So a few nights ago, I signed up for a cooking class and market tour for this morning. I had mindlessly forgotten that 8 am on a Monday, regardless of the city, usually means commuter traffic. Luckily, the cab driver covered my ass, twisting through the fringes of Florence with a seasoned finesse, humming along with David Bowie's Life on Mars? The city's center shifts from car and bus congestion to pedestrians and bikers heading to work, like a spew of land mines the cabs most navigate with an unspoken trepidation, fuses just seconds from igniting at all times. "Sometimes I wish I had a tank," he exclaimed, "you know, for moments like these," he grinned. I smiled. "Don't get me wrong though, I would never leave this place." I nodded, another smile. He continued, "I mean... I live in this big, big museum with an open sky!" Damn, isn't that the truth. He pointed out the passenger window, "Just down there signorina, right past the stand, you see?"
Chef Daniel is a short man with soulful eyes and two big dimples that deepen when you get him to laugh. This is Daniel and me towards the end of the day, featuring my raviolis... look closely...
We began with a brisk walk to the market. As we approached, the streets were sparse, the early morning hour deters plenty of tourists from emerging after a late night socializing with house wine and carbohydrates. The street folds into the market through a short flight of broad wooden steps. Each owner perched over their display counters of cow intestines, cheese varieties, olives, capers, preservatives, you name it; the old entrepreneurs would throw subtle nods to the regulars as they glided by. Pictures of this to come, but moving on for now.
Our menu for the day: tiramisu, pappardelle pasta with meat sauce, potato ravioli with brown butter sage sauce and a little white truffle oil, fresh baked bread (all Daniel's doing before we arrived) with samplings: caper spread, variety of balsamic vinaigrettes, pecorino cheese, truffle oils, etc.
Oh, and about that meat sauce... well I had meat (other than seafood) for the first time in 9 months today. Stomach was most definitely confused... still is as I write this hours later.
In most of Europe, particularly in Italy, every egg is labeled like so (left). This includes where the chicken lays the egg (ground, coop etc.) the country, region, farmer, and sometimes even the exact chicken. In Italy, most of the food products have a similar coding system. Daniel explained that people have immense pride in their products, and their family's reputation is determined by the quality and assurance of what they produce.
Pasta dough: 3 oz bread flour and 1 egg. That's LITERALLY it (per person) he suggests adding a pinch of salt if you're working with large quantities all at once, as the salt increases elasticity of the gluten and makes it easier to work with. Salt isn't added for flavor here in that case.
Let the dough sit, air tight in shrink wrap, for an hour - give or take. Daniel suggests rolling the dough into a square instead of a circle, though in the end, "It doesn't really matter, you eat it all anyways." Mine was a bit smaller than the rest, he said that was a good thing, it meant I didn't add too much flour, keeping it moist and flavorful, "You know," he offered, "Little bottles are the most expensive, full of flavor... same thing with poisons!" he chuckles and pats my back.
Above: Potato ravioli with brown butter sage sauce. He boiled them for maybe 45 seconds to a minute tops, the second they surfaced he tossed them into an already hot pan that had the butter and sage, where he let them simmer for another minute. He then doused them in parmigiano, and let it simmer for a bit more until the cheese had melted consistently into the butter, making a creamy sauce. Topped with cracked black pepper.
Left: He claims a good meat sauce should only have a little tomato paste, it's a meat sauce not a tomato sauce. He diced an onion, a stalk of celery, 1 carrot, and half of a peeled garlic clove - with the center root extracted, explaining how this is "really ugly for the stomach, really ugly to digest, not good."
About 2/3 to 3/4 cup of olive oil in a pan, let the oil get really hot (test with a carrot piece or something, if it doesn't immediately sizzle it's not hot enough - this important so that the vegetables caramelize - especially the onion - otherwise they'll boil). After the vegetables were browned up he put in the ground beef, let it brown up and then poured in a splash or so of the stock (vegetable) every 30 minutes following he would add a bit more stock.
Tiramisu is a no brainer: cocoa powder, custard, coffee soaked sweet crispy cookies (usa = ladyfingers). However its simplicity demands ruthlessness with the eggs. In terms of the consistency of the egg whites, if you scoop a bit on your whisk and hold it up right, and the peak falls (right) it's not good enough. he suggests you turn the bowl upside down and if it holds, it's perfect.
Some other things:
Balsamic Vinaigerette takes upwards of 30 years to be good... the barrels are still given as dowry gifts in Italy lol
ALSO pesto means to pound.... so pesto isn't just basil and pine nuts and shit, it can literally be anything pounded together. In some parts of Italy, if you ask for a pesto, they'll give you a hazelnut pesto, or perhaps a tomato pesto in Genoa... intriguing hmm?
okay, I'm done!