Saturday, November 14, 2009

Apicius: If I Can't Be Italian At Least Let Me Cook Like One!

                                                                                Photos by David Weiss

If I were to go to cooking school I’m sure it would not be in France as many of my friends have done but rather in Italy. Since I discovered that I love to cook, I have been plotting to come back in my next life as an Italian. No other nationality knows how to cook or enjoy food and wine more than the Italians do!

When I think of Italian chefs, I think of cooks who are both fiery and passionate. Like Roberto Farnesi, the guy in the Barilla TV ads. He makes every woman want to pack it off to Italy and study cooking.

Let’s face it, only Italians know how to have dinner. You know, the dinners that last for at least four hours and really give you a chance to spend time with family and friends. Nothing is better than the social scene at the Italian dinner table.

I love the fact that Italians are deep-rooted in tradition. My friend Letty tells me that her grandmother wore a black dress every day for a year after her grandfathers funeral. Even the family dog embraces the Italian way of life. Mammina speaks to him in Italian and of course, he understands absolutely every word!

A crowd is defined by an Italian as a “small” gathering. No matter what – they always have room to fit one more person and their entire family at the table. I love the fact that everyone is welcomed at the Italian table and for this reason alone, I always wanted to be Italian!

Italians appreciate food and never have to worry about gaining an ounce of weight…after all, the curves are what make women attractive to those Italian men who love to flirt. Love to flirt or a national past time? You tell me? It is one of the ingredients that make up the charm and mystery of being Italian. And for the rest of us who don’t have a drop of Italian blood running through our veins? Well…we’ll just have to settle for being a friend of or married to.

My friend Sophia told me that if you are Italian, killing a pig and having salami, capacollo, pancetta and prosciutto suspended from your basement ceiling is completely normal. You also believe that no fruit or vegetable or any produce for that matter has a fixed price because the price of everything is negotiable.

Eating is the center of their universe and all things eating and drinking are of major importance to the Italian – especially the vino. I do love wine and for that fact alone I will proclaim again that I should be a little Italian. Like most Italians, I have not met a grape that I do not love. Give me a glass of wine and a few dozen hours of conversation and you will be my sorella forever.

So all of this “conversation” brings me back to going to cooking school in Italy.

While a lot of cooking school’s are reviewing their programs, costs and student loans, Apicius ( is talking about and placing value on the significance of the student’s connection and contribution to the community in Florence, Italy where they conduct classes. One such example is the professional internship program at Ganzo Cultural and Gastronomic Association, a place where cultures and communities join forces to have a direct impact. Apicius is clearly entrenched in the city of Florence. The Chamber recently honored Gabriella Ganugi, the schools founder, with an award for female entrepreneurship. And speaking of Gabriella, you will have a rather intimate experience with her when you read the school’s literature that describes Gabriella as an architect; lover of secret Renaissance gardens and forgotten recipes. Yes – I’m pretty sure that I am packing my bags! It’s the “secret” Renaissance gardens that captured me!

Apicius recently hosted a James Beard dinner in the garden of the Beard House in New York. Guests included some of their affiliate partners. If you look on their website they have a lot of outstanding colleges participating in their program. Among special guests attending the dinner were my favorite food critic Mimi Sheraton and artist/author Soheir Kashoggi whose exquisite books include Mirage, Mosaic, and Nadia’s Song.

Take a quick peek at what they prepared for the dinner:

Finger Foods

Pecorino with Honey

Bicchierino di Pappa al Pomodoro con Spuma di Patate e Calamari al Peperoncino > Tuscan Bread Soup with Potato Foam, Calamari, and Chile Pepper

Crostino Pane Burro e Acciuga > Butter and Anchovy Bruschetta

Crostino di Carciofi Gratinato alle Erbette > Artichoke and Herb Gratin Bruschetta

Finger foods paired with: Podere La Marronaia Visila Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG 2008

Dinner Courses

Terrina di Melanzane e Pomodoro sul Velo di Basilico > Eggplant and Tomato Terrine with Basil Sauce
Wine pairing: Antinori Vermentino Bolgheri DOC 2008

Tortelli Maremmani di Ricotta di Pecora ed Erbette di Campo sul Sugo di Carne e Salsiccia > Sheep’s-milk Ricotta–Filled Tortelli with Beef and Sausage Ragù
Wine pairing: Antinori Vermentino Bolgheri DOC 2008

Pappardelle alle Scorzette sul Ragù d’Anatra e Ginepro > Pappardelle with Duck and Juniper Ragù
Wine pairing: Campinuovi Sangiovese Montecucco DOC 2007

Cinghiale in Umido > Wild Boar Stew
Wine Pairing: Valdifalco Loacker Morellino di Scansano DOCG 2007

Crostata di Ricotta al Profumo d’Arancio > Miniature Ricotta Tarts with Orange Sauce orange sauce
Wine Pairing: Campinuovi Sorie Vendemmi Tardiva Maremma Toscana IGT 2006

This is one dinner I missed but can only imagine what it was like to savor everything especially the Miniature Ricotta Tarts with Orange Sauce. That sounds like a “die for dessert” that I would have no problem knocking off in a matter of minutes.

Apicius has two locations in Florence:


Corso Tintori 21-50122 Florence Italy

ph.: +39 055/ 033 2727


Via Guelfa 85, 114, 116 - 50129 Florence Italy

ph.:+39 055/2658135

Contact the school by emailing them at

While you are there, be sure to visit San Lorenzo and Mercato Centrale (the market is sometimes called Mercato di San Lorenzo). This small wedge of streets between the train station and the Duomo, centered on the Medici's old church of San Lorenzo and its Michelangelo-designed tombs, is market territory. The immense indoor food market is here and it is one of the premium food markets in all of Italy.

Apicius purchases many of their fresh food products from the market and maintains a close relationship with major purveyors such as Baroni cheese ( They are an important stop for their market tours that take in all of the local food culture. If you look at Baroni’s website, it gives a detailed history of the market.

Apicius location in Via Guelfa has a close "geographical" tie with the market. Coincidentally, the culinary facilities of Apicius are located in the San Lorenzo neighborhood and this gives their students very close access to the vibrant gastronomic life that goes on in the area. This little section of Florence is hallowed ground for anyone who loves to cook or eat. Where else can you mix with the locals and experience all of the Italian flavors that make this food market another study semester all its own.

Certainly when you come back in your next life as that Italian chef, you can whip up a little Crostata di Ricotta al Profumo d’Arancio. Promise you’ll get my vote for a James Beard Awards next year.

Buon appetito!