To my friends and family,
So many of you have asked about the business I run with my friend Tita. We use her home, and she is the main cook, while I am the assistant cook, interpreter and hostess.
Tita loves to cook. I know she learned most of her cooking skills from her grandmother on her mother’s side. The family lived in the country and had their own animals, including chickens and rabbits.
Tita’s country home, which is the home base of our umbriacooks4u venture, is made of stone and brick and dates back to the 1800s. Tita’s brother bought the property 20 years ago, intending to restore the country home. Tita and her husband Maurizio brought the land after he married a woman who preferred living in the city, and spent a year restoring the home. They have been living there for eight years.
Tita's not the only family member who enjoys restoring old homes and cooking for business. Her sister, Anna, also a fabulous cook, restored a medieval borgo on the outskirts of Perugia and opened a five-star bread and breakfast, Villa Fibbino.
On Tita’s property are 45 olive trees; if the season is a good one, those trees produce 40 to 50 liters of olive oil. We usually pick the olives the first weekend of November. She takes them to her sisters press and together with her sister they create the most wonderful olive oil. Our guests always rave about how incredibly delicious their oil is.
When we prepare the food for a cooking lesson, we get fresh herbs and whatever vegetables are available in her garden. We shop for other fresh vegetables and fruit at the market, visit a very loyal butcher for the meat, and get the dairy products from her local deli.
Tita usually makes her own bread for our clients. This past May, she and her sister completed a course in bread making in Northern Italy. Tita cooks with two types of flour: one for sweets and one for pizza and bread.
We always serve a dish with pasta. The dishes vary depending on the season. In the summer we usually serve a short pasta with a vegetable sauce. In the winter months, we will serve spaghetti with a heavy sauce. If we are asked, we will make homemade pasta. That is time consuming, and usually our clients do not go back to America to make pasta; therefore, we usually cook the different packaged pastas.
We prepare all the food before the cooking class. We wash all the vegetables and put them in bowls. We instruct our cooking lesson clients in hand cutting most of the food. We will use a food processor for carrots, celery, onions and garlic, or certain herbs used in our bases for sauces and soups.
Tita teaches our students how to make Bechamel, a basic white creamy sauce, how to bake the traditional Umbrian flat bread, and how to handle the basic Battuto and Soffritto techniques that are combined and essential to making sauces, soups and stews.
Battuto is derived from Battere, which means “to beat,” or “to mince very fine.” Soffritto comes from soffriggere, which means “to sauté” or “to fry” in oil or fat. We start with a Battuto, using a mezzaluna (“rocking knife”) to chop raw aromatic vegetables such as celery, carrots and onions, fresh herbs such as basil, rosemary, and thyme, garlic and pancetta until very fine -- almost to the consistency of a paste. We heat a little olive oil in a skillet, and add the Battuto and it becomes a Soffritto, which means that the ingredients are sautéed gently until they are soft. At this point, we add the remaining ingredients for a dish and finish cooking it.
All of the recipes we use for umbriacooks4u can be reproduced without difficulty, and all the ingredients can be brought at home in America, or elsewhere. Our recipes are simple basic Umbrian/Italian dishes, presented with zest and in a very inviting manner.
When a cooking lesson is finished, we ask our students to sit down at Tita’s dining room table. Tita prepares plates in the kitchen and I do the serving at the table. It’s a choreographed effort and everything is so appealing.
I must add that fine local wines always accompany our meals.
I cannot think of anything more to say. I hope you all can join us someday.