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The lazy Italian chef

By AJ Williams
At least that’s how Mauro, our cooking instructor in Tuscany, describes himself.  Food Network-worthy charisma and culinary chops aside, our chef Mauro says he’s ‘probably too lazy’ to try to make a run at the celebrity chef world.  I don’t believe it for a minute.
On a sunny day near San Gimignano recently, we immersed ourselves in all things you’d expect to cook in this incredible part of the world.

Chef Mauro showing us his mad pasta making skills!

We started by making two kinds of bread dough, and setting them aside to rise.  Then it was on to the Bolognese sauce (the secret to it is the sausage….and time) and we would let  it simmer a few hours while we continued with the rest of our meal prep.  Surprisingly, we didn’t see any garlic, so I asked Chef Mauro about that.  He advised that in North America, we’ve tended toward adding far too much garlic to our Italian cooking – in sauces, and even in pesto. On this trip, we hiked in the Cinque Terre, which is where pesto originates, and you could honestly eat a straight-up tablespoon of it and not have garlic breath!  Garlic is tricky – and can quickly overpower a dish, so Mauro says they use it sparingly.
Naturally, no Italian chef (lazy or otherwise) would be able to turn out great food without a glass or two of the local wine made from Sangiovese grapes.   I’m quite convinced it improves anyone’s cooking skills.
Mauro then showed us how to make fresh pasta – and not only is it easy, but it’s delicious and will make you never again reach for a box of dried noodles!  And you can skip the semolina flour – he said ‘all purpose’ (also known as zero zero) is his choice.

Creating the ravioli

From the pasta dough, we’d make 2 kinds:  ravioli stuffed with fluffy ricotta and spinach and fettucine which would be bathed in our Bolognese sauce.

Fluffy light fettucine

For dessert (as if you had to ask), silky, decadent tiramisu.
The setting couldn’t have been more idyllic.  An outdoor kitchen in the heart of Tuscany, with a stunning view of the famous hilltop village, San Gimignano, watching over us.  The Montese cooking experience was probably the highlight of our trip.  My husband and I, along with our friends Harry and Lisa, enjoyed 4 hours with Chef Mauro –  a simply unforgettable day!
Cooking classes have popped up all over Tuscany, and they run the gamut of length (you could do a week’s Tuscan cooking immersion at a culinary retreat), but we chose the Montese cooking experience because the reviews were outstanding, and we thought it would be a good introduction to the techniques and food of the region.  A bargain at 90Euros per person, the experience was great value, but more importantly, we made incredible memories!
The ravioli was flashed into a pot of salted, boiling water, and then strained out and tossed in a large pan with lots of melted butter and fresh sage picked from Mauro’s garden.  Sublime.

Maybe just a little melted butter…..but incredible with the fresh picked sage leaves! The perfect sauce for our ravioli!

A little grating of fresh parmesan and it’s perfect!

The fettucine was tossed in our rich tomato sauce, and the bread was warm and comforting.

Tossed in our beautiful bolognese!

Tiramisu

Me, Mauro and the mascarpone! MMM

In addition to our tiramisu we finished our meal with frothy cappuccinos.
The whole experience was, well, mouth-watering.  I soaked in the setting, the aromas, the age-old tradition of cooking together, slowing down and savouring what you can make yourself and share with those you love.
Mauro says it best:  “These are our secrets: love, which is created with a ladle in your hand, a pot on the stove, a little flour scattered everywhere, and harmony, which eventually finds its peak round the table.”
 
The very best kind of lazy day in Tuscany I’d say.  Grazie Chef Mauro!
AJ Williams
AJ Williams
‘CAO’ (Chief Adventure Officer) is A.J. Williams, a travel blogging, food & wine lover who writes for various print and online publications. She's never happier than when she's dragging a bag through an airport (no really!) heading off on another adventure!

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