Italian Cookery Course – May 2014

Italian Cookery Course – Day One, Saturday 10th May 2014


An early start for the flight out to Bologna from Terminal 5 at Heathrow – we were meeting the group at 6.30am for an 8.30am flight. What a miserable and cold day to leave the UK – raining, dreary and windy. A typical spring morning! Luckily, we had stayed the night before in the Sofitel, which is attached to the terminal so we didn’t have to brave the fresh air at all. We met everyone, except one couple that we seemed to have missed (note to self, make sure I take a Travel Stop sign next time I am trying to meet people who I don’t know what they look like), but made sure that they had checked in so at least they were there. Jenny, who I also did not know, had said she had white hair and jeans. Amazing how many ladies have white hair and travel in jeans! It helped to find her though.

Time for breakfast! The group seem to be getting on really well together looking at how they were chatting over breakfast. Even the Eastern European waiter had a good sense of humour – he needed it when he managed to dip his tie into Paul’s latte! The food was apparently not good though – glad I did not partake.

It was a quick hop to the gate, and the flight left on time. A completely full flight – except for the seat in between Nick and Jane, so they were in “business class”. A very nice bacon, tomato and cheese croissant was served – included in the price!! And Paul ended up sitting next to Glenda and Ron, who we missed before we checked in. Result! Two hours soon went, with some spectacular scenery across the alps. Bologna airport was a lovely little airport – and it was 25 degrees when we landed. Beautiful!

Our driver was there to meet us through passport control. After paying for the parking, we followed lots of people with bicycles that were on our flight (Nick ascertained that they were here for a bike race) out to the car park. We had a mini bus and a car for the nine of us – as the driver of the car was rather better looking than the driver of the mini bus Isabel decided they were going in the car! The luggage (just) went in the back of the mini bus, and we were on our way. The air conditioning needed to be on full flow, as the temperature was now up to 28.
The first part of the journey was through very flat but very rural countryside. Lots and lots of grapevines, peach trees and other crops that were in full bloom. Then we had to stop for petrol – one wonders why he didn’t fill up before getting to the airport! Perhaps Daniele from Typically Italian had threatened him with something worse than death if he was late picking us up! After about forty five minutes we started to get into hill territory. The scenery changed dramatically – it is absolutely stunning. Lush green rolling hills, and quaint little villages with an odd fort or two thrown in. And lots of very fit people on racing bicycles. They seem to take this sport very seriously.
We arrived at the Al Vecchio Convento after just over an hour and a half journey from the airport. We had gone into the tiny streets of Portico di Romagna, under an arch and the hotel was on the left hand side. A converted convent, it is extremely old with beautiful flowers and seats outside the front door. The “mamma” of the hotel came out to meet us – just as Daniele had described. He had promised that she would be everyone’s mamma by the end of the week. We were all shown to our rooms – very basic but functional. It is a converted convent, so I don’t believe nuns needed all the mod cons. There are ensuite facilities in every room, and the shutters open and overlook the front street and the bell tower.
A lunch was set out for us in the garden. A beautiful little courtyard garden, with a table for nine laid for us. We had a starter of roasted vegetables, with home made bread. Then came the pasta dish – I thought this was going to be a light lunch! Beautiful! The chef was the son of the owner, that came out to make sure everything was OK. By the look of nine clean plates I think everything was OK! He said he was going to be showing us how to make pasta tomorrow – if it tastes like this I think I might be trying it when I get home.
After a rather elongated lunch that lasted until 4o’clock, a couple of us decided to go for a wander whilst others decided that lunch, more importantly the wine course, should last until 6pm. No names at this stage! Needless to say, Paul looked after this contingency. After turning right out of the hotel, a hundred yards down a tiny street, right again through a tinier alleyway that must have had a one in four gradient, around a cobbled street and over a bridge that was the biggest up and over I have ever seen. This was over the river, and then we walked alongside the river. What a beautiful area! We walked back over a weir back to the other side of the river, and then on a bit further to a waterfall where there was a swimming hole in between the rocks. A bit chilly (or rather icy) so I declined! So peaceful. Daniele phoned, just to make sure everything was OK. I could (and probably should) have wound him up. What was it he said I needed to do if anyone asked a question? Hands in the air, shrug the shoulders and what will be will be! He was pleased to hear that we were all here and happy. He can sleep tonight!

