Once Adena, Becca, Nan and I returned to Cortona we switched from go-go-go gear to relax-shop-dine gear.
We had four especially memorable meals together – one our first night in Cortona, one at our cooking class, one at Mirella and Enzo’s home, and one at Osteria del Teatro in Cortona.
Our first night at the villa we headed into Cortona and wandered into a restaurant because we saw fonduta di formaggio e tartufo (cheese and truffle fondue) on the menu. Adena and I simply could not resist. We had a delicious dinner and I spent the evening wondering how I’ve lived this long without eating fonduta di formaggio e tartufo. The picture does not look very appealing, but it was divine. The asparagus ravioli was delightful.
We took an all day cooking class with Alessandra, who met us in Piazza Signorelli in Cortona. We started the day by sipping cappuccinos and talking through Italian cuisine(s) and the menu. Alessandra emphasized how local Italian cuisine is – there is not one Italian cuisine, but many regional expressions of Italian food. She explained that the most important rule in Italian cooking is to “make do with what you have.” Italy historically has been a poor country, and many of the main Italian dishes stem from this principle of making do with what you have. Next, we shopped. She took us to the butcher and the small grocery store in Cortona, then to the fresh produce store on the outskirts of town, where they picked the herbs we needed from the backyard. She brought us to her home and we cooked and we ate. One particularly memorable moment was heading across the street to the neighbor’s house, Alessandra calling up loudly to the neighbor asking if we could have some eggs, and then heading into the chicken coop to get fresh eggs.
Here was our menu:
Frittata di Asparagi
Prosciutto e Melone
Tagliatelle al Ragu Toscano
Maiale alle Erbe (pork loin with herbs)
Insalata di Finocchi, Rucola e Pompelmo (salad with fennel, arugula and grapefruit)
It was delicious. A few of Alessandra’s pearls of wisdom about cooking:
- Don’t take yourself too seriously in the kitchen
- Use a half lemon to clean the cutting board before rolling out pasta
- When pasta is al dente it’s easier to digest
- The coffee needs to be cold for tiramisu. Dip the cookies very quickly in the coffee so they don’t get too soggy, and then shake the excess coffee off.
- Cut the middle part of the garlic out and don’t use it – it’s not easily digestible
- When crumbling meat, use two wooden spoons to grate the meat on the back of one spoon with the other spoon
The next evening, Enzo and Mirella generously invited the four of us to their house for dinner, along with their next door neighbors. It was a beautiful evening – the food, the company, the wine. I asked Enzo if anyone has stayed in Le More longer than me – nope, before me the longest was one month. I win 🙂 Enzo told the group that he and Mirella were “astonished” at how much I ate the first time they invited me to dinner and that it made them happy. Ha! That cracked me up and made me smile. I’ve now been in their home four times for dinner, and it’s been one of my favorite things about Italy. When Mirella and I have gone on walks to wisteria paradise (which held on long enough for me to be able to show Adena, Nan and Becca) the area we walk through is Il Castagno, and we walk past the Dionisio vineyard. Mirella said she’d never tried their wine because it’s on the pricey side, so I brought her a bottle of their “Il Castagno” wine when we went to dinner to commemorate our walks together. I still have yet to try it, but it’s on my list.
There was food and wine aplenty. We had amatriciana (a Roman pasta), grilled pork ribs, grilled sausage, salad and bread for dinner. For dessert we had brioche (pastries) from Enzo’s family’s bakery, tiramisu gelato and Cafe Nonna gelato. Enzo served Nobile di Montepulciano wine with dinner, black champagne with dessert, and grappa and limoncello to finish the meal. The neighbor, Serrafino, told me when I’m rich and famous I’ll buy a house in Ossaia.
We’ve heard from multiple locals that Osteria del Teatro is the best restaurant in Cortona, so we went there for lunch and it did not disappoint. We had pasta with spring asparagus and strawberries, gnocchi, goat cheese ravioli, steak florentine and tiramisu.
A few other favorite dishes I’ve had in Cortona: truffle pasta from Trattoria Toscano, antipasto “tapas” from Bar 500, pici (a Tuscan pasta) with sausage and truffles, and gnocchi with truffles at Il Loggiato overlooking the Piazza Della Repubblica. Last night we also had a great meal welcoming Angela to Italy at AD Braceria, a neat underground restaurant complete with a handlebar mustached host. The bruschette fantasia, vegetarian appetizer platter, swordfish and sea bass ravioli were delicious.