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"The most popolular cooking courses? The ones that teach how to make fresh pasta: a technique that's not easy, but well worth the pleasure of learning the secrets of the famous Tuscan pici." Silvia Baracchi is the manager and cook of Il Falconiere - namely the man who train eagles of prey - a manor immersed in holm oak woods and cypresses on the grounds of a grand villa on the hills of Cortona, Tuscany, which dates back to the 17th Century. A Relais & Chateaux also renowned for its traditional cooking courses, that counts under its name many other amenities: wine resort, spa, gastronomic restaurant, and the land of peace and quiet. A welcoming place that lives under the chef and manager Silvia Baracchi's motto: "It doesn't matter what level you are, just come along and enjoy the experience!".
“Some people take a class here because they’re already familiar with Tuscan wines and dishes, and want to learn everything they can about this culinary tradition” says the cook. "But others just want to learn how to manage dough and a rolling pin, which is part of Italy’s most prestigious heritage."
When it comes to learning how to prepare pici, the traditional fresh pasta that resembles a thicker kind of spaghetti, it’s all about knowing how to shape a seemingly simple mixture of white flour and water. It’s a technique that’s therapeutic both for the soul as well as for the eyes—but the true delight happens in the palate. Handmade pici have a flavor and consistency that no mass-produced dried pasta can even compete with, and absorb sauces like nothing else. The ideal condiments are simple: a good tomato sauce with fresh garlic, a topping of sautéed bread crumbs, or a mix of black pepper and cacio cheese.
With class size ranging from 2 to 12, the cooking courses at Il Falconiere are based on a single principle: to render participants capable of reproducing an entire Tuscan menu once they’ve returned home. Along with learning how to make pici, students learn the secrets behind pappa al pomodoro, eggplant involtini (roulade), the soup of legumes and scampi, as well as homemade desserts.
A recent addition to the courses offered is called “Cooking Under the Tuscan Comet”, which is a 3-day class in anticipation of the Holiday season and features recipes like hen tortellini with chicken broth, hen galantine; local lamb in a crust of Tuscan bread, sautéed greens, e "zuccotto” with panettone (a traditional Christmas cake) stuffed with ricotta and candied fruits. Each lesson concludes with a meal featuring the prepared dishes. Between one lesson and the next, students go on excursions around the Cortona countryside, or just relax with a glass of Ardito, the fine red wine produced by the Baracchi family.
The restaurant located in the old greenhouse, with its terrace overlooking the wide Cortona valley, is managed by Silvia and chef Richard Titi who’s earned the place its first Michelin star. The menu “embraces” all of Tuscany’s signature ingredients, showcasing them in their finest light like home-grown vegetables and herbs and locally produced extra-virgin oil.
Not to miss: the pappardelle pasta filled with pecorino cheese and topped with tomatoes and Chianina beef meatballs and, of course, the view.