Saturday, December 17, 2016

Italy Trip 2016 - day six (Thanksgiving Day)

we're halfway through the trip - hang in there!  you'll get a bit of a cooking lesson below! :)

Day Six:  Thanksgiving Day!

yet another beautiful villa sunrise
I can’t really say how thankful I was to spend Thanksgiving Day in such a beautiful place with such wonderful friends.  Words aren’t quite big enough.  But know that I woke up with much love and gratitude in my heart.  We slept in a little bit, which felt good after a lot of walking the day before, then peeked in on the bread boy, before heading to a nearby winery for a tour.  The villa’s concierge highly recommended our seeing it and we decided it would be a great addition to our Thanksgiving Day.  The concierge took care of all the details for us, scheduling and such. 

Even though it was a misty morning, it was nice to walk in the beautiful countryside for a few minutes – it’s about a ten minute walk from the villa to La Spinetta Casanova.  It sits in a beautiful, scenic spot, and the buildings are lovely, light-colored wood and glass, which adds to the scenery instead of interrupting it, if you know what I mean.  We were greeted by Montserrat and taken on a tour of the winery.  It was so interesting to us, having been to Casato Prime Donne earlier in the week and they’re a much smaller operation, only producing about 90,000 bottles a year, whereas we learned that La Spinetta produces over 600,000.  Their winery seemed more high-tech and the room with the stainless steel vats looked like something out of a Bond film!  It was also really interesting to learn how current fads play a role in how a winery works – right now, rose is very popular, so La Spinetta is producing a great deal of it and took some of the oak barrels out of the aging room to make space for more stainless steel.  I’m sure, once red wine is more in fashion again, they’ll be ready to make changes to please their customers.  We also got to see where the wines are bottled, labeled and stored, which was really interesting.  The whole tour was terrific and Montserrat was a lovely hostess.

After our tour of the winery, we sat down for a tasting.  Oh my, this was a major (and wonderful) event!  We tasted, I believe, nine wines, from young sparkling whites (I think from the Royal Family's collection!), to the rose, to very old and rare reds, to a delicious moscato.  They were all delicious!  And we had tasty bread, pecorino cheese, prosciutto and salami to enjoy alongside the wines.  The pecorino was incredible and it came from the cheese factory across the way.  We were sorry we hadn’t saved enough time to tour that stop, too (next time!).  Montserrat gave us more history of the wines and the area, she also joked with us about practically everything and commiserated with us once she saw a Hillary Clinton button on one of our group’s lapels.  She also almost killed another of our group – we were asking her how to say certain words in Italian and when we asked her how to say ‘drunk’ in Italian, she informed us there is no such word!  HA!  The way she drily said it was hysterical, but one chum laughed so hard, he started coughing and couldn’t stop.  We were worried about him, but relieved at least he would choke to death in a happy place, ha ha.  Thankfully, he recovered.

All in all, it was an amazing morning – we were a little tipsy and a little full already, but we had a cooking class coming up in about an hour!  Yikes!  We walked in a light rain back to the villa to get ready for our class.  Backstory:  when we were doing research about the villa, we saw that they had a company with whom they partner on various tours and classes.  We thought it would be fun to have a cooking class in the villa on Thanksgiving Day – it’s not a holiday in Italy, plus we figured we would need a little bit of a break from walking/touring by Thursday, a little over halfway through the trip.  So we sent in a request to Arianna & Friends, the local company who sends people to conduct cooking classes.  They sent back a large menu, telling us to choose which dishes we would want to learn how to make.  Our group met in NY, over a tasty Italian dinner at Don Giovanni’s, and decided on which dishes we were interested in.  Arianna & Friends sent Veronica and Daniela to our villa for the lesson.  They came armed with tons of ingredients, chef’s aprons for everyone, along with a program/menu with details of what we were making and space for us to take notes.  

Veronica was basically our hostess and Daniela the chef – Veronica would tell us the history of the dishes and the proper way to prepare them, and Daniela would actually help us execute the dishes.  First thing, we had to put the potatoes on the stove to boil so we could use them for gnocchi later.  Cooking-wise, we started with the dessert, a chocolate ‘salami,’ which had to chill before serving, so it made sense to prepare it first.  They had us pair off, so we had three groups of two making the dishes.  After we made the salami, we then worked on the pork stew - we learned how to make soffrito and learned how to use a mezzaluna! That was very cool and I may need to get a mezzaluna for my kitchen.  It's amazing how long you have to chop up ingredients for soffrito before they're small enough to use!  And it's amazing how much olive oil goes into the sauce! Daniela asked us to put in the amount of olive oil we thought was an appropriate amount - we were off by maybe half. But the dish wasn't oily at all!  Ah, the chemistry of cooking. 

After putting the pork stew together (it had to simmer for awhile), we then started the buscaiola sauce for the gnocchi.  It contains Italian sausage - and we tasted it raw.  It's safe to say that I have never eaten raw sausage before, but Veronica assured us it was safe; apparently it's a daily snack for people in Italy.  You just have to know your butcher. It tasted good, but I don't think I'll be eating it raw again.  We also used some of that sausage as one of the bruschetta toppings later.  Anyway, the buscaiola sauce had the sausage, more soffrito, mushrooms, olives and tomatoes.  Pine nuts were added at the end.  While THAT sauce was simmering, we tackled the other bruschetta toppings - my partner and I were in charge of the arugula and lemon topping (oops on my part for spilling half of the lemon juice onto the tablecloth), another duo was handling the fresh tomato and garlic topping, and the other duo worked with the sausage and stracchino cheese (that was was baked, while the others were fresh).

After all that, it was finally time to make the gnocchi, which is what we were all waiting for.  We learned how to peel the potatoes the right way, use a ricer, and figure out how much flour was the right amount while we were kneading the dough. It's a relatively simple recipe, but it's quite a cumbersome process which again took more flour than we thought it should. Daniela showed us how to cut the gnocchi and shape it into different shapes.  We all loved the little wooden mold thing she brought and I think I need to have one of those, too, even though it's not necessary.  Once we finally got all that dough into gnocchi, which did take quite a while, Veronica came out of the kitchen to toast us.  I thought to myself, 'wait, you're leaving?  We can't finish all these dishes!'  Perhaps I was a little bit drunk at this point.  Anyway, Veronica and Daniela did toast us, then they told us to sit down while they finished dinner and then would serve us!  Whew!  

The food was SOOOOOOOO GOOOD!  Though I was pretty much full by this point after the snacks at the winery and all the tasting of the ingredients, of course I ate more than my fair share of our dinner.  We were pretty proud of ourselves that we learned to make such a delicious meal.  Veronica also made us a raw fennel salad to eat with the very rich pork stew and it was yummy and the perfect bite with the pork.  And we were so excited to try to chocolate salami!  The consistency wasn't quite what we expected, but it was tasty and it did look like a salami!  After all that food, I didn't really eat again for awhile, but that's another story.  We lingered at the table because it had been a pretty long day.  At one point, I snuck over to the girls' room at the villa to do a video call with my family - usually the six-hour time difference made communicating hard, but at least on Thanksgiving, I could catch them when they were all together since it was late in Italy.  It was great to chat for a few minutes, then I went back to the other suite to decompress with everyone.  Boy, were we full.  But happy. And thankful.  And sorry that one of our merry band would be leaving the next day.  But we tried to dwell on the thankful...


photo credit: Gregg Moore

photo credit: Gregg Moore

photo credit: Gregg Moore

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