Tag Archives: Casa Ombuto

Tower of the Truffles – Torre del Tartufo

Tower of the Truffles – Torre del Tartufo

Torre del Tartufo - Arezzo, Italy

As we walked the grounds just minutes after we arrived my friend Lisa quietly admitted she was thinking on the plane…”it is such a long trip, what if I really don’t like this place? Judi, this is truly the most beautiful and peaceful place I have ever seen. I am coming back for my 60th.” Within five minutes she was already planning to return.

That is the feeling that I felt my first trip with Kelly in 2010 to Tuscookany’s Casa Ombuto which is located just a thirty minute drive from Torre. Both locations are wonderful with spectacular views and restored villas that make you feel as if you are living a true Tuscan lifestyle.

Tuscookany staffs each villa with about six people. The manager, Barbara is the perfect hostess and sees to your every need. She dines with you several times and makes herself available to arrange a trip or answer travel questions. There are two housekeepers whom you seldom see. They tidy your room daily and do your laundry if requested. There is a groundskeeper you might see pruning the bushes or stoking the wood fired hot tub. Of course there is your Chef and their assistant. That is it. And, after dinner, everyone leaves the villa. The only sound you might hear is that of a wild boar.

This trip we took the Seven Day Italian Course. While this sounds like an intense amount of cooking we actually were only in the kitchen about four hours a day for four days. The rest of the time we spent relaxing by the pool, having massages or site seeing in the towns nearby.

Barbara greeted me with hugs and tears. She was pleased to see me return and made certain I was well taken care of. She placed me in what is known as the “honeymoon suite”. It is a very large room with a fireplace and an iron canopied king bed. All of the bathrooms are marbled floor to ceiling with large wooden beams that remind you of the rustic barn like feeling of a true Tuscan building.
The floors are stone and several large windows that are kept open allow the mountain breezes to waif through your room day and night. No air conditioning is needed in the warmest of temperatures.
This is truly a slice of heaven on earth.

Poolside at Torre. The honeymoon suite has the four windows with white curtains.

Gratin of Braised Fennel

Gratin of Braised Fennel

This is one of my favorite recipes from our Italian- Mediterranean Cooking Course. Kelly and I were served this recipe our very first meal at Casa Ombuto and could not wait to prepare it ourselves. I love the licorice taste of the fennel. It is a wonderfully tasty side dish that is healthy and not difficult.

Tip- When you shop for the fennel bulbs, try to get medium size bulbs if they are available. They look like a celery bunch with long green tops with what appears like dill. Just slice off the end and trim off the fragrant green tops of the bulbs right down to where it becomes white. Remove any bruised outer leaves and quarter them. You will be adding this recipe to your “go to’s” I am sure.



5 fennel bulbs
5 Tbs grated parmesan
olive oil
chicken stock
sea salt and pepper to taste


1 Cut fennel tops and discard any bruised outer leaves. Cut into quarters
2 Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan, add fennel and cook over a medium heat, turning the slices over, until the fennel begins to brown nicely.
3 Add chicken stock to come two-thirds up the fennel, cover, lower the heat and simmer until very soft.
4 Take out the fennel quarters, place them side by side in a buttered oven dish and season with sea salt and pepper. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
5 Place under broiler for a few minutes until the cheese has melted.

Good friends, good wine, good eats equals good times.

Good friends, good wine, good eats equals good times.

Torta della Nonna - Grandma's Cake

Time could not pass quickly enough for the return of my cooking/traveling companion/friend Kelly and her lovely family to Seven Mile Drive. They had stayed on in Europe traveling to Naples, Sorrento and Florence for a week longer than I.  But, I was excited for her to arrive home.

My cookbook from Casa Ombuto was getting plenty of use. Each day I would prepare a breakfast buffet just like the one we had at CO and then a luscious recipe, like Grandma’s Cake or Tuscan beans for my family. They certainly were enjoying my newly acquired talents.  It was all so delicious and I knew Kelly would be as excited as I to share our culinary skills with a

Z'breakfast-eggs, fruits, yogurt and granola, cheese, salami and freshly baked 5 grain bread

mediterranean dinner party for some of our closest friends.

