I squeezed in a tenth cooking class during the morning of our last full day in Florence. It felt appropriate to go back to Giglio Cooking to learn a little more from Marcella before heading home. The focus of today’s class was vegetables and we started out with one of my new favorites – fiore di zucchini friti (fried zucchini flowers)! These turned out so wonderfully. They were crispy and decadent but still light and fresh. I never had stuffed zucchini flowers here in Italy, but I think a just a touch of a ricotta, goat cheese and herb filling would be absolutely incredible. Next we made a couple of dips. Marcella commented that dips are not at all an Italian thing to eat. But with the increasing popularity of aperitivo buffets at bars where they provide such a huge spread of food, dips are slowly starting to catch on in Italy. So she came up with two recipes highlighting vegetables. First, we made salsa di avocado which was like an Italian guacamole. The ingredients were just avocado, garlic, ricotta and yogurt seasoned with salt, pepper, and tobasco. It was so creamy and delicious, but full of nutrition as well! Next we made crema di melanzana which was an eggplant dip, like an Italian baba ganoush. This one was even simpler than the avocado dip. The ingredients were just eggplant (which we roasted, removed the skin and pureed), garlic, olive oil and a touch of mint. Mint never sounds great to me in savory recipes, but when I finally try them they are always delicious. And this recipe was no exception.Next we made two pasta dishes. The first was farfalle con pesto e ricotta. Marcella called this a pasta per bambinas, or pasta for babies. This can be made with any shape pasta and the sauce is simply ricotta cheese that is slightly thinned with some pasta water and combined with any vegetable of choice. For this class, we decided we wanted to try it with pesto, so we picked basil out of Marcella’s garden and made pesto. Her tip for great pesto using a blender was to start by making a paste with the garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and parmegiano reggiano cheese. The key is to not pick the basil until the paste is made because the basil starts oxidizing the moment it is picked. So you will get a brighter green color if you wait to pick the basil until the moment you need it. We then simply added the basil, a little more olive oil to the consistency we wanted and blended it just enough to combine the ingredients. It was beautiful! And combining the pesto with the ricotta mixture made the flavor a bit milder and creamier. It was really delicious.
The next pasta dish we made seems extremely simple, but is actually very difficult to execute correctly. The dish was spaghetti aglio e olio, or spaghetti with garlic and olive oil. The trick is to not overcook the garlic or the pasta. Timing is everything with this dish. You start by boiling the spaghetti and when almost done, you heat chopped garlic and chili flakes in a generous amount of a high quality extra virgin olive oil. Drain the pasta and once the garlic is floating in the oil (but not browned), toss in a large bowl with the pasta. Top with chopped parsley and grated pecorino romano cheese. This dish is so simple, yet so incredible!
The last dish we made was a real show-stopper. It was a tortino di carciofi, or artichoke tortino. There’s no real english translation for tortino. It is somewhere between a souffle and a flan. We cleaned, cooked and pureed several artichokes and a few porcini mushrooms with garlic and parsley. This is then mixed with parmigiano reggiano cheese and egg yolks. Whipped egg whites are then folded in and the tortinos are baked in ramekins sitting in a water bath. We served these over a mornay sauce made with butter, flour, milk and shredded cheese (we used a combination of fresh pecorino and parmigiano-reggiano). It was then garnished with a parmegiano-reggiano chip. This dish was rich, decadent and delicious!
Although I wasn’t terribly hungry for dinner after my multi-course lunch, Joe had the great idea to eat at the pizzeria La Delizie for our last meal in Florence and order the exact dishes we ordered for our first meal (see Florence: Day 1). We paired the porcini mushroom soup and tomato and sausage pizza with a small bottle of Chianti and again, the food was delicious. It was the perfect ending to our trip! Our time spent in Italy was so incredible, it is hard to put into words. Unfortunately Emily won’t remember the experience, but Joe and I will never forget it. And I’m so thankful for the technology available to us today so that we have so many ways to capture the experience and share with Emily again when she is older. Viva Italia!