Mangiare, Mangiare: Cooking Class in Tuscany

A cooking class in Tuscany?  You don’t have to ask a passionate amateur cook like me twice. Mediterranean, and especially Italian, cuisine has fascinated me since time immemorial. Not a week goes by without me putting a home-cooked dish from the southern climes of Europe on the table. When my fellow blogger Miri and I travel to Castelfalfi in beautiful Tuscany, none other than Chef Francesco Ferretti invites us to a cooking class. He doesn’t have to ask us twice!

Cooking class in the borgo

The cooking class takes place not far from the hotel in the borgo of the small village of Castelfalfi. Miri and I are just five minutes’ walk from the heavy doors of the medieval building. Here, Chef Francesco welcomes us personally and with open arms. In the typical Tuscan hamlet, the Rosso Toscano cooking school is located next to the restaurant La Rocca. Here, Francesco and his colleague Michele Rinaldi, chef at La Rocca, regularly organise cooking classes for interested guests. Today, Miri and I get the chance to try it out!

castelfalfi borgo tuscany
The medieval borgo in Castelfalfi, a special place for a cooking class

Francesco leads us to the upper floor of the building into a spacious kitchen. Extensive prep areas, two ceramic hobs side-by-side, two ovens, as well as bowls and pots of all shapes and sizes – the ideal place for a cooking class. There’s a twinkle in my eye, because – as a hobby chef – I could only dream of such a well-equipped kitchen as the one here in Tuscany.

On the menu is…

…Gnocchetto di patate and tagliata di manzo. In English: homemade gnocchi made from potatoes and beef on rocket with parmesan – my mouth is already watering! The first thing we do in the cooking class is to prepare a tasty sauce of sage butter for the gnocchi. To do this, I combine butter with fresh sage leaves. Francesco then rolls the resulting mass in cling film and puts it in the fridge. Together we then cut shallots, which are heated with plenty of locally produced olive oil in a pan. It’s important to heat the onions together with the oil, because otherwise they become bitter. There it is, the first tip for home! Finally, some sage butter and a dash of hot water and our sauce is simmering and fragrant.

cooking francesco and dirk
Cooking with the master – what an honour!

Easy-to-make gnocchi

For making the gnocchi, Francesco chooses red potatoes because they contain more starch and are therefore more ideal for preparation. After cooking, Francesco briefly douses the potatoes under cold water and we start peeling them together. I do my best, but getting the scalding potatoes out of their skins is not easy and I feel like I’m juggling hot coals. Our Tuscan chef doesn’t seem to mind; Francesco seems to have built up a thick skin over the years. After that, speed is required! The still-warm potatoes must be quickly mixed with flour, an egg, a little salt, pepper, and nutmeg and kneaded – otherwise the gnocchi will become brittle later. Meanwhile, Miri watches the hustle and bustle and takes notes.

gnocci dough
A little nutmeg and then the gnocchi dough is mixed

Time and again, flour is added and we form long sausages from the dough. Francesco and I then cut these into two- to three-centimetre-long cylinders – the gnocchi are finished. The chef is obviously worried about my fingers and shows me how to use my knuckles as a boundary for the knife – again I learn something! The gnocchi can now either be immediately cooked or frozen for later use.

cutting gnocci
Cut the gnocchi, but watch your fingers

Caution: hot!

Next comes the main course! Meanwhile, I’m fully in my element and flying excitedly around the kitchen having the time of my life. Next, the chef shows Miri and me how to make parmesan baskets. He takes a small amount of hard cheese and places it in a circle in the middle of a small pan. The result is a tiny parmesan pancake. The chef takes this and puts it on an upside-down glass. What’s this for? Then the lightbulb goes on! Francesco shapes the cake with skillful movements around the form of the glass, creating a small vessel – the parmesan basket is ready. Now it’s my turn and caution is needed again, because it’s hot, hot, hot. Because of the scalding cheese, I fail the first attempt, but the second try yields a parmesan work of art that earns praise from Ferretti.

parmesan basket
This is how a finished Parmesan basket should look

The best beef in Italy

Of course, at a cooking class in Tuscany, only the highest quality ingredients are served. This includes the best beef in Italy – the Fassona Piemontese. As I learn from Francesco, the meat comes from the town of Piedmont in northwestern Italy and costs about 60 euros per kilogram. To prepare, we marinate the two red pieces with salt, pepper, and oil and slowly massage the ingredients into the meat. After that, I put the meat in the fridge for half an hour so that the marinade can be soaked up.

cooking steak skillet
The finest Italian beef in the pan

We don’t get bored in the meantime, because we still need the rocket for the tagliata di manzo. Francesco and I mix it together with the pine nuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper, and later on we toss in some delicious cherry tomatoes.

rucola ingredients
Now only the rocket and the cherry tomatoes are missing

Finally eating

Slowly, the cooking class draws to a close. Our stomachs are grumbling and we can hardly wait for the best part – eating the food. But before that happens, we watch over Francesco’s shoulder while he prepares the meat, because this is a thing a chef does in the Rosso Toscano cooking school. He tells us that under no circumstances should you pierce the meat, otherwise water will leak out and the steak will be tougher. It’s also important to let the meat to rest for a few minutes after frying so that the heat can be drawn in from the exterior. Learned something again!

Now, the gnocchi are cooked briefly in boiling water, scooped out, and tossed in the sage sauce. Finally, Chef Ferretti shows us how to arrange the dishes properly, because the eye always eats first.

gnocci skillet
The gnocchi are tossed briefly in the sauce

At last, we go into the dining room next to the kitchen and taste first the homemade gnocchi and then the excellent piece of beef from northwestern Italy – what a treat!

prepared steak plate
Dinner is served!

I can’t wait to cook the two dishes at home and maybe learn more from Francesco at some point. But until then, I can try out Miri’s original Italian pizza recipe. By the way, you can find the recipe from the cooking class in Tuscany here.

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If you would like to try the cooking class in Tuscany yourself, take a look at the Rosso Toscano website. The cooking school offers many different courses, including gluten-free and vegan dishes.

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