We met on Tuesday to prepare the menu. We chose Eggplant Caviar, Bruschetta and Antipasta for appetisers. For our first course we chose  Casarecce’ Pasta with speck and saffron; Basil, green beans, fresh tomato and mozz salad with a light dressing plus baked goat cheese salad. For the main course we decided on Roast Pork Loin Arezzo Style with Chunky Olive Oil and Parmesan Mashed Potatoes. We would finish with a light dessert of Zabaione and Strawberries. Each course would have a pairing of regional wines to compliment the flavors and we would finish with after dinner liquors: Limonciello, Amaretto d’Saronna and Frangelica. With the menu set,we agreed who would prepare which items and we were off to the Fresh Market to shop.

It was important that our friends get a true feeling of what our experience had been so we agreed we would prepare a sit down dinner, meaning table settings for at least 20 of our friends.  This could be challenging for most, however, you must remember, Kelly works for Williams Sonoma. I seem to recall her saying some weeks she actually owes them money when the mark-downs have been exceptionally tempting. So, we pulled the dining room table and chairs into the kitchen for the final 6 settings, visited the buffet holding all of my table cloths and napkins for the perfect selection and then raided Kelly’s kitchen for additional glass and bakeware.  We had a plan and it was coming together nicely.

We agreed to prep as much as we could. On Thursday we shopped and Friday we spent the entire afternoon together cooking. Some might find the idea of entertaining 20 dinner guests to a sit down dinner a bit intimidating but, Kelly and I were up for the challenge. In fact, we agreed we were having fun even during the preparation. Oh,and let me tell you I wish I had an application that could record the aroma in the kitchen to share on this blog! (Maybe we could invent that Matt?$!) We plugged my I-Phone in to the kitchen Bose to hear Andrea Bocelli belt out  “La voce del silenzio”. There  is something to be said for the smell of garlic and pork roasting along side cippolini onions in balsamic vinegar that just exudes Italia. We felt as if we were back at familiar Casa Omboto once again.

There is one element of our dinner party that was a true blessing to us all. On Wednesday I got in touch with Liza Chung, the brilliantly creative florist for Lindsay and Matt’s wedding. She had prepared a trial centerpiece for them a couple of weeks ago and had graciously brought it to the house for us to enjoy. This centerpiece was over the top gorgeous. ( I don’t wish to give any of her secrets away, so I will not include the picture in this post. Just stay tuned for wedding pictures after October 2nd.)  We loved having the scent of the flowers in the house but, like us, fresh flowers drop their petals, wither and die. The beautiful 3 and 1/2 foot tall glass vessel had been sitting in the living room waiting for Finn to send it toppling over. I phoned Liza to find out when and where to return it. She explained she had a meeting on Friday at TPC and would swing by and pick it up, asking what time would be convenient for me.  I explained I would be cooking all afternoon for a dinner party.  “Ohhhhhh…” she said.  I could hear a sparkle in her voice as she told me she would drop by late afternoon. Around 6 Friday evening Kelly and I had set the tables, the water and wine were chilling and just a few last minute dishes were warming in the oven when the doorbell chimed to “The Wedding March”.  It was Liza and her son with two of the most magnificent floral masterpieces I had ever seen. Liza had put a pic of them on Facebook the day before and I commented “I loved dahlias”, one of the main flowers of the design. They placed the beautiful gold vessels on the buffet , and were on their way, the perfect compliment to our culinary masterpieces.

By seven-thirty Kelly and I donned our clean Casa Ombuto aprons as the guests began to arrive with bottles of rich Tuscan wines in hand. They snacked on appetizers and drank chilled Prosecco until we were ready to share the main course. Our friend Michele led us in a beautiful blessing then Kelly and I explained each dish. We opened the buffet to our guests and smiled at the “oohs and aahs” as they loaded their dinner plates and headed for their seats.

