To choose the cooking classes I wanted to take Italy, I depended on Viator.com for my bookings. To use Viator, you choose the country, than city, then it gives you a list of tours and other activities available in that city. It will also tell you of activities that leave from the city you chose. For example, from Florence I did a Cinque Terre tour – Cinque Terre is 2+ hours from Florence – in other words, not in Tuscany! Though Viator shows you client reviews, I find that many of them are repeated. I am not sure if it a sight glitch, but you will sometimes find the exact same review from the exact same user repeated up to ten times! So if a tour seems interesting to you, Google it and read about it on Tripadvisor and other review sites before you book. The good thing about Viator however is that most of the time you can cancel or amend your booking – just not when the booking is in 72/48 hours (though this may vary from vendor to vendor).
I have learned from experience to mainly use Viator to learn of the classes/tours that are available and in what city. But for the actual booking, I would go directly to the vendor. The reason I say this is because if there are any problems 48 hours before the tour, and sometimes even three days before the tour, Viator will ask you to contact the vendor directly. So why deal with a middle man? Such a waste of time. The only time I would consider booking through Viator, is if the price is cheaper on Viator than booking with the vendor directly. I just found Viator incompetent when it came to dealing with last-minute concerns, and the vendor ultimately had all the power – Viator will not make a case for you. And for those of you who travel often, you all know that all hell breaks loose at the last bloody minute!
Now, with regards to the cooking classes, I decided to take one in Milan (HATED this class!) and two in Florence. Actually, I had only planned to take one cooking class in Florence, and I accidentally booked two but with different vendors – sigh, I don’t know how the hell I managed to do this – I thought I was SO ORGANIZED! But since I loved the first class I took in Florence (the one I am going to tell you about right now), I hoped that the second one, being that they had competition, would be just as good, or even better! Wrong! No class can hold a candle to this one.
Let me tell you why….
I love to cook. I know, so shocking! My blog is only called “Playing Chef!” And when it comes to cooking, I love to keep it simple, and experiment. In fact, I believe that it is perfectly okay to play with your food. 😉 And when I think of simplicity and a punch of flavor, I think of Italian food. Okay, not from all of Italy, but mainly Southern Italy – northern Italians like to use more ingredients – more on that when I review my Milan cooking class. Plus, I wanted to tell everyone that I learned to make pasta, pizza and tiramisù in Italy from an Italian chef! Take that people!
I chose to take the Florence Food Tour and Small-Group Cooking class at a Farmhouse because in this tour we would get to not only cook, but also shop for the ingredients in one of the most amazing markets I have ever been to and learn from local vendors about their products.
These were the highlights from this tour/class:
- Started our morning with a visit to a popular bakery and we were treated to a coffee of our choice. This is also where the bread for the bruschetta was purchased.
- Explored San Lorenzo’s Mercato Centrale and were given samples to taste (e.g., olives, cheese, bread, cold cuts/prosciutto)
- Cooked with a small-group of people at a farmhouse set in the rolling hills of Tuscany
- We learned to make Bruschetta, Pizza, home-made Pasta, Tuscan roast pork with potatoes and Tiramisù!
- Enjoyed our meal with wine in an outdoor dining room with my new friends and an amazing view of Florence
Starting the day right with an espresso! Or caffè since they call espresso, caffè in Italy. Most espressos are €1 and in some parts of Italy, like Naples, you can get a pastry and an espresso for €1 (no tax and tip added or needed since in most of Europe, a tip is never expected). Needless to say, I spent about €4 per day on espressos. 🙂
Toured Mercato Centrale, an indoor market filled with fresh local ingredients, produce, meats, etc. The purpose of this stop was to pick up the meat for the ragù sauce, the pork for the roast pork, the cheese for the pizza, potatoes for the rosemary potatoes, and we had picked up the tomatoes at a small market on the way to the Mercato Centrale (Olivia, our fantastic tour guide/leader, explained to us why the tomatoes at that one small shop were the best – can’t remember why though. Ick!). At the market Olivia also purchased different things for us to try: olives, prosciutto, bread and cheese.
The view from the farmhouse in the Tuscan countryside!
Check out the pizza oven! When we walked in everything was ready for us, all nicely laid out. Our instructor immediately greeted us, and we learned that Olivia was not joking; our instructor could not speak any English! But you know what? I loved that! It made the experience even more authentic. And with Olivia doing the translating, it did not negatively impact the class at all!
Making the ragù. The ragù needs to cook on a low heat for a long time, so we needed to start cooking it before we did anything else. Our teacher wanted the class to partake in the making of the ragù, so each ingredient was added by a different person.
*Olivia, our tour guide/leader is in the light blue buttoned down shirt.
Chopped celery stalk
Finely chopped white onion
Carrot, roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Tomatoes passata (puree)
To hold us over while we prepared the main dishes, we made bruschetta. We cut the bread, the tomatoes, chopped the herbs, and grilled our bread with olive oil. Then we put it all together. Quick and delicious!
