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Siena Cooking Lessons

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 Siena Italy - cooking class - seafood dinner

ABOVE: Students work as a team to prepare a seafood dinner. Left to right: Thomas (Switzerland), Lucie (Canada), Fernanda (Mexico).

A vegetarian feast

At my first class, I joined a small group of students who had been cooking together for a week. Serena, the chef, had asked what they wanted to cook, and the group had agreed on a vegetarian dinner.

I was put to work slicing leeks for a torta salata ai porri, or vegetable tart. Later, I made pastry (paté brisé) for the tart's crust under Serena's watchful eye, using my fingers to blend the flour and butter. I also peeled potatoes, took my turn at making crépes for crespelle alle erbette e provolone (crépes Florentine) helped with a salsa ai peperoni (pepper sauce), and learned to make gnocchi by rolling potato-and-flour dough into snakelike cylinders, chopping the strips into shorter pieces, and shaping the gnocchi with a grooved board.

The class was a great team-building exercise: Whenever there was a chore to be done, a fellow pupil would step in to help. I found myself hauling dirty pots to the sink, tidying countertops, fetching ingredients, and helping to set the table in the dining room.

At the end of the evening, we dined together family-style, drinking Tuscan wines while enjoying a meal that might easily have cost $50 or more per person in the U.S. The pièce de resistance was a warm torta Elisa al cioccolato (chocolate cake) that had baked during dinner.

Next page: Class 2: A seafood banquet

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