In true Zitiello tradition, the wine was poured and Tom offered up the first toast, explaining what a wonderful experience Kelly and I had shared. He explained the trip was a dream of a lifetime but, better yet, one we could all benefit from….Munga!

It was a beautiful evening with great food, great wine and even greater friends.

Thank you to our teacher, friend and Chef Laura Giusti of Casa Ombuto, who was in our hearts and on our minds the entire week.  We miss you so Laura.

It is Saturday….it must be Roma!

It is Saturday….it must be Roma!

A page from my personal journal dated….June 12th, 2010

Our cooking school friends...

Today I figured out if I changed my international settings to Italy I would be on the correct calendar. It only took me a week to figure that out….

Kelly and I left Casa Ombuto at around 8:30 am after a tearful goodbye to our new friends.  Only the classmates and two

of Laura’s helpers were in the cucina  when we packed the Fiat Panda for the car ride to Firenze.  How do you say goodbye to new friends who have shared an experience such as this? Kelly and I drove off with the bale of hay still atop the car one last time down that beautiful tree canopied dirt road. As I checked the rearview mirror I could see them waving good bye, just like family. I honked the horn one last farewell.  Kelly and I were touched beyond belief. Whenever I see that ribbon of road I dreamed of for twelve months since planning our trip to Casa Ombuto, it will now be a dream come true.  We walked that path literally. I can only  hope to return one day.

The sun shined brightly on the Tuscan countryside as we traversed the narrow mountain roads.  It was Saturday once again and the motorcyclists, in their tight fitting colorful suits buzzed past like pesky bees invading our space.  It was unnerving  as I downshifted and banked the turns changing speeds with the signs posted as we entered the villages along the route to the autostrada.

In an hour and a half we were in Florence and traffic was thick.  In the city center Tanya  was leading us in circles and I was becoming frustrated.  We turned her off and headed in the direction we thought the train station could be located. Suddenly there it was.  Happily we parked the car and walked a few steps to the rental car office. The little white haired

Shopping at Ponte Vecchio, shops along the bridge over the Tiber

lady and man, proprietors of the rental car office, were as happy to see us as we were. We turned in our car and lugged our heavy suitcases to the train station where we secured our first class reservations to Roma.  After checking our bags, we hopped into a taxi to Ponte Vecchio to shop.  We had a couple of hours to kill, so we chose a side walk cafe to share a light lunch and a glass of white wine.  The shops were infested with persistent salespeople and we soon discovered the prices and the value did not seem to equate.  I suggested we return to the train station to relax for a bit before the train.  Later we checked the sign for our platform and boarded, lifting our regretfully large suitcases onto the sleek train. We settled in for the smooth  hour and a half ride to Roma.

Bob, Emma and Katie were meeting us at the train station when we arrived in Roma.  They had landed at the the airport in Rome at 8:00 am, checked into the three bedroom apartment, unpacked, rested and waited anxiously to see their mother, whom they had not seen for seven days, and the neighbor…me!  As Kelly and I exited the train and were pulling our bags behind us, we saw a couple embraced and kissing passionately. They were lovers happy to be reunited and I must admit, it excited me to remember that passion, that excitement, that longing to see each other. It  had been a long time since I had seen a public display of affection ( PDA) and I was warmed by the tenderness and length of the kiss. We continued up the platform, Kelly racing ahead of me, searching for the familiar faces of her sweet daughters and her husband. The greeting was as special as Kelly had hoped and the girls led us expertly thru the train station out to the street where we waved a taxi to whisk us to our apartment.

We checked out the accommodations and decided who was sleeping where.  It was off to find a trattoria for dinner andback home for a sleep that would hopefully take care of the jet lag they felt.  We had a free morning, so the girls would be able to sleep in. I crawled into the firm double bed with it’s down comforter and was asleep seconds later.  Kelly, Bob and the girls had made me feel comfortable and at home in their lovely Roman apartment. Tomorrow we will explore and at 1:30 Paolo, the same tour guide our family had in 2004, will meet outside our apartment for a walking tour of Roma.

I had better get to sleep.  beune notte….

