Our vegetarian cooking holiday in Italy is a highlight of the year. We stay at the magnificent Palazzo Bacile di Castiglione with our wonderful hosts Allesandro and Sarah. Allesandro himself is a very keen cook and always cooks our first dinner to welcome us all with local traditional Salento cooking.
The 16th century palazzo has been inhabited by the Bacile di Castiglione family for nearly 5 centuries and Allesandro is the current Baron. It features an incredible hall that would probably sit a hundred people down the length of it. The scene at night, with candles lit, delicious food that we've made with our students, excellent local wines, and plenty of laughter, all makes for unforgettable evenings and memories to last a lifetime.
Our team this year was myself, Lydia and Ottavia and we are delighted to share with you the highlights of our trip (and a few delicious recipes for you to try at home).
During the week we had two pasta making mornings. First we made the traditional southern Italian pasta with Guiseppina who lives locally, which is vegan and hand rolled. She taught us how to make orecchiette and maccheroni and gleefully told us their nicknames of mogli e mariti (wives and husbands) for orecchiette and maccheroni when they are combined together in the same dish! We served them with a fresh tomato sauce and the traditional cime di rapa which tastes rather like a slightly bitter tender stem broccoli.
Ottavia then taught us how to make Northern Italian egg pasta with locally milled durum wheat semolina using pasta machines and we made rich spinach and ricotta cannelloni using the fresh ricotta from the local caseificio (cheese making facility).
Giuseppe, who is continuing the family tradition of fresh cheese making, showed us how to make mozzarella, burrata and ricotta. He demonstrated how the curd is separated from the whey using a vegetarian rennet and then the curds are washed with boiling water, a process which both pasteurises and melts the curd, while imparting the necessary stringiness to the final mozzarella.
He shaped the melted and stringy curd into mozzarella balls of different sizes, plats and knots, and showed us how a small bag of mozzarella is filled with delicious stracciatella, a mix of mozzarella and cream, to make the famous burrata. Burrata has to be enjoyed on the day that it’s made, possibly the most delicious treat one can wish for at lunch.
Poggiado, just 5 miles from the Palazzo, has an excellent market every Wednesday. A chance to stock up with vegetables for the week, we split up into groups with each team given the task of choosing vegetables, cheese and bread to make creative dishes for lunch. Their results were outstanding and it was lovely for us to be cooked for!
We visited the local farmers cooperative vegetable market garden, 20 hectares in size and supporting 60 farmers and were shown how all the crops were rotated, how they have to irrigate from a bore hole as the Apulian summers are so hot and dry. We marvelled at the large quantities of beautiful vegetables, fantastic huge bulbs of fennel, acres of Cicoria Galatina, cabbages, courgettes, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers. We then enjoyed eating the produce for lunch at the coop.
After lunch we visited Otranto. Otranto is a lovely town on the coast with a stunning 8C “tree of life’ mosaic which covers the entire floor of the cathedral. We had time to swim in the sea, shop and enjoy coffees and icecreams.
The large wood fire pizza oven was lit in the morning to be ready for 7pm, lit with cuttings from olive trees. It’s such a large oven we could have cooked pizzas for the whole village. Incredibly hot for the person with the peel putting the pizzas in and taking them out. Such a fun evening, everybody made their own pizzas and the Pizzas Bianca with boiled sliced potatoes, garlic, rosemary and mozzarella were a hit.
We're now taking bookings for our next cooking holiday in Italy is 30th Sept – 7th Oct 2018. If you can't wait that long to learn pasta making skills, don't despair, you can always take our Pasta Evening Workshop here in Bath.
Or try our fresh pasta recipes: Fresh Orecchiette Pasta with Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Herb Pappardelle with Cashew 'Cheese'.
We took way more photos than we could hope to share in a single blog post so go check out our Italian Cookery Holiday 2018 photoset on Flickr.
And for more Italian cookery inspiration, check out our collection of vegetarian Italian recipes!