Top Chef Florence

by Johnny

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting Johnny’s homemade pizza or Brian’s homemade meatballs, you’re probably thinking to yourselves, “Why in the world would you guys take a cooking class? You should be teaching one.” We know. But we figured it couldn’t hurt to pick up a few pointers from some real Italian chefs. Plus, we were promised free wine and cool aprons.

We met our instructors and the rest of our group (which consisted of some Canadians, a couple newlyweds from England and the Netherlands and a group of about eight Australian women) at 10:00am and headed to Florence’s Mercato Centrale to pick out our ingredients. One thing I love about Europe is going to a different shop and/or market for each specific ingredient. You get your eggs from the egg guy, your bread from the bread guy, your veggies from the veggie guy…and on and on. Today was no different. As a bonus, we got to taste about five different balsamic vinegars. That will wake up your palate.

I think we can find some stuff to cook with here
Balsamic tasting Brian was entrusted with carrying the eggs…a serious job
Ready for action

Armed with our ingredients, we headed over to our workshop. On today’s menu was bruschetta, homemade pappardelle with meat sauce and tiramisu. Because it needs a couple hours to chill in the fridge, we started with the tiramisu. It’s actually way easier to make than any of us thought. The hardest part is the very beginning, where we had to separate the egg yolks and egg whites. After that we added some sugar to the yolks, whisked, added some mascarpone cheese and then whisked some more until smooth. Then we whisked the egg whites until they were fluffy and folded them back into the mixture with the yolks. Then we just layered this mixture with some cocoa powder and ladyfingers soaked in coffee. Piece of cake, errr tiramisu.

Whenever Anna and I make bruschetta at home, we chop up some tomatoes, mince some garlic and toss it all on some toasted bread.  Pretty standard.  We did it a little bit differently in our class, and it was actually easier than at home.  Once the bread was nice and grilled, we rubbed raw garlic on both sides.  The garlic disintegrates on the bread almost like butter would.  And instead of chopping the tomatoes, we just sliced them and placed them on top of the bread.  We topped it off with some salt, dried oregano, olive oil and creamy balsamic.  Simple and delicious.

Marisa and Johnny whisking away while Aussie women look on Brian and Anna chopping bread
Bruschetta looking good! Dusting our tiramisu

Next up…meat sauce!  We chopped a red onion, sliced some garlic and added it all to a hot pan with olive oil and some chili flakes.  After a couple minutes, we added the ground beef and ground pork sausages we got at the market.  When the meat browned, we added some red wine and let it simmer for a few minutes.  Next, we added some sea salt, tomatoes and basil and let it cook on the stove for about 45 minutes.  It was hard to concentrate on anything else with the smell wafting in from the kitchen.

Meat sauce ingredients
Cooking away Brian working his meat

I have a newfound respect for those little ladies you see in the back of shops and restaurants in Italy making homemade pasta.  The ingredients are simple (eggs and flour) but the work is backbreaking.  Even super buff dudes like Brian and me got a little winded during the pasta making process.  First, we very slowly combined the eggs and flour, whisking the entire time to thicken up the dough.  It’s a forearm exercise if there ever was one.  After maybe 30 or 40 minutes, we finally had a ball of dough ready for kneading.  Kneading is the process of strengthening the dough by further mixing the ingredients (so says Wikipedia), and it’s tough work as well.  After only about five minute of it, I seriously “kneaded” a nap.  Haha…get it?  It’s a play on words.  OK, back to the food.  Once we finally had our dough ready, we flattened it out with our rollers, folded it and sliced it to make our pappardelle.

Johnny breaking some eggs in our flour crater
Brian and our newlywed Danish friend mixing the dough
Our chefs Andrea and Giovanni show us how to knead
Marisa gives it a shot Johnny loses his wedding ring in the dough
Time to roll out our pasta
Marisa and Brian show everyone how it’s done

We had such a blast at our cooking class.  The chefs were awesome and our group was hilarious.  We’ll definitely be taking these recipes back home with us.  Of course the best part of the class…enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Pasta time
Some well-deserved wine after a hard day’s work
Marisa and Brian enjoying their pasta Tiramisu time

What an incredible three days in Florence with Marisa and Brian. All the city’s beautiful sights, our cooking class, our scooter ride in Chianti…it was all amazing. However Anna and I both agree that our favorite moments from our time in Florence were when we were just sitting in our apartment or at dinner having some wine and talking with our great friends.

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One Comment to “Top Chef Florence”

  1. Johnny….you are too funny! Great recap on the class though! Wish we could do it all over again. Can’t wait for you guys to get home so we can test out our skills and authentic italian recipes together. xoxo

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