Life is Magnifico! Cooking Class and Florence by Night

I’ve been here for 3 1/2 months and I’ve come to the realization that I am 100% content.

I’m content with where I am at, I’m content that I don’t live in the United States right now. I’m content with the new culture. I’m content with my life.

And I believe that being content is when you can truly enjoy the little things. I think contentment is where you find peace, where you can find joy, and where you can enjoy simple things as if they were extravagant.

My content life is magnifico.

And speaking of magnifico-ness, I learned how to make Pasta Magnifico.

I decided to take a cooking class given from the widow of the owner of Gargani (the restaurant that made me feel drugged enough to ride a carousel)

And after this fantastic class. I decided to climb the Duomo.

So now, I’l let you into the secrets of this phenomenally magnifico day.

Just one day in my life in my new home.

We started with a visit to the Mercato Centrale, the large food maket in the center of Florence. She gave us a phenomenal tour into the history of the market, the best places to buy cheese, and her favorite nut man.

Beautiful cuts of meat are offered. Some are ready to go right into your oven.

The market has a personality of its own, each “stall” has a story to tell. Some have been there for decades.

The fresh fruit is glorious.

There are herbs that are unique to Italy, such as nepitella, above.

Fresh porcini mushrooms.

Beautiful artichokes, which we would use in our class.

Organic oranges which smelled like sunshine.

Banco 81, full of character and a lot of fruit and nuts.

Banco 81 also boasted beautiful pistachios and cranberries, which we would also be using in biscotti!

We were introduced to Susan Gargani’s favorite cheese stand, which has been in the Mercato for generations.

A beautiful display of Proscuitto was pointed out to us.

And after we had collected all of the ingredients needed for the day, we headed to Susan’s apartment in the heart of Florence, where we would prepare a 4 course meal consisting of:

  • Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti
  • Pistachio and Parmesan Artichokes
  • Pasta Magnifico
  • Chicken Scaloppini With Mushrooms

And let’s just say, I was pumped.

We started with the biscotti.

We combined flour, sugar, egg, and fruit and nuts.

With our hands, we formed a dough.

We rolled the dough into logs, brushed it with egg whites and baked.

After the first baking period, we quickly cut the biscotti, layed them on their side, and baked again until crunchy.

Biscotti al Pistacchio e Cranberries

  • ¼ pound un-salted pistachios
  • ¼ pound dried cranberries
  • 3 ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. saffron (If attempting to store or conserve, omit because of the strange taste. However, if serving right away, it’s excellent for a beautiful color.
  • 5 jumbo eggs
  • Unsalted butter for greasing baking sheet or parchment paper



  1. In a 350 degree oven, toast pistachios for 10 minutes. Set aside in small bowl to cool, but leave oven on.
  2. Turn out the flour in a mound on a flat working surface covered with parchment paper and create a crater in its center. Inside the crater, place sugar, baking powder, salt, saffron (if desired), and 3 whole eggs plus 1 yolk. Mix with your hands until ingredients are well blended, add the pistachios and dried cranberries and continue mixing, brushing your hands with flour if the mixture gets too sticky.
  3. Still using your hands, roll your dough into little logs about 2 to 3 inches wide and ½ inch thick. Place the logs on a greased baking sheet (or lined with parchment). The logs must not be too close together, as they will expand. Beat the remaining egg, and brush the logs with it.
  4. Bake biscotti for 30 minutes. As soon as you remove them from the oven, cut each log diagonally in ½ inch slices (you’ll have to eat the ends…oh no!) Return to oven with cut side up, and bake for 5 more minutes.

We then began work on the artichokes, which had previously been a foreign vegetable to me. I had never cleaned an artichoke, so it was quite a beneficial learning experience.

First, you “snap” off several outer layers of the artichoke. You must do this until the artichoke becomes a lighter color. Don’t worry, there won’t be much left! Next, you cut a large part of the stem off. And “peel” the remaining stem to take off the outer skin. (do this with a paring knife)

Then, you cut off the  darker top of the artichoke.

Next cut in half and take out the “furry” insides by scraping away from the stem with a knife to get out the bitter “choke.”

Knife action is better shown in the above picture.

Then, place in a bowl filled with lemon juice and water to prevent quick browning of the vegetable.

Chop up some garlic.

