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Tuscan Lessons

adapted from Sally Schneider's column “Well–Being,” Food & Wine, October 2000

Peggy Markel is a role model to me, an American cook who loved Italy so much she went to seek her fortune there in 1991 not knowing what she’d find. She ended up starting several extraordinary culinary programs adventures, as she calls them. in Tuscany, Liguria and Sicily. They are that just that: adventurous encounters with the culture, from hands–on improvisational cooking sessions to daily sessions with remarkable artisans: an organic herb farmer, a third–generation artisanal bread baker, a passionate cultivator of creamy Tuscan solfini beans, which he found growing wild along the old Roman road.

I spent a week at the 15th–century former monastery for the base for Markel’s Tuscany program, La Cucina al Focolore [Cooking by the Fireside] program, in a small village 18 miles southeast of Florence. I ended up an avid student of Markel and Piero Ferrini, the exuberant chef she works with. Rather than simply demonstrating recipes, they teach principals and approaches — using an herb–flavored salt as a multipurpose seasoning, basting roasts, game or poultry with white wine to caramelize the surface and provide a pan sauce. I learned a lot, even about dishes I thought I knew (how to marble polenta with beans, or to make an innovative crostini with fennel scented cauliflower). And I experienced a way of cooking and eating that still suffuses my New York life.

NOTE: Peggy Markel’s Culinary Adventures, 800-988-2851;

Click the image to read a companion recipe, Crostini di Cavofiore (Crostini with Fennel–Scented Cauliflower)