Cooking with Judy Witts Francini
For our last day in Florence we went about 45 minutes outside of Florence to Colle Val d’Elsa where we had signed up for another cooking class. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after checking out her website and blog I was pretty sure it would be fantastic and different from the class we took in Bologna. We were met by Judy in the town square on a Friday which was market day for this town.
When the information said that we would start In the market, I didn’t think it would mean finding a fabulous pair of Italian made boots, but this was not just a food market. On Fridays, you’ll find all types of booths. Judy recommended this shop for their quality along with some others as we got to know each other on our way to a pastry shop for a snack and cafe. After chatting about what we had learned in Bologna, we decided to tackle risotto and seafood along with a dessert.
Judy’s personality and cooking style were completely different from our previous class. Her easy going personality made our day with her so much fun. If you are searching for a cooking class in Italy, I think it’s helpful to know what you want out of it. Do you want to watch and get recipes or actually learn some new skills and learn about the culture of Italy. Both classes we took were willing to adapt to what we wanted to do, but also encouraged us to give new things a try. Judy was very encouraging, never critical, and always willing to share techniques. We made things from her cookbook with variations. (Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen) Since she was originally from the States, she knows what we can get and what would be more difficult to find. When she heard I was going to NY in a few weeks, she suggested an Italian market where I could find good quality ingredients.
After finding my fabulous boots, we went to the food stalls. One had an entire roasted pig stuffed with something unknown. We were given samples at each place we stopped so that I was full before we even started cooking. The roasted pork was amazing along with prosciutto and another cured meat with fennel. We sampled cheeses and pork stuffed bread and so many other yummy things. Erica was with us to haul everything back while we continued to sample. When we got back to her flat, Erica had already started the food prep. We bought a large bag of fresh produce that would have cost at least $40 at home, but the total was about $10. He threw in ½ of a pumpkin like squash for our roasted vegetables and replaced one of the potatoes Judy had picked with one he liked better. She is clearly loved by everyone here.
Armed with an apron and cookbook that we got to take home with us, we began with the dessert first, a jam filled cookie crust pie. We were like little kids making shapes with the left over dough to put on top. While that was baking I chopped up vegetables and Mike made the Italian seasoning that you can let dry or freeze. Then while the vegetables were roasting we started the risotto. We decided to use red wine as the base and her technique was much easier than ones I have tried in the past. After sautéing the onions and toasting the rice, we added wine and covered it for a few minutes and then started stirring. The consistency was perfect. While cooking she gave us several ideas for different ways we could adapt this. We decided to try it with large prawns knowing that we can easily get fresh shrimp at home.
Judy talked nonstop giving us not only cooking tips and ideas but suggestions for cookbooks. The food we made was molto buono and we had a fabulous day leaning about Italian cooking and customs.
Judy is an American who has lived in Italy for 30 years and truly loves sharing her passion for Italian food. Mike and I had a great Italian cooking experience and I would recommend you try to take a class from her regardless of your skill level. She shared that she had taught college students in Florence some years back, teaching them some basic cooking skills.
In summary, we had two great cooking experiences in Italy. They were similar in some ways but we learned completely different things and experienced Italian cooking from two different perspectives. We came home with not only great memories but some new cooking ideas and skills.