired taste, and certainly not for the faint-hearted or the uninitialized.
 

Torta Pasqualina

Pasqua in italian, means Easter, and during the week leading to Easter, this Pie is eaten. We used swiss chard, spinach, and another bitter herb to make the filling. 4 or 5 whole eggs are cracked into the holes which we make in the filling. This vegetable pie is like nothing I have ever eaten. The only thing that is remotely similar is a quiche, but even that doesn’t quite cut it.  Apparently, there is a debate as to whether there should be 20 or 33(for each year of the life of Christ on earth) layers of pastry dough, for this Easter Pie. I’m sure glad the chef only did one layer.
 

Gattafin

 One of my favourite traditional dishes or snack, in this case, is the Gattafin. The name was derived from a place called Gatta, and there’s quite a story behind it. It was recognized in 1999 as an indigenous dish, and in 2003, it received a trademark. I had no idea a dish could be trademarked. Anyway, I thought the name sounded cute.
 
To me, it looked like a vegetable puff or samosa, with the deep fried crust. Well, the crust was perfect, and the filling was made with herbs, swiss chard(again), and artichoke.
 

Acciughe Ripiene

On the second day, we made three different stuffings with similar base of bread, eggs, cheese and herbs. The first was for fresh anchovies. By now, I am pretty adept at cleaning and deboning anchovies, something I got so excited about during the first week, because I had never seen or touched fresh anchovies.
 
Well, these anchovies were filled, sandwiched with another anchovy, coated in breadcrumbs, and deep fried till golden and crispy. Delicious!
 

Muscoli Ripieni

The second stuffing we made was for mussels. I learned how to open fresh mussels and break the nerves, so they don’t close back. These mussels were filled, baked, and then stewed in the tomato and onion sauce. The mussels were tender and not overcooked in any way. The sauce was a great accompaniment to the mussels.
 

Verdure Ripiene

The third stuffing, with the addition of minced meat(usually leftover roast is used in this recipe), is used to stuff vegtables like bell peppers(peperoni in italian), zucchini, onion, and tomatoes. This dish is created to use up leftover ingredients like roasted meats and stale bread, but it tastes too good to be a recipe for leftovers. Italians are really good at coming up with recipes to use up leftover ingredients. These have evolved to become traditional dishes, because in the earlier days, the people were poor and could not afford to waste any food, so they always create new recipes to give a new lease of life to leftover food. Kudos to that!
 

Minestrone alla Genovese

The dish that really shows off the vegetables in Liguria, is probably the Minestrone soup Genova style(Genova is the main city in Liguria). The unique character in this soup, as you might have noticed, is that it is a green minestrone. No red vegetable is used in this soup except for Pumpkin or Butternut Squash. The Minestrones I had perviously known had tomatoes in them. So, this is new for me. We used more than 7 types of vegetables and beans for this soup. The reason why this Minestrone looks so green is because pesto is added to eat before serving.
 

Corzetti

Talking about Pesto, I had no idea that the all famous Pesto actually orignated from Liguria, and it was traditionally made with a pestle and mortar(how familiar!). In fact, that was how it got its name, ‘to pound’ is ‘pestare’ in italian, hence the name Pesto. We were thoroughly educated about how Pesto should be made, as there are many adulterations out there. Pesto is made with only Basil, Pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and grated Parmiggiano Reggiano or Grana Padano. If any other ingredients like parsley or walnuts were added, it will not be a Pesto, it will just be a Salsa Verde(Green Sauce). I’ll be sure not to make such a mistake.

Corzetti stamp and mould

 
Pesto is usually served with pasta, and the pasta that is served here, is Corzetti, which is pasta that is cut by a mould like a disc, and stamped with a design and the initials of the family that owns the stamp. These wooden stamps are custom made and very expensive, and usually, only the rich families own them. It is like a family seal, but for pasta. Perhaps it was a sign of prestige.
 

