So much fun and food is scheduled for our final day. We begin early with a beautiful drive to Agritourismo Belagaggio.
This is an old, established hotel, restaurant and working farm. There are several, large stone buildings, one of which houses a massive, wood burning oven where most of our food will be cooked. There are friendly goats that trot over to greet you, tails a-wagging, hoping you’ll feed them a handful of grass from the nearby field. There is a sparkling swimming pool, which tempted us all on this hot, humid day. Oh, to languish in this pool and take in the panoramic Tuscan scenery but alas, the kitchen calls!
Time to cook.
Two generations of cooks, Momma Ada and daughter, Antonello taught us an elegant lasagne recipe that replaces mozzarella with béchamel. Parmesan is the only cheese in this multilayered masterpiece, which was constructed with our freshly made, super thin lasagne noodles, a brandy spiked meat sauce and of course, the creamy béchamel. We also made pizzas and zucchini blossoms, stuffed with finely diced anchovies, cheese and spinach and fried in a light beer batter. Biting into these blossoms tasted like the ocean with a briny, salty crunch that remains in my sense memory.
The class also made tiramisu for dessert, which I passed on in exchange for an additional serving of the delicious lasagne, which is now officially my new, favorite dessert.
Between this extraordinary lunch and the heat, we were all ready for our afternoon reposino snooze. We must rest up for our wine tasting with the owner Flávio Andreucci of the popular Andreucci vineyards.
Oh, and there’s our seven course Degustation dinner here at LaChiusa tonight.
Just another delicious day in paradise!
At 8pm we all gather for our final dinner. There is a long, lovely table set up outside and I’m happy to see most of us dressed up for the occasion. I’m wearing my little black dress and so is Dania, our chef and owner of La Chiusa, our home this week. She flutters in and out of the dining room in her black chiffon mini-dress between courses to check on our plates and make sure we’re happy. How can we not be? She and her kitchen staff put so much love in every plate. It feels like a family meal, in all the right ways. No food fights or name calling at this table. Everyone’s on the same wavelength, doing our best to take this final opportunity its to grow even closer in our final hours together. I look around the table and marvel at how comfortable we’ve grown in each other’s company in such a short time.
After the last of the seven courses, Coleen and Rhonda hand out beautiful, hand painted plates and certificates and while both gifts were lovely, it was the thoughtful, personal comments they said that really made the evening memorable.
Coleen spoke emotionally and eloquently about each of us, highlighting what made us so unique and precious to the group. She said that one key ingredient we all had in common was the ability to say YES to this week and that ‘make-it-happen’ spirit sets us apart from the majority of people in the world. I found this to be one of the most profound compliments I’ve ever received. It validates what I have been striving for in the past ten years since my marriage ended and my kids moved out into the world. I thought of all the opportunities, risks and new relationships I had said YES to and how it has changed me for the better.
This week with Tuscan Women Cook has most certainly changed me for the better.
Working alongside so many Italian women whose hearts and hands communicated generations of nurturing for their families and respect for their heritage validates my commitment to become a better cook. Not just to make better food, but to open my heart to the possibility that my cooking can also transform others.
So yes, I do feel more confident for the new cooking skills I now have, but I also feel more confident in myself for the understanding I now have about food as a social connector. How family and friends might grow closer because of the care I put into my meals.
And it’s not about wowing people with fancy, schmancy food.
After this week, I now have first hand knowledge that bringing people together over a simple bowl of soup has the potential to bring powerful change in us all.