Last September I spent one of the most relaxing weeks of my life at the beautiful Watermill in Posara in Northern Tuscany. Lois and Bill who own it run an assortment of courses . They are mainly painting courses but there have been ones on learning Italian and knitting and more recently the one I enjoyed in September which was a yoga retreat run by the wonderful Claire Murphy.
The watermill is a complex of elegant and historic Tuscan buildings, surrounding a sunny courtyard with an adjoining vine veranda, a rose pergola and a sun filled walled garden. More gardens lead to walks along the river. The buildings are listed by the Italian government as of historic importance and the Watermill is in the protected area of the National Park of the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines and the Regional park of the Apuan Alps, home of the marble mountains of Carrara
.I was there as I had been commissioned to write an article about it for Italia! magazine. This should be in the next issue due out in mid February. My yoga loving friend Helen came along with me and we loved it from start to finish.
You may think this all sound lovely but what has it got to do with food. Well, the best part of the retreat (apart from Claire’s yoga sessions of course) were the wonderful meals . We all started looking forward to the sound of the bell summoning us to come and eat in the dining room just off the courtyard where we ate the most amazing food cooked for us by Lois and her band of local staff. You can see Helen, myself and one of the other participants Gay helping ourselves to some Panzanella salad in the photograph.
After may years of masterminding the menu’s for the courses Lois came to the conclusion that sharing her skills by organising a cookery course would be a great idea.
So a unique cookery course has been organised . On it you will gain hands-on experience of cooking delicious , healthy Italian meals with the freshest ingredients ( many of which you will harvest yourself as well as buying fresh produce in local markets).. You will learn from and work with Italians themselves, both members of the Watermill team along with local producers.
It will be led by Lois and her friend and colleague Ingrid Fabbian, an expert on nutrition as well as the preparation of home made pasta and bread. The hands on cooking sessions will cover many aspects of Italian and Tuscan Cucina from appetisers (antipasti), to after dinner biscuits (biscottini and much else in between from pane and pasta, through main courses, to homemade puddings and ice cream.
It is to be called L’arte di Mangiar bene. – the art of eating well. This is the name of a classic Italian cookbook which was published more than 100 years ago and is still in print (Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well- by Pellegrino Artusi -ISBN 0802086578).
Bill has said I can share a recipe of one of the dishes that I was given and that will be featured on the course.
PANZANELLA: a classical Florentine salad
Panzanella is a famous Florentine salad which is also popular in other parts of Tuscany. Its basic ingredients are bread and tomatoes, dressed in oil and vinegar but you can add all sorts of other tasty things.
Stale bread torn up into small squares. Preferably crusty baguette type bread
1 red onion thinly sliced
6 juicy tomatoes, roughly chopped
A large handful each of capers, black olives and sun dried tomatoes roughly chopped really small
Drizzle of Balsamic vinegar
Glug of extra virgin olive oil
Fresh basil leaves torn – the more the merrier
Squirt of lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Chop everything up (except for the basil and throw it in a nice big dish. Drizzle and squirt seasonings.
Some of the other dishes that I had when I was there and which are going to feature on the course are, Baked Fennel and Parmesan, Twice-baked Gorgonzola souffles and chocolate torta from Capri.
If I have whetted your appetite (literally!) find out more about the Watermill and what sounds to be a wonderful experience on http://www.watermill.net