Thursday, October 13, 2016

Dining at Casa Vissani

High on a hill overlooking Lago Corbara near Todi, the jewel that is Casa Vissani shimmers in the evening. Upon arrival you are greeted by the well trained and inviting staff.  Our group traveled from their hotel on the bus, and we were shown to a beautiful private dining room, which was stunning in its appearance.
The table was set for 22, and we all felt very grown up and special here.  Our dinner was the autumn tasting menu paired with wines.  Our first 3 courses were appetizers, chosen by the chef as gifts to us.
Bread sticks (grissini) one made with semolina, one with peanuts, and one with pistachio.  A wafer cracker, and lavash.

Butter from the Piedmont

Top marinated amberjack, left liquid Parmigiano Reggiano, right, eggplant parmigiana
Ravioli with blackberry and bitter almond with pesto Genovese

Chianina beef, chestnut honey, caviar, crispy peanut, white turnip and cassis taglionlini

Different breads served with every course
Lentil soup with trout  and black truffle
Ravioli stuffed with Amatriciana Sauce, with puree of Jeruselem artichoke and avocado
Main Course, Chianina beef filet, chicory, white turnip cream timbale, cheese sphere with chestnut honey

If you are paying attention you can see that the dishes are Hermes and the dishes were alternated around the table, red and blue
Dessert came in stages: white chocolate and mint mouse topped with melon, hazelnut ice cream and mango caviar

Pistachio and hazelnut puff pastry, chocolate gelato with olive oil pearls and warm pineapple juice

Bottom row:  right to left, green tea mousse, chocolate covered coconut mousse, white chocolate tomato "burger",Vin Santo mousse
Back row: right to left, cassata, blueberry with bitter almond, "English sauce", rhubarb and blackberry, zabaglione

Chocolates---because you can't end the meal without it here!
So, what's the food like?  It's amazing, explosions of flavor in your mouth, in forms you would not expect.  This is an experience like no other, and if you are in the area of Todi you have to visit and eat here.  There were at least 5 wait staff, that took care of us, from the water in our glasses, to the wine, and our napkins, changed after the meal and before dessert.  This is a place for a celebration and after a few days with my culinary tour group here, I know we all felt that this was a highlight.  I will be back with more on the tour as time permits, but tomorrow Roma and pizza making.  Ciao for now.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Pizza Making with Romano and Giovanna

After our cooking class with Simona and Simone, we headed to Agriturismo Mulino Vecchio del Cilone, an organic farm run by Romano and his beautiful wife Giovanna for a pizza class.   Upon arrival, Giovanna had baked an incredible chocolate torta, and we were served Vin Santo the local dessert wine to accompany it.  Fueled up, we took a walk around the property which has beautiful rooms, and views across the property.  

Giovanna and Romano both speak excellent English, and they are amazing hosts

Their farm is organic, and they were the first to institute solar power on their farm in the valley.
After our walk, we came inside to a beautiful room where we would make pizza dough.  

The Maestro ready to teach us his technique

Mulino means mill, and at one time the property did have a mill near the small river that runs through the property.  Giovanna grinds the wheat here in a little grinder, and we used half of her flour and half 0 flour.
Technique for forming the ball of dough

L to R:  George, Romano and Merlene (Dr. C. on this side of the table)

Dr. C. kneading the dough
 Since the dough would have to rise for a while, we used dough that had been made the night before and had risen in the refrigerator.  Romano showed us how to make our dough into bread and his technique was awesome.
He calls this the turtle
this is genius, a flower
The flower would have to rise for a while
Mine is the one in the back, I think it needs water!
Romano made 6 to 7 pizzas each with different toppings


Into the wood fired oven

Gorgonzola, mozzarella and hazelnut


Gorgonzola and hazelnut

And, just when I thought I would burst, Nutella pizza!  Bake the shell, then spread the nutella on the hot shell

Life doesn't get much better than this!
After food, wine and conversation, including sharing the photos of how the agriturismo was built, we said good night, and will forever remember this place and our lovely hosts.  Grazie Romano and Giovanna!  Ciao for now.