The walk back was round the other way, and back to the hotel via the village again. Virtually every house had their elderly sitting out the front in the sunshine. How European. Or is it that we don’t have the weather in the UK to be able to do that? Is it the olive oil or the good weather that prolongs life out here? So many questions!!
Back to the hotel – the wine contingency were still in the same place as we had left them. So we had to join them again. This is going to be a very liquid holiday I feel.
It was soon 6.15pm – we needed to be back and ready for our “presentation” about the week ahead and dinner by 7pm. A quick visit to the room, unpacked and got ready for dinner. Along with the basic room, the bath towels are more like tea towels. I am sure we will manage! Along with having to get a small step ladder to get onto the bed – it is rather high. And what do we need the ear plugs for that are left by the bed? Either they have heard about my snoring, or something is going to happen perhaps very early in the morning that we really don’t want to hear. Might be something to do with the bell tower. Will update you on this tomorrow!
We met in the garden for a lovely bottle of prosecco, and Marissa (mamma) went through the programme for the week. Will update you day to day on this, but needless to say it looks as if we may all be going home a few pounds heavier than when we arrived. We then had a short Italian lesson. We should all now be able to be very polite when we ask for a large glass of wine!

Dinner is in the dining room – a lovely old room with many, many artefacts all around. First course is the antipasti – more vegetables in olive oil, different from lunchtime. With lovely home made Italian bread. Then comes the risotto course – with asparagus. I think everyone could have finished with that course – but then we had the meat course. Wild Boar, with some sort of onions and cabbage. Lovely. Only the dessert and the coffee course left. It was Jane’s birthday today, and the pudding came out with three candles in for her. Nice touch! Sorry to say that there were lots of clean plates. Good to know that we all enjoyed it, but feel we are all well on the way to putting on the first few pounds. Bring on tomorrow!

Italian Cookery Course – Day Two, Sunday 11th May 2014

Well – we found out what the ear plugs were for! The bells!! Every hour on the hour, and then every hour on the three minutes past the hour. Not saying that I heard every one, but even I couldn’t sleep through that. I am sure by the end of the week we will all not even notice them.
The cookery lesson this morning started at 10 o’clock, so we met for breakfast at a very civilised 9am. Bearing in mind the food we ate yesterday – and feeling that the quantities were going to be very similar for the rest of the week, I was hoping for once in my life that the hotel did not have an egg station. It didn’t. But what it did have was a fantastic array of breakfast choice. The strawberries that I put I my granola were of the sweetest variety that I have ever tasted. I left it at that – choosing not to partake in the pastries or the chocolate cake or the home made bread, or any of the other hams and cheeses that were on display. All of the cheese, bread, honey and everything else is all made in house by the family. There is the mamma and papa, two sons and their wives, the 96 year old mammas mama and I am sure a few cousins thrown in as well.
The “Father” of the village popped his head around the door to say good morning – he apparently comes here for breakfast on a Sunday. I think the reason was “buying their way into heaven”! No harm in keeping on the right side of the almighty with leftover food.
One of the sons was taking the pasta making lesson this morning. We all were issued with our own souvenir aprons, and went into a room that had nine tables laid with large wooden blocks on top, a huge three foot or so rolling pin, flour and eggs. We first had a little lecture about how good pasta is made – and only with the best ingredients, and that each kitchen has its own “king”. Was he trying to tell us who was in charge? I think so! We had to start by tipping out the flour, and then make a large hole in the middle. Then put the eggs in the middle. You could tell that this cooking lark was new to Bill & Nick – they just picked the eggs up and laid them in the middle. Not quite sure that’s what he meant!
This was then all mixed together, and then the hard work began. We first had to knead the dough with the heel of the wrist to put “power into the dough”. I could feel it transferring out right down my arm! After fifteen or so minutes of kneading, the dough went in a bowl for ten minutes to rest. We were making ravioli and tagliatelle, so whilst this was resting Massimo made the filling for the ravioli. Home made ricotta cheese (which tasted nothing like we get at home), spinach, salt, pepper and nutmeg all got mixed together. We then had to make the pasta look like pasta. No machines like on Masterchef here. Everything made by hand. We first had to make the lump look a bit like a steering wheel, then roll and flip to keep it in a round shape. Every time it was rolled out it seemed to shrink back to the size it was originally. This could be a long job! After a while he said he would show us another way of making it so that you could read a newspaper through it. It involved putting it on the rolling pin, “shaking” it with the palm of your hand and rolling it up at the same time, turning it and unrolling it. Couldn’t actually make sense of how that was going to work, but it did. We soon all had sheets of pasta that were about two feet in diameter. This was cut in half, and one half was prepared for the ravioli. We all had a bowl of the filling mixture. The half we were working on was folded in half to make a crease down the middle. Then little blobs of filling had to evenly spaced all over one half. The other half was folded over the top and then the side of the hand was used to stick the top and bottom pasta together in between the blobs of filling. Then we used a ravioli cutter to cut little squares out with the filling in the middle, and it looked amazingly like ravioli! The other half of the pasta was folded over and over again, and then cut into half inch lines, which opened out into long pieces of tagliatelle. Easy peasy!!
Marissa came back in with another bottle of prosecco. They sure do know how to end a lesson over here! We did attempt to sit out in the courtyard for half an hour before lunch, but it was a bit windy. The empty glasses were even blown over, so we decided to retire to the dining room for lunch. We started with a salad with everything grown in mamma’s garden. Then we had the ravioli to follow. It was rather nice. Even looked like it should have done after it was cooked. I had visions of the filling being more out than in. Another round of clean plates!
The dining room was packed full today – family Sunday lunches. What we did notice was that some people were having ravioli that looked very familiar, and some were having tagliatelle. It was indeed, we ascertained, our pasta. Does this make us professional chefs now I wonder? All the paying clientèle also had clean plates, so really couldn’t have been too bad.