Mes-ciua

Another very healthy dish is the Mesciua, which is a kind of bean stew made with beans, chick pea and spelt, and garnished with freshly sliced scallions, parsley and good extra virgin olive oil. I had a hard time learning how to pronounce the name of this dish, as it had a french pronunciation.
 
Anyway, a note about Olive oils: there are many adulterated versions of olive oil in the market, many of which use chemical processing. Always use only extra virgin olive oil, that’s your safest bet.
 

Vongole

Chef Lorenzo also made Vongole with a pasta similar to linguini, but flat, somthing unique to his region. Another chef had previously made Vongole pasta, but a different method. Chef Lorenzo, pre-cooked the clams first, and then added it back later to make a sauce which gets absorbed by the pasta.
 
Again, the same rule applies. any pasta sauce is meant to coat the pasta, not the plate. If your plate is coated with sauce, either your pasta is not good and not absorbing the sauce, or there’s something wrong with your sauce. Whatever it is, this has changed my perception, and the way I cook my pasta.
 

Offelle

For dessert, we made wine biscotti. It seems wine biscotti are quite popular in various regions. This is the perfect crunchy biscuit, if you want something that is healthy, butter-free, and yet taste good.

 
Wine biscotti uses olive oil as a substitute for fat, so we can eat as many as we want with no guilt. So, we eat during breakfast, coffee break, after lunch as desssert, and as a snack.
 

Latte Dolci Fritto

Another dessert we made was fried custard creme. The lemon flavored custard creme was made the day before and refrigerated till firm. it was then cut into shapes, and coated with flour , egg, and breadcrumbs, and then deep fried like a fritter. Crisp outside, soft and melting inside, with a hint of citrus flavours. Nice.
 

Group Picture

It was a pleasure having Chef Lorenzo with us. He was inspiring and generous in sharing. It was a great learning experience for me.
 
The region where he came from La Spezia, was a port where the spices from the east came through, hence the name Spezia(which means spices). It is also the region where Cinque Terre, one of the most scenic areas in Italy, is located. Unfortunately, the floods and land slides the week before, destroyed 2 of the villages that were part of the 5 that made up Cinque Terre. You can access the link below to watch a short video when Chef Lorenzo was interviewed regarding the efforts they were making to support the rescue mission.
 

Cool Chef Lorenzo

 Of course, the journalists created a hype because Chef Lorenzo had previously been working in a Michelin star restaurant, and went to the camp to help out with the rescue mission. Whatever it may be, he is someone with passion and heart, and yet humble. He inspires people around him, and promotes community spirit. He is one cool chef!
 
 
 
 
 
 

Fourth Week – Trentino

Insalata di Carne

Trentino is in the north of Italy and very near to Austria and Germany. Hence, much of the cuisine is influenced by their neighbouring countries, so it’s not surprising to find sauerkraut and apple strudel. One of my favourite dishes was the Insalata di Carne(yeap, steak tartare again), but it’s different from the version done by the Piemonte chef, who used raw beef.
 
The beef brought by the Trentino chef, had been cured for more than 40 days. Hence, the meat had inherited the taste of the spices used in the curing. The addition of the rosemary flavored olive oil really enhanced the flavor. 
 

Zuppa di Orzo

Many people tink that Italian food is all about Pizzas and Pastas, but there’s a lot more to Italian food. Most of the traditional cuisine arose from the days of old when the people were poor and ate whatever they could grow. And they grew a lot of beans and barley.
 
We had a soup made with vegetables, beans, and barley(known as orzo). Many americans confuse this with a kind of pasta in USA called Orzo, but those pasta grains don’t exist here, and the only orzo they know is barley. Very healthy and tasty soup.
 
Talking about Orzo, a common drink here is roasted barley, also simply called orzo. People drink it often in place of coffee because it tastes a little similar to coffee but does not contain caffeine, and is actually healthy. I didn’t like it the first time i tried it in a ristorante. But later, I bought the instant orzo to try as a herbal drink, and I have been drinking it everyday since then.
 