Farewell Casa Ombuto

Farewell Casa Ombuto

A page from my personal journal dated Friday, June 11, 2010

Sadly, today is our final day at Casa Ombuto.  Tomorrow morning we will rise bright and early, drive the now famous Fiat Panda back to Florence, do some shopping at Ponte Vecchio, have lunch and catch the train to Rome where we will be met by Bob and the girls. But, we have one more day, the morning is free, an afternoon cooking lesson, break and then the farewell buffet consisting of our personal requests. It will be an emotional day and we are very sad to think about leaving this little slice of heaven on earth

Kelly and I awoke early and met at the cantina for tea.  We were dressed for our walk and headed up the mountain to the road around 8:30.  We find the trail to be challenging, but, both of us agreed we were happy to be walking and burning off some of the calories we intake each day.  The spectacular views are waiting around each corner as we push to make it to the paved road.  The wildflowers are so plentiful. The patchwork of the farmland and the occasional home with bell tower and red clay roof is reminiscent of an Ellen Diamond oil painting. When we reach the summit we can see all of Poppi below.  It is truly beautiful.  We walk for an hour and then must quickly freshen up for our short trip into town to check out the little pottery shop next to the pizza shop Elizabeth,Kelly and I stumbled upon the day before.

At the cantina we greet our classmates who are planning their morning excursions.  Lindsay and Cassie seem sad they have no transportation and I suggest we try to fit them in the Fiat and accompany us to town.  They excitedly agree.  It is only a fifteen minute drive, so we head down the path to the car.  I am quite surprised we can fit all five in the car, although it is tight.

When we arrive at the piazza, we see Jim, Eleanor, Rosemary and Tom parking their car.  I beep the  crazy sounding horn and we all wave.  The locals look up in surprise.  One amazing thing I realize is we have not heard a single car horn since our arrival in Florence.  Everyone seems to be patient here in Tuscany, which is far different than what we will experience in Rome tomorrow.

The small shop is packed with ceramics of every shape and color and we excitedly search for more treasures, all of us amazed at the low prices.  Laura later told me the Vietri is made in the southern regions. We begin to make our individual selections and the clerk bubble wraps each piece and puts them in cardboard boxes for shipment. She explains we can ship 20 kilos for 200 euro at the post office.  We know we can do better than this if we investigate, and after paying we return to the Fiat with two large bags each for Kelly, Elizabeth and I.  Lindsay and Cassie have one bag each which they agree to hold on their laps. I unlock the trunk and somehow we are able to pack our packages in the back. I suggested we take the packages back to the ceramics factory where we were the day before and have them pack and ship our things back in a wooden crate.  Kelly was afraid they would not want to do this for merchandise purchased somewhere else.  I told her we should try.  And, we all packed back into the Fiat like sardines, off to Tanaressi.   With “I-speak Italian”, an app on my I-Phone in hand, we walked back into the ceramics showroom.  The two salesman were surprised to see us return.  I attempt to explain our request.  After several translations on my I-Phone,we were successful.  In fact, they were happy to accommodate us.  They promised to rewrap and pack our things and ship them with the other things. The crates would arrive at our door in 2 weeks max.  We told them in Italian we would recommend them to all of our friends and they hugged us and gave us the traditional Italian kisses, first on the left cheek then on the right.  We had made  new amici, oh and we had added to their economy in the process.  We all were happy and headed back up the mountain to Casa Ombuto for lunch and our final class and farewell buffet.

On the rocky road up the mountain we encountered a stray bale of hay right in the middle of our path.  Kelly jumped put of the Fiat to move it aside. We were fearful someone would come flying around the bend as they had done several times before.  I rolled down the window and suggested we  put it on top of the roof and she did as Elizabeth, Lindsay, Cassie and I laughed hysterically. I figured we needed some light entertainment back at the Casa.  We were very close to our

destination but drove slowly so the bale would not slide off the roof.  When we pulled up in front of the cantina the group greeted us with jaws dropped and laughing wildly.  Chef Laura smiled and laughed and said…” where you get?”. Tom and Jim just shook their heads smiling as Eleanor and Rosemary said, “you girls are so much fun”.  We announced, “only 20 Euro……for this bale of hay……”

Laura asked if we could all gather around the car and take a picture with her on top……sitting on the bale.  We told her it would be a great Facebook profile picture.  We all laughed till we cried.

