On a trip full of memorable experiences, high among them would have to be our cooking class at Castello Banfi. The session was scheduled to start at 10 a.m., and I assumed we’d go through our paces and then sit down for lunch at the usual hour. Instead, we spent six hours in the kitchen (using residential rather than professional appliances) under the careful and congenial direction of the head chef, Riccardo Cappelli.
Everyone pitched in — we were six in all — measuring, chopping, slicing, whisking, tossing, cranking (a pasta machine), plating and serving. Under the chef’s watchful eye, we produced a full four-course meal: light flans flavored with zucchini, complemented by a tomato concasse; handmade tagliatelle pasta topped with a rich ragu of Chianina beef; sliced fillet of veal with sautéed porcini mushrooms and mashed potatoes ennobled with black truffles; and chocolate lava cake. Finally, we sat down to eat at 4 p.m. All of the dishes were accompanied, of course, by fine Banfi wines.
We also signed up for the cooking school during our stay at Castiglion del Bosco. It is housed within the former priest’s house, La Canonica, at the heart of the borgo. Just steps away from this restored building is a wonderful walled kitchen garden — designed by the same landscape architect who created the Vatican Gardens — the seasonal plots and beds of which contain more than 180 varieties of vegetables and herbs. Four courses are offered: “Pasta Fresca Experience;” “Pizza Experience;” “Tuscan Meal Experience;” and “Forgotten Flavours” (the last being intriguingly defined as “... an adventure designed to uncover age-old tastes (sapori) and techniques (saperi). ... a form of culinary archaeology, aimed at bringing to light the roots of Tuscan identity.”).
We opted for a morning pasta class, which took place in a kitchen with a huge stove and a superb array of copper cookware. Our instructor, Ricardo, proved charming and down to earth. After tour of the orto, the kitchen garden, he held a fascinating question-and-answer session. Next, he showed us how to make a variety of shaped pastas from just one sheet of handmade dough. The two-hour session concluded at noon. At lunch, we feasted on the spinach-ricotta tortellini and tagliatelle we had made, both accompanied by with a simple but sublime sugo di pomodoro (tomato sauce).
This article appeared in the December 2014 print edition of Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report under the headline “Gastronomic Inspiration.”
Illustrations © Melissa Colson