And toast and chop pistachios.

Shave some parmesan.

Put it all in a pan with some white white and loving…

Cook it a bit.

Add a bit of chilies if you like it hot.

Garnish with some leftover artichoke leaves, pistachios, and…BAM

Artichokes With Parmigiano and Pistachios (Serves 4)

  • 8 artichokes (make sure they’re firm, the firmer the better)
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/8 cup white wine
  • 1 cup mixed field greens
  • ½ cup shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped and lightly toasted.


  1. Prepare artichokes by “snapping off the outer leaves. Slice off the top of the artichoke, to reveal the lighter colored leaves and with a paring knife, slice of the bottom and lightly peel around the rest of the stem.
  2. Cut the artichokes in half, length ways, then slice vertically into ½-inch wedges. Remove the “choke” which is the furry part inside of the vegetable.
  3.  Immediately, put the artichokes in a bowl of water mixed with lemon juice. Set aside.
  4. Pour cold oil into a large saucepan, add the garlic, then turn the stove to high heat and sauté until the garlic is “golden blonde.” Drain the artichokes from the lemon juice water and add them to the pan. Cook on medium-heat for 5 minutes.
  5. Add white wine and sauté for another 2 minutes. Place the salad greens on a serving platter (if desired), place the artichokes on top, and sprinkles with the cheese and pistachios.

Serve with white wine.

After we prepared the artichokes, we took a bit of a break to enjoy the fruits of our labor along with a delicious cheese purchased from the market and onion jam.

The cheese, produced in Italy by a Swiss family was absolutely fantastic. It tasted similar to a Gorgonzola  but with a bit more of a mild and creamy flavor. Seriously, it was amazing.

Served with Susan’s homemade onion jam, it was a home run.

And then I begged and cried until she gave me the recipe.

Onion Jam


  • 2.2 lbs. sweet red onions sliced thinly (weigh after cleaning)
  • ¾ cup (160 ml) apple cider vinegar
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 lb. (450 grams) sugar


  1. Place the onions and the vinegar in a stainless steel pot with the bay leaves and the salt. Stir well and let rest for 4-5 hrs.
  2. Add the sugar and mix well. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered on medium heat for 35-40 minutes, mixing every once in a while.
  3. Pour the jam into 2 small (about 1 cup) jars. Seal well and let cool upside down.

We served the apertivo with an excellent Sicilian flat bread.

And then, it was time to get back to work. Pasta time.

We made a mountain with flour, and inside added eggs, salt, and olive oil.

Then, we mixed it all together, until it formed a dough.

We kneaded it for 5-10 minutes until a bit more elastic, then let it rest for 30 minutes.

We divided the dough into portions and rolled it out with a pasta machine (You can also use a rolling pin).

We used the fettuccine attachment, which yielded beautiful pasta!

Then, we hung it up while we prepared the sauce.

I was all like, hey…I’m making pasta.

And I may have been a bit more excited that most are.

We then combined cream, lemon and orange zest, mint, salt and pepper, and combined in a sauce pan.

We boiled the mixture until it coated the sides of the pans.

While making the sauce, we cooked the pasta until al dente, used tongs to place the pasta into the sauce and mixed it around.

We grated a bit of Parmesan.

Threw it into our dish, and poof.

Pasta Freaking Magnifico.

As I was eating the pasta with the class, Susan leaned over to me and said, “Lauren, are you ok? You must really love this pasta.”

All that I could say was, “uh-huh.”

It’s that good.

Pasta Magnifico! (Serves 4)

For the pasta

  • 1 ½ cups finely ground, hard-grain semolina flour, plus extra for flouring dough-rolling surface (In the United States, it is in a blue package and says “Semolina for fresh pasta.”
  • 2 jumbo eggs
  • 2 tsp. EVOO
  • 1 tsp. sea salt


  1. On a flat surface, pour out the flour in a mountain, and make a crater in the center. Place the unbeaten eggs, salt, and oil in the middle. With a fork, “whisk” the eggs together in the center, then combine with the flour around the outsides. Knead with the flat of your hands until the dough is smooth and elastic. About 5-8 minutes.
  2. Let the dough rest for about 30 minutes before rolling out.
  3. Divide the dough into four equal parts. Place one piece of the dough at a time on a well-floured surface, sprinkle more semolina flour on the dough, and roll out till very thin (it should be transparent enough to see the color of your skin).
  4. Roll dough into a very loose log, and cut into ¼ inch strips. Unravel strips, and place on a linen cloth that is sprinkled with flour. Or, if you have a pasta dryer, hang on rack until ready to use.