After freshening up we returned to the cucina where we prepared the recipes we had requested.  Tom wanted to learn how to make good meatballs, Eleanor, red sauce, Kelly , gnocchi, and others wanted to learn some of the dishes Laura had prepared for our dinner the night we arrived. The kitchen was a buzz with laughter as we followed our lovely instructor for the final time. Danielle was busy with white tablecloths, at least fifty red roses, white candles and fresh ivy vines from the garden.  I learned it is not necessary to  use a professional floral arrangement, even wild flowers and grasses can be a beautiful compliment in a simple glass vase.  Life is very simple in Tuscany.  Kelly and I promised each other we would bring home this simplicity and incorporate it in our own homes.  Simple, fresh ingredients prepared in simple ways.  One thing I also noticed…..there’ is no microwave as Casa Ombuto!

Chef Laura atop the Fiat Panda surrounded by her class at Mediterranean Cooking Class - Casa Ombuto

Laura and Barbara wanted to take more pictures of us on the Fiat that stayed parked in front the of cucina.  We all had our aprons on and thought it would be the perfect group picture for our class.  It sort of summed up in words the fun we had with this great group who shared our dream with us.  So, Laura once again was helped atop the Fiat, and we fit as many in the car as possible and all around.  Barbara took the picture so we all would be included.  We returned to our rooms around 7:30 to dress for our farewell dinner in the garden.

Everyone looked beautiful as we made our way back to the cantina where champagne flutes awaited us on the rustic wooden table outside of the cucina.  Laura motioned for me to come in and told me she thought I was a beautiful person and

she wanted to stay in touch with Kelly and I.  I told her she was welcome to come and visit us in Florida whenever she could. She said she would like to come to teach class with me. I told her I would be honored and it would be something the girls would love, and cherish, so we would make a plan. Barbara led a toast as we all clicked our glasses cooking straight into the eyes of the other person……very important.  And as the beautiful platters of food were carried to the pergola in the garden, we headed to the buffet in trepidation, wanting to taste the food that smelled so delicious yet wanting the evening to never end.

The gnocchi was served in two ways.  One was a pomodoro sauce that took  4 kilos of tomatoes and about two hours to prepare and yielded two cups of sauce.  The rest of the gnocchi was bathed in a gorgonzola cheese sauce. OMG!!!!  The pasta with basil and oil with speck,an Italian meat similar to bacon, was once again my  personal favorite. Tom and Jim had rolled the meatballs made of pork and veal in chopped almonds at Laura ‘s instruction.  The roasted fennel was unbelievable, the chicken tangine….amazing. Laura prepared a plate for Tom and when he took it from her realized the three pastas were the colors of the Italian flag…..nice presentation. The salad was wonderful….so delicious and accompanied by a wonderful white wine from the Tuscan region.  The red was our favorite Tartarini from our friend at the chateau

It was Jim’s 65 th birthday and he had no idea when the lights went out and the chocolate cake with cherries arranged in a small heap on top and ivy vines falling down the sides, dusted lightly with confectioner sugar and candles burning…..it was for him.  We sang happy birthday and after he blew out the candles, Eleanor read the email wishes sent from his children and best friend.  It was a

Jim's chocolate birthday cake "Tenernia" made and decorated by Danielle

wonderful surprise to be a part of.

After the cake was eaten, Laura asked if she could be excused. When she returned she had changed from her chefs clothing to a beautiful sheer top, pants, looking lovely with makeup and a slightly different hair style.  She presented each of us with our certificates individually sharing her thoughts about us as she went thru every name. We received a warm hug and smile from her as we promised to one day return. As the shot glasses appeared and Danielle with the bottles, we sipped our after dinner drinks and reminisced.  Laura told us she would not see us in the morning as she would be heading to Milan and wanted to say her goodbyes tonight.  It was a fitting sendoff in the Casa Ombuto style.

