”This is my advice to people: Learn how to cook, try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun”
I enjoy cooking. Amanda, not so much. While planning our trip to Italy, I knew the activity that was at the top of my list: Cooking.
I began to research cooking classes in the Tuscany area to attend. My research lead me to believe that most of the cooking classes were very basic. The schools catered to tourists who wanted to cook while in Italy, but not COOK. My observation was the only reason of taking the class was to get a few pictures with their iPhone then post it to Facebook so their friends can see their “cooking” class. Did they actually learn anything or develop a skill that can be used when they go home? I wanted to learn how to cook Italian food and expand on my cooking skills! Amanda was along for the ride and the pictures….
Chef Ryan promptly responded to my email with his menu, but something was different about his response from all the others I contacted. He said that if I wanted to make any changes or add something to the menu to just let him know and he would do his best to accommodate. I’m sure he didn’t expect my email back with multiple questions, requests for additions and changes. He was extremely helpful and willing to accommodate. We exchanged multiple emails as to what would go well together on the menu and what was in season.
When we arrived at Chef Ryan’s home in Cortona, we were able to meet his wife (Debora) and 2 girls. We entered his rustic Tuscan home and discussed the days menu. I was pretty excited at this point because we were about to begin working on the custom menu Chef Ryan helped us create!
To begin, we went outside of his home to pick our zucchini flowers and fresh herbs. Chef Ryan explained the differences in flowers, what to look for when picking and also an in-depth discussion about fresh herbs used in recipes.
As we prepared our courses, we sipped on some local red wine and immersed ourselves in the Tuscan kitchen. Chef Ryan and Debora told us stories throughout the day of how they met, their kids, history of Italian cookings, family recipes, history of the area, tourist traps, local activities and attractions to visit while in Tuscany. They really made us feel like guests in their home rather than tourists.
To begin, Amanda started working on the beer batter for the zucchini flowers and sage leaf which we would later fry up as our antipasto.
Once those were finished, we both learned how to make fresh ricotta cheese. It was a very simple yet delicate process to create the cheese. I’m looking forward to making this at home now that I know the technique.
Up next was the custard filling for our dessert which also included raisins that we rehydrated with Vin Santo wine. Did I mention we were making a Torta Della Nonna for dessert!?!
While Amanda was doing that, I was dicing our roasted potatoes and seasoning them with what Chef Ryan calls “Magic Salt”. It is a great seasoning that is very versatile in it’s uses. We are looking forward to making a batch to use at our home. We already know it tastes great on vegetables and can’t wait to have it on some meats! I know it will be a staple in our kitchen from now on.
Want to know what is in “Magic Salt”?
We have been sworn to secrecy.
As a bonus, Chef Ryan will share all the recipes when you take his class…
As we finished up our potatoes and custard cream, we quickly began to learn all about pasta. How can you not include a lesson on pasta while in Italy? We learned the details how to make it from scratch and how the different cuts or thickness determines the name/style.
Once the pasta dough was complete, it needed some time to rest. So we moved on to the next steps in our Italian feast! Amanda decided to have a wine break, I mean picture break, as our time in the kitchen was moving along quickly!
While that was being done, I was busy adding the top layer to our Torta Della Nonna. As I was finishing the top layer construction, Chef Ryan mentioned that I could use some of the extra pastry dough to add a small design to the top. He said go ahead and add something small like an initial. Amanda quickly yelled out “How about Italy 2015”?! We all laughed and then realized she was serious. I added the “small” design to our Torta Della Nonna. “Italy 15” became our mantra for not only the rest of the day in the kitchen, but the rest of our trip.
As we moved on to the next steps, Amanda began chopping up our freshly picked herbs and spices for the stuffing that would be added to our “secondo” course. Our “secondo” course was going to be Roasted Porchetta Rabbit.
We learned all the steps to create this dish from start to finish including how to tie it off!
Next task was learning and preparing gnocchi from scratch.
Our pasta dough had time to rest so it was time to get rolling! Rolling out the dough is an extensive process!
We had fun comparing the dough being rolled out by each other and Deborah helped out by making sure the competition was fierce between us! Debora also discussed our rolling technique, tips and explained how her family taught her growing up. We learned how the thickness determines when the pasta is done and how the name of the pasta comes from the thickness of the cut.
Once the pasta was rolled, we began creating our ravioli which would be stuffed “green filling”. The “green filling” included our freshly made ricotta cheese from earlier!
The process of making ravioli was delicate and precise. We had to make sure to seal them correctly so they did not explode when we boiled them!
Now that the prep was done, it was time to cook it all! First up was frying the zucchini flowers.
Next up was boiling the ravioli and gnocchi we had just learned how to prepare!
We were starving at this point and very excited to eat what we had spent the better half of the afternoon preparing! Chef Ryan gave us the opportunity to choose where we enjoyed the feast. We chose inside vs. outside because it was very hot that day and I didn’t want to sweat all over my food. We wanted to enjoy the fruits of our labor! Debora had done a fabulous job of decorating the dining area in their beautiful home.
And now, the big reveal of our completed custom menu!!
Our Tuscan feast…
Aperitivo: Local wine from the area.
Antipasto: Beer battered zucchini flowers and sage leaf
Primo: Pistachio Pesto Gnocchi
Secondo: Roasted Porchetta Rabbit
Contorno: Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli with brown butter sage sauce
Dolce: Totra Della Nonna
We sat around the table with Chef Ryan and Debora learning more about food and life in Italy. We also had great after dinner drinks: Homemade Limoncello, Grappa and coffee. I really needed the grappa because I ate so much food I thought I was going to explode! I felt like I needed rolled out of Chef Ryan’s home and back to my car to take a nap!
My favorite dish of the day was the Pistachio Pesto Gnocchi. After telling Chef Ryan I wanted to brush my teeth with it, I declared it the best gnocchi I had ever eaten and it will ruin me for life! I don’t know if I will ever taste gnocchi that good again! I hope I can recreate it at home. It brings a tear to my eye right now as I type this… but at least I will always have the memory!
Chef Ryan not only taught us the recipes on the menu. He also discuss other recipes, uses for food scraps (which creates as little waste as possible), gardening, history behind the meals, tricks and tips in the kitchen and his personal preferences on how to create meals at home.
Chef Ryan is a great teacher who will work with you on all skill levels to design a course/menu to your liking. He is very accommodating and obviously loves what he does everyday. His family and home are beautiful and should be experienced by everyone while visiting Tuscany! This was certainly one of the highlights during our 2 week trip in the country.
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