Saturday, we said goodbye to Rome and made our way to Tuscany. After a few wrong turns in our rental car, we found our hotel, the Villa de Piazzano, near the town of Cortona. The villa is wonderful and we have met many friendly tourists—mostly Americans, and, interestingly, mostly southerners (two couples from Virginia, one from South Carolina, one from Tennessee and another from North Carolina). The villa has a restaurant, overseen by Chef Gabrielle. In celebration of my birthday, we had a cooking class with her that is the highlight of our trip to this point. Gabrielle told us that cooking is her passion and it shows in her cooking lessons. Delighted that they shared the same name, she ordained Gabriel as her special helper.
We started in the garden, where we picked fresh lettuce, oregano, sage, basil and other spices and vegetables to be used in our lesson. From there we proceeded to Gabrielle’s kitchen, where we had a hands-on Tuscan cooking lesson. We cooked a five-course meal consisting of bruschetta with tomatoes and basil, ricotta-stuffed eggplant, handmade from scratch ravioli with a gorgonzola stuffing (I see a pasta making machine in my future), ginger honey pork tenderloin and finally a strawberry tiramisu. While the food was wonderful, it was Gabrielle’s manner that made the lesson an experience to remember. We were her only three students today (she never has more than 6 students for a lesson) and she gave us her absolute attention as teacher and hostess. All of us participated in the preparation. At the end of the class, she gave us a memento and the recipes we cooked today. We will be trying them out on some of you when we get home. What a wonderful birthday celebration!