I Tatti Kitchen


I Tatti chefs tour

It’s about this time of year when Villa I Tatti opens up their kitchen to the professors and their wives/husbands/partners (covering all bases) and lets them come into the bowels of the building to see what the chefs get up to every day. I of course put my name down for such a tour and yesterday was my turn to take a look into the I Tatti underworld (a.k.a main kitchen). We were a group of four and managed to get right to the crux of lunch time, snack time and afternoon teatime preparations.

The lovely Anna met us at the heavily secured biblioteca and escorted us through to the main kitchen where our chefs were waiting. Like all chefs I have known they were busy getting on with the daily prep. However, you couldn’t help notice the calm of the kitchen and the relaxed nature of the chefs, especially considering they had about 70 people to feed in a few hours time.


Making semi dried tomato bread rolls

All the bread is made on the premises and we came in just as Chef was stuffing some semi dried tomatoes into dough and cutting them into rolls. I was feeling very much at home with a feverish urge to push in and have a go myself, alas, I restrained myself and stuck to taking photos. The schiacciata is always wonderful to see drizzled in olive oil and salt, because you know how good it will taste when it comes out of the oven!


Proving for the oven

I know, from long experience, that people who aren’t chefs love to get a peek into professional kitchens and to learn a few tricks of the trade, so here are a few things that I picked up. The more I read, ask questions and watch Italian chefs in action the biggest difference I can see between my cooking and Italian cooks is the amount of time they take to cook and develop flavours. I have been taking more time and keeping the burners lower than I normally would to reproduce the deliciously rich flavours I am eating here, and I am loving the difference in flavour.  I noticed the guys cooking a simple porcini and prosciutto cotto pasta sauce, backing up my ‘slow it right down’ theory and seeing it in practice. We were also told a way to increase the flavour of the sauce with your pasta: just before the past is almost ready (cooked in salted water, of course), strain the pasta and finish cooking it in your sauce. That way the pasta has time to absorb the beautiful flavours you have created.

A very simple step but one I am sure many of us miss because we are so used to doing everything quickly. You never stop learning in the kitchen, I think this is one of my favourite aspects about being a chef, cooking doesn’t get boring, you just have to keep learning.


The ‘bible’

I did manage to sneak a peek at the kitchens ‘bible’, it is a book stacked with recipes they have been using for the past 12 years, the tried and true ones. So, I thought I would take my time and translate this recipe and give it a go! I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Once the bread was made and the pasta sauce was simmering away it was time to whip up a batch of cookies for afternoon tea- the fellows are so spoilt! Chef made the cookie mix in a matter of seconds (I’m thinking he could do it with his eyes closed!) and then we got a lesson on piping the dough around the edges of the baking paper first so it holds down the paper while you pipe the remaining and the paper doesn’t ride up- nice!


Cookie time

I didn’t catch all that was spoken but it didn’t seem to matter, I was still learning and enjoying myself as were the other guests, and while chef was popping on the red cherries you know I was gunning to do that job too. I can’t tell you how hard it is to stand in a professional kitchen and not do anything!!


Thankfully the cookies didn’t take very long to bake, and so I joined in and ate as many as I dare…come on, fresh out of the oven how do you resist that?


They were like eating clouds

After eating a few too many pieces of schiacciata and cookies we then went around to the stores to see the workings of the kitchen and I was surprised to see such a small storeroom for their dry goods, along with the fridge space. We were told that the fruit and vegetables get delivered daily, as does the fresh meat. On average they feed about 70 people a day and serve two to three different menus. The I Tatti fellows get morning tea and schiacciata, a two-course lunch and then afternoon tea in the drawing room, so all in all that is a lot of food to be prepared, not to mention feeding the staff of I Tatti, including gardeners, librarians, office workers, farmers and a few others who I have forgotten.


The dry stores and fridges, they were spotless!

I really enjoyed the guided tour and seeing how the kitchen operates but if I ever get the chance to go back again I don’t know if I’ll be able to hold back on doing some cooking! It makes me want to cook for large groups again. So Sydneysiders, Melbournians and Launcestonians, after July pop on over to camillabaker.com and book a class or dinner with friends and I will come to your place and cook up your very own Tuscan fare.

Pumpkin and bean agrodolce

I’m a big fan of sweet and sour flavours and I don’t just mean the Asian kind. Granted sweet and sour pork is a big family favourite and couldn’t be simpler to make, however, I am talking of the Italian variety. Mario Batali, a fantastic NY chef who lives and breathes Italian cuisine first introduced me to pumpkin agrodolce a few years ago in his book Babbo (A restaurant I am hankering to get to one of these days!!). I cannot remember exactly what his recipe state but I plucked around in my memory and worked with what I had.

My good friend Sue gave me a bag of whole dried chillies from her mother-in-laws chilli bush the other day and I was really wanting to try them out (they are delicious BTW Sue!) So I decided to make a chilli pumpkin side dish to go with the roast beef I was making for dinner. The boys swear and declare they HATE pumpkin and the only way they will eat it is in soup form and then it is declared their favourite soup, go figure!? I decided I wouldn’t waste the pumpkin on them, however, when I came to preparing dinner in my pretend kitchen I discovered I didn’t actually have enough pots and pans for my dinner proposal and needed to re-think the whole meal. In the end I came up with an agrodolce sauce that is dead simple, tastes absolutely delicious on the night, cold the next day on crunchy toast or as part of an antipasti platter so really everyone should know how to make this very easy, yet tasty sauce.

