True Tuscan Kitchen

During our fall vacation in Italy, my husband and I shopped, ate and spent nights in Milan’s grand Excelsior Hotel Gallia and Venice’s intimate Philippe Starck designed PalazzinaG, then we left for Florence.

When we arrived at the historic Westin Excelsior Hotel, I learned that its roots date back to the year 1251.  By my American standards that’s impressive, but I was almost as fascinated to learn that it was later purchased by Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister in 1833 to be, what I believe was, her private residence.

While in Florence, we spent a special evening with our friends Dawn and Ennio, from California, and another evening with new friends Graziella and Mark, from Malta.  We explored, shopped, socialized and ate our way through the capitol city of Tuscany.

On our fourth night in Florence, my husband and I took a cooking class in an ancient farmhouse, located in the Tuscan hills outside the city.  The 1000 year old palace sized farmhouse had been sold and divided into 5 spacious historic apartments during the 1980s.  Today, the apartments are owned and run co-op style.  Chef Sandra, our teacher, is the owner of the beautiful apartment in which we cooked.

The kitchen’s bones, built in the 1700s, are relatively young compared to the rest of the house.  Although, the architecture is original, the modern amenities are obviously new.

Tuscan-Chef-Sandra-in Her-Kitchen

Beautiful Sandra Posing For a Picture in Her Kitchen

Sandra picked us up at our hotel in her pretty little BMW (her friends tease her because they consider her car to be huge) and drove us to the hills of Tuscany where she lives.


The Back Side of Sandra’s 1000 Year Old Tuscan Farmhouse

Upon our arrival, we received a tour of the garden and olive grove over looking the valley.


We cooked with oil derived from the home’s olive grove and sage, growing beneath the tree, above, for our pasta sauce.


With a handful of freshly harvested herbs, Sandra shows Jon the farmhouse’s 1000 year old bread oven, which is still used today.

Once inside, I took a few pictures of the living room and kitchen, so that I could share them with you.


The 1000 year old ceilings and stone walls with cozy furnishings create a welcoming atmosphere.

Sandra and her Architect/Interior Designer chose to plaster over sections of the stone walls to soften the otherwise overpowering effect of so much masonry.  The room features a fireplace with an elegant cast stone surround on the wall opposite of the book shelves.


Modern Bookshelves and Storage in Sandra’s Ancient Living Room


My Cute Husband in Sandra’s Tuscan Kitchen


This wall packs a lot of efficiency in a compact space (small 4-burner Electrolux cooktop, an oven below, full size Bosch integrated dishwasher, two sink basins and a small – for the States – full size fridge).


One of the Kitchen’s Three Window Walls


This is Sandra’s efficient pantry and (to the left) custom-made work boards, created to fit the kitchen table’s width.

Several days before our cooking lesson, Sandra and I talked about what we wanted to make for dinner, so that she would be prepared.  Each recipe was Sandra’s creation.  She asked us for our opinions and gave us free reign to make mistakes.  We made a few. ☺️


Tuscan Cavolo Nero (translated to either black cabbage or black kale)


Garlic Infused Black Cabbage and White Bean Bruschetta

The bruschetta was truly dreamy.  If only we had black cabbage and Tuscan bread in our house right now.


Jon created a hole in the tenderloin with a long thin knife, so that it could be stuffed with herbs.


Jon Stuffed the Tenderloin with Fresh Herbs Harvested From the Garden


Herbed Pork Loin and Potatoes Before Cooking

We were having too much fun talking and forgot to pay attention to the time.  The tenderloin was delicious, but Sandra was a tiny bit disappointed that it was slightly over cooked.


Tuscan Herb Crusted Pork Loin, Ever So Slightly Over Cooked

The pan juices made up for any moisture lost in the meat.


Sliced Tuscan Herb Crusted Pork loin

The cooked garlic was intended to infuse flavor into the dish and then be discarded, but I asked if I could eat it.  In hind site, I would serve this dish as intended.


Roasted Potatoes and Herbs With Herb Crusted Tenderloin


Our Pasta Dough Before it Was Kneaded


Me Kneading Pasta Dough


Sandra Showing Jon How to Make Pici (pronounced pee chee) Pasta


Sandra straightened our pici on a work board to let it dry a bit.  She was proud of our work!


Porcini Mushroom, Leek and Shallot Sauté For Our Tomato Sauce


Our Pici Pasta with Porcini Mushrooms and Tomato Sauce

For dessert, we made Tiramisu.  I creamed the mascarpone cheese and fine sugar by hand, so it would be light and fluffy, but not too airy.


Proof That I Am a Messy Cook


Our moderately Saturated, but Delicious Tiramisu

Jon and I have never been super tiramisu fans, but Sandra’s recipe was delectable.  I have to admit, though, that being novices, Jon and I didn’t squeeze enough of the espresso out of the lady fingers cookies, so we had moisture pooling at the bottom of the dish.


Jon’s and My First Tiramisu Served on a Dessert Plate

Until next time,

arrivederci amici!

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