Il Cervo

 Next, is another of my favourite dishes, Venison Stew. What’s so special about this venison stew is that it has chocolate in it, something I will definitely try when I get back. It is served with polenta and sauteed mushrooms.
 
I have seen, in my few weeks here, how savoury and sweet ingredients are interchangeably used. There are almost no boundaries, but it is always used very subtly and actually gives a new dimension to the flavours.
 

Gnocchi di Polenta

We made gnocchi again, but this time it is made with polenta. It’s one of  the ways to use up leftover polenta, but it was good. The polenta gave the gnocchi a little chewiness instead of the starchiness of potato gnocchi. But, it was still light, and not too gummy. It was cooked with fresh salsiccia and mushrooms, very tasty.
 

Canederli

 An interesting dish we made was Canederli, which was made with day old bread, soaked in milk and combined with different ingredients to make a kind of dumpling. The on we made was made with cheese, although there are many variations like mushrooms, beets, liver or spinach. It didn’t sound appetizing to me at first, but it was actually good.
 
This one was dressed with sage butter and topped with a parmesan crisp to complement the taste and to make a traditional dish look more gourmet.

Zuppa del Bosco

 
We made another soup, but it was so thick and rich, it was almost like a stew. Zuppa del Bosco means Soup of the Woodlands. It’s a soup made with ingredients from the woods, namely game meats and mushrooms and herbs, very rich in flavor.
 

Strudel di Mele

For dessert, we made Apple Strudel, not quite the kind of strudel I was used to, but it wasn’t too difficult to make. However, this strudel is made with a type of apple that grew in that area, and almost became extinct, but was revived and brought back. The characteristic taste of these apples are that they are extremely tart and sour, but high in minerals.
 

Semifreddo al Miele

We also made Semifreddo, one of my favourite desserts, next to gelato. Semifreddo is made with cream and eggs, and in this recipe, with honey. Without an ice cream machine, the semifreddo is probably the closest thing to ice cream that you can make easily. We ate it with the blueberry conserve which the chef had previously made with just fresh blueberries and some sugar only. It was a sweet ending for all that food.

Weekend in Tuscany

Tuscany landscape

I couldn’t believe I was actually in Tuscany! My fellow course mate, Gina, and myself took the weekend to visit Tuscany last week. It was quite a long drive, but it was worth it.
 
Tuscany(or Toscana, in italian) was made famous by an American film, Under the Tuscan Sky, in 2003. If you wish to find out more about the film, you can check it out here at wikipedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_the_Tuscan_Sun_(film)
 
It was through the film that both Gina and I first fell in love with Tuscany, and wanted to visit the region. However, to our surprise, most italians we spoke with, including Tuscans, never heard about the film.

Vineyard landscape

The hilly landscape was beautifully manicured with different crops and vegetation, and rows of pine trees separated one piece of land from another. It was truly lovely.
 
Our primary purpose was to visit the Tuscany Chef, Filippo Saporito, who had just taught at our school. His ristorante, La Leggenda dei Frati, is situated in the midst of the tranquil hills and beautiful landscape.

La Leggenda dei Frati

 
The ristorante occupies a historic buliding and has just been recently refurbished. It is located close to Monteriggiorni, in the direction towards Castellina in Chianti. The biggest landmark is the Cecchi winery just opposite the ristorante.
 

Pre-appetizer

 Inside the ristorante, the interior was modern, chic, and yet cosy. We started dinner with some sparkling wine and aperitivo, which is like a pre-appetizer.We were served a very light aperitivo of ricotta and dehydrated vegetables, along with an assortment of freshly baked bread. You can tell from all the fine details, that the chef is passionate about his food and pays a lot of attention to it.

First appetizer

 
When the first appetizer came, we thought it was grated radish on top, but it wasn’t. It was shaved ice, and not ordinary shaved ice, but with Gin Tonic, and sits on the marinated raw tuna. It was the first time Gina and I tried anything like this, and were most delighted. It was like an explosion of flavours in the mouth, and so refreshing.