You can use any type of bean for this dish, I just happen to have these lovely big flat beans hanging around in the fridge which I top and tailed and cut in half, I then cut the skin off the pumpkin and cut it into chunky pieces because they need to hold their shape for about 30 minutes of cooking time. 


So to start, chop up an onion and about three small cloves of garlic, nice and thin. Heat up a medium saucepan on LOW-MED temp with a good glug of olive oil- the olive oil is going to help make the sauce thick and tasty so if you only put a drizzle in your saucepan then it won’t carry the flavour around as well, plus it’s not like your eating it all yourself so do not feel guilty!

When the oil is warm add onion only and saute for about 5 min on low heat, then add garlic and saute for another minute. Add a tin of whole tomatoes and chop with your spoon to break the tomatoes up then add about a teaspoon of salt and bring to the boil. Add cut-up pumpkin and whole chillies, stirring to combine. When the pumpkin is coated add about a tablespoon of honey and 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, stir to combine then bring to a boil (if not already).


Add your beans, coat with sauce then place a lid on top and gently simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring once or twice so it doesn’t stick to the pot. You may want to adjust your vinegar and honey depending on how you like it.

The beautiful thing about using whole dried chillies is they only flavour the dish with a hint of warmth, yet when you serve yourself the chilli for dinner you get the heat burst- perfect for a family meal!


The sweet and sour flavours meld beautifully with a traditional roast meal and I know it also works well with snapper (fish) salmon and pork. You can also use the same cooking method and add ginger with the garlic to turn it up a notch and this is especially yummy with white fish. 

The best part about this sauce is it so yummy the kids can’t resist it. Of course they rolled their eye when they saw the pumpkin but lo and behold every bit of pumpkin and bean was devoured so I think it must be a winner.

Gnocchi Bake in 20 minutes


Nic and I were doing our regular shopping trip last Saturday, trolling through the aisles as you do looking for inspiration. I think I was sussing out the cool pencil cases they had in the ‘back to school aisle’ when he casually said,

‘Hey, I grabbed some gnocchi to try…it’s on special’

Doing a quick calculation in my head a) I have NEVER bought store-bought gnocchi in my life b) we ARE in Italy  and c) really, store-bought gnocchi? and without missing a beat and showing my doubt I mumbled, sure OK and moved on.

Yes I am a food snob, this is a fair judgement but I have decided I will open my mind to new things while living in Italy and I guess if the gnocchi is on special, it looks fresh (kinda) and Italians are buying it then it can’t be that bad?. On the positive side of buying gnocchi- I’ve just saved myself about 40 minutes of cooking prep time in my tiny kitchen with no bench space and that can only be a BIG positive!

OK so the day arrives (actually it was my anniversary dinner) when I tackle the store gnocchi.

‘How do I cook this?’ I say to Nic….did I forget to mention I just finished a delicious bottle of Prosecco?

‘Like normal gnocchi’ was his answer, but then I decided to turn it into a gnocchi bake after reading about one in Saveur…..or was it on someones food blog??? Anyway, I thought I’d make the sauce first and think about the technicalities later.

OK, dead easy tomato sauce, I won’t write the recipe here as I have it about 3 times on my old Family of Foodies blog, so feel free to check them out at your leisure. Once you have this yummy sauce ready to go simply boil water in a large stock pot with a good pinch of salt and I’m not talking 5 grains of salt! Bring to the boil and add your gnocchi. Let the gnocchi rise to the top (water will also go a little foamy) but don’t let it boil as it will break apart your gnocchi.

Once the gnocchi has been sitting on the surface for about 40 seconds, strain the gnocchi and toss in the tomato sauce. Brush the bottom and sides of a baking dish with olive oil or butter, pour in your saucy gnocchi and then for a really, really tasty and quick dinner get a really good quality pesto (of course if you have a homemade one lurking in fridge then awesome) but whatever you do, DON’T buy a jar of something that looks dark green, close to brown that is trying to pass itself off as pesto, or something that looks like it can keep for the next year and a half (it will ruin the dish). I bought some from the deli and it is pretty awesome (yep, another bonus living in Italy I know but we all know it exists in other countries too!)

Ok, so once your gnocchi is in the baking dish, add a few good teaspoons of pesto to the dish but don’t spread it around, just leave it whole. Add thick slices of fresh mozzarella then pop baking dish in a preheated oven (180 degree) for about 5 minutes; just to melt the cheese and warm the pesto. Serve ASAP.

As I am typing this, Alex walks by and sees the photo then lets out a

“Whaarr, I loved that one, when can we have it again?”

It seriously took about 10 minutes of prep time and 20 minutes all up of cooking; served with a yummy garden salad, it was a fabulous 20 minute meal all thanks to the store bought gnocchi which makes me think, maybe there are other things I need to take off my ‘no way’ food list?!