We had a couple of hours for a quick siesta before we met at 3.30pm for the afternoon tour to the local winery. Well – this was afternoon tea like I had never had before. We first drove just over thirty minutes to the Placci winery, owned and run by Emilio Ploacci – who spoke no English. Massimo – the chef from this morning – was now our driver and ultimately the translator. This was an organic vineyard. We went to see the vines, and learned all about the different types of wine produced here. There were barrels upon barrels stored in the stone cold storeroom.
From there, we went into the “tearoom”. We were not only going to be tasting several types of wine, but also several types of food that is produced here as well. We started with a Chardonnay-Savignon white – something of which I had not tasted the likes of before. Ron was definitely the wine expert of the group, and he was very happy. This was accompanied by home made bread with three types of olive oil. Another five red wines followed, along with two types of salami, prosciutto ham, sheep’s cheese, a pork something that tasted like my grandmother’s wardrobe smelt (the only one I didn’t like) and several more pieces of bread to soak up the copious amounts of wine being consumed. This all took place over over two hours – and we all staggered out very very happy! The wine was amazingly good, because Emilio did a very good trade this afternoon. Excess baggage on the way home – or will it all be consumed before then? Never before in the afternoon have I been in charge of a group like this!! Someone mentioned a sing song on the way down, but luckily after one verse they gave up.
We all got back in the minibus, and started our journey down the mountain back to the hotel. It looked as if a tornado had been through the region whilst we had been tasting the wine – there was tree debris all over the road. We hadn’t heard a thing! We got back to the hotel at just before 7pm – and had to be ready for dinner at 7.30pm. This is just one long eating and drinking expedition.

Time for a quick shower. Down for dinner – where everyone was present and correct, and were looking all quite sprightly. Although some, I noticed, were only on the water! Another lovely four course meal – sheep’s cheese and broad beans antipasti, a pasta and mozzarella pancake thing, veal with a truffle sauce and chocolate mousse. What this hotel lacks in respect of the rooms it certainly makes up for with the food and the friendly service. Whilst I was sitting in the dining room finishing the blog, Marissa came in and asked me to turn the lights off when I went to bed. Must be only me left then!!

Italian Cookery Course – Day Three, Monday 12th May

The bells were not so bad last night – in that I think already I am getting used to them. They strike the number of the hour up to six, and then start from one again, so six is the most that you get in one time. Then of course again at three minutes past the hour. Still not sure why that is. Breakfast at 9 o’clock as we have a 9.30am departure for truffle hunting.
We climb up the mountain in the mini bus for about three kilometres, and park up. We then walk into the truffle reserve, where you need a licence to hunt for the truffles. We have son number two today with his truffle tool and two dogs – Otto and Rex. They are extremely friendly, and seem more intent in getting cuddles than looking for the truffles. We walk into the woods, where we learn where the best places are for the black, more common, truffle at 200 euros a kilo are found, and the white truffle at £3,000 euros a kilo are found. The dogs have a good look round, roll in the mud and generally look as if they are out for a walk. When the dogs start digging, Mateo knows that there is a truffle there, and runs to get there before the dogs eat it. He uses his tool, which is like a large flat screwdriver on a broom handle, to dig it up. We all have a look, and to be perfectly honest it looks like a dried piece of dog poo. Doesn’t smell an awful lot better either. Don’t think I would pay that much money for it. When they find one, they get a biscuit. Fair swap I suppose! Along the mile or so route we find five and a half truffles – the dog ate half before Mateo could get to one of them. I think we are going to have these for lunch. The flowers that we passed were lovely – not only the wild daisies and other colourful makes that I don’t know the name of, there were also wild orchids. Beautiful.
To walk back, we come out of the woods, and walk along the edge of the woods and a beautiful grassy meadow overlooking the valley. The views are magnificent. This area is just so unspoilt and peaceful. The walk is a little uneven, but we all get back to the car mostly unscathed. The dogs look as if they had found a nice little muddy patch looking at the colour of the white ones legs! The weather was lovely this morning as well – around 21 degrees and the sun was out. Just right for a country walk. They jump into the back of their truck, and straight into the dog kennel. Well trained dogs!
When we got back to the hotel the little courtyard was just perfect for sitting and having coffee – nobody seemed to ask for wine today, yet! An hour or so before lunch – just time to chill before another round of food. Which didn’t take long to appear. The bread today was seven cereal bread – and it was so good. Why do I always fill myself up with bread? The salad came from mamma’s garden, and then we had spaghetti. All very healthy!
We then had time for a siesta before the cooking lesson started for the day. The sun was out again this afternoon, so I stayed out and read in the garden. Everyone else disappeared for a snooze!

