Learning to Cook Food From Tuscany:
When I was offered the chance to meet and learn to cook with Anna Binni, I jumped at the opportunity. I do love food from Italy, especially Tuscany and I’ve always been curious about how the dishes I enjoy in restaurants and bars are really prepared. Sometimes it’s a simple ingredient that only a native Italian will know to use, other times it’s a methodology. In this case, perhaps both because the flan used courgette flowers and the chicken liver component involved a three times deglazing of the pan with wine. And of course, we were cooking with fabulous Italian olive oil supplied by our hosts!
Anna’s name sounded familiar to me, probably because she has restaurants in Paris which I may well have visited as I used to travel there frequently on business. She’s a lovely, passionate lady who has clearly inspired many people over the years and I felt privileged to be offered the chance to meet her. Tuscany Now the sponsors of the events were also there to explain that if you visit their villas in Tuscany they can arrange cookery classes as part of the package.
After an introduction to Anna, a glass or so of wine from Tuscany and some fabulous pecorino cheeses and sopressata made from pigs head, we settled down to watch Anna prepare the dishes and then to try for ourselves.
We learnt to make a classic Italian dish of Courgette Flan with Chicken Livers. Anna was vigilant, checking how we all followed her instructions and explaining to us how to improve. So, for example, my flan suffered because I didn’t drain the courgettes properly, so it was just a little oily.
I was particularly fascinated by the chicken liver ‘pate’ because it’s something that I’ve enjoyed in Tuscany. Cooking the dish involved cooking the livers themselves for much, much longer than I would have anticipated and then deglazing the pan several times with wine so that all the fabulous juices formed a rich sauce.
Now, I did enjoy the combination of flavours and with a few reservations, the flan. But, we have been encouraged to try to see how we would make this dish (or a variation of it) at home, and that is very much my own way of cookery – I love taking a dish and trying to evolve it so that it is my own. I generally cook for one or two people so, making a large flan is not something I would do except for a special occasion. And, I know that unless you grow them yourself, courgette flowers are not widely available here in the UK.
So, Part Two of this post is my attempt at making a Tuscan flan that works for me and that uses ingredients I either have already or know I can get easily.