When my husband and I first came to Italy for our honeymoon, the owner of the b&b that we were staying at recommended a nearby restaurant for a special dinner, Trattoria Garga. Unfortunately we never ended up eating there on our honeymoon, but a few years later on a return visit, it was on the top of our list. Even with years of anticipation, Trattoria Garga surpassed any expectation that we could have had.
When we got home from that trip, we desperately scoured the web in hopes that we might find a recipe for their famous and oh-so-delicious ‘tagliatelle del magnifico.’ Although we couldn’t find a recipe, we did much better…we found Sharon Oddson’s book, which included some of their famed recipes. We have since enjoyed making ‘magnifico’ along with many other of their delicious recipes. Cooking Garga’s recipes has been a fun way for us to reminisce on our travels to Florence.
the garga experience is equal parts food and art
But luckily here I am, back in Florence. And not only did I get to return to Garga for what I knew would be an incredible meal, I got to cook with the master herself, Sharon Oddson.
I met Sharon along with another couple on Saturday morning at the restaurant to begin our day. We started by walking the short few blocks to the Mercato Centrale, where she introduced us to her favorite produce and cheese purveyors, and we did a little shopping for some of our recipes.
As soon as we got back to the restaurant, it was down to business. Aprons on, prosecco poured, and a platter of fresh focaccia and truffled pecorino. Now that is a great way to start a cooking class.
fresh out of the oven focaccia and truffled pecorino cheese
Sharon had us all set up to do some cooking on our own and some all together. From the very start, since the class was so small, there was a nice personal connection; Sharon immediately started sharing all sorts of funny and wild stories from her different cooking experiences.
After a few nibbles of cheese, we started preparing our dessert, ‘coppette di mascarpone con fragole e amaretti,’ so that it could chill in the fridge. Just a quick whip up of our eggs, a bit of folding, then a taste test just to be sure. Yep, it was delicious.
With our dessert complete, we needed to make our pasta dough so that it could rest. I was really excited for this because we have actually been using her recipe at home, but I always feel like my measurements of liquid to flour are a little off. Well, you know what? Problem solved. Sharon told us that the eggs in the United States are typically much smaller than the eggs in Italy, hence my ratio problem.
While our pasta dough rested, we did some quick prep work with a few veggies for some of the other dishes – snapping asparagus, cleaning artichokes and chopping up our cherry tomatoes. As we cleaned our vegetables, some soft music was put on in the background, and our prosecco glasses were filled once more. It was starting to feel less and less like a cooking class, and more like spending the day in the kitchen with a friend.
Once our veggie prep was out of the way, we turned our attention back to the pasta dough, which was now very nice and relaxed. We rolled out the dough, and then Sharon instructed us all to cut it by hand. Well, since I had just done a rather horrible job of hand cutting pasta the week before, I gave extra attention to making sure that my cuts were perfectly straight.
Pasta success! It turned out just perfect. But even if it didn’t, Sharon sweetly gave us a great mantra to practice, “it’s just pasta…it’s just pasta.” But it was also advice for all things life related – don’t sweat it. Whatever happens along the way will just make the adventure all the more exciting.
Pasta cut, we were ready to bring all of our ingredients into the kitchen and officially start the cooking. Although I have taken a fair amount of cooking classes now, I have never worked inside of a restaurant kitchen before, so this was a fun new thing for me.
We started with sautéing our artichokes for the ‘carciofi saltati con parmigiano e pistacchi,’ so that they could cool a little bit before plopping them on top of a bed of salad greens.
steaming our artichokes just a bit
Just as our artichokes finished cooking, we turned our attention to starting one of our main courses, the ‘petto di pollo all Chantal.’ Now, since none of us knew who Chantal was, or what she liked about this dish, Sharon told us the little story of their friend Chantal and her love of dishes with mustard – and to get to the good part, basically we were making chicken and asparagus cooked in a mustard cognac cream sauce. Yes, sign me up! Oh, and did I forget to mention that there is butter in it too?
and also you get to set it on fire – yep, it’s pretty much the most awesome dish ever
And as if things couldn’t get any better, it was time to pull our pasta dish together. Fresh pasta tossed with lightly sautéed garlic, herbs and fresh cherry tomatoes, ‘fettuccine with herbs and sauté tomatoes.’ The aroma alone was to die for.
And when there was nothing left to cook, it was time to eat. We moved ourselves into the dining room, all carefully carrying our platters of food. Sharon brought over a couple bottles of wine for us to enjoy, and then we began a beautifully long lunch together. A mixture of eating (me oohing and aahing as usual), and just chatting about life.
After lunch was finished, Sharon brought the dessert components to the table to assemble for us.
step 1: mascarpone cream
step 2: fresh strawberries
step 3: crumbled amaretti cookies
One bite of this baby and you are sunk. That mascarpone cream is like something I have never had before – so light