We were in the kitchen itself this afternoon – cooking our own four course meal. The first course was Melazane alla Parmigiana, the second was Pesto Genovese to go with the tagliatelle we made yesterday, the third was Pollo alla Cacciatoria and the pudding was Lemon & Ginger Mousse.
We had to start with the pudding, as this needed to set. There was one main dish, but we all had a hand in making it. Maximillian (who I have been calling Massimo because that’s what his mamma calls him) was our chef again. He was our guiding light throughout the afternoon – and most of this he could make without actually looking at what we were doing. He was so laid back – not a bit like Gordon Ramsey’s kitchen. We then had to chop up two whole chickens – after (so he put it) giving them a final shave over the gas. Our chopping was not too precise – but as we were the main recipients of the food I suppose it didn’t really matter what we did.
We were also the commis chefs – chopping and cutting vegetables, whisking cream, frying aubergines, smashing herbs in the pestle and mortar among other things. We had a fine afternoon – no-one lost any fingers which was a miracle with the size of the knives we were using. We left the chicken bubbling nicely on the hob, and everything else finished to a point. I am sure it probably needed a few extra touches, but the main part was done.
We were invited straight after this to Ron & Glenda’s apartment for pre dinner drinks. They had a room originally on the second floor the same as we did. The problem with this, was if you came down the forty eight steps from your room to the ground floor, or the extra twenty four steps if it was to the breakfast room or into the garden, and you had forgotten something you had to go all the way back up again. It felt like climbing the Himalayas to me – and Marissa very kindly offered to change their room to an apartment in the annexe a couple of doors down. They had their own sitting room and garden terrace, so offered pre dinner drinks for everyone one evening, and tonight was it. We even had nibbles to go with the wine. As it was gone seven when we finished the cookery, we had a quick drink and then an even quicker shower before dinner. It only seemed two minutes ago that we had the last meal!

But it was a lovely meal. Even though I say so myself. The aubergine didn’t taste like aubergine at all – not sure if that was a good thing, but it was for me because I don’t really like aubergine. The pasta with the pesto sauce we had was fab, the chicken was tasty (but there were a few splintered bones that I think were caused by our inaccuracy with the chopper more than anything else) and the lemon mousse was just divine. I wonder how many pounds we have put on now!

Italian Cookery Course – Day Four, Tuesday 13th May

We had swapped the morning and afternoon activities around today, as there were thunderstorms threatened for the latter part of the day. Hence we had a 10.00am start for a tour of Portico di Romagna – after breakfast of course!
Ulla, the Danish wife of Mateo, who also runs the Language School, was our guide for the morning. She had a very in depth knowledge of the village, and her English was also excellent. A Dane, lecturing about an Italian village in English – hmm. One of the first things we learned was how the family came to be here. It is Marissa’s home village – her parents still live here. She met her husband Gianni when she went to study in Florence and stayed with her Aunt who owned a restaurant. Gianni was working in the kitchen – she gave up her studies to marry, and when they had a family moved back here to the country. They originally leased some rooms in the convent, which is next door to the hotel, and had a restaurant only. They eventually bought the bulding next door, converted it to a hotel, and kept the name the same as they had it in the convent – Al Vecchio Convento. The rooms in the basement which are used as the breakfast room and leading to the garden did belong to the convent, so it is a bit of poetic licence to say that the hotel is a converted convent.
We walked through the little alleyways down to the pointed bridge, and heard all about how the village used to close off the entrances to the alleyways for fortification. There are four watch towers that could signal to the tower in the village that was near to the bell tower, so an early warning signal could be sounded to close off the village to invaders. The Americans bombed here in the war, and some damage was done. The Germans retreated to around this area, but got no further. We then went into one of the houses in the little alleyways – four storeys high, but very long and narrow. It belonged to an old couple with an extremely ugly dog called Heidi – the dog was at home but the old couple weren’t. Everyone keeps their keys under the mat, so we went in anyway! Very dark, and full of old people’s tut, but a lovely balcony overlooking the river.
We then went up to the middle part of the village where the hotel is, and then up again to the upper part of the village. We were then on the same level as the bell – felt like putting some cotton wool around it. Apparently, the dinging of the bell at three minutes past the hour was a “snooze effect”. It was meant for the men out in the fields, if they didn’t catch how many dings there was the first time around, they knew they could count them again in three minutes time. Surely they have all got mobile phones and watches now, so that practice could be made redundant!!
We then got in the minibus to go to the local volcano. Having just seen the film “Pompeii”, this was not quite the same. We went six kilometres up the hills at the back of the village, one hundred yards down a small footpath, and came to what looked like a pile of bricks with fire coming out of the top. It was a fracture in the rock where methane gas escapes, and was permanently alight. The clouds had gathered overhead, and it was a bit windy up there, so the fire was rather welcome. But couldn’t really call it a volcano. Not in anyone’s language. We had the option of walking back down the hill – Paul & I were the only two takers. The clouds didn’t look that angry yet – and it was all downhill. It was actually an extremely pleasant walk, and in parts the sun came back out. There was a bench part of the way down with a bunch of sticks with a note attached. Jenny had got out of the minibus and left it for us – and another bunch of flowers a bit further down. We had apparently missed all the arrows she had made with twigs to make sure we didn’t get lost though. As there was only one road down, we managed without!