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh mixed ripe tomatoes
Bunch of fresh basil leaves
Making the pasta! First our teacher showed us step-by-step how to make the pasta. The she showed us how make different types of shapes and explained to us what pasta goes with what sauce. For example, wider noodles are best for rich meat sauces. For example, tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettuccine, mafaldine are best paired with rich meat sauces. For this class we were making pappardelle to pair with our ragù sauce.
1. We started by rounding up the flour, then making a hole in the middle (i.e., make a well in the centre) then broke an egg into the well. From there we used a fork and slowly incorporated the flour and egg. We continued to mix the flour into the egg with our hands until it formed a coarse paste.
2. Next we cleaned your hands and the work surface and lightly sprinkled the work surface with flour.
3. We then kneaded the dough with the heel of our hand. We continued to knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until it became smooth and elastic. If the dough got hard we wet our hands or added a drop or two of olive oil and continued to knead it. We then wrapped the dough in cling-film and placed it to one side to rest for about 10 minutes.
4. After 10 minutes we placed the dough out on the lightly floured work surface and gently rolled it out with a rolling pin to form a sheet roughly 3mm in thickness. We then folded the dough over little by little sprinkling a little flour over the dough each time. We then cut the dough into small rolls, opened them and put them to rest on a clean cloth for about 30 minutes.
5. When the past was ready, we brought a pot of salted water to the boil and added the pasta and cooked it for 7-10 minutes.
Making pizza dough. We watched the process but we did not make our own.
1) Melt the yeast in a little lukewarm water
2) Sift the flour on to a clean work surface and form into a kind of volcano-shaped mound with a well in the centre. Pour the melted yeast in the centre and mix it into the flour with your hands. Add more water if needed. Add the salt.
3) Next clean your hands and the work surface and lightly sprinkle with flour. Start to knead the dough with the heel of one hand. Continue to knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. Leave the dough, covered with a tea towel, in a place where the temperature is 22°c for about 2 hours, or until it rises.
3) When it has risen, place the dough out on the lightly floured work surface and gently roll the dough out with a rolling pin to form a round sheet of roughly 3mm in thickness. Roll the dough onto the rolling pin from the outside and flatten out.
Cooking the pizza – a Neapolitan pizza! My favorite! This type of pizza must be baked for 60–90 seconds in a 485 °C (905 °F) stone oven with an oak-wood fire.
Our instructor made the first one, and then with a partner we made our own. This was one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten.
My partner and I had so much fun putting it together. We had an array of toppings to choose from, but I wanted to keep it simple so we only added tomato sauce, sliced mozzarella, olive oil and basil to ours. In other words, we made a pizza Margherita.
Check out our dinning room!
Food is ready! We all marched into the dining room and minutes after sitting down, platters and platters of food hit our table. It all looked fresh and delicious! And we made it all (minus the gelato)! To be honest, we all looked a little freaked out by the abundance of food since by that point we had already munched on snacks at the market, eaten bruschetta and pizza! But somehow we made room and I couldn’t stop eating the pasta! This was officially the best pasta and ragù sauce I have ever eaten. I knew after the first bite that this dish could not be surpassed. That packaged pasta would never do again.
The Patata al rosamarino (roast potatoes with rosemary) were so good, that I pretty much grabbed the whole platter and wanted to tell everyone to screw themselves. They were mine! But alas, I shared. We were having an Italian feast after all.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & pepper
The Roast pork was really easy to prepare. We basically rubbed the ingredients on the pork, and baked it.
Centre cut pork loin roast
Salt & pepper
The tiramisù was shockingly easy to prepare. Just make sure that you make them early on since they need to sit in the fridge for at least an hour. For this class we each got to decorate our own. 🙂
Savoiardi biscuits (ladyfingers)
Black espresso coffee
The gelato was the only dish we did not cook ourselves. It was a special treat that they surprised us with. Aww
Amaretto di Saronno biscuits
Amaretto di Saronno liquor
Our fantastic teacher! Our pizza teacher had to leave after we made the pizzas, so sadly I did not get a picture with her. Boo
So what do you think? Didn’t this all look incredible or what?! I can’t tell you enough how in love I fell with this class. You not only get to eat the most incredible food, but you also get an education on Italian cuisine from the experts, and you walk out with a load of new friends! All of this plus more for $95.18 CAD! The current price on the Walkabout Florence website is €80 so I may have gotten a bit of a discount on Viator since I had booked over 5 tours through them – so always check both Viator and the vendors website to compare prices!
I don’t know about you, but I think this tour/class is worth every penny! In fact, next year when I return to Italy, I am doing this class again, and hopefully this company will add more!
A special thanks to Olivia, our fantastic tour guide, and now friend. She was so knowledgeable, kind and patient! I hope to do more tours with her in the future.
To learn more about this class and other tours offered by this company, check out their website: https://www.walkaboutflorence.com/
See you soon Florence!