I’m back! I was on vacation for more than two weeks, floating about the Mediterranean on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner and let me tell you: if you are ever planning a European cruise, this is the line to go on. It was fabulous (and everything is included: your air fare, meals, wine, cocktails, almost all excursions). And now for the sad story: I’d been taking pictures of so many amazing foods and wines, from Santorini to Sardinia and every point in between, for an epic blog post – and then my camera was stolen in Portofino (I hate that place). Yep, plucked right out of my jacket pocket, I didn’t feel a thing. I was heart-broken. In a gesture of solidarity, my mom not only bought me lunch that day (a $13 plate of spaghetti with pesto), but gave me her camera, so I could try to capture enough photos during the last two days. And then! A miracle! Our new friends, Gene and Terry, decided they didn’t want to go to the cooking class they’d signed up for in the tiny Tuscan village of Guasticce outside Livorno last Sunday – and they gave us their tickets! Hurray! We were beyond excited (we even ditched a trip to Florence in favor of cooking school!) Look at all the fun we had!
We were met at our ship by the fantastic Sarah Thompson of Livorno Now, who would serve as our excellent translator, because Chef Bruno – he no speaka the English, but man, can he cook. It was a small group of seven of us, and we were warmly welcomed by Bruno and his wife at Osteria del Contadino in the village of Guasticce. After a cappuccino, we donned our aprons and commenced the cooking!
First we made bruschetta (pronounced broo-sketta in case you ever wondered / didn’t know) with the freshest tomatoes and garlic. Then we made pasta (well, Bruno made the pasta, but I helped knead it!) and turned it into the most amazing ravioli filled with cooked chard and sheep’s milk ricotta. Then we made veal involtini, which is a slice of veal breast (I think), onto which you place some excellent local cheese (somewhat like Pecorino) and two slices of pancetta (Italian bacon) and roll it up, stab it with a toothpick and pan-cook it on your stove top. Then we made an apple strudel (well, we sliced apples; Bruno made the dough and assembled it, studding the apple mixture with raisins and walnuts).
The restaurant is tiny (it used to be their family home, but they renovated it into a restaurant several years ago), and closed on Sunday, but when an older couple showed up for Sunday lunch (forgetting it was Sunday, we think), Bruno and his wife welcomed them and served them lunch – so gracious.
One of the coolest things? Seeing, holding and smelling a huge white truffle.
Oh, mercy. I swear, I can smell a truffle dish in a restaurant from 100 yards, and beholding (and inhaling) this ugly, yet delicious, specimen was really cool.
After we finished cooking, we sat and Bruno poured Prosecco and offered fat, Italian brined olives, while he finished the tomato sauce and the contorno (side dish) of fennel braised in olive oil. Then we proceeded to our table, where Bruno cracked open two excellent Italian wines, and we feasted on the fruits of our labors. It was SO MUCH FUN! I highly recommend Osteria del Contadino if you are ever in or near Livorno (except not for Sunday lunch!)
I plan to re-create the dishes, and I promise to share recipes soon (but today is apple-sauce day, and then maybe some black beans and rice with chorizo; stay tuned for those). I’ll also share some more food stories from the trip. Buon Appetito!