europe,  Travel

The Epicurean Pleasures of Lucca

In the town of Lucca, a Tuscan secret of sorts, we cooked with a chef in his palazzo (as I already waffled on in my earlier post). It was an intimate gathering of eight. Each one of us different personalities. Strung together by a common thread of curiosity, and if I may add cheekily, a passion for Prosecco. The point of this informal conclave was to figure out the theorem of Italian cooking. How do simple ingredients come together and produce an intense play of flavours? Wherein every morsel creates mini explosions in the taste buds, makes you close your eyes, smack your lips in appreciation, and reach out for more.

The chef, Giuseppe, who was the shepherd of this Prosecco-swigging lot, was born in an olive oil press in a Tuscan valley. He was part of a professional kitchen till he realised that the tension of cooking so far outweighed its pleasures. Giuseppe hit upon the fine idea of organising cooking classes within the comforts of his own home. His wife, who he met through these classes (which leads you to question if life is more than a mere string of coincidences), is a crackerjack at setting up a dining table fit for the queen. You can see how at the very beginning. It would be fair for me to to say for all that we were overcome by this glamorous apartment we found ourselves in, in a grand old palazzo within the medieval city walls of Lucca.

Beneath the blue skies of that hot summer’s day, we went shopping for the ingredients, before we entered the kitchen. As a child, I used to head out everyday for groceries with my father. Naturally, I take great pleasure in this sensory ritual of combing through fresh produce.

There we were, picking up focaccia at a feted bakery in town, culling sweet ancient bread called buccellato from old pasticcerias, examining yellow courgette flowers in grocery shops, tomatoes plump and small, red, green and yellow and sighing over their glossy beauty. More sighs later when we sunk our teeth into their luscious ripeness. The tomatoes burst with liquid beauty in our mouths, along with rounds of fresh mozzarella and basil, rocket leaves drizzled with briskly whisked balsamic and olive oil. We swooned over focaccia, oily and salty, crusty and yet soft inside. Mopped up fresh olive oil with our breads, la scarpetta, after smothering the focaccia with generous lashes of olive oil. Hey, there was no shame there. The most hardened keto advocates would have been driven into unashamed scoffing of bread. I can guarantee you that. Noshing on young and old pecorino cheeses with honey and fig relish.

Then we chopped and cooked, picking up on the chef’s earnest homilies on bread, rice, and olive oil, and left the palazzo, rich with stories, our stomachs lined with enough food, rivers of olive oil and red wine running through our veins — and maybe a scant knowledge of the workings of a Tuscan kitchen.

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At one of the oldest pasticceria in Lucca, Taddeucci, to pick up Buccellato. The bakery goes back to the year 1881. Buccellato in Lucca is bought fresh daily from this bakery, because if you have not bought it from here, you are a sad twat. 
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Buccellato, the crusty breakfast bread studded with raisins and aniseed.
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Gaping at the longest ream of focaccia at Forno a Vapore Amadeo Giusti in Lucca.
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Chef Giuseppe. This is for you, Caroline.
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Beefsteak tomatoes
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Pepperoncini, the dried version of which we bought greedily.
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 San Marzano tomatoes
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Pomodoro Pizza. Tomatoes from Firenze (Florence).
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Small red tomatoes on vines and vibrant green tomatoes.
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Courgette blossoms
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Inside the tranquil palazzo
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To the work stations
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But not before we are armed with endlessly flowing Prosecco.
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Cheese with fresh honey and fig relish
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My delighted love

 

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The many stages that went into cooking a soul-pleasing lunch.
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All-important task of chopping and slicing tomatoes.
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He bagged the courgette blossoms.
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Spooning out Gnudi (which means as it looks, a kind of naked ravioli). This is a Tuscan dumpling dish made of spinach and ricotta, and slipped into homemade tomato sauce.
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Feast your eyes on that lusty tomato sauce and tell me you do not want it right away.
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To the beautifully laid out, thin and long wooden table.
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Pumpkin and courgette blossoms, baked and gobbled. 
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Gnudi, served with fragrant risotto that is cooked with carnaroli, not arborio. The Tuscans sniff at the mention of arborio like it’s dog food.
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Thick Italian custard and berries, to be soaked up with buccellato.
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Nothing says it like plates licked clean and glasses of robust reds held up with cheshire-cat grins at the end of a long-drawn lunch. Limoncello at the very end to make sure that no one went home with a clear head.