Kelly and I walked arm in arm back to our apartment sad to be leaving early in the morning.

His is truly a slice of heaven on earth!

planes, trains and rental cars…

planes, trains and rental cars…

This blog is my Journal for June 6th, 2010

Yesterday was a day of planes and trains stations.  Kelly and I flew thru the night to Frankfurt and , although we had taken off more than one hour and a half late from the US, made our  tight connection to Florence.  We decided to hitch a cab from Florence airport to the train station.  A cab ride directly to Casa Ombuto would run approximately 200 euro said one of the cabbies so we needed to figure out the best way to get to our final destination.  It seemed good being in this train station that I had been in with Tom and the kids on our previous trip to Florence.  At the station we saw lines of people waiting to purchase tickets or, like us asking questions.  I found the information office and asked the girl for the closest rental car office.  She pointed outside of the station directing me to Centuro (street) ????  I  left  Kelly to guard our heavy  bags and ventured out of the busy train station in search of the rental car office.  After directions from several non English speaking Italians, I saw the small office with a sign on the window front ” easy car rent”.  Sounded good to me.  And as I approached I noticed a small, white haired lady asleep in a chair and an equally small grey haired gentleman behind the counter asleep is his chair.  They popped to their feet and I asked if he spoke English.  He nodded yes, meaning not very well, but  he seemed to understand.  I arranged to rent a Fiat Panda for the week for just over 250 euro.  I  briskly walked back over to the train station with a smile on my face, to share with Kelly our good fortune. We dragged our large suitcases down the via toward the rental car office where the sweet old man helped us put them in the back of the yellow Fiat.  After helping us load  the destination city “Poppi”  (pronounced pope’E) into the TomTom, which we immediately named Tanya, we were off.  The drive from Florence to Casa Ombuto was an experience in itself. It seemed as if it took forever to get out of Florence, which is quite small geographically.  However, Tanya managed to get us thru several roundabouts chanting “take the next right, bear to

Kelly next to our Fiat Panda....

your left and make a right turn on the third exit.”
It is approximately 50 km from Florence to Poppi, where we could check in by 4pm.  It was 2pm when we left Florence, so we should arrive on time.  We were blown away as we finally entered the highway that led to the  surrounding countryside.  It was every bit as beautiful as any picture.  We just kept saying…”oh my God”. Then we drove, we drove, we drove, thru little towns and winding mountain roads.  The Fiat is a five speed so I kept down shifting and it was crazy as motorcycles, banking the curves headed directly for us ……ON OUR SIDE OF THE NARROW ROAD!
After some anxious moments of wondering how to find our casa, and nearing dark, we happened upon two kind soles in a pick up truck just on the edge of Poppi.  They were the first people who seemed to recognize the name  “Casa Ombuto.”  They said, “follow us.”  They led us up the mountain road for probably two miles of winding dirt ribbon and finallystopped in front of an even smaller dirt road and pointed for us to turn.  We both yelled “Grazia” and we were off. When we reached the road I have dreamed of for months, the road I have as my desktop on my computer, we were “screaming..”there it is…..” We drove past the stone columns with the sign Casa Ombuto down the canopied dirt road and winded around the pea gravel road to the stone building we had seen in the brochure.  Barbara the manager and our chef, Laura Guisti greeted us immediately with hugs and a glass of wine . “We were a bit worried, and were looking for your travel information as you pulled up””, said Barbara, happy all of her students had arrived safe and sound.

