Food Adventures

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Another couple of firsts: an Italian guy stopped me on the street to ask me for directions to the library. Yes, he wanted ME to tell HIM how to get there. I didn't even have to stop and think where the library is.

Another first, less positive that the first one: the day before Michael left, we went to an osteria close to the apartment to have lunch. It was empty, but the menu looked decent, so we decided to give it a try. We ordered two glasses of red wine and thought we were dreaming when the waitress approached our table with a bottle of wine that looked like it had been kept in the fridge. Indeed, the wine was cold! This is the very first time I had been served cold red wine in Italy and I hope never to repeat the experience. Needless to say, the wine was also bad, so I am not sure the temperature made much of a difference, but still.

More about cooking school: I think I mentioned earlier that the kitchens at the school don't have AC. Well, that's what we all thought because we could not feel any remotely cool air. It turns out, we were wrong and we only discovered this today, when the AC was actually broke. We spent the morning making hot soups in a kitchen that felt like it had been constructed on the surface of the Sun. The fact that there were 12 or so burners on for a couple of hours didn't help much. Andrea, our instructor, would tell us what to do and then go sit outside (in the sun!). I didn't think I was going to be able to taste the cannellini beans and shrimp soup, especially since we had to blend the beans and the shrimp (!!!), which gave the soup the consistency of a jar of baby food. I am no lover of cooking with shrimp stock and there was certainly a great deal of that in this soup in addition to the blended soup. Think soup on a hot day! The other soup, zuppa di farro (spelt), was also thick and hearty, but at least it had a tomato base, so it was slightly less heavy (at least in my opinion). When tasting time came, I was able to taste the bean and shrimp soup Greta and I made, but could not bring myself to taste the other three. The farro soup was much easier to handle even on a hot day and I enjoyed several spoonfuls.

When I went to the bar between classes to have an espresso, I was wondering why people were complaining that it was too hot (today was the hottest day in Florence since I arrived). To me, being outside, in the sun, felt cool compared to the sweltering kitchen.

In the afternoon, the AC was back on, but we could barely feel it as we proceeded to make polenta (the kind that takes a good 30 or so minutes of constant stirring on the stove) and then fry it. Just to make things heavier on this hot day, we also fried up some cheese. It tasted marvelous, which cause me to taste it repeatedly in between bites of fried polenta and polenta with cheese. What a cheesy afternoon!

If you thought that would be enough frying for one day, you'd be surprised to hear that in baking class, we friend up some doughnuts and also some fritters. Now, as I might have mentioned, I love my bomboloni con crema (doughnuts with cream would be the translation, but that really doesn't do justice to these soft, freshly-fried pillows of perfectly raised dough filled with the most delicious pastry cream). Well, today was my lucky day because I learned how to make them! We also made some fritters traditionally served at carnival time, but that part of the lesson was much less interesting. Making the bomboloni, on the other hand, was a whole lot of fun—from making and kneading the dough by hand to the sweet smell of yeast that filled the room once we punched the dough down. It seemed unfair to wait for them to rise for 15 minutes, but the wait was worth it. I had the honor of piping the cream into the hot, fluffy doughnuts, and could barely take a picture of the finished product before arms extended all the way across the table and the bomboloni disappeared from the plate. This was the only thing we had made this far in any class that disappeared and in less than 30 seconds. The kitchen turned quiet and all you could hear were moans as my classmates and I smiles blissfully while enjoying our creations. The fritters felt neglected, I am sure.

Tomorrow morning, I continue the search for the second best bombolone in Florence since nothing can top the once we made today. On the agenda: a visit to the Dolci di Patrizio Cosi' pasty shop in the Santa Croce neighborhood with two trusted co-researchers. Stay tuned for the research results.

Other pictures of some of the more interesting dishes we have made so far:
Pasta with squid ink

Brutti ma buoni

Almond cake

Turkey roll

Eggplant and pecorino with honey

Ravioli with beat and ricotta filling




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