 

43 Comments

  • Elsie LMC

    All of that food looks and sounds AMAZING! I love focaccia, it must taste even more incredible when its made in the country it was created in 😋 And those San Marzano tomatoes look like they’d go a lot further in recipes than the regular tomatoes we buy here! Ours are tiny in comparison. Honestly felt like I was experiencing this through your writing so thank you for sharing it! (You’ve inspired me to go and look for a cookery course in my area!)😄❤️

    • dippydottygirl

      Yay Lucy! Go for it, there is something tantalising about cooking classes. To learn the nuances of making better food in the kitchen and then to replicate them asre both such highs. Honestly, apart from the few times I attended such classes during my reporting days, this was my first paid-for cooking class. I loved it. Immersive and fun. The focaccia was yum and that does not even begin to cover it. I stuffed my face with bread, let that say all. 🙂

      As for the San Marzano and the heirloom tomatoes, they were so fresh. My husband who is not a big fan of tomatoes is a convert thanks to our Tuscan tomato experience. A tip I have learnt is to not refrigerate tomatoes and have them as fresh as possible and buy them on a regular basis. They do taste way better than when they are leached of all taste in the refrigerator. Thanks for dropping by! xx

  • lexandneek

    Good lord! This is definitely food porn! As for the Chef who was born in an olive press – I can’t think of a more fitting profession for him 😉 Why am I always so hungry when I read your blogposts? Your descriptions are torturing my poor palate. The photos of the vegetables are very Hmm sexy! Loved it – Neek

    • dippydottygirl

      My dear Neek, I shall do my best to live upto this image you have of me. I am a glutton. That must be it! Adi says I have a little fat girl inside me who is unleashed once awhile.

      In Tuscany though, veggies are that. Sexy. If can correlate the two. What’s your news? xx

      • lexandneek

        We’re doing fine. Just trying to get through the trivial pursuits of life and having little enjoyments here and there. I can tell that you and Adi are happy and thriving – you guys always look amazing! Take care – Neek

        • dippydottygirl

          We get by, Neek. 🙂 Thank you, your words are appreciated because they are ever so kind and loving. I am happy to hear that you both are gathering your portions of contentment from life. We need it every now and then. Have a lovely weekend! xx

  • We Travel Happy

    Oh my gosh this post sounds sooo delicious! The way you described the tomatoes, ooh! I use pecorino in the pastas I cook. I used to make focaccia and other breads and oh yeah they taste heavenly with olive oil and vinaigrette. I have not been to Italy, but if ever, I would probably want to go to a cooking class as well! Loved this post but now I feel hungry 🙂

    • dippydottygirl

      Grazie mille, Amor. I am a fan of aged pecorino. I can devour enough of it in a trice.

      If you like to bake focaccia yourself, you wait till you get to Italy. You might go bonkers trying to get your hands on the different varieties there. It is a veritable job to choose one, to not obsess about the others you did not pick. I hope this post makes you hungry enough to go to Italy. 😉

    • dippydottygirl

      Thank you didi. In my mind, we already live in Lucca, shopping for veggies, and deciding on the menu for lunch. To make pici pomodoro or aglio e olio, to buy focaccia with olives or onions…you get the drift? 😉

  • carolinehelbig

    Oh my, I feel like I’m right there with you Dippy! I love everything about this post: the Prosecco had me hooked (if I could only drink one alcoholic beverage, that would be it); the shopping looks like such a delightful experience; the presentation is gorgeous (love those cheese slices with honey and fig jam); and each course—perfection. And all this under the direction of that elegant man (haha…I so enjoyed this personal touch; thanks for thinking of me).
    So true what you say about the simplicity of Italian cuisine. Mike is even a bigger fan than me. He uses a recipe book called Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. The dishes he has made have been excellent and I am always amazed how so few ingredients can produce such robust flavour. It’s a fat book with no photos and precise methodology (I have trouble using it as I like pictures and I’m a terrible recipe follower…always changing/adding things).
    You’ve put me in a good cooking mood for this weekend: Canadian Thanksgiving. Almost time to crack open the Prosecco. Cheers!

    • dippydottygirl

      Happy Thanksgiving to Mike and you! I hope the Prosecco shall be accompanied by plentiful noshing and laughter. After it is the best way to be thankful for this wonderful life we have, with our loved ones and good food.

      As for your generous comment, I appreciate it. You feel the post, I know. Given that Mike is a connoisseur. I shall look up her book because I love collecting and following good cookbooks. I have baskets of books in the kitchen to dip into, to suit any mood.

      Raising my glass of red. Cin Cin. ❤

    • dippydottygirl

      Brianji, how are you? I am good. Just getting some writing done while I am absconding. But I have been missing blogging and chatting with lovely people like you. So I shall be back. 🙂 (I have been watching the Terminator, so could not resist that last line)!

      No you did not get it wrong at all. You are a master of Hindi. Cheers.

Hit me up, buttercup

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