Disclosure. I’m about to tell you what it’s like to cook with one of my very dear friends, in the kitchen of her picturesque, quintessentially Tuscan home. So I am possibly a little bit biased. But when I write, I like to write about something I love and something I wholeheartedly recommend, whether it’s a recipe, a book or an experience – and this is no different.
I first met Giulia over dinner in Florence several years ago. But even before that, we ‘met’, like so many lovely friends I have now, via our blogs, where it became obvious very quickly that we had a similar love for Tuscan traditions. Then one day she invited me to her home and I made her a pavlova. It’s hard not to fall in love with her infectious smile and be swept up by the surroundings and the views of her family home near Colle Val d’Elsa. We planned many, many more meals, exchanges and trips and I knew in that moment that we would be very good friends.
Lately Giulia has been busy fitting in intimate cooking classes at her home between writing cookbooks and she finally invited me to sit in on one.
Dressed in a 50s style black dress, her curls swept away from her face with a colourful fabric headband, she took us first for a coffee and a pastry (she knows how to start things off on the right foot) in the middle of Colle Val d’Elsa’s main piazza. It’s market day, which means it’s bustling more than usual, and our next stop is the market itself to buy cheese, fruit and vegetables for the class – she doesn’t have a shopping list, but rather, an idea or two in her mind that will be influenced by what’s around at the market when we get there.
With the shopping done, then it’s time to head back to Giulia’s countryside house, which, I must say, is one of my favourite drives ever, anywhere. It’s those Tuscan hills, which change from green to golden, the vines, those shimmering olive trees and pencil-straight cypress trees. It’s all that.
Because it’s summer – and Tuscan summer is sweltering – she has wisely decided not to do any slow cooking or too much with the oven, apart from a delicious cecina (something between a crepe and a bread, made with chickpea flour). Between sips of ice-cold mint water, and a lot of talking (because, just like Laurie Colwin wrote, “One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed doubly whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.”), we take turns stirring, chopping, dipping and tearing.
Custard for a trifle’s Italian cousin, zuppa inglese, easy but tactile salads like caprese (did you know that buffalo mozzarella is better at room temperature?) and panzanella, fried eggplant to eat with the cecina which is crisping up nicely in the oven… Soon enough it’s time to eat and the table is laid out with a summery feast, including homemade onion jam to dollop with cheese and prosciutto and melon from the market. And wine, plenty of wine.
When the breeze picked up and the heat settled down a bit, we moved outside to enjoy dessert with Giulia’s homemade limoncello and massive slices of chilled watermelon, al fresco in the garden under the olive trees. A rather idyllic, relaxed day in the Tuscan countryside with the charming Giulia, cooking, eating and talking about cooking and eating.
For more information on Giulia’s Tuscan cooking classes, see this page on her website.