On this blustery, cold, miserable day in Glasgow, it feels like a good time to definitely not go outside, and instead make myself a cup of tea and bake a cake. Fishing through the cupboards to find the necessary ingredients, bowls, pots and pans, I was reminded of a similar-ish day this summer- my final day in Florence, on July 31 -although the sun was out then and I wasn’t wrapped up in five layers of jumper.
I closed the chapter on my two year adventure, living in Florence, in an appropriate fashion -surrounded by food, in the Tuscan countryside home belonging to food writer, blogger extraordinaire, (and lovely friend) Giulia Scarpaleggia, aka Juls’ Kitchen.
After a quick and necessary caffeine stop, draining my tiny espresso cup in no time, I dashed through the streets to the station, so as not to miss the bus. After a slightly fraught wait in a sorry excuse for a queue to buy my ticket, I hopped on, joined by two wonderful bloggers and friends, Nardia and Georgette, both of whom I hope to see again in the not too distant future over coffee, prosecco, wine, or all of the aforementioned things. Conversation got off to a good start, when the recent topic of a woman marrying an actual stone bridge was discussed in some detail. (Yes, it’s true…she actually married a bridge. I couldn’t believe it either).
Arriving in the picturesque town of Colle Val d’Elsa, we were greeted by what appeared to be all of the inhabitants, out and about, meandering around on market day, as well as the final few to make up our group for the day: bloggers Sasha , Jamila and writer and photographer Emiko. Last, but definitely not least, Tommaso! A friend I met through work in Florence, who, coincidentally is also Giulia’s boyfriend -what a small world!
Photo credit: Juls’ Kitchen
Treated to a morning cappuccino and cornetto in the bar (a brioche to non Italians), Giulia had us all raring to go, as we followed her around the luscious food stalls, in search of our fresh ingredients for the day’s cooking class. Given that it was about 150 degrees in the shade, I was relieved to hear that we would be whipping up some lighter dishes, including caprese salad and the scrumptious Tuscan dish, panzanella, along with other delights.
Noa, my favourite dog to date, bounded out to greet us as we arrived at the stunning farm house. It could be a scene straight out of my ideal magazine, Country Living -she really is living the Country Living dream and I am in love with the rows of beautiful jars, filled with flours, spices, pastas and more, lining the walls of the kitchen. But enough daydreaming!
Huddling round the kitchen table, the goodies were unpacked and tasks were divided among us -chopping, chatting, frying, taking photos, whisking, more chatting, accidentally eating a bit of focaccia…Giulia explained all the dishes; cecina, for example, a sort of thin, chickpea pancake, originating from the Tuscan coast, with, however, unsurprisingly, every city disagreeing on the exact ‘original’ version of the savoury snack, claiming that they invented it. I’m just glad someone invented it, because it was delish.
Photo credit: Juls’ Kitchen
Giulia’s magic touch (and obviously our mixing and chopping) ensured that all went smoothly and we could sit down to a beautifully set table, to equally beautiful food, wine and conversation. A cheese board, caprese salad, cecina, grilled aubergines, panzanella, homemade breads and focaccia and onion jam, prosciutto and juicy slices of melon from the market.
The food coma, washed down with lots of wine, was beginning to set in…but, there’s always space for dessert. Taking up residence in the garden, dreamily gazing out towards the Tuscan hills, we sampled the zuppa inglese, a sort of trifle, which had been whipped up during the class earlier. The perfumed flavour and striking scarlet colouring came from the Alchermes liqueur. Yum yum. The day was finished off with coffee and a taster -or should I say tasters -of scrumptious homemade limoncello!
Life lessons learnt: I can now master a few more things in the kitchen, thanks to Giulia, and the memories of Italian living and eating all that food have made me rather nostalgic and peckish, so I’m off to the fridge to find some mozzarella.
If you’re heading to Tuscany, I would definitely recommend taking part in a cooking class with Giulia: Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan or eat everything under the sun, she’ll have a class for you and I can guarantee you’ll have the most fun, with the most lovely person.