Culinary Classes in Umbria, Italy

I came to Italy a Sous-chef and left Italy a Master chef!  Just kidding.  I’m neither a chef nor a baker, but with the amount of cooking we did at Il Colombaio, I’m certain I can get around the kitchen a little better now!


Our first night at the Villa, we learned the Bruschetta making traditions in Italy, as well as how to properly pronounce the name of this tasty appetizer.

In Italy, bruschetta is grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil.  It is also commonly served with hummus or chickpeas, rosemary and cheese.  A third variation may be served with tomato, but this is not the primary way it is served like it is in the USA.


In Umbria, pizza is generally made without cheese!  We had a lesson with Antonietta. After she prepared the dough, we each patted a large handful into blobs, let them rise and then hand pressed them into a rectangular pans.

Then different toppings were added to each pan which included just red sauce; just tomatoes and olive oil; onion, olive oil and rosemary; grilled vegetables; and red sauce with chunks of fresh mozzarella.

We probably threw Antonietta for a loop when we wanted to add some meat for protein, but she only spoke Italian, so whatever she thought didn’t get translated to us!


Another day…another cooking lesson with Antonietta.  This time we made pasta. Antonietta made a big hole in a pile of flour and started adding eggs for the dough. She kneaded the dough mixture until she felt the right consistency.  Once it reached the correct consistency we rolled it out with a rolling pin.  Antonietta could make a perfect circle.  Ours weren’t quite as picturesque, but Kristi and Diana did a nice job.

With our dough, we made several types of pasta.  First, tortellini!  Antonietta had already made the pork filling (no cheese in tortellini in Italy).  Next, she cut circles of dough for us that we folded in half with filling, wrapped the half circle around our finger, pinched the ends together and then folded over the cap.  It was easier to make than I thought!

Then came crescent shaped ravioli that we closed together with the tongs of our fork. We already had good practice with filling the tortellini, so this was a quick success.

Antonietta continued with cannelloni.  She cut rectangles out of the dough and flash boiled it for ten seconds or less.  Only salt is added to water to boil pasta in Italy…no oil!  Also, the pasta is generally scooped out of the boiling water and is never rinsed. Antonietta scooped the rectangles out of the water.  We patted them dry, added ricotta cheese, and rolled them into a cylinder to make the cannelloni.

After cannelloni, we made tagliatelle.  Tagliare means to cut in Italian.  As such, tagliatelle is hand cut.  It is not run through a pasta cutting machine.  A circle of dough is folded on top of itself from two “sides” if circles have sides, so the result is a long, rectangle of folds.  Then, the dough is sliced thinly, lifted from the middle, and swung into a round cluster.  Antonietta could do this in seconds.  We took minutes! Regardless, it was fun, and it was a tasty dinner.


Paola has a special recipe for cherry crostata.  She taught us how to make it.  The secret ingredient was cinnamon.  Once she made the dough, we pressed it into individual pans, added cherry preserves, marked our desserts with a distinguishing deocration, and brought them upstairs to be baked. Guess which one is mine!


Irma is one of the folks who owns and runs Il Colombaio.  We got to learn from her mother, Anna, how to make Tiramisu.  What surprised me the most was to learn the meaning of Tiramisu…”lift me up” or “pull it up”.  It was served to clients in brothels to invigorate them!  I didn’t know that, but it was fun to hear as we learned how to make the dessert.

First we made mascrapone cream by hand stirring in the same direction mascarpone, egg yolks and sugar.  Then we carefully folded in stiffened egg whites.  Next we spread a little mascarpone cream on the bottom of the pan.  On top of the cream, we layered lady finger wafers briefly dipped in coffee.  On top of the wafers, we added more cream and a sprinkle of cocoa.  After three layers of lady fingers, we finished off our tiramisu with distinguishing decorations to tell which dessert belong to each person. Because of the meaning of tiramisu, I put lady fingers in a form of penis!  ETB



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Cycling to Sinalunga, Italy…Rewarded with a Pizza Party!