Second Appetizer

 
The second appetizer that came was an onion tart served with a slice of Buffalo milk cheese. Special locally grown onions were used in this dish. The onions were soft and sweet and was contrasted by the crispness of the filo pastry that it was wrapped in. The plate was decorated with balsamic glaze and the cheese, but the garnishing or decor on the plate were not extra ingredients to decorate, but ingredients meant to complement the taste of the dish. A simple yet very well thought through dish.

Primo Pasta

 
After that came the primo piatto, which is usually a pasta or risotto. The tortellini was served in a light pumpkin sauce and delicately dressed with olive oil. It was the only traditional dish we had in the whole meal.
 

Secondo Piatto

 Although the servings were small, we were getting full, and we thought the pasta was the last, as we ordered the 5 course degustation menu. Then came the secondo which was chicken roll – 2 ways, dark and white. The smaller roll was made with flavourful dark thigh meat of the chicken while the bigger roll was made with the white breast meat and chestnuts. I like how the skin was carefully wrapped around the meat, to keep it juicy and yet seared to a nice crisp.

Pre-dessert

 
Believe it or not, we were served a pre-dessert of yoghurt, berry sauce and praline crisp to cleanse our palate to prepare for dessert. I felt like the character Anton in ‘Ratatouille’, when he told Remy  ‘Surprise me!’.
 

Warm Chocolate cake

 Finally, dessert came, and I think the chef wanted to serve us 2 desserts, but ended up serving us both a different dessert each, because our server had informed him that we were full.

 The warm chocolate cake which Gina had was covered in ganache and had a creamy centre, and it was  served with a scoop of nutty gelato. Usually, I would be very contented with this already. 

The utlimate Blueberry tart

 
But then, I tried my Blueberry Tart. It was nice with the icing sugar, the fruit reduction and the raspberry sorbet., but it looked a little understated for what I was about to experience.

Blueberries and mousse oozing

 
The tart was hot, and when I cut through the delicate crusty top, the blueberries and light warm mousse started oozing out. I had no idea the tart was so light, it was pure delight. The tart base crust was also light, buttery and crunchy.Everything just melted in the mouth. It was a perfect dessert.
 
I was told it was very difficult to make, because there were many steps of preparation. To serve the tart hot and fresh, and the sorbet cold and firm, that took effort, skill and precise timing.
 

Dessert wine and petit four

We even had dessert wine, and then coffee and petit fours to bring home. we finished our dinner at almost 11.30pm! We had such a great time and it really tickled our senses with all the little surprises.
 
Never did we imagine we’d find such fine dining experience in the midst of the countryside. It’s a true gem and I hope more people get to experience it. The ristorante currently has 8 tables and reservations are preferred. Filippo also has an enoteca, that can cater to private functions. 
 
La Leggenda dei Frati

Localita’ Casina Dei Ponti, 58 – 53011 Castellina In Chianti (SI) – ITALY

Tel: +39 0577 301222 – E-mail: info@laleggendadeifrati.it

 The dinner really was the highlight of our weekend in Tuscany. See you again, Tuscany!

Third week – Piemonte

Salsa - Rosso, Miele, Verde

The recipes that we learned were so different from what I expected. There were no truffles! Piemonte is in the north and is famous for their truffles, but we didn’t get any, so, I shan’t talk about it.
 
Most of the dishes we learnt were very traditional dishes that evolved over the centuries and often from the poor common people. The first dish I had to work on was Gran Bolito Misto served with 3 different sauces as shown in the picture here. It is a variety of odd cuts of meat like tongue, shin, oxtail, and then there was a whole chicken. everything was boiled in broth.
 
To make the Salsa Verde, I had to chop so much parsley. At home, I would have just put everything into my food processor and … blitz. Well, everyone said my salsa verde was good, so it was worth the effort.
 

Insalata di Carne Cruda

And then, there was my favourite dish, Steak Tartare. The fresh raw meat was delicately flavored with olive oil, salt and pepper and some lemon juice.
 