We made it back to the village in an hour and a quarter – and it was really what we needed to try and balance out all of the food we are eating. As soon as we got back lunch was served – and then the thunder started to rumble in the distance. Whilst we were in the kitchen for our next lesson the rain came down in abundance.
Today, we made Tuscan Liver Crostini – but without the crostini. We had Mateo and Maximillian today – I think he thought after yesterday he probably couldn’t handle us lot on his own! Mateo made brioche instead – the brioche looked nice, but the liver and chicken mixture in the pan looked absolutely disgusting. It didn’t smell too great either – and boiled in the pan most of the afternoon. Back to that later. A lady came in with a huge Foot Locker bag full of peas. We had to shell all of them – well, the ones that went in the bowl went in the bowl and the rest we ate. They were so sweet and tender. We then made potato gnocchi. We had to peel a great big box of potatoes, that went into a huge saucepan to cook. Fifteen minutes – we decided that whenever we asked Maxillian how long things took to cook, the answer was fifteen minutes. It wasn’t usually – I think this was just his stock answer. About thirty minutes later they were done, and then had to be put through a potato ricer. Eggs were cracked in a hole in the middle – that actually looked more like a volcano crater than the volcano did this morning – and parmesan cheese was added. It seems that parmesan is added to almost everything. This was then mixed in with a little flour, and then cut and shaped into “human” size pieces. Think that word may have got a little mixed in translation. Small bits. Then your thumb had to make a hole whilst sliding the other side down an implement or a fork to give it ripples. Can’t see me doing this at home!
The meat part was Lamb Villeroy. Small three month old lambs were slaughtered for this meat – having only ever fed on their mothers milk. Good tasting meat apparently – although each chop looked as if it would give you one mouthful. Gianni then came and joined in the fun. He doesn’t speak a word of English, so he just got on with making a roux for the top of the lamb. The chops had been seared in a hot pan, cooled, then this roux (which also had a load of cheese in) was spooned on to the top. This was cooled again, and then dipped in egg and breadcrumbs ready for deep frying later. With three chefs in charge in the kitchen now, things were not going as smoothly as they did yesterday.
Mateo then made biscuits that had to be cooked three times. In actual fact, when they came out of the oven the first time, they had to be cut, and nowhere near as much went back in the oven as came out. It was rather delicious. They were far better being cooked only once! Giovanni then blitzed the liver mixture, and it really did look like something the cat had brought up. Not sure I am going to like that. It was 7.30pm! Where does the time go?
Quick shower and time for dinner. First course was the liver stuff on the brioche. First time there were not clean plates all round. Don’t think that one was a hit. We then had the potato gnocchi with a gorgonzola cheese sauce – not too bad. The lamb chops were lovely – but there was one bite of meat to each chop as I had suspected. The coating was delicious though. Then came the biscuits – with a sweet wine in which they were supposed to be dipped. I think most people agreed – they shouldn’t have gone back in the oven the second time. Time for bed – this cooking lark is exhausting!

