In a few hours time, Raffaella Cova convinced me that I could make an authentic and delicious Italian meal. Cooking, which usually feels stressful to me, became a genuine pleasure with Raffaella. Her expertise and easy laugh encouraged me. An extra incentive was knowing that we would sit down for lunch with a glass of wine at the end of the lesson.
When I arrived at her house a few kilometers from Montalcino in southern Tuscany, Raffaella had laid all of the fresh ingredients (mostly from her garden) on the counter in her kitchen. In this video, she explained how we would use them.
We started by soaking stale bread for the panzanella salad, a classic Tuscan salad for hot summer weather.
Next, we chopped the fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and basil…
Then, squeezed the extra water out of the bread and crumbled it into the bowl with the veggies.
Finally, we added salted capers from Sicily, Raffaella’s addition to the traditional recipe. And the panzanella was ready.
Next, Raffaella showed me how to make a ring of semolina (semola in Italian) flour to drop an egg into for beginning the process of making the fresh pasta on the old-fashioned chitarra (guitar).
We kneaded the dough to the right consistency, then, rolled it out.
The most fun part was rolling the dough onto the “guitar” to make the long spaghetti strands. When I ran my fingers across the steel strings, “playing” the “guitar”, the spaghetti fell through.
The result was astoundingly beautiful.
The next step was to make the sauce, beginning with chopping the zucchini and onions.
We sautéd the onions, garlic and zucchini with olive oil.
Then, we walked along a shady path through the woods to Raffaella’s garden to pick fresh zucchini flowers…
Which we added in…
…along with Raffaella’s secret ingredients: saffron, which had been soaking in water, pine nuts and raisins. They added a light touch of sweet and exotic flavors to an otherwise simple recipe.
The last step was to cook the fresh pasta we had made, add it to the pan, and toss all the ingredients together.
Our side dish began with fresh eggplant deep fried in oil.
Lightly laid out to drain…
Then, stacked in alternating layers with homemade tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, grated parmesan cheese on top, and finally, a basil leaf. Creating a dish that is beautiful as well as delicious is a big part of Italian cuisine. It was reassuring to find out that it wasn’t as hard as I had thought.
The last step was a light dessert made with a fresh raspberry purée…
Topped with local ricotta cheese, which we flavored with grated lemon zest and shaved bitter chocolate.
We set the table for our feast outside…
Using hand-painted linen mats made by Francesca Gualtieri in the nearby town of Montisi. Before moving to Tuscany, Raffaella and Francesca were friends in Milan. There, they both had previous careers: Raffaella as a tv producer, and Francesca, as an architect and graphic designer.
If you’re interested in cooking lessons either in Raffaella’s kitchen or in your holiday rental, write Eleanor or contact Raffaella directly and let her know that you read about her on Uncorked In Italy.
Raffaella is also available to make and deliver meals or to be your personal chef during your stay in Montalcino. She works with clients to decide on recipes and menus that suit their tastes and the season. I’m already looking forward to trying another class in the fall when porcini mushrooms will be in season.