by Melinda Gallo

Simone's simulation cooking class

I have told Simone for many years that he needs to do lezioni di cucina (cooking classes). First, because he's an exceptional chef and second, because I wanted to learn more about Tuscan cooking and find out his secrets. We decided last week when he came to my place for lunch that we were going to organize a lezione di cucina at his apartment with a few people. I invited two of my girlfriends (Sarah and Haruko) and he invited a girl visiting from Belgium, Margherita.

Living in Florence :: Simone's simulation cooking class

We met at his apartment at 10AM this morning. He prepared the table with all the ingredients he was going to use and I brought the blocchetti (notebooks) and penne (pens) for us to take appunti (notes).

We sat in front of Simone while he explained the dishes that he chose to show us. Normally, if he were to do a real lezione, he would've let us choose, but since it was a simulation, he decided to select a few tried and true Italian dishes that most people are interested in making.

He explained many things to us, like which type of pomodori to use for the bruschetta and how to choose the verdure to put in the soffritto depending on the dish.

Our menu was as follows: bruschetta, risotto agli asparagi (asparagus risotto), pollo con olive nere (chicken with black olives), zucchine con la menta (zucchini with mint), and tiramisù.

Sarah and Haruko started to make the tiramisù, while Margherita and I prepared the soffitto and the verdure (vegetables) for the brodo vegetale (vegetable broth), which consisted of cipolle (onions), carotte (carrots), and sedano (celery).

Simone helped us each with what we were doing by showing us how to finely cut the cipolle with a knife and not with the mezza luna (knife in the shape of a half moon). He explained that we should always take out the anima or germoglio (bud/shoot inside the garlic) because it is the part that is less digeribile (digestible).

Simone started by showing us how to make the pollo as well as the zucchine con la menta, which he told us was a typical Tuscan dish even though mint isn't used much at all in Tuscany, and then let each of take turns finishing the dishes.

We learned a lot of tricks that I never understood, like why you always shake off the excess flour from the chicken after dipping each piece in flour and before putting it in the tegame (pan) and that the eggs for the tiramisù should be at temperatura ambiente (room temperature) before beating them.

By 1PM, we were at the table eating our bruschetta and sipping on a rosso dal Montalcino (red wine from Montalcino). I'm not a fan normally of asparagi, but I must admit that the risotto was so good that I'd make it myself. The pollo and the zucchine were delicious, but I had to stop myself from getting seconds so that I could enjoy the tiramisù, which Simone makes with 1/2 mascarpone and 1/2 panna (cream).

I took a lot of appunti and learned a lot about Tuscan cooking. I'm so excited with what I learned that I can't wait to go to the mercato this week and buy a few things so that I can try to make all the same dishes at home. I haven't made a risotto in a long time, but now I feel confident that I'll be able to do it without it becoming too sticky. He taught us that to have a creamy risotto, you have to mantecare, which means add the parmiggiano (Parmesan cheese) and burro (butter) at the end.

We all enjoyed the lezione and the pranzo together. The atmosphere was relaxing and enjoyable at his place. My only question to Simone was, "È domani, cosa si fa?" (And tomorrow, what are we making?)

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