Last month, Keri and I took a road trip down to Surrey for a very special Tuscan food masterclass organised by Bookings For You and their friends the Giovannini family, who are based the beautiful walled Tuscan town of Voltera,found just southwest of Florence. The family are famed in the area for the delicious pastries available from their shop; they also run an extremely successful catering company and own Country Relais and SPA Le Capanne, a luxury 9 bedroom villa, which was fully restored in 2015.
Bookings For You specialise in providing luxury holiday rentals across Italy – they have 350 sites in eight Italian regions and have recently expanded in France. Their attention to detail, outstanding customer service and personal touch have lead to them winning numerous awards over the lasy few years including a Feefo Gold Service Award and a bronze award at the 2016 British Travel Awards in Best Villa/Self Catering Holiday Booking Company category.
Tuscan Food Masterclass
The menu for our masterclass was designed to showcase some of the dishes that the Giovannini family cook regularly and are easy to replicate at home. True to the family’s ethos of using the freshest of local ingredients (most of which they brought with them from their estate especially for the class), the traditional Tuscan menu was flavourful and delicious in its simplicity.
After a quick cup of tea and a sneaky slice of cake on arrival, it was time to get down to cooking up the four course feast. First up, we had to prep the main meal – a leg of wild boar bought fresh from the family’s estate. Wild boar can be a little tough if not given enough time to cook so we got it ready first so it had enough time to slow cook.
Our wonderful chef Giancarlo set about chopping up piles of aromatic herbs – sage, rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper. The smell as he did this was amazing! He explained that it was much better to chop the herbs by hand as an electric chopper heats them up and can affect the taste. Once they were finely chopped, they were rubbed in the surface of boar along with some lard. Large slits were scored into the meat to allow the flavours to permeate deep into the meat. Fabiola (Giancarlo’s wife and business partner) then liberally coated the meat in the family’s own organic extra virgin olive oil before it was popped in the oven to cook.
With the boar cooking away, it was time to start work on our antipasti – Bruschetta with a range of different toppings. To make the bruschetta itself, bread was baked in the oven before being rubbed gently with a clove of garlic – I was surprised with how much taste this gave to bread. For the simple Bruschetta Toscana, the toasts were simply drizzled with olive oil and dusted with salt and pepper, whilst the Bruschetta al Pomodoro was topped with tomatoes, basil, onion, garlic and olive oil.
The final antipasti was Crostini con Fegatini – chicken liver crostini. Fabiola made up a batch of this traditonal paté by cooking chicken livers in pan with olive oil, garlic, sage, butter and white wine. It perhaps isn’t the prettiest topping for your bruschetta, but it tasted great.
Antipasti all made (and eaten), it was time to move onto the primi piatti. Giancarlo expertly whipped up a quick batch of pasta which was rolled out ready for us to turn into ravioli. The filling was made using cooked spinach, ricotta cheese and egg (the egg can be omitted but adds an extra richness). We laid small blobs of the filling onto the pasta sheets before cutting them with a ravioli cutter and pressing gently to seal the edges. These were quickly cooked in a pan of boiling water before being served with a fresh tomato sauce and a grating of grated parmesan.
The second primi piatti pasta dish was another local favourite Pici all Etrusca. The sauce for the pici pasta was a mix of garlic, parsley, mint, basil, pecorino cheese and olive oil. This was all blended together with a boiled egg to give a sauce that was somewhat similar to pesto.
Pasta course done, it was time to go back to our secondi piatti, the boar. By this point, the boar had been in the oven for a good few hours and the smell was starting to fill the room. Just before it had finished, a good portion of white wine was added to the cooking pan, along with a generous helping of olives. When ready to serve, the boar was juicy and tender and the taste of the fresh herbs perfectly complemented the meat. The juices were perfect for mopping up with a bit of fresh bread…
Three courses down and it was time for dessert (or dolci in Italian). And we were treated to two of the Giovannini family’s best. First, Giancarlo and Fabioloa’s son, Dario, and daughter-in-law, Vera put together a Tiramisu – an Italian classic, of course, made with mascarpone, lady fingers and coffee. Neither Keri or I are usually fans of coffee-flavoured things but actually, the fresh ingredients meant this one was quite nice. If making it myself though, I definitely try out Vera’s tip of swapping the coffee for milk.
But the family saved the best for last with their signature dessert Millefoglie Bellavista – a millefeuille stuffed with custard, cream and fresh fruit. The family often make this for weddings where there bride and groom get involved in decorating the dessert. Each version is slightly different depending on who makes it and and Fabiola’s is very popular!
Our millefoglie was a team effort with Giancarla filling the layers and piping it with cream (at a very impressive speed) before Fabiola took over to cover it with fresh strawberries and raspberries.
It was so beautiful it was almost a shame to cut it up, but the creamy custard, crispy pastry and fresh fruit were the perfect way to end our Tuscan food experience.
Thank you to Jo at Bookings for You and the Giovannini Family for inviting us to their Tuscan Food Masterclass.