Tuscany comes to Austin

Florence 2005

I am in love with Italy. Maybe it was spending a week there with my sister in 2005. Maybe it was all of those times I watched Under the Tuscan Sun. Maybe it’s the food or the laughter surrounding all the Italian families I’ve known all over the world. But I am in love with Italy.

And this weekend, I got to spend a night physically in Austin, but in every other way right in my favorite part of Italy – Tuscany. JP’s birthday gift to me was a cooking demonstration at Central Market by Sarah Fioroni, who flew in from Tuscany to cook with our small group and tell us about her organic family farm in Tuscany – Fattoria Poggio Alloro. Even the name relaxes me…

We were two of the last people to arrive, not realizing that the parking lot would be packed with Day of the Dead celebration-goers, so we had seats in the back. But I felt like I was sitting up front – the way Sarah spoke to everyone, it was as if we were in her own kitchen. She told us the story of her father and his two brothers who began working on the farm as share-croppers and, fortuitously, were permitted to buy the farm in the 1950s when the elderly woman who owned it stopped being able to work it (in her 90s!).

Now, the farm expands over 250 acres, is run by the families of all three brothers, still is organic (love, love, love this!), and feeds their bed and breakfast and apparently a small export business. Sarah’s father and his brothers, in their cardigans and twill pants, still work on the farm – harvest the olives for the oil, grapes for the wine, the various vegetables, and raise by hand the cows, pigs, rabbits, etc to make hand-made meats. They are also producers of the rare spice, Saffron, which Sarah used in two of the dishes we had during our demo.

First, she made us an amazingly simple salad with baby spinach, pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, pecorino cheese, and dressed with extra virgin olive oil and salt. It was amazing – Sarah explained to us the difference between extra virgin and regular olive oil (it’s the acidity level and the order of the press) and between cold and hot pressing (hot press gets more but not as good quality). I don’t think I’ll ever look at complicated salad dressing the same after that simple salad.

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Salad

Then Sarah made a pumpkin risotto with saffron. And here’s a photo….

Oh, wait. It was so tasty I ate it entirely before I remembered to take a picture. Oops! The curse of a wonderful dish 🙂

When cooking our next dish, the turkey, Sarah showed everyone how to tie the turkey (or other meat) to maintain the moisture. I have never tied meat before, but I am doing it from now on. I have never had meat this moist in my entire life. It was served with some cheese and onion potatoes, and a puree of the carrots, celery, and red onion that had cooked in the turkey juice with olive oil. Again, so simple, but so delicious. And (thanks to JP), I do have a photo of this one 😉

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Turkey with vegetable puree and potatoes

Our last dish was an apple cake. Now, I am not a cake person, as I’ve mentioned before. Or really a sweets person. I like tart and bitter, but you will never see me eating creme Brule or even really apple pie. But I will eat this apple cake again…maybe for breakfast with a cafe con leche…

And until I can visit Italy in person again, I will open Sarah’s new cookbook and imagine myself there with each bite.

 

 

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