Too many cooks? Not in this kitchen

Friday, April 24, 2015

Too many cooks? Not in this kitchen

By Kate Simon (24/04/2015)

“Mess, don’t press!” Simone, chef-owner of the Ristorante Malborghetto, is showing me how to make a ragù.

“This way we mix all the flavours – and we don’t burn the pan,” he smiles. He’s right. Though we cook the meaty stew for more than two hours, a little gentle coaxing with the spoon and a regular slug of water ­– “Water adds no flavour and takes no flavour away,” counsels Simone – keeps the washing-up to a minimum.

This is just one of the many tips, useful for a host of recipes, that Simone imparts during the three-hour cookery class my husband, Dean, and I have signed up for at his restaurant in Lecchi in Chianti. It’s a fun way to spend a morning of our villa holiday with To Tuscany.

And the ragù is only one of the dishes we will prepare during the course of the morning in his professional kitchen. By the time we are joined by our friends for lunch, hungry to sample our morning’s toil over a hot stove, we will be ready to serve up a four-course feast, featuring crostone di porcini, salsicce e fagioli, and tiramisu, too.

Our session began earlier that morning with a chat over a coffee, gaining a little insight into how Simone had ended up championing the produce of his native region in this pretty stone hamlet in the Tuscan hills. Then, pinnies on – embroidered with our names, souvenirs to take home – we got straight down to business prepping lunch.

We started at the end, with the tiramisu, “to allow it plenty of time to set”, explained Simone. First he got us separating the eggs like experts, shell to shell, then whisking the whites until we could lift the bowl upside down over our head without risking a foamy new hairdo.

In another bowl we beat the yolks with some mascarpone and sugar. Then we folded in the whites to create a light cream and began assembling the dish, layer upon layer of sweet liquid and sponge biscuits quickly dipped in a bowl of watery espresso. “Just touch the coffee,” said Simone, “you don’t want it to be too strong, you want to give a hint of its flavour.”

With the tiramisu in the fridge and the ragù underway, we turned our attention to the art of making gnocci, kneading a soft dough of potatoes, flour, egg, parmigiano cheese, and a sprinkling of nutmeg. We rolled sausages of the mixture and chopped them into thumbnail-sized dumplings, rolling some into balls in our hands. Then we placed them on a tray for firming up in the fridge before their final destiny, the boiling water bath in the corner.

Next, we browned a healthy pile of meaty sausages, from Simone’s favourite local butcher, in olive oil, garlic, sage and rosemary. The heady aroma infused the cannellini beans and tomatoes we added to the pan, slowly braising the hearty mixture with the help of our constant friend “a zip of water”.

Then Simone taught us a little frill, how to create a parmesan basket to serve our ragù and gnocci in. Turning a pancake of molten parmesan over a small glass bowl is not as easy as it sounds. But Simone had seen it all before: “Once you’ve done your first, it will become easier,” he smiled patiently at my initial lop-sided attempt.

And finally, we reached the beginning, searing the crostone on Simone’s large grill, then assembling the earthy topping of porcini, garlic, rosemary and salt. “Just clean the porcini with a damp cloth, not too much water,” he advised.

With our friends now seated at the table in Simone’s cosy dining room, we put our creations to the taste test, each course accompanied by an expertly paired glass of wine. The diners all agreed. We had, indeed, prepared a Tuscan feast – thanks to more than a little help from our new chef friend.

To find out more about cooking classes at Ristorante Malborghetto, see here.

Kate Simon is the former Travel Editor of the Independent on Sunday. She is co-founder of Little Black Book Creative, the specialist travel PR agency that represents villa-booking website To Tuscany.
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Music in Tuscany

Friday, April 17, 2015

Music in Tuscany

Posted by Dympna (17/04/2015)

Tuscany is a region that is full of music and art and simply strolling around its cities on an evening is likely to find you an array of musical treats. If you’re an avid music fan and can think of nothing better than listening to some live music while away on holiday, here are some musical excursions that you can plan into your trip.

Lucca’s Summer Festival
This annual musical celebration attracts some big international names, with special guests this year including Elton John, John Legend, and Bob Dylan. Concert dates are spread throughout July, and prices vary depending on who you choose to see and whether you choose seating or a VIP package. For more information and to book tickets, visit their website.

The Puccini Festival
Celebrate one of Tuscany’s most famous sons by watching a Puccini opera during the months of July and August. Widely regarded as the second greatest opera composer the world has seen, this year’s festival gives people the chance to watch Tosca, Turandot (famous for Nessun Dorma), and Madame Butterfly at Torre del Lago just outside of Lucca. The location is close to a villa where Puccini lived and worked, and hosts an outside venue so you can watch opera under the stars.
You can book and pay for your tickets to the festival by email.