For the sauce:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  • Zest of 1 organic lemon (Organic so the zest will not have a bitter “artificial” flavor)
  • Zest of 1 organic orange (Organic so the zest will not have a bitter “artificial” flavor)
  • 1 ounce brandy/cognac
  • ½ cup fresh mint leaves
  • Salt
  • 1 TBS. Kosher salt
  • 1 cup roughly grated fresh Parmigiano Reggiano


  1. Fill a large stockpot with 3 quarts of water, and bring to a boil. While waiting for water to boil, pour cream and half-and-half into a skillet with lemon and orange zest. Cook it over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until cream lightly coats sides of pan (2 to 4 minutes after it comes to a boil).
  2. Add brandy and mint leaves, and cook another 2 minutes. Season with salt to taste, and set aside.
  3. When water is boiling, add 1 TBS. Kosher salt, and cook fettuccine until al dente. (About 1-2 minutes AFTER the pasta comes to a boil) With tongs, take right from pasta water and transfer  to sauce, slightly bouncing to remove excess water. Saute in cream sauce for 1 minute, moving everything around with tongs to combine ingredients.
  4. Add Parmigiano, stir well, and serve immediately.

Finally, as if we had not consumed enough Italian amazingness, we prepared a chicken mushroom dish which started with fresh Italian Porcini mushrooms.

We grilled chicken (in butter)

And made a delicious ragu with mushrooms.

We chopped a bit of parsley, threw it on top,

And seriously…just look at it.

Scaloppina ai Funghi Porcini (Cutlets with Porcini Mushrooms)

(If you can’t find fresh porcini mushrooms where you are at, dried ones will work just as well. However, be sure to soak in hot water for 20 minutes before using them).

  • 1 pound porcini mushrooms, thoroughly washed and patted dry
  • ½ cup EVOO
  • 4 garlic cloves, in their skin
  • 3 TBS. finely chopped nepitella, a special Italian herb (if not available, use dried mint)
  • Salt
  • 4 Chicken Cutlets, about ¼ pound each
  • 2 TBS. unsalted butter
  • 1 TBS. Fresh parsley leaves, very finely chopped


  1. Pour olive oil into a large skillet, and add mushrooms, garlic cloves (with skin), and nepitella (or mint). Saute over medium, heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Salt to taste and set aside.
  2. Place chicken cutlets on a flat surface, sprinkle very lightly with water, cover with plastic wrap and pound to ½ inch thickness with a smooth-surfaced meat mallet.
  3. In a second large skillet, melt butter, add cutlets, and sauté for 5 minutes on medium-high heat. Salt, turn, and sauté 5 minutes longer. Add mushrooms and sauté for another 3 minutes Remove garlic cloves. Sprinkle cutlets with parsley, and serve on a warm platter.

After my contentment had reached a point of climax, I figured that I wouldn’t take any chances in reducing it’s level.

It was a beautifully clear night, mild weather, and a beautiful opportunity to climb the cupola of the Duomo.

With thin stairs and small spaces, it was an exciting challenge.

And it continued to get steeper…and creepier.

There was so much character throughout the steep hike.

The stairs led to the inside of the top of the Duomo, before leading outside to the dome. This beautiful mural was strewn across the ceiling, boasting of epic scenes and vibrant colors. I was in awe.

And when I went outside, the awe-ness continued.

It was absolutely beautiful.

I just sat, by myself, and was content.

Content at the immaculate beauty of my new city.

And I got to people watch and it not even be that creepy (because they couldn’t really see me).

After my walk to the top of the Duomo, I decided to roam around in Florence. A city full of…

Artisan mini hand-crafted products

Chestnuts roasting on a (semi) open fire

And outdoor market in full-swing

Artichoke flowers

Duomo umbrellas

Macaroon bouquets




a really old bridge

Fancy gold jewelry

Shiny red Vespas

and multicolored gelato cones.

I love my city.

I’m content. My life is filled with joy and it’s simply…


Ciao for now!