And what a beautiful view!!
In this hillside kitchen, next to a terrace blooming with flowers and towering pots of rosemary, our family learned to cook Italian from a real Italian. The Madonna del Piatto is Letizia Mattiacci, a native of Umbria who used to travel the world as an entymologist studying bugs. She returned to Italy with her husband after realizing her passion was actually cooking, where they bought a farm, planted an olive grove, and opened a cooking school to teach with the heart. Maybe that’s why this cooking class was so special, and something our family will never forget.
The day started with a 30-minute drive outside of Assisi through rolling patches of farms and fruit trees, up to Letizia’s B&B. Letizia has a really cute dog. Even before putting on their aprons, Jake and Eli were instantly hooked.
Inside the farmhouse was a kitchen, remarkable for its normal, comfortable aura of being used, and clearly well-loved. We picked this cooking class from the others because in addition to being professional, the pictures of Letizia and her kitchen seemed Real.
Right from the beginning she had all of us engaged. Me with the nerdy details about different types of wheat flour and the effects of humidity, and the boys with chopping vegetables and slicing peaches. I love that Letizia is also a scientist.
This is the flour you use to make fresh pasta.
Letizia also had us hooked with a bottle of wine. This is Bianco Scelto, a white Umbrian blend of Chardonnay, Greccheto, Pino Bianco, and Sauvignon Blanc.
The kitchen smelled wonderful as orange peels simmered on the stove with sugar, cinnamon sticks, and red wine. Her approach is to use citrus peels and other spices to flavor desserts like panna cotta and sweet cream, because if you always use vanilla, it always tastes the same. She’s right!
We spent 5-6 hours in Letizia’s kitchen, taking our time to make a 4-course meal and eat it along the way. At each stage we learned about the ingredients, how they worked together, what to do with them, and how they are affected by seasons. Techniques and processes don’t change throughout the year, but ingredients and seasonings do. And like the vanilla, Italians don’t use the same spice (i.e., basil) in everything, otherwise everything would taste the same. It’s weird that I’d never thought of it like that before. I always put oregano in my Italian food, and no wonder that it all tastes the same!
This summer pasta was made with fresh ricotta, zucchini, and fennel, using the standard formula of cheese, vegetable, and herb.
The panzanella salad was made with celery, tomatoes, onion, and chunks of toasted garlic bread. No repetition of ingredients yet!
Our main course was pork saltimbocca wrapped in pancetta and sage leaves, then sauteed with grapes and white wine.
Dessert was custard (made in the microwave!) by Eli, and topped with simmered peaches carefully peeled by Jake.
Mike and I each got to savor a shot of homemade orange liquor. With several bottles of open wine and homemade grappa, the only regret of this cooking class is that we didn’t take a taxi!
Each of the four courses reflects the summer season, and each one tastes totally different. And we didn’t use ANY oregano.
Mike and I got a pasta maker as a wedding gift that we usually pull out once or twice a year on a rainy day. Making pasta isn’t hard but it’s time-consuming. Now we have twice as many hands to help!
Letizia’s cooking class was perfect, better than anything we could have imagined. Why does it keep being true, that whatever karma we’ve laced into our lives keeps coming back to us through travel? Because I feel once again, that spending the afternoon under the hazy summer sun with Letizia in her Umbrian kitchen, has been the best family experience yet.