For my 40th birthday, my husband treated be to an extra special birthday present: a two week trip to Italy. The memories of that trip are many but one of the extra special highlights was an opportunity to spend an afternoon cooking with a local chef in his restaurant kitchen and then come back later that evening to indulge in what we prepared while the hostess paired it with local wines.
It all started when we stopped for dinner at the local restaurant in our village of Petrognano with a population of 50. We had a wonderful meal and as we enjoyed a bit of vin santo with biscotti, I mustered up the courage to ask the hostess if the chef would be willing to do a "class" for us and the two friends that we were traveling with. I was fairly shocked when she said he would and told us to stop back the next day in the afternoon to arrange a time. My foodie friend Beth was equally surprised when I shared the news with her that night upon returning to the villa. We were so excited the next day after talking with the chef and scheduling our cook date for our last day of vacation.
Later that week when we returned for our cooking season, we were welcomed into the small kitchen with a spread of local produce and meats. After discussing the options with Michaele, the chef, the menu was set. Chicken liver pate and mushroom toasts to start, a fall Tuscan soup, lamb Milanese and Tuscan bread with strawberry grapes (raisin berry bread) for dessert.
After we finished preparing the soup, we began to press Tuscan bread dough that we had started earlier on the sheet pan topping it strawberry grapes before baking it.
After we completed our assignment we turned around and found a platter of peppers stuffed with tuna, a traditional appetizer that the chef had whipped up while we were working the bread. They were delicious! The recipe below is one that I created following the trip to replicate this yummy appetizer. If you'd like tuna and are looking for something different for an appetizer, you might want to give this one a try.
Tuna Stuffed Peppers
2 jars of small red cherry peppers - either hot or mild
1 can (or jar) albacore tuna, packed in oil
2-4 anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil, as needed
Salt & pepper to taste
Place the tuna, capers, parsley, lemon juice and anchovies in a blender or food processer. Do not drain the tuna. Pulse on a low speed to combine. Do not over blend. You are looking for a consistency that can be spooned or piped until the peppers. Add olive oil as necessary if the mixture is too dry. Season with salt and pepper.
If the peppers still have seeds, scoop those out and discard them. Pipe or stuff the peppers with the tuna mixture.
Serve immediately or refrigerate in a covered container.
You can also drizzle with balsamic vinegar before serving if desired.
Dinner that night was divine. Each course was paired with a local wine. It was a great way to end a fabulous vacation with a traditional Tuscan meal served family-style with great friends! It was a memory that I am pretty sure will last a lifetime!