In the first ten months of my new life I have learned so much. I’ve learned from Francesca and Food Editore how to make a book form scratches, hanging drafts everywhere, I’ve learned that you cannot act as food photographer – if you are not a professional food photographer – without dying of a broken heart until your client approves a photo. And I’ve learned a lot from my cooking classes. Paradoxically, it is during my cooking classes that I learned the most, when in fact I am supposed to be the one who teaches something, not the one who learns so much.
The first time I taught a cooking class three years ago I pretended shamelessly, claiming myself a navigated teacher and hiding my insecurity behind a flood of words. You have to start somewhere, right? I came home exhausted but extremely happy with myself. After three years I have learned the seraphic smile telling the world all is good I have everything under control, even though the clock is fast-flowing and we still need to roll out the pasta.
I’ve learned to fake security when I say yes, the meat is ready, and I would instead slide into the roasted pork sirloin to check wether it is done or not, if it is pinkish and juicy or worse, overcooked and stringy like a slipper. I’ve learned to appeal to all the saints in heaven when I throw gnocchi or malfatti into the boiling water, keeping my fingers crossed, hoping they will float whole to the surface, and not completely melted, but you never know, the bad days happen to everyone. I also finally learned to sit at the table and enjoy the meal without being interrupted by phone calls or e-mails, savouring the pleasure of a well-cooked food, different season after season.
The most amazing side of the cooking classes, though, is the unusual perspective on your everyday life that students give you. What for you has always been a Tuscan panzanella, the common summer dish you give for granted in its simplicity, becomes in their eyes – and consequently in yours – a versatile salad characterized by the fresh acidity of vinegar, a tasty backgorund for other recipes, just like cous cous. And from here, a new world opens up for you.
The basic principle is the same of panzanella: take a piece of stale or day old bread that no longer gives its best in mopping the sauce in your dish, dip it in cold water and soak it. After about ten minutes squeeze it with your hands and crumble the bread in a soft and white snowfall. You can use it in panzanella, pappa al pomodoro, in a stuffing for a golden roast chicken or, as in this case, in an heretical panzanella, or better a Tuscan cous cous, I do not know how to define it properly. I used the last summer vegetables and the first autumn pumpkins with some fresh herbs from the garden, thyme and mint. When cooking the vegetables take a special care of pumpkin and carrots, caramelize them with the onion to give a sweet contrast to the sour vinegar, creating the impression of an unusual sweet and sour.
- 200 g stale Tuscan bread
- 1 red onion
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ of Delicata squash or butternut squash
- ½ aubergine
- 1 courgette
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pinch sumac
- A few sprigs thyme and wild mint
- Apple cider vinegar
- Slice the bread into thick slices and soak them in a bowl of cold water.
- Slice thinly the onion and sautée for a few minutes in a large pan with a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
- Meanwhile, wash and cube the squash, the aubergine and the courgette.
- Add a few sprigs of fresh herbs, I love thyme and mint, and season the vegetables with salt, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of sumac.
- Brown for about 20 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and golden.
- Squeeze the bread and crumble it with your hands in a large bowl.
- Spoon the vegetables over the bread crumbs, season with good extra virgin olive oil, a good drizzle of apple cider vinegar, a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Mix the vegetables with your hands to evenly distribute the dressing and let in the refrigerator for a few hours before eating.
Have a good weekend, enjoy your friends and family and make an healthy meal for them with a few slices of day old bread and your favourite vegetables. I will enjoy another cooking class with a group of eight women – who knows what I will learn this time?