Tuscany (pt 1/2)

July 9th (Saturday)

The whole family was up early in order to finish packing and get one last cappuccino at our beloved Caffe degli Artigiani.  We had to be out of our apartment by 10 and at the car rental office, which was a little outside the city center, by 10:30.  About a 20 minute taxi ride later, we arrived at the rental office, got our rental van, and headed out to the Tuscan countryside.

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It was a beautiful two and a half hour drive to get to our apartment outside of Cortona.  We arrived at the apartment around 3 o’clock that afternoon.

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The family spent the afternoon relaxing and swimming in the pool at our apartment.

Around 5:30 that night, we went to a local festival near Lake Trasimeno in Tuoro called Festa de Torro (feast of the bull).  It was essentially like a small county fair, with lots of vendors and a band playing.  The region of Tuscany is known for its feasts and festivals –  almost anything can be made into a big celebratory event.

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For dinner, we sat at long picnic tables under tents.  We ate roasted bull (the main dish and focus of the festival), watermelon, fries, roasted pork leg, and pasta.  We also tried “Stinko”, which was pork still on the bone.

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After we finished eating, we went and walked around the grounds.  Around the stage where the band was playing, lots of locals were singing and dancing along.  Pete and I joined in for a little bit.

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It was a truly unique and authentic Italian experience.  I’m fairly certain we were the only nonlocal people there.

July 10th (Sunday)

The whole family slept in pretty late.  We spent the morning and afternoon swimming and relaxing.

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Around 3 o’clock we made our way into the town of Cortona.  It was about a twenty minute drive into town from our apartment.

Once we had explored the main street in town, we split up to find a snack.  Gracie, my mom, and I got pizza; my dad, Emma, and Peter got sandwiches.  We met back up and ate on the steps of a church in the main plazza.

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After we finished eating, we split up again.  The boys went wandering in and around town, and the girls went shopping.  I took my mom and sisters to one of my favorite shops in Cortona, Antonio Massarutto’s shop.  Antonio Massarutto is a sculptor and jewelry maker based in Cortona.  He works mostly with wire, bronze, stone and leather.  When I was in Cortona with my university group in May, I got to meet him and speak with him quite a lot. You can check out his work here.

July 11th (Monday) 

One of the things my family knew they wanted to do during their time in Italy was take an authentic Italian cooking class.  The owners of our apartment recommended a local woman named Alessandra, who’s been teaching cooking classes our of her home for over ten years.

Alessandra met us at our apartment and drove us into Cortona to plan our menu and get ingredients.

When we got into town, we first got cappuccinos and got to know each other a little better.  She told us about what dishes and cooking styles define Tuscan cuisine.

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After getting her suggestions and a lively debate, we decided on our menu:

  • a small batch of gnocchi (I basically begged her to teach us how to make it because it’s one of my favorite dishes)
  • ravioli stuffed with sausage and cheese
  • braised pork tenderloin
  • lemon gelato with a basil and mixed fruit salad

Once we had decided on our menu, we set out to get all the ingredients we needed.  Our first stop was the butcher, to get the sausage for the ravioli and the pork for the main course.  The next stop in town was the grocery store to get some basic ingredients.

Our next stop was a local farmers market shop right outside the city.  We got all the fruit, vegetables and herbs we needed here – all locally farmed.  We also got local cheese and fresh pressed olive oil.

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With all our ingredients in tow, we headed to Alessandra’s house to get cooking.  It turns out her house was right down the road from our apartment.

The plan for the day was to cook each dish/course and then eat it when it was done.  We all really enjoyed seeing how easy it is to make pasta- the kids were especially impressed with themselves.  Once we finished eating our last course, dessert, we sat around the table and talked for about another hour.  We were there until about 7pm.

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When we got back to our apartment, we swam for a couple of hours until it was dark.  We didn’t really eat any dinner because we were so stuffed from our day of cooking and eating.

[click here for the birthday blog and here for part two of Tuscany]

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