This is considered a gourmet dish, and you need very fresh beef, something that is very hard to get in Singapore. Over here, they know where the cow comes from and what the cow fed on, and whether the cow ever fell sick. This is quality control at its ultimate.
 

Gnocchi di Patate

After that, I finally got to learn how to make gnocchi. I had no idea that there were so many types of gnocchi. I thought all gnocchi were made of potato, which was what we made. That’s good enough for me, for now. (hmm.. maybe next time I can try with zucca or pumpkin).
 

Capunet

 Another traditional dish we made that probably has different versions of it in different countries, was Capunet, a filling made with sausage meat wrapped with cabbage. It can be panfried or baked in the oven with parmesan cheese. Either way, it was very tasty. Another dish which I did not expect to come from Piemonte.
 

I Brutti ma Buoni

 The recipe that has got the most interesting name was I Brutti ma Buoni, which means Ugly but Delicious. These little cookies are made with ground hazelnuts, sugar and eggwhites only. It was easy to make and so delicious. It didn’t look ugly to me at all.
 

Panna Cotta

 What sweeter way to end the meal than with a Panna Cotta. Panna Cotta means cooked cream. The traditional flavor is caramel. The Panna Cotta is made with cream, sugar, vanilla bean and gelatine. Simple but not easy to get it perfect.
 

Pere Cotte nel Vino

 Of course, we never have just 1 dessert here. For once, I actually like Pear cooked in red wine. Whoever created this recipe didn’t like hard pears, just like me. This recipe will definitely be a frequent feature for me.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Third Week – Tuscany

Pappa al Pomodoro

This is my favourite week, because we are focusing on my 2 favourite regions, Toscana(or Tuscany, in English) and Piemonte. Tuscany is probably the most well-known region of Italy. Tuscany is also where the city of Florence(Firenze in italian) is.

One of the first dishes we made was the Pappa al Pomodoro, which is a tomato soup thickened with bread. I realised there are many dishes made with stale bread, because it is so dry here, bread dries out in a few days. In the past, every village only had 1 oven, and families had to take turns to bake their bread, so they could only bake once a week. So, they only had fresh bread for the first 2 days, and then they have to get creative to use up the rest of the stale bread the rest of the week, and yet still make it taste good.

Panzanella di Pane

 So, other than using the stale bread for soup, they also use it for  salads. The bread(it’s really tough bread, it’s not like the kind of bread we have in Singapore or Japan) is soaked in water, and then water is squeezed out from the bread, and marinated in the salad with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Although I’ve heard from some people, that they don’t really like the dish because of the soggy bread, I actually thought it was pretty good, considering it’s my first time trying it. 

Minestra di pane, Il Giorno dopo ribollita

 
We are still not done with using the bread to create dishes. Minestra di Pane means Soup of Bread, or Bread Soup. This dish is actually a creation from a day old soup(leftover), and stale bread. They are really creative, this is actually a traditional dish, but here, the chef gives it a modern twist to make it more appetising. The soup of beans and black cabbage(yup, I’ve never heard of black cabbage before this either), is served on top of the bread, and the bread soaks up the soup. Ribollita actually means reboiled.
 

'gnudi di Ricotta e Spinaci

 The first day, we made all the traditional dishes, and these include traditions from the poor as well as the rich. I guess it’s quite easy to tell the first 3 dishes are mainly from the poor villagers. Now, we have ‘gnudi or nude, in English. Basically, it’s a ricotta and spinach ravioli that is nude, or without the pasta dough. So, all you get is just the filling. This dish is perfect for those of you who usually order the ravioli and then eat up all the filling leave the pasta dough behind.
 

Trippa alla Fiorentina

We also had beef tripes and it was cooked till very soft in a sauce and served with beans. With the first bite, it was nostalgia for me(sounds like a scene from Ratatouille). The beef tripe was soft and chewy with flavours somewhat similar to the beef noodles I used to eat back home.
 

