My European Adventure…Part 3

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

One of the great treats at the Brunelleschi ( hotel in Florence was the huge breakfast that was spread out every morning…Beautiful cheeses, salami, prosciutto, scrambled eggs and hot meats. In addition to all of that there were a variety of breads and croissants with butter and jam, fresh juices and the most amazing coffee. The coffee in Italy is so much better than here in the states – dark, rich and flavorful – not to mention they bring it with steamed milk…YUM! A great way to start the day. Our adventure was now in full swing and we were excited for the day ahead.

Carolyn had arranged a tour at 11:00 so we ate, showered and headed out. Our first tour was the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, better known as the Duomo of Florence. The church is particularly notable for its 44 stained glass windows. They are the work of the greatest Florentine artists of their times, such as Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno.

We then went to the Galleria dell’Accademia to view Michelangelo’s statue of David. The David is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, Michelangelo’s most famous piece of work portraying Biblical King David in the nude. We also viewed Michelangelo’s ‘Prisoners’. This is something not to miss. These sculptures were intentionally unfinished. The effect is amazing – it appears as though the people in these sculptures are locked in a struggle to escape from the marble entombing. Having a guide with such knowledge of the history behind these works of art really made them come alive. Plus she was adorable!

Micalangelo’s prisoners

Later in the afternoon we took a taxi to an area just outside of town called Careggi. We drove through the most beautiful area with spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside. It was Breathtaking.

Tuscan countryside

There we would meet Benedetta Vitali, our cooking instructor. Benedetta is the co-founder of the highly acclaimed Cibreo restaurant and now executive chef of her own Zibibbo restaurant in Florence…what a treat to learn from such a seasoned veteran. She was so friendly and inviting and made us feel very welcome. We started the day by learning about soffritto – the very fine chopping of two red onions, 2 carrots and 2 pieces of celery. Soffritto is used as a base for many common Italian dishes. Today it was for a Ragu and a tomato/bread soup called Pompordoro..

Chopping for the saffritto

These recipes are too good not to share! A little ambitious for some but totally worth the effort. Right from the start Benedetta had a large soup pot making a vegetable stock of the red onions, carrots and celery, only not chopped and covered with water. When she is making different dishes she adds some of the stock that is bubbling away on a back burner.

When you begin, take a day old loaf of French bread and soak it in water for about 20 minutes, breaking it apart as it soaks up the water. This will be for the soup later.


Cover the bottom of a pot with olive oil and allow it to get very hot. Add the chopped veggies (the soffritto) and cook until dark brown. Split in half, putting one half in another pot. Add stock to both pots, one ladle at a time. Wait a few minutes and add another. Three total. Grind or have a butcher grind 1lb of rump roast and 1lb of pork chop ribs (or just pork meat). Add the meat to one pot of browned veggies and brown. Glaze with one cup of wine. When the meat starts to stick again, the alcohol has dissipated. Add ½ c of milk, a little lemon zest and freshly ground pepper. Add more stock if needed to get a nice creamy sauce. Let simmer for 1-1 ½ hours. Prepare large pasta such as papadelli according to directions on the box.


Katie grinding the meat


In the other pot add a large can of peeled tomatoes broken up and 3 cloves of chopped garlic. Add a few dried chili seeds. Roughly chop a handful of basil leaves and add to the pot with 2 pinches of salt.

Lay a piece of cheesecloth in a colander and squeeze the water out of the bread. It will look like a corn meal. Add this to the tomato sauce. Blend it all together and let rest for 2-3 hours and serve at room temperature.

We made several other things that day but these two were magnificent. Just watching Bennadetta work was a treat. She reminded me of my grandma Fox, the way she stirred things in the bowl, like she had done it thousands of times. I found that so soothing….silly I know.

We stayed after and sat down to be served this delicious meal we had prepared. We started with Prosecco, Italian sparkling wine (much like what we call champagne). I don’t ever drink champagne, especially before my meal, but this was a surprisingly refreshing way to start the meal.

Bennedetta has the sweetest staff and we had the fantastic time, not to mention the incredible food. They served a different regional wine with every course, followed by dessert and amazing coffee to finish things off. What a night!

More with Benedetta and other fabulous sites next time…