Cooking at Villa la Massa
Learning to cook authentic Italian food in Tuscany, that’s a dream for many people. The 47 Plus publisher, Christine Hogan, was also seduced by the idea of it… then the reality.
The legendary Jean Salvadore, despairing of my cooking skills, brought me to the school in the kitchens of Florence’s most beautiful hotel, the Villa la Massa. Situated on a lazy bend of the Arno, the hotel has exceptional views of the Tuscan hills.
She had a vested interest – as the PR director for the hotel, and its big sister, the renowned Villa d’Este on Lake Como, she was setting up a culinary culture at the newly renovated Tuscan hotel. So with two other Australians, and two Americans both called Ruth) except they weren’t (Ruthie and Footie was what they answered to.)
Together we had mornings in the kitchens, learning under the Villa’s internationally known chef, Andrea Quagliarella… whose cooking is as refined as it is accessible. And we ate what we had made for lunch – which was an incentive in itself to get things half right. Sometimes there was a food or wine guru for lunch; once we ate with Bona Frescobaldi. (Click on this link and you will get an idea of her background.)
That tradition, begun under Jean’s auspices, continues under Chef Andrea. He shared some of his recipes for 47 Plus.
First, Country-style chicken alla Villa La Massa… why not, given the Villa la Massa sits fewer than 10 kms outside Florence.
Serves: 4 – 6
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (400 F).
Ingredients: 1 chicken (1.8 kgs), 2 tblsps butter, half cup extra virgin olive oil, 450 grams onion thinly sliced, 1/3 cup Vin Santo, 1/4 cup chicken stock, salt and pepper
Method: Rinse the chicken in water and dry well. Sprinkle inside and out with salt and pepper.
In a pan over medium heat, melt the butter in oil, add onions and cook for about 20 minutes until the onion is very soft but not brown.
Add the chicken and place in the pre-heated oven.
Cook for 30 minutes, basting every 10 minutes with Vin Santo. If necessary, add stock or hot water.
When done, remove from over, and let it rest before removing chicken from the pan.
If the cooking juice is too liquid, reduce it over a high heat taking care not to fry the onion which should remain brown and soft.
Ricotta and spinach gnocchi (Gnocchi nudi) with a fresh tomato sauce
Ingredients: 180 grams (6 ozs) spinach cooked, olive oil, one garlic clove, 500 grams (one pound) ricotta cheese, 2 eggs, 60 grams (2 ozs) Parmesan cheese freshly grated, nutmeg freshly ground, 1 tblsp butter, 1 tblsp basil chopped, 3 cups of tomato sauce, 6 small tomatoes to garnish, salt and pepper.
Method: Sauté the spinach in oil,with garlic. (Discard garlic when spinach is cooked.)
Cool and blend.
Add ricotta cheese, eggs, Parmesan, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.
Shape with a spoon and steam for 6 – 7 minutes.
Combine butter and chopped basil and blend together with tomato sauce. Heat and spread on plate.
Arrange gnocchi on the tomato sauce and decorate with a tomato shaped into a flower.
Torta alla Nonna
For Granny’s Cake, always a hit, you will need to pre-heat the oven to 175 degrees C (350 F).
Ingredients: 30 grams (1 oz) pinenuts, powdered sugar
Shortcake: 500 grams (18 ozs) flour 55 grams (5 1/2 ozs) sugar, 200 grams (7 ozs) butter, three egg yolks
Pastry cream 300 grams (10 ozs): 1 cup and a half of milk, 300gram (10 ozs) flour, 4 egg yolks, 55 grams (5 1/2 ozs) sugar, the rind of one lemon, 1 pinch vanilla
In a bowl, combine butter and sugar.
Add the egg yolks and the flour.
Mix and knead slightly with fingertips.
Shape into a ball and chill in refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
Roll out and cut into two discs about 10 inches in diameter each.
Method: Pastry cream
Mix egg yolks sugar and flour in a saucepan.
Add a pinch of vanilla. Heat milk with lemon rind.
Pour heated milk in a slow, steady stream into the egg, sugar and flour mixture.
Cook on a low flame until the mixture thickens, whisking constantly. Do not over-boil.
Allow to cool.
Method: Assemble and cook
Spread the pastry cream on one of the shortcake discs and cover with the second one. Cover with pinenuts.
Place in the pre-heated over for 20 minutes.
Cool and sprinkle with icing sugar before serving.
For details about cooking classes at the Villa La Massa – which they also conduct for kids – click on this link.
And for details about staying at the Villa la Massa, click on this link.