Are you interested in learning some authentic Italian recipes from a bona fide cooking school in Lucca, Italy? If so, read on. Davino, my host from La Mimosa, had arranged for me to attend a cooking class at the International Academy of Italian Cuisine in Lucca, just on the other side of the hill from my house. I wasn’t sure what to expect but was grateful for the opportunity to join an ongoing class. This particular course trained students for a career as a professional chef. 10 were Japanese, two were Chinese and one was Italian. Mama Mia!
The instructor was Mariela. She patiently went through the menu with us all, a translator changing Italian to Japanese and then to English for me. The clock started ticking. We started at 10 am and lunch was to be on the table by 1:30 pm. Then the switch went on. I felt like I was on Iron Chef. It was chaos – for a while. Pots began clamoring, students, almost in a panic, grabbed ingredients and bumped into each other, all in an attempt to put their ingredients in place for their designated recipes. The first minutes seemed uncertain, a searching for confidence, then this sense of order settled in. Dishes started to enfold.
I was told to go here, and then there, do this, then that. I felt a little out-of-place hovering, assisting, chopping, straining, the only sounds being Japanese words. Some students tolerated me and some were curious. Why was I here, interrupting this “professional” class? It certainly was not what I expected but I must say I learned a thing or two.
Like how to make the Torta Verdura I had been curious about after eating it at the Festa. Made with swiss chard, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, candied citrus, raisins soaked in liquor, pinenuts and a little sugar.
So it is a little savory, a little sweet and served as a dessert. The crust is like a pâté sucre, a sugary crust, and heavy with egg yolks. These happen to be brilliant orange – must be what the chickens eat.
I learned a new technique for decorating the crust to create little “beaks” by slicing the dough on an angle, then with a knife, folding it over the dough to its right.
The spinach, for the lasagna, was pressed through a tami, or strainer, for extra fineness – another good tip.
I helped make a timbale of cardoons, which when cooked, have a similar flavor to artichokes. We squeezed lemon juice on our hands to prevent the cardoons from turning them black due to the iron in the vegetable. Cardoons look like tall, fat celery.
Lunch was served on a lovely patio outdoors and I sat with the owner, Gianluca who has taught here for 10 years.
Gianluca’s students have eight weeks of training and then are placed in restaurants all over Italy for a 10-month internship. The students are not paid but receive room and board in exchange for this opportunity to learn from master chefs. His success rate is high and the students seem to thrive on this experience.
The next time I visit Lucca I will participate in the evening classes which are designed for people who enjoy learning from local chefs and just want to have fun! Contact Gianluca for more information at:
The International Academy of Italian Cuisine In Lucca
I’m working on perfecting the Torta Verdura recipe so I can share it with you. Look for it in an upcoming post!
Abbandonatil all’amore e alla cucina. Love and cook with wild abandon! And that I did!
Ciao and amore for now,