Menus for a week in Italy (with the girls)

It’s not that it’s always all girls, but this time around, I have 50 coming over 5 weeks. That’s a lot of girls, and it’s a fine balance, figuring out what they will want to learn how to make, what they will want to eat, and what’s exciting to watch me cook. It has to be a mix of the familiar and the possibly unfamiliar.

Day 1- Meat sauce with seared pork chops, sausage, chicken legs and neck bones. (I know this sounds like a humdinger, but the idea is that this is how traditional sauce is made, and everybody should know a classic.) We’ll have it with homemade gnocchi, a warm roasted red pepper salad with croutons, capers, orange zest and balsamic, and batter coated fried zucchini, tossed with fresh lemon juice and torn basil leaves. (frying at the right temperature in an olive oil for the gods, is a must on the learn to do it list.) We may have to make tiramisu for dessert.

Day 2- Arrista (pork loin, and ours will be gorgeous and fresh and on the bone, stuffed with fresh crumbs, rosemary, garlic, lemon zest, parsley and sage. At the end of the roasting, we’ll finish it with a little chianti and a teeny spill of cream. Served with a soft buttery polenta, a warm green bean salad in a mustard vinaigrette, and a fennel gratinata. For the first course, a risotto with chicken stock (everybody needs to know how to make chicken stock–a cook without stock knowledge is like a painter without paint), soffritto of caramelized carrot, garlic, onion and celery and tiny cubes of potato with thyme and finished with parmigiano reggiano and the seasons new olive oil. For dessert, poached pears in white wine, peppercorn and lemon zest on bruschetta.

Day 3- Roast chicken wrapped in fresh pancetta with rosemary, sage, braised leeks garnished with gorgonzola, smashed potato and smashed potatoes with parmeggaino reggiano. To start we’ll have a pumpkin and onion soup. For dessert, crepes suzette, nothing Italian about them, except I’ll use Vin Santo to finish them instead of Gran Manier.

Day 4- Lamb shank (except in Italy it has to be the whole leg, because that’s the way they cut it) with carrot, celery, onion and garlic, stirred around in the pot after the shank has been browned, until they pick up some color, then all set on top of the stove with the lid ajar, until the meat falls from the bone. We’ll be having this with some lovely homemade tagliatelle to soak up the sauce, and a spicy salad of bitter greens, finely sliced lemons, capers, thyme, orange, and olive oil. For dessert: chocolate jonty.

Our fifth class is at the sublime Pasticceria Bonci in Montevarchi, or right at home with the loved-throughout-the-Liciano Valley–Melchiore, a Sardinian chef who makes fabulous pecorino.

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