One of the highlights of our journey (mostly rail) through Italy was doing a fabulous cooking course in Siena.  At the time (2005) courses like this for tourists seemed to be unheard of in Europe (more seemed to be happening in Asia).  With our super basic Italian (mostly greetings, food names, etc), we headed to a tourist info centre in Siena; explained that we were staying in Tuscany for a week;  then asked if there was a place in a 1 day class.  They looked very puzzled and uncertain but promptly investigated for us (1st request for this they said!) and they were clearly delighted when they informed us that they had a class at the local Arts School.  

Nervously, we joined the morning class which included a couple of young chefs – one from Japan who could speak Japanese & Italian fluently + had a little English.  He was such a great help as the teacher could only speak Italian…she was also great, quickly demonstrating first and then communicating with us via sign language, etc.  They all had a sense of fun too so it was one of our best days ever.  We sat down for a long table lunch together at about 1 pm and there was even beautiful Italian wine offered.   A fabulous day that we’ll always remember.  We hope to return one day but we anticipate that the prices for a 1 day class have increased over the decade+ if other similar European courses are anything to go by!  

HOW TO GET THERE:  

There is a train service from Florence – Siena (approx 1.5 hours);  Florence – Pisa (1 hr)…or you can travel from Siena – Pisa (see Rome2Rio App).  It’s also possible to do a day trip to Pisa from Florence, either by car or train (info on our day trip below). However we’re not keen on squeezing hire cars into tight parking spaces etc. so we usually find trains more relaxing.

However, for the journey from Florence to Tuscany, we hired a car and drove to Tuscany where we had a week long stay at a “farmhouse”/villa.  We drove into Siena a few times over that week – approx 1 hr drive I think it was?  Parking was tricky and if there had been a train available (villa was lovely but a bit remote) we would have favoured that.

Photo below is of view from our villa in Tuscany (stayed a week).  There were about 6 villas built with local stone and the one we stayed in was the original/historic villa on which the others were modelled.

There was also a restaurant/cafe serving beautiful, traditional food cooked by an older Italian woman…it would have been wiser for us to brush up on more Italian before we went there. However, she was very friendly and we got by ok with sign language & smiles.  We loved it!


We hope to return & stay either in Siena or perhaps a smaller town nearby/accessible to Siena by train.

We also had a day/road trip to Pisa (again parking was tricky) from our villa in Tuscany…we’ve heard from others that it’s an enjoyable day/train trip from Florence or perhaps Siena. 

One of our favourite dishes that we made at the Cooking Course (see photo below) and later at home was/is various RAVIOLI plates.  The simplest is below (a good one to teach children) although many don’t like capers – we left them out for 1 of our teens & he sprinkled his with toasted pinenuts instead.   

Recipe above from Australian Gourmet Traveller book – “Simple”

Recipe below from another Cooking Course we did near Sorrento…unfortunately forgot our camera

PRAWN RAVIOLI WITH TOMATO, ROCKET AND LEMON SAUCE...we love this Ravioli and Tony makes it often!  It is a lot more complicated than the simple recipe in above photo but if you have a bit more time/energy it’s really worth it.

Ingredients:

For the Pasta…200 g plain flour, plus extra for dusting;  2 eggs;  2 teaspoon olive oil (EV).

For the Prawn Filling…12 green prawns, peeled and de-veined;  1 egg white;  1 tablespoon cream, 1 tablespoon rocket (roughly chopped);  1 tbsp flat leaf parsley (finely chopped);  S&P to taste.

For the Sauce…3 tbsp olive oil (EV);  3 large truss tomatoes (chopped);  1 cup rocket (finely chopped);  juice of 1 lemon;  salt to taste;  extra rocket leaves to garnish.

Method:  

To make pasta:  place flour, eggs and olive oil in a medium bowl and mix together using your fingers until a dough forms.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes or until the dough reaches an elastic and smooth consistency.  Wrap in plastic film and set aside to rest while you prepare the filling and until you’re ready to make the pasta sheets.

To make prawn filling:  place all the ingredients in a food processor (chopper attachment) & blend until the mixture forms a paste.  Set aside.

To make the pasta sheets…divide the dough into 2 equal portions.  Take 1 portion, dust with flour, and roll through the widest setting on a pasta machine.  Dust the sheet again with flour and roll through the machine on the same setting.  Reduce the width between the rollers by one and roll the dough through as before.  Repeat the process, adjusting the roller width each time until you reach setting 6 or 7.  Repeat with the 2nd dough portion.  Alternatively, roll out the portions as thinly as possible (2 mm works well) using a rolling pin.

To make the ravioli…use a 9 cm round cutter to cut 8 rounds out of each pasta sheet.  Place a heaped tablespoon of the prawn filling in the centre of one round, lightly brush the edges with water using a pastry brush, then top with a 2nd round.  Press the edges of the ravioli together to seal.  Repeat with the remaining rounds and filling.

To make the sauce…place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and cook over a high heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture comes to the boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes.

To cook the ravioli…Bring large pot of salted water to the boil.  Cook ravioli, two or three at a time, until they float ( by this time, the pasta should be “al dente” and the filling cooked through – this takes about 3-4 minutes).  Drain well.

Serving…arrange 2 ravioli on each serving plate, top with a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce, season with salt and pepper and garnish with rocket leaves.  Buon Appetito!!