La Cité, Florence
La Cité focuses on the arts, with its cafe/bookshop relaxed atmosphere, visitors can expect to see book readings, live jazz, swing, and music from around the world performed weekly in this small venue. Close to the Arno, La Cité is a wonderful place to visit after a day’s sightseeing in Florence.
Visit their website closer to your stay to find details about live performances.

Live Music at your Villa
If you want a more intimate musical experience, then why not speak to one of our advisors about having musicians play at your villa? We can arrange for a private musical experience for guests at our Tuscany villas that can help make your beautiful holiday surroundings even more enchanting. Contact us to find out more.
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Giuseppe Poggi – the Man Who Remade Florence

Friday, April 10, 2015

Giuseppe Poggi – the Man Who Remade Florence

Posted by Mikolaj (10/04/2015)

2015 marks 150 years since King Vittorio Emanuele II declared Florence the capital of the newly unified Italy. Although only serving at Italy’s principle city for six years (when it was superseded by Rome), Florence underwent a number of changes during that period. Some of the most lasting effects were on the city’s architecture which was radically altered thanks to the designs of one man – Giuseppe Poggi.

Who was Giuseppe Poggi?
Poggi was a native of Florence, born in 1811 who had already been working as an architect for a number of years when Florence became the new Italian capital. At that time, Florence was still very much a medieval city in its design and Poggi quickly found himself in much demand to help renovate and modernise the new capital.
Poggi took charge of demolishing the city walls and replacing them with alleyways and a number of open squares, including the Piazza Beccaria and the Piazza della Libertà. He designed the panoramic Viale dei Colli boulevard that winds from Porta Romana to Piazzale Michelangelo which tourists can still explore to this day. The city’s upper classes also frequently used Poggi for the creating and renovation of various palaces and gardens around the city, increases his influence on the city’s design.
Poggi died in 1901 but his legacy lives on in the design of modern Florence.

Find out more
Running until 6th June 2015, the state archive near Piazza Cesare Beccaria is holding an exhibition – A Capital and its Architect – focusing on Poggi’s work and his influence on the city. Included will be documents, preliminary sketches and more giving an insight into the processes behind the great renovation project. Piazza Cesare Beccaria is one of Poggi’s designs, making this the ideal spot to learn more about the great Florentine architect. For anyone interested in the history of this great city, this really is a wonderful opportunity not to be missed.

We have a number of villas in Florence and the surrounding area, so if you are planning to visit this historic city we can offer you the perfect place to stay, whatever your needs. And if you have any questions, or need tips on things to do in the area, please feel free to get in touch.
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Take the Dante Tour of Florence

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Take the Dante Tour of Florence

Posted by Virginie (03/04/2015)
Durante degli Alighieri, more commonly known as Dante, was one of the middle ages most renowned and influential poets whose legacy in literature is still felt today around the world. Often referred to as “the father of the Italian language”, Dante’s success helped to establish the Tuscan dialect he spoke as the dominant form of written and spoken Italian from which the modern language is descended.

Although he spent much of his later life in exile from his beloved Florence due to his political activities, the city left its mark on Dante’s most famous works, including Divina Commedia (the Divine Comedy). Many people and places he knew from Florence are referred to in Dante’s writing, making the city the perfect destination for lovers of “il Poeta”. Here are some of the top places to visit:   

Casa di Dante (Dante’s House)
Dante’s family owned a number of houses in Florence, the Case di Dante being one of them. Although there is no firm evidence than Dante ever lived in the house that bears his name, it now serves as a museum dedicated to the poet. From copies of The Divine Comedy to portraits of the great man and all sorts of information about his life in Florence and beyond, the Casa di Dante is so packed with Dante memorabilia that true fans really can’t afford to give it a miss.

Sasso di Dante (Dante’s Stone)
Located in the Piazza Duomo, right in the heart of Florence, Dante’s stone was one of the poet’s favourite spots in the city. The story goes that Dante used to sit on the stone and write, taking inspiration from the beautiful architecture surrounding the piazza. Although the stone itself is no longer in place, there is a plaque marking the spot, so you can stand there and soak up some inspiration yourself. The piazza is also home to the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, also known as Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, the fourth largest church in Europe.

Chiesa di Santa Margherita de' Cerchi
This small church in the centre of Florence is often referred to as “Dante’s Church” thanks to its close association with the poet. Legend goes that this is where he saw his first great love and muse, Beatrice Portinari, for the first time, when he was just nine years old. It is also thought that this is where he married his wife, Gemma Donati, sometime around 1285 or 1290. Thanks to Dante’s legacy, the church is now a favourite spot for lovers to visit, where many choose to write letters to Beatrice, which they leave beside the tomb where her body is believed to rest.

If you’re looking for villas in Florence from which to conduct your tour of the city, we have plenty to choose from. Take a look at the selection we have on offer, or send us an email to find out more.
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