After a warm welcome, Barbara showed us to our suite. We each have our own bedroom and bath that open to a large living room with kitchen and fireplace.  Outside our glass French doors is a covered porch with a huge wooden table and benches…..flowers everywhere,  we were too exhausted to shower, so we washed up and made our way back to the kitchen and dining building, just a few steps from our apartment excited to meet the other students

Seated at the outdoor wooden table were our cooking classmates.  We would be a class of nine.  Barbara and Laura introduced us all around and we shared a glass of Comparti..  We met Rosemary and Tom from Ireland  and  now living in Boston, Eleanor and Jim from Boston and Bonita Springs, Fl   The four were neighbors in Boston, now retired travel companions.  We met Elizabeth from Perth, Australia and two sisters, Cassie from Wisconsin and Lindsay from Austin, Texas. Then we moved into the dining room and were served a meal fit for a king.  Laura had prepared a simple salad of tomatoes, asparagus and green beans with olive oil and buffalo mozzarella, Casarecce’ ( a dense type of pasta ) with speck and saffron,  The main course was a Florentine T-bone, a slightly grilled steak with chippolini onions and cannelloni beans.  All of this was accompanied by three wines selections, white and red.  Dessert was a berry tart that would make you dream of your grandmother.  After dinner Barbara and Laura began carrying several bottles from the large wooden cupboard in the corner….apparatiff ….amaretto, lemoncello, cognac, brandy, grappa, some home made……..we were to sample as many as we wished in the shot glass that was placed in front of us.  They said we could sit as long as we liked. Just blow out the candles and close the door. She suggested we take a full glass back to our room.  It was a beautiful evening and I was in a deep sleep moments after my head hit the down pillow.  Tomorrow we begin to cook. Bueno notte.

Tom from Ireland and Barbara Manager of CO

Kelly with the after dinner drinks.....

The seasonal berry tart.....lovely

Vacanza Italia

Vacanza Italia

The drive leading from Casa Umbuto to the main road. We are dreaming of being on this road!!

Yesterday Kelly reminded me that we will be flying off to Florence in just 9 weeks!  We will share an Italian cooking vacation for seven days at Casa Ombuto near Florence.  Paolo, Laura and Franco, our chefs, have returned from Sicily where they sampled several new dishes they will add to our Mediterranean Cooking Class cookbook. There is much to do to prepare.

We were wondering if it will be necessary to purchase the international phone package for our IPhones.  I say “yes”.  The GPS will probably come in handy for our walking tours. And it will be great to be able to send pictures of the culinary masterpieces we will create.  I can smell the garlic and truffles already.

Each day is well planned with a sightseeing trip after breakfast and hands-on cooking lesson in the afternoon.  Then we dine on our creations accompanied by delicious Tuscan wines that compliment the dishes. Although the week long course is intense there is plenty of leisure time for a trip to Florence to shop or a visit to LaVerna and its ancient monastery where St. Francis of Assisi lived most of his life.

International chef Laura Giusti teaches the Mediterranean Cooking Class. Laura was born in Subbiano which is a charming village close to Arezzo in the heart of Tuscany.  Her passion for food and wine inspired her to pursue this as a profession.  She studied to be a Professional Sommelier and she also complete and Oil” degustation course.  To improve her cooking skills she took courses with famous chefs from Florence, Rome and Lucca and with the “Slow Food” organization and the Institute of Alberghiero near Sienna. She also completed a Moroccan cookery course in North Africa.  In 1989 she opened up her own restaurant in Capolona near Arezzo “Il Giardiano Sull’ Arno”.  She started teaching in 2002  and was happy to finally unite her two greatest passions, cooking and teaching.  Her extensive knowledge of food and wine, combined with passion for teaching and personal charm will inspire us.

Here is a typical day at Casa Ombuto.  “Day 7  Breakfast.  Morning of leisure.  Light lunch if you are around.  About 3:00 pm begin hands-on cooking lesson.  Prepare an elaborate buffet dinner using all the cooking techniques that you mastered  during the week plus some new tricks. Presentation of food will also be demonstrated.  Grand finale dinner.  You will be presented with a certificate of attendance, cookbook and apron.”

During the next nine weeks I will be brushing up on my Italian and shopping for comfy travel clothes.  I intend to pack light as I will be responsible for my suitcase. Kelly will be a great travel companion and shares the same love of wine and cooking. My 13 day vacation is a dream come true and another line item to check off of my personal bucket list! Thank you honey for making this possible.  Ti amo!