Cantuccini di Prato

On the first day, I got to prepare something from scratch, a type of biscotti from Prato. Finally, I learnt how to make the perfect biscotti, all by myself. Chef Filippo owns his own ristorante and teaches us like the way he runs the ristorante kitchen, each one responsible for certain dishes. We really felt proud of what we made after putting in all the effort. It was the best biscotti I have eaten. In Italy, biscotti is traditionaly eaten by dipping into a sweet wine like Vin Santo. And that was how we ate it in school.

Riciarelli di Siena

 
We also made a sweet chewy cookie with crushed hazelnuts, a traditional sweet from Siena. These Riciarellis are traditionally cut into diamond shapes, but in Chef Filippo’s ristorante, he prefers to fashion them like a round cookie.
 
Apparently, the regions in the upper half of Italy, had a lot more sweets and desserts. We made at least 3 in one day.
 

Panforte di Siena

Another sweet, also from Siena(south of Florence), is the Panforte, which is a compact disc of dried citrus fruits and almonds.  This is usually eaten after dinner, but we thought it also made a very handy snack except for the stickiness which doesn’t make for easy handling.
 
On the second day, we were each assigned a recipe and I got the most important dish in the restaurant, the Terrine of Chicken Liver. It’s a good thing that I like liver pate, and I know how to clean chicken livers, as I had to clean almost a kilo of livers! Apparently, most of the students hardly work with livers, and were glad I’m taking care of the livers, making sure I clean them very well.

Terrina di Fegatini di Pollo

 
The terrine had figs in them, for more interesting presentation as well as taste. It was already very tasty on its own, very full flavoured. It was a lot of work, but it was worth it, as it was voted best dish by all of us. It’s a dish that you remember even after a long time.
 
This is one dish that Iam proud of and which I know my family will love. The best part is I can easily make it back home, with locally available ingredients.

Acquacotta di Cardi e Porcini

 
 Another dish that was a lot of work, was the Cream of Cardoon. Cardoon is also called artichoke thistle, and looks like huge white celery but with thorns. It was tough peeling and cleaning them, then they were boiled in milk, blended and strained to get this creamy soup, served with soft yolk and porcini mushrooms.
 

Piccione Arrosto, Polenta Croccante, salsa all'uva

For meat, we had roasted pigeon on crispy polenta, and grape sauce. Although I don’t have pigeons back home(there are only live ones, no dead ones in the market to buy home to cook), we learnt a technique of cooking(a trick in the restaurant) the bird so it goes too the table crispy and perfect.
 

Pomodori all Gratinata

The dishes on the second day were very delicate and sophisticated. We also prepared a tomato gratin which didn’t look like a gratin. The tomato was filled with a goat cheese filling and gently baked and kept moist, and served on some pesto. The colors on the plate are like the flag of italy.
 

Gelato all' Alloro

Finally, for dessert we had gelato! We made Gelato flavored with fresh Bay leaves, very interesting refreshing flavour. I had no idea it was that easy. Time for me to buy an ice cream maker.

Torta della Nonna Anna Maria

Also for dessert(and breakfast and snack), we made a cake that has a layer of custard cream and raisins in the centre and baked together. Most of the time, custard is filled in, after the cake or bread is baked. But, the custard here is part of the cake, keeping the cake really moist. I heard the chef sells this cake for $5 a piece! We baked a huge tray, and ate it all within 3 days.

 

Chef Filippo Saporito

 We had a really great time with Chef Filippo, as he was very friendly and taught us very well, and even spoke some English. He invited us to visit him in his ristorante, and two of us took up the offer. So, we’re driving to Tuscany this weekend!
 
Ciao Chef, ci vediamo questo fino settimana!

