When it comes to food choices, I would have to confess I love everything Italian. Italy has given us fragrant olive oils, great pasta dishes, fabulous cheeses, pizzas, great wines, and my favorite herbs: basil, oregano, rosemary and garlic.
A few years ago, five friends and I visited Tuscany. It was the best vacation ever. There is so much to love about Tuscany: the ancient villages and the architecture, the art, the natural beauty of the land, the welcoming and gregarious people — and, of course, the food.
Our small group took cooking classes from Chef Claudio, a renowned Tuscan chef. We visited the outdoor market to select items needed for our cooking class. Along the streets of the small town square, dozens of vendors had booths set up with colorful displays of produce, meats and cheeses. The aroma of roasted meats, prosciutto and various sausages mingled in the air with the fragrances of fresh fruits and gorgeous flower bouquets. Vendors offered generous samples of roasted meats and robust cheeses. Tasting seemed to be a prerequisite for purchasing.
Perhaps the most exotic thing Chef Claudio purchased was a truffle, a rare type of mushroom harvested wild in the Tuscany countryside. Back in the kitchen, Chef showed us how to thinly peel the truffle. He then shaved it in thin slices to add much depth of flavor to one of the dishes we were preparing.
Chef also purchased a massive wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. We chiseled off small chucks to snack on as we cooked. It is the real deal: rich, nutty taste and so flavorful that just a bit is needed in most recipes. Only cheese produced in a certain provinces of Italy may carry the label Parmigiano Reggiano. This type of cheese produced elsewhere will be simply labeled Parmesan cheese.
Writing about the sights, smells and tastes of Tuscany does not do justice to the area. Some things must be experienced. Tuscany was so grand that I plan to return next year.
Meanwhile, I am going to head to the kitchen and make a quick but delightful Italian soup, reminiscent of foods enjoyed in Tuscany. It is one of my favorites. I bet you will like it, too.