Italian Cookery Course – Day Five, Wednesday 14th May 2014

Two words describe today very well – culture and craziness. The culture part came first. We left Portico di Romagna in a different mini bus today – Marissa came with us, and Franco was driving. We drove partly along the way we came in about six weeks(!) ago, and then turned off to go to Ravenna. It took around an hour and a half to get there, and we met Grace, our guide for the next couple of hours, when we were dropped off at the Railway Station.
We had a walking tour of the most delightful town of Ravenna. It is a famous town historically, but now it houses some of the most important mosaics left from Byzantine times. We walked past one of the oldest churches in the world, built in 430ad. Still looks as good today as it did then – not a Wimpey home then! We then went into another church that had mosaics all along the walls – they were absolutely beautiful. The guy that punched the tickets to get in bore a very close resemblance to Jesus – wonder if that was one of the reasons he got the job. Grace did as good as she could in her quiet voice to explain all above the noise of the million or so school children that were also in the church. She did OK!
We then went past Dante’s tomb – I had forgotten to say that we were in Dante and Beatrice’s garden yesterday in Portico. I have just read the latest Dan Brown book in which Dante features very heavily. Coincidence or what! We then went through a couple of beautiful squares, and down tiny cobbold streets with Romeo & Juliet balconies to get to the next church with mosaics that were on the floor. Most of them have gone, but there were still all over the walls. They really shine like new. The whole city is a bit like Venice and is sinking – apparently the main street used to be a river, so not sure if it is coming back to what it used to be or just sinking. There was a part in this church with the original floor that was under nearly a foot of water.
The most beautiful mosaics was in the mausoleum of St Lawrence out the back of the church. No idea who was responsible for any of the work – all anonymous. They could have made a fortune in this day and age. We then walked back through the main square to have lunch in a special restaurant that Marissa knows. Full of locals – no tourists except us. What a fantastic atmosphere in here – Ca de Vin which means house of wine. Oh dear!
The food was lovely – and the wine flowed. I think she is enjoying her day off of sorts. We had a typical Italian lunch of bread, cold meats, cheeses, pancake things full of cheese and spinach and roasted vegetables. All very healthy. Except for the bread. And the cheese. Italians seem to live long lives, so I’m sure it can’t be that bad.
Shops opened at 3.30pm – so we were going to be let loose for an hour or so for anyone that wanted to partake in a little retail therapy in the very elegant shops along the streets of the very elegant Ravenna. On the way, we had to have a gelato in the best gelato shop in the town – or so Marissa said. Marissa, who couldn’t eat another thing when we left the restaurant seemed to have little trouble with the ice cream. Neither did any of us to be fair. It was rather tasty.
We then split up – and I just had to go and buy a handbag that I had seen on the way through earlier in the day. Then some went and sat at one of those lovely pavement cafes whilst I went to have a closer inspection of Dante’s tomb. Time for ten minutes sit down, before it was time to get back to the railway station, back on the bus for the afternoon siesta, and an hour and a half back to Portico.

It had been an absolutely glorious day weather wise – clear blue skies and around 25 degrees. Just had to have a quick campari before changing for dinner – which was a “party” at 8pm. We had it downstairs in the breakfast room, where half of the village seemed to have been invited as well. Marissa, Maximillian and Mateo served us with the food, and we sat at huge tables. It was really good food – and we actually had potatoes. Wasn’t sure if they ever had them! Marissa sat and ate with us – he cackle seemed to get louder and louder as the evening went on. The wine, of course, flowed quite freely.
Then we had the beginnings of the craziness. The Italian table (we were all English except for two German ladies and Marissa) started singing and waving their wine glasses in the air. I think it was then our turn. No-one could remember the words to any English song – Ron did suggest singing some old war songs, but with having the German ladies on the end of table it didn’t really seem appropriate. Don’t mention the war! Then came out some karaoke song books. That should help. Not if they are all in Italian. Maximillian was on the accordion and his cousin was on the keyboard. The Italians didn’t have any trouble whatever number song was called out. The only one we were any good at was the chorus of “Volare”.

Then the dancing started. We all started with civilised moves – so to speak. Even Gianni came and joined in. Marissa even took off her apron. We all danced with Italian’s – then it started to get silly. Ron decided to start off a conga, Paul thought we were doing can can at the Moulin Rouge and the very quiet bus driver that couldn’t speak much English taught us a very raunchy line dance. Sweat was pouring off off us. I was then told that this “wasn’t on the itinerary”! Didn’t expect to end the day partying like an Italian!!

Italian Cookery Course – Day Six, Thursday 15th May 2014

Cookery school began again early this morning – well 10 o’clock is quite early after the night before. We were a few people down today – only the hardy ones of us left! It might also have had something to do with the glorious sunshine shining on the sun loungers in the garden.
Things are also getting slack in the kitchen – the recipes we had on the sheets of paper even had to be handed out amongst ourselves. Strangely enough, Maximillian went through recipes that weren’t on the sheets, and didn’t really stick to the ones that were. It was fish day today – he had been to the market and bought a good selection for us to get our teeth into. We had clams, mussels, shrimps, a large fish that looked like a bream and anchovies.
We had to start by filleting the anchovies – quite easy, pull off the head, pull out the innards and the bone and you’re there. These were then soaked in salt and vinegar to “cook” for half an hour. One done. We then had to fillet the fish. Yuk! Scales had to be cleaned, fins had to be cut off, then it had to be filleted. We didn’t make too bad a job of it – there was still meat left on the fillet when we had finished. Nothing is wasted – the bones and head went into a pan to make the fish stock. Then we wrapped the fish in foil with a topping of potato, celery, onion and tomato, wrapped it up and then it would go in the oven just before it was served.