Truffle Fair

Truffle stall

 
Yesterday, on Sunday, we drove to a nearby town Morro D’alba where there was a  Truffle fair. There were a number of stalls selling everything truffle from the real thing to minced truffle in oil, truffle sauce(which 5% truffle and 95% everything else), truffle butter, and even truffle oil. To anyone out there who ever thought of buying truffle oil, STOP! Truffle oil is the only thing you shouldn’t buy at all, because the truffle aroma is extracted through the use of chemicals which cannot be digested by our bodies at all, so it is actually detrimental to our health. This is confirmed by many chefs, but I still don’t understand why it is still sold widely. 
 
Anyway, just look at that gigantic truffle on the table.
 

Truffle pasta for lunch

  
After a whole morning of tasting(olive oil, cheese, salami and everything with truffle except the real thing itself, of course) and shopping, it’s time for lunch. We ordered the pastas with truffle, namely Lasagna Bianca and Carbonara al Tartufo, and waited eagerly.
 

Carbonara al Tartufo

My Carbonara was very tasty, but it had a lot more Salsiccia than Tartufo. Can you see the few slices of black truffle?
 
It was good, but the aroma wasn’t as strong as I expected, and I wasn’t quite satisfied. So, I went back to one of the stalls and bought myself a tiny piece of white truffle.

My little white truffle

 
White truffle is much more expensive compared with black truffle. The reason being that the supply of white truffle is lower, and most believe that white truffle has a nicer and stronger aroma than that of black truffles. Some people believe there is no difference. Wanting to check it out for myself, I went to 2 stalls to sniff the truffles, and their white truffles did smell more fragrant, and stronger than their black ones. So, that’s my opinion so far.
 
Shaved truffle on soft boiled egg

My experiment with truffle carried me to another step which probably only a Singaporean would do. I made soft boiled egg, sprinkled a little salt and shave some truffle over it. Egg is one of the accompaniments that go well with truffle. My conclusion about truffle: it’s the smell that we’re after, there isn’t much of a taste. To fully savour the truffle, you need to circulate the air in your mouth and nose. (ok, this description is rather awkward, and I don’t  know if there’s a technical term to describe the exchange of air to savour the aroma, but those of you who use this technic will understand what I’m talking about)

 
Having been sniffing my precious little truffle these 2 days, the aroma is locked in my brain. 🙂
 
 

Second week – Umbria

Guanciale alle salvia e aceto

It’s been quite a feat trying to get all the updates out within the same week so I don’t run over to the next.
 
The latter half of the second week was focussed on the region of Umbria, considered the heart of Italy. Umbria is know for their cured meats. So it’s no surprise, the first dish we had was a cured meat. Guanciale or cured pork jowl is fried, draining some of the fat and is flavored with sage, while the vinegar cuts through the taste of the fat without leaving any sour taste. Served with toasted bread, it was the perfect mid-morning snack. Chef Alberto had me at Guanciale.
 

Polenta con Spuntature e salsiccia

The next dish we got to cook and try immediately after cooking is a polenta dish. Usually, we have to prepare everything before we get to sit down for lunch starving. With Chef Alberto, we got to taste the food that should be eaten fresh, as we went along.
 
I never thought I would actually like polenta, but, of course, this is not instant polenta. It seems the quality of the polenta flour makes a difference. The sausage meat sauce was superb with the polenta.
 

Coratella D'agnello

Another dish I really loved was the lamb liver and kidney. It was simple, but took a long time to cook. My only disappointment was that the recipe cannot be substituted with pork or chicken livers which would be easier to get. This dish was voted most tasty during lunch. Interestingly, this dish was often eaten by the locals for breakfast as they  needed the protein from the dish for energy as they work in the fields.
 

Minestra di Lenticchie

 Legumes are a very important food to the diet of the traditional locals and they usually get most of their protein from legumes than meat. That’s probably another secret of the so-called Mediterranean Diet that promotes long healthy life.
 
 After that, we did have some healthy food like lentil soup, made with a special kind of lentil unique to that area. Some broken spaghetti pasta was added towards the last stage of cooking.

