Aluminum Chef

One of the first things we did in Italy was take an all day cooking class.  And by all day I mean ALL DAY.  Eleven solid hours.  At the end we were exhausted but exhilarated.   Healthy, homemade Italian cooking does not have to be complicated – and  the food is so much better when it’s fresh! If you ever go to Italy, definitely take a class.  There are plenty out there to choose from.  Our class was in a small hill town in southern Tuscany called Cortona.  It was run by a lovely American expat named Shirley.

Side Note: Turns out Cortona, the town, is featured prominently in the disgustingly violent video game Assassin’s Creed that my teen loves to play.  As we were walking down the main street his face lit up and he shouted, “I KNOW this place!  I’ve been here!”.  Then he proceeded to show us around the town with much confidence.  Maybe there is something to be said for violent video games?

At any rate, we met Shirley in a cafe in Cortona at the arranged time of 9:00 am.  We discussed local styles of cooking, and our whole family got to have input about which foods we would like to learn to cook.  Shirley wrote down about eight dishes, then we set out to the market.  First there was the produce market.

Shirley talking to us about the local produce.

Shirley talking to us about the local produce.

The basement produce store

The basement produce store

Jordan watches Shirley pick out what we need.

Jordan watches Shirley pick out what we need.

The reddest tomatoes I have ever seen!

The reddest tomatoes I have ever seen!

Beautiful fruits and vegetables - but don't touch!

Beautiful fruits and vegetables – but don’t touch!

The grocer weighs it all.

The grocer weighs it all.

(Quick confession: I really wanted these pictures to tile horizontally, but for the life of me I can’t seem to get it to happen.  SO, we trudge on.  Vertically.)

Then the butcher shop:

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(Oh, NOW you do the horizontal. )

Then the cheese shop, grocer and bakery.

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Soon we were piled into the car with all of our supplies and heading up the hill to Shirley’s house above Cortona.  We spent the next 10 or so hours cooking, and cooking, and cooking. And eating.  And cooking.  And drinking.  And cooking. As we cooked, Shirley would add on more dishes she thought we should learn.  We ultimately learned to cook:

Stuffed Tomatoes

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Stuffed Artichokes

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Lemon Olive Oil Cake

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Ravioli with a tomato cream sauce

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Potato Gnocchi

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Pici Pasta

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Tomato sauce




Carbonara (which contains NO cream – who knew?)

Cream sauce

Chicken and Veal

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Did I mention that we were constantly snacking during this process?

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And I can’t even remember what else.  A lot.  Oh!  Tiramisu!  So delicious I forgot to take a picture.  The kids were so busy cooking and eating that they forgot to fight and complain for an entire day!  I call that a success!

Plus, Lucas discovered that he REALLY likes to grate cheese.  So much so that when we got home he made me order the EXACT same grater online.  And he has asked me every. single. day. if his grater has arrived yet.  Not that he’s obsessive or anything.


Shirley gave us a recipe book, and I took copious notes with plans to make all of it at home.   And then the recipe book was stolen in Florence (stay tuned for that story).

I’m hoping that my hundreds of blurry, overexposed, underexposed, poorly framed, off-color photos will help fill in some of the details.  (perhaps you’ve noticed some of my professional work above)

If you are ever in Tuscany, I highly recommend you look up Tuscan Culinary .  It was an awesome experience.

Now I just hope I can do some justice to the foods we learned.  Wish me luck!

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8 Responses to Aluminum Chef

  1. Shannon your favorite friend says:

    Nooooo!!! They took your freaking cookbook too??? People suck!!! Contact her and get another copy! I wanted the recipes! 😦

    • mweisenberg says:

      More than that, they took my NOTES. All the additional little tips she gave us! I’m more upset about that than about all the other things they stole, which are replaceable.

  2. There’s a recipe for Olive Oil lemon cake in the May Self magazine!

  3. You. Are. Killing. Me. This all looks amazing. And then I almost cried when I read that the recipe book was stolen too! The INJUSTICE!!!!

  4. Barbara Foster says:

    okay, I hate to say it, but youre brilliant, but I know you wont let it go to your head. Really, a cooking class in Italy? How did you ever think of that, I must pick your brain way more often. How was the ravioli? I want to vacation with you next time…

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