We actually had a break for an hour, as we were making risotto for our lunch, and that had to be served immediately. Had to sit out in the sun for an hour then. Hard life! We went back, made the risotto and then had to come out again to eat it. It was such a beautiful day we had it out in the garden. Perfect! And we had all afternoon before wine tasting commenced at 5pm. Most took the opportunity for a siesta!
Maximillian, we discovered, was also a trained sommelier. We had different wines to try with different cheeses and meats so that we could see what goes best with what. All tasted the same to my uneducated pallet, but those that knew, knew. And some of us had finished the food before the wine came, and some had finished the wine before he suggested what food to have with it. Oh dear – he is flying to Billund tomorrow. Wonder if that was a last minute trip!! I do think we have given him a few comical moments – either that or he has wanted to put his head in the gas oven!
We finished this wine and nibbles section at 7pm – and had to be ready for dinner at 8pm. Non-stop eating and drinking. It was definitely a seafood night tonight. First course was the anchovies cooked in salt and vinegar – I think they had had another couple of tweaks before we got them. Then we had mussels, then we had spaghetti with shrimp and clams, and then we had our pocket fish. Beautiful – and really didn’t feel that full. I hope it was because it was a lighter meal (even though there was an extra course thrown in) rather than my body getting used to the amount of food! We actually left one lady in the dining room when we left – we jokingly told her to switch the lights off when she had finished, but on the way out the kitchen was in complete darkness!

Italian Cookery Course – Day Seven, Friday 16th May 2014

The two words to describe today is bizarre and beautiful! After breakfast, we went with Mateo and Pappa to a farm that makes cheese about forty or so minutes away. It was a beautiful journey, over the hills and valleys to Ca de Monti, an Agriturismo sheeps and goats cheese producer. Marissa had loaded an electric hob and a huge saucepan in the back of the truck before we left. We got to the farm, and there was actually no-one there. It was in the middle of nowhere (or in the middle of nothing, as Mateo described). About twenty minutes after we had wandered around and admired the view, a little van drew up with an urn of goats milk.
We went inside, to where a row of chairs had been placed in front of a long table with a very sixtyish flowered tablecloth underneath the hob. It took two of them to lift the urn and pour the milk into the pan. Pappa was watching very carefully as well – not sure if this was a new “tour” for all of us here! A two foot thermometer came out of a cardboard tube, the hob was switched on, the farmer proceeded to give a full description of what he was doing in Italian. Mateo proceeded to translate about five minutes worth of talking into thirty seconds – somehow think we were only getting part of the story here.

It didn’t take long to get to 30ish degrees, when he proceeded to drop a bit of rennet into the milk. Then he had to stir it for about half an hour. Watching paint dry comes to mind! The farmer was quite animated during his stirring, but I am afraid we hadn’t a clue what was going on. Eventually he decided it was done – there was a thick layer of yoghurt consistent milk in there now. Quite quick really. He took all of the thick stuff out with a strainer, and got two fairly large bowls of cheese. This apparently now takes a month or two to strain completely, have salt added and mature the flavour. Don’t think we will stay for that part. The liquid left in the pan then had to be reheated to eighty odd degrees, and what floats to the top is ricotta cheese. Very clever. This was not so exciting to wait for either – in the end Mateo suggested we started lunch. Good idea!
It was a lovely lunch – four different kinds of cheese on the plate along with everything else. Very tasty. From here some went back to the hotel with Pappa, and some went to Faenza. This was about forty five minutes drive, again all through the hills and valleys. It really is a lush green beautiful area. The first stop in Faenza, which is famous for its ceramics, was to a ceramics workshop. Which was locked up with padlocks when we got there. Seems to be a theme here today. A few minutes later a young lady came and opened up and took us inside. A very diverse and strange lots of pots and bits. Ron poked a wild boar on a shelf and nearly got his finger chopped off – not ready to touch apparently. Then the boss man appeared, put on his apron, and gave us a demonstration on how to throw a pot – explaining in excellent Italian. The theme continues. Not sure if Mateo has a bad memory, or if Italians use ten times as many words as needed, but the translations were very much shorter than the original. The pot was good – but not a lot else in the workshop was. All a bit too bizarre. There was a Japanese chap doing a sculpture of a woman praying that could have sat in any GCSE art exam. He was meant to be a professional! The lady painting looked as if she was painting by numbers rather than using any skill and expertise. Not many purchases here!
We then drove into the centre of Faenza – which turned out to be the most beautiful town. The main square was amazing – and the cathedral quite large for what I thought originally was a small town. We all sat in the square and had a gelato – as one does! Not really in a hurry to move – or go to the next ceramics place Mateo had lined up – so no idea if that one was any better. We had a quick look in the cathedral – Ron took a confessional (none of us were religious, so it was all quite light hearted). I did check and Mateo wasn’t either. Glad about that then!
We drove the forty five minutes or so back to the hotel – ready for Mateo to get to work in the kitchen, and for us to shower and change ready for dinner. Our Last Supper, as Marissa called it. She said she had made the pudding today, as there was nobody left. Well, Paul was left as he had to stay behind to sort out computer problems. Marissa even forgot about him – when he asked her where his lunch was she went into hysterics and told him she had slept. She had shown him how to operate the coffee machine – I am sure if we were here for much longer she would have got him making the beds! I am going to miss her hearty cackle.