Zuppa di ceci e funghi

 
 
So, after the lentils, we had a soup made with chickpeas and fresh porcini mushrooms. Very nutritious and delicious, especially with parsley sprinkled and good quality olive oil drizzled on it. From our visit to the olive farm, I’ve learnt to taste olive oil and how to use it to enhance certain foods.
 

Spaghetti al Rancetto

We had guanciale again, but this time cut into strips and used to make the sauce for the spaghetti. What I’ve learnt here is that a good pasta dish, should have the sauce coating the pasta not the plate. This is one thing that is consistent from one chef to another, and they usually use the pasta water to help bind the ingredients together to create the sauce.

Making Umbricelli

 
 
 
 On the second day, we made some fresh pasta using an interesting almost antique contraption. The pasta we made looked like spaghetti but had a hole in the centre, so technically, it was shaped like a straw. This type of pasta is called Umbricelli in Umbria, but takes on different names in different regions. Anyway, I found out there were at least a thousand different types of pastas in Italy. I can imagine: different shapes and sizes an thickness, different types and proportions of flour and semolina, different types of binding liquids used, eggs, yolks/whites, water, olive oil etc.
 

Umbricelli all'aglione

This chewy pasta is made with egg white, water and flour. It is cooked and finished in a simple tomato based sauce, and topped with parsley.
 
I also made another type of pasta using whole eggs and flour and semolina that gives pasta the hardness.
 

Strascinati di monteleone di spoleto

This recipe that I was in charge of, had an interesting history. The dish originated more than 500 years ago, in 1494. It was first by a young woman living in a fortified town that was invaded by France. The captain and his men were angry to be only served a lowly pasta with no sauce, so they threatened to tie the men of the city and drag them round the castle walls. This young woman then made a pact with the soldiers to prepare a tasty dish in return for their mercy on the men. The meal was made with pork jowl, fresh sausage, eggs and pecorino cheese. And that was what I made.
 

Salsiccia all'uva

 After all that pasta, we need some meat. We made a very simple dish with just fresh sausages and grapes. So simple, yet so delicious, incredible.
 
After the sausages have browned and cooked through, grapes were thrown in to caramelize. That simple! Wondered why I never thought of it. Through this course, I begin to understand what the chefs mean when they say in the past, there is no separation between sweet and savoury dishes. You can find fruits in meat dishes, and herbs and ingredients usually used for savoury dishes are used in desserts.

Gallina 'mbriaca

 
 Another meat dish we made was Drunken Hen. They usually used hens that have not been very productive, laying fewer eggs. So, if the hen wasn’t producing enough eggs, they usually end up on the table. Being an old hen, it takes quite a lot of cooking, and some wine, to soften the meat.
 

Cinghiale in salmi'

Another meat that needed a lot of tenderising was the wild boar meat. It was marinated overnight with herbs, aromatics, and red wine. Then the meat is drained, dried, seared, and then added back to a sauce made from the marinade, to simmer for about 1 – 2 hrs.

 
What I like about this dish is Chef Alberto’s personal touch of adding orange zest and marjoram before serving. It literally perfumes the dish, tantalising the taste buds, and lifts up a dish that can be quite heavy.
 

Costolette di maiale alle erbe aromatiche

 Once we started with the meats, it just kept coming. We also had pork ribs that were simply browned, deglazed with white wine, flavored with aromatic herbs, and then finished in the oven. It was served with rosemary garlic potatoes. Spices,instead of herbs, are usually used for pork ribs, so this is something fresh and new for me.

Lumachelle

For traditional breads and cakes, we made Wine biscuits, Carnival Cake(chocolate cake made with dry amaretto biscuits), Rosemary Flatbread and Snail bread(Lumachelle) that is shown here.
 
The Lumachelle was made with diced salami and pecorino cheese, so it’s savoury and very flavorful.
 
 
Group picture with Chef Alberto Melagrana

Chef Alberto was very patient and took time to answer any questions we had. He even spoke some English to better explain to us. Thank you, Chef Alberto !

 
Grazie mille! Se possiamo, ci vediamo ancora. Salute!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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