September 2013

Cooking with Giuseppina

by Rebecca Bricker on September 29, 2013

Cooking classes are popular with visitors to Italy. Some tours here are all about cooking, eating – and drinking a fair amount of wine. Not a bad way to spend a vacation.

I’m not much of a cook, but I enjoyed being the imbedded blogger-photographer for a recent cooking class in the Tuscan village of Certaldo, taught by the delightful Giuseppina Pizzolato. She’s native to the region, with a shop in the village that carries products from her farm and vineyard. And she’s the author of Brus-ketta, a wonderful cookbook (in English and Italian) that includes not only Tuscan recipes and menus, but the story of the women in her family who taught her how to cook (complete with family photos).

Don’t miss the point of the book title: We, Americans, pronounce bruschetta incorrectly. It’s not bru-shetta with a SH sound. It’s brus-ketta with a K. (Now you know!)

Our day began at 9 a.m., at a bar in Certaldo, where we contemplated menu options over cappuccino. Giuseppina put choices out for a voice vote. (Group leaders emerged immediately.) Then we were off to the butcher, the baker and the weekly farmer’s market in search of zucchini flowers, potatoes (for gnocchi), fresh eggs, pecorino and parmesan cheeses, basil, tomatoes, peaches and strawberries.


By the time we arrived at Giuseppina’s kitchen – in an ancient monastery down a tree-lined road outside of the village – I was already hungry. Wine, cheese and bread drizzled with olive oil were at the ready. My hunger pangs temporarily subsided.

Students donned their red aprons. My friend Sue, from Melbourne, Australia, was among them. The others included three fun couples from the U.S. and two lovely ladies from Canada.


The first order of business was to make dessert. (My kind of cooking – prioritize essential dishes!) By acclamation back at the bar, panna cotta (smothered with fresh fruit) won uncontested.

I commend the men in the group. They didn’t stand back and let the women take charge. These guys rolled up their sleeves and stirred,  chopped, diced and riced. Bob – who morphed into Sous Chef Roberto – got a round of applause as he poured the panna cotta into the mold. “It’s not my first rodeo,” he informed us.

More wine and cheese – and then the pork tenderloin hit the slab, rolled expertly by one of the Canadian ladies, in a dry rosemary-garlic marinade.

Up next: fried zucchini flowers. Giuseppina prepared the batter for “Tuscany tempura,” she called it. She plucked a handful of fresh sage leaves and dipped them in the batter along with the blossoms. Fried in olive oil until golden brown – it all just melted on the tongue. Bliss.

Then the big challenge of the class: homemade gnocchi. I had no prior appreciation for what goes into making these little rolled potato nuggets. Jeez! A few in the class mastered thumb-rolling the dough over the grooved board that produces the ridges. The rest who had wrestled with the potato ricer, gave moral support and drank more wine. I joined the latter group.

At one point, every one had a good laugh when the ricing crew misunderstood Giuseppina when she said, “Basta.” (Enough.) They thought she said, “Faster.” Looking bewildered, as the potato mix almost turned to puree, Giuseppina shouted, “STOP!” Time to uncork another bottle.

A lovely tomato-basil sauce accompanied the gnocchi. We sat at the tables, savoring every bite. I was deeply grateful to be included at the feast. Giuseppina has a rule: Qui mangia solo chi cucina. Here you can eat only if you cook.

Giuseppina made quick work of frying the tenderloin cutlets for the secondo course. The big finish came with the presentation of the panna cotta. It didn’t take any effort on my part, as the imbedded photographer, to make this look like it came from the pages of Gourmet magazine…

Diplomas were presented. Giuseppina took a well-deserved bow and autographed cookbooks. Everyone left well fed, with one of Giuseppina’s red aprons to wear at future Italian dinner parties back home. Even I’m inspired. Wait til you taste my brus-ketta. At least I know how to pronounce it. 😉

When in Certaldo, stop by Giuseppina’s shop La Dolce Vita. For more info about her classes:











<<< My friend Sue, about to dig into the panna cotta.