Le Centinelle, located close to Greve in the Chianti region of Tuscany.
Some people dream of it, and I must confess, the thought (along with some level of curiosity) had crossed my mind in the past. But in all honesty, it wasn’t high on my ‘must do’ bucket list. However, now that I can cross it off as been there/done that, I’m willing to admit it was definitely one of the high points of our most recent trip to Italy!
But first I should explain that as a Swedish gal married to an Italian, well let’s just say everyone in this family prefers that we leave the major cooking to husband and leave it at that. I mean really, how many memorable Swedish dishes can you
name? (As an aside, even when I throw Swedish meatballs into the conversation all the Italians laugh and say, “You call those tiny balls covered in thick white gravy meatballs???” Well, yes, in my family we did!) To be clear, I’ve got the whole baking thing covered quite well (thanks, mom!), but when it comes to day to day sustenance regarding food I’m happy to acquiesce to the resident Italian.
So it was with great surprise that husband was the one to suggest we all – and by all I’m referring to his Italian American siblings with whom we were traveling – enroll in a cooking class while on our recent family vacation that included some glorious time spent staying in a villa in Tuscany, and no, one can never get tired of saying that phrase! Whether or not that cooking class was for my benefit I’ll never know, ahem, but admittedly we all learned something over the course of the several hours we spent together in that rustically modern kitchen located on a picture-perfect hilltop in the Chianti region of Tuscany.
And yes, getting there was half the fun! Lucky for us we were blessed with the presence of our Italian host, owner of the villeta in which we were staying, who agreed to ride along that day. But after traversing many mountain switchbacks along the journey (in our stick shift controlled oversized van, no less), even he was challenged in finding our well-concealed target. To be fair, even the map shown on their own website shows several routes, one of which clearly says, “Don’t follow this path. This road does NOT exist!” as well as another one saying “many GPS systems show a route which is incorrect therefore DO NOT relay on SatNav. . .”
Anyway, just as every twist and turn of those Tuscan mountain roads revealed one classic scenic surprise after another, Le Cetinelle ended up being quite a large complex including a small inn, vineyards and wine room, gardens, plenty of walking and hiking paths, a complete cooking school kitchen complex separate from the main residence along with the most gorgeous outdoor picnic area wherein we were able to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
This is part of our group working hard to get to the part where we break open the wine and really enjoy ourselves!
Possibly the largest peppers we’ve ever seen!
Making potato gnocchi took a lot of work. Best left to the experts! Especially when you get to the ricing those potatoes part, but doesn’t this just look so perfect?
So if you can imagine how much fun it was to spend several hours in a kitchen – in Italy – with a group of Italians getting their instructions from two expert and fun-loving Italian chefs, well, let’s just say this Swedish gal had a blast! Especially when the wine started flowing, and yes, it was all bottled and aged right there from the vineyard in which we ate and drank. Come to think of it, I believe we ended up spending almost as much time enjoying the eating and drinking part as we did in the kitchen learning and taking notes!
The freshest bruschetta ever!
Seemed like we peeled an awful lot of potatoes for this gnocchi but wow, was it ever yummy!
Giant peppers reduced to a side dish with these all-star authentic Italian meatballs. No ‘white gravy’ needed!
For the records, we lost count of the empty bottles they kept removing!
In the end, what struck us most about this wonderful experience was the simplicity of it all. Garden fresh ingredients handled with love and care in the kitchen. No complicated recipes. Served to la grande famiglia on a rustic outdoor table scape at a very leisurely pace. Oh, and it sure helped that we were on a mountainside in Tuscany. Or dare I say we found our own Tuscan heaven that afternoon?
Oh, and those kitchen notes I mentioned above? Here’s all I managed to scribble that day:
Step One – Move to Tuscany!