Aglio, Olio, Pepperoncino – or Learning to Cook in Tuscany

While in Viareggio I had arranged to have 5 cooking classes. I assumed this would be like any other class, in a classroom setting with lots of students there.  Who wouldn’t want to learn to cook in Tuscany?!  I had checked if not speaking Italian would be an issue, and was assured it would be fine. So when I arrived at my first class, I was completely surprised to find myself alone in a tiny hotel kitchen with a little Italian Grandma.

Nona Nadia (not to be confused with classmate/friend Nadia) was amazing. She was this tiny little woman, but such a powerhouse.  And could she ever cook!  She didn’t speak more than a few words of English, and a tiny bit of French, and I was only 3 days into my Italian classes on my first cooking class so as you can imagine communication was a bit of an issue at first. But cooking turns out to be a universal language and body language also counts for a lot.  Between all these little things, we figured it out. She showed me how to cook local specialties, including recipes her mom or grandmother had handed down to her.

Nadia taught me how to make amazing food, gave me some great cooking tips, and of course she wrote down all the recipes for me…in Italian. I loved every minute of it, especially eating the food afterwards. We always made enough for herself, me, her son who lived with her, and another man who worked at the hotel. The men didn’t speak so much, but Nadia would tell me stories about her life, her family, cooking, people in the village. I understood about half of what she was saying at the beginning, more as time went by. By the end of the two weeks I was pretty impressed by how much I could understand. I think she was too!  Nadia awarded me with a certificate at the end of my 5 classes – it was so sweet, she was so excited to give it to me. She had made it up and printed it off herself. She hugged me so tight when I left, it made my heart smile.  She was such a font of information, all her small tips and bits of information about how to cook Italian food properly – all Tuscan food is made with a base of aglio, olio and pepperoncino (garlic, oil and chili pepper), unless it’s seafood and then it’s aglio, olio and prezzemolo (parsley); never wash or chop basil or sage; add salt to egg whites before whipping; how to properly knead pizza dough and how to make gnocchi (or “little mice” as she called them).  Gnocchi is time consuming, but so incredibly worth it!

The food was some of the best food I have ever eaten, and I had so much fun learning how to cook in Nadia’s kitchen, at the Hotel Delhy.

Now for the best part:  Food Porn!


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