Before we arrived in Italy, Heidi and I requested bikes because we had always heard of amazing bike tours in Tuscany. After driving around for a day on the narrow and busy roads, we had second thoughts about riding them and had considered different plans for the day but forgot to tell Gianluca.

Gianluca has gone out of his way to give us suggestions and get us what we have needed at all times, so we felt at least obligated to ride down the street and back. We told the family we’d be back in 5 minutes and told Gianluca we were going to Betolle. “That’s only 700 meters”, he responded.

So we strapped on our helmets. Lunch boxes were attached to the handle bars held spares tubes, air cartridges, and tire irons. We were set for our adventure, with the first stop being the grocery store for Heidi’s much needed Diet Coke. Of course, we couldn’t find it…a common occurrence. We rode up and down the hills around the three streets and finally settled for water which turned out to be a smart purchase on this warm, sunny day.

From Betolle, we intended on riding to Sinalunga, however, we missed the turn and pedaled down the hill on a busy road. Most drivers were friendly, though one passenger yelled “boo” out the window which was quite a startle. Still in one piece, we decided to pull off the road and map out a different route back to the house.

We turned through a neighborhood and then on to a back country road. Within minutes we were riding along what appeared to be a gravel driveway, but it just kept going. We passed by fields, gated houses, a few signs we didn’t understand, vineyards, roses, and poppies as we admired towns perched on the hills in the distance. As we pedaled along, suddenly a DHL truck was coming toward us, ah…there was an exit!

It returned us back to the busy road only a few hundred meters from Betolle. Sometimes mistakes are the best! We had so much fun riding through the country side. From Betolle, and after an hour or so of riding, we thought we’d return to the house, but we missed the turn just as we were heading down another hill, this time in the direction of Sinalunga, so we just kept going. The hills proved challenging as we pedaled as hard as possible. We stopped for more water from the public fountain in Guazzino before riding a few more miles and crossing bridge where we could see Sinalunga perched on a giant hill in the distance! Just the sight of the town on the hill ended our desire and attempt to visit it. The grades for some of the town roads were like mountain passes.

We turned right through the round-about and looked for another way home that might not require us to climb the hill we just road down as Heidi astutely noticed, “There is not a shoulder where I can walk the bike up the hill.” We were headed toward the A1, the main highway with a 130 km speed limit.

“Perhaps it has a side road,” Heidi said to me.

“Would you want to ride on the side road to LBJ?” I responded.

Miraculously, there was another two lane road to follow (Heidi is an excellent navigator), but we certainly didn’t avoid any hills. We rode past old houses, grazing horses, and eventually topped out with a lovely view of Sinalunga.

Two and a half hours later though probably only 10 miles, it was well past lunch-time, so we stopped at the meat market picked up Salami, cheese, bread, soda, water, and a bottle of wine for only 13 Euro! We were proud of our ordering skills…knowing no Italian, we survived.

Lunch by the beautiful pool back at the house, Il Casale del Marchese, was in order. The rectangular pool was flanked by trees and flower gardens with a spectacular bath area. On one end stood the pizza oven and the other end a huge cabana with pool chairs, a ping pong table and a foosball table. We snacked on our tasty purchases as we shaded our arms, legs, and face which were null of sunscreen during the whole ride while worked on tanning our midsection.

Happy hour time soon rolled around and the rest of the family joined us after a day in Cortona. We moved from the pool chairs to the shaded table and chairs by the enormous pizza oven. Gianluca and his mom made us at least ten pizzas with sausage, ham, tomato, olive, mushroom, artichoke, arugula and more. The final one was Nutella! The wine poured all night while Clarke played the guitar which Gianluca secured from a friend. What a great way to spend our last night in Tuscany!

We’ll do some more exploring tomorrow before finding our way to Cinque Terre…ETB



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