Our Last Supper seemed to have extra courses in again – Cheese Fondue Zucchini, Ravioli, Asparagus, Roe Deer, and Catalunya Cream. Then she brought out the Lemoncello. Nobody is going home from this holiday hungry or thirsty!

Italian Cookery Course – Day Eight, Saturday 17th May 2014

Our last day. Normally a day of packing and waiting to go. No. We all had to report for bread making at 9.30am. Not going to report who woke up at 9.23am – but was still ready on time! We were back in the room where it all started last week. We all had boards and bowls of flour – just needed to have the master class with Mateo first. We were making the seven cereal bread that we have had every morning for breakfast. It needs proving twice, so we started with this one – we have got a plane to catch after all! Mateo makes it look so easy – he had 3kg of flour, we have just 500g. We use live yeast and a “starter” – purportedly forty years old. When you use a bit, you just put another bit of flour and water in to make up for what you have used. Kept in the fridge in a kilner jar. No green bits on, so not a problem in my eyes. Mix it al up with a squirt of olive oil, mix it together and Bob’s your uncle. Easy as that.
Except when your board has a slight tilt and the water goes all over your feet. Not saying who that is either! They all get mixed up, and then they have to sit and prove for thirty or so minutes. Whilst this is happening we go up to the kitchen and make some typical Italian flat bread called Romagnola Piadina. This is flour and lard and baking powder. Nothing else. Same process of mixing in with water, and then leave it to rise for thirty minutes.
Back downstairs to see how the cereal bread is coming along. It knows has to be pushed and pulled in a certain way, and then put in a rattan bowl for the last proving. Either long or round. Back upstairs for the Piadina.
This is now rolled flat, and either cooked on a flat plan plain, or filled with mozzarella and tomato sauce, or spinach, or any other filling you fancy. We fancied tomato sauce and mozzarella so that is what was cooked. And it was delicious. Eaten outside in the beautiful sunshine again. Next to the wood oven that was lit at some unearthly hour by Mateo in readiness for our loaves of bread. He cleared out all the wood, which left the tiles on the side white with heat. A towel on the end of a pitchfork cleared out the debris, and then we all put our own loaves in with a large metal paddle. Leave them there for half an hour or so whilst we finish lunch!

Gianni then came out with deep fried acacia flowers and elder flowers in tempura batter. We had seen them in the kitchen – not for the table displays then. They were actually very pleasant. Not sure what I thought they would taste like, but I think most of the taste came from the oil and the batter rather than the flowers. Marissa then came down with a certificate for everyone and a chef’s hat. She said we had all passed. Passed what I wonder? Passed the mark for the most bottles of wines consumed for one group? Or the worst Italian karaoke? Any of the above! Our last hour in the garden before we leave for the airport.

We then all got our bread out of the oven. It had risen, and smelt beautiful. We all remembered where in the oven we had put our own (some had the forethought to mark it with a special symbol!) so that we could reclaim the right loaf. I am sure someone put another one in the place of mine – it really did look like the runt of the pack. Mateo said he thought that one was his, and gave me one that looked that a little too good to be mine. I wasn’t proud, and took it! What a gentleman. If I’m going to carry it all the way back to England I might as well take one worth having.
We all soon packed, and were on our way to Bologna Airport. With our loves of bread. We got there in plenty of time, checked in, and then queued for over an hour to get through security. With our bread. Wondered why they got us here three hours before departure. No-one queried the brown bags full of bread at all. The flight left on time, and Heathrow Terminal 5 was a pleasure to get through. One area where the Brits lead the way.
To sum up this holiday, if you can get past the quirky hotel, the family will give you the warmest Italian welcome you will find in all of Italy. Marissa’s vibrancy and the whole family’s love for this area is apparent in everything they do. If you love being one of the very few tourists in the village, you will fit in well here.