Pizza al Romano
Makes one 12-inch pizza

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons dry active yeast
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

  1. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients, and mix with your hands until the dough comes together. Knead the dough on a board until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 7 minutes.  Allow the dough to rest in a covered bowl overnight in the refrigerator, or one hour at room temperature.  If you have allowed the dough to rise in the refrigerator, bring it to room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, before forming into a pizza.  
  2. flatten the pizza with the palm of your hand, and continue to spread the dough out until it is thin. Dip the bottom of the pizza in a light dusting of flour, and put on a pizza peel.  Top with your favorite toppings, and put into a 450 degree pizza oven, or oven.  Bake for 5 to 6 minutes, until the bottom of the pizza is cooked. Remove, let rest for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges.  
  3. Buon appetito!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Cooking with Simona Part III

Yesterday after our foray into Adriana's garden, we came back to Il Granaio, our villa and had a cooking lesson with Simona ably assisted by her husband Simone.  I don't know about you, but when someone gives me cookies at 10:30 a.m. they are my friend for life.  These were awesome, too.

George shelling beans

Merlene and Dr. C. shelling beans
Our menu for the day began with fresh shelling beans, made in the style of Tuscany.

The beans are cooked in water for 20 to 25 minutes, until tender, the water is saved, and the bread is dipped into the water to soften it.  Then the beans are dressed with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil, and spooned over the bread, dressed with a bit more olive oil.  

This is a delicious first course, simple and delicious served with a crisp white wine, or a nice red.
Next up acqua cotta; the appetizer we had on our first night that we raved about.  Swiss chard from Adriana.

Chard and its stems (since they were so tender) were torn

Onions, garlic and celery are sauteed in extra virgin olive oil and then the chard is added.  

These two work so well together, it's fun to watch, Simone has opened a bottle of Simona's father's wine which was delicious

The bread is toasted, then a bit of vegetable broth is spooned on the top.  It is topped with the sauteed Swiss chard, and then some Pecorino.  In this case the cheese was from the Alto Adige region in the north and it was delicious.  
Our final dish was gnudi; it means uncovered.  The mixture is one that can be used for ravioli, but instead it is rolled into balls and then boiled for 3 to 4 minutes.  Ours was served with an elephant garlic tomato sauce. 

Once the mixture is ready, it is rolled into balls and then flour to coat
This is definitely playing with your food

I will give the recipe below

Our gnudi!
The Italians call this agnoli, the closest in the states is Elephant garlic

The garlic is minced, then sauteed in extra virgin olive oil

Once the garlic is sauteed, add about 2 cups of crushed tomatoes (these are her summer tomatoes from the garden)

A beautiful sauce that just needed a few minutes on the stove while the gnudi were cooking

Simona said an average serving is 7---I could barely finish 3, but they were worth it!

L to R:  Simona, me, Dr. C. Merlene, and George

What a morning, food, fun and great conversation learning about the life here in Castiglion Fiorentino and sharing it with this beautiful couple.  I know we will see them again when they come to San Diego in January. Anyone wanting to do a cooking class in San Diego with Simona let me know and we will see what we can persuade her to do!  If you are in Tuscany and want a cooking class she is a gifted chef, and you will enjoy every minute with her.  Now for the gnudi (when I posted the photo on instagram everyone wanted the recipe, and I'm happy to share)

Gnudi alla Simona

2 cups cooked chopped spinach, squeezed dry
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
about 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of flour  plus more for rolling
salt and pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (to taste)

In a large bowl, combine the ingredients, until they begin to come together.  Add more flour if the mixture seems wet---it should stick together so that when you roll it into a ball it shapes well. 
Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a rolling boil, and add the gnudi.  Simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, until the gnudi float on the top.  Remove immediately and dress with sauce.  
Traditional sauces are butter and sage, or Simona's garlic tomato sauce.  (see below)

Simona's Elephant Garlic Tomato Sauce

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cloves elephant garlic, minced
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
salt and pepper

In a saute pan, heat the oil and saute the garlic for 3 to 4 minutes over low heat.  Add the tomatoes, turn up the heat to high, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 5 minutes.  
Dress the gnudi with the sauce.   

Buon Appetito, and ciao for now.  Next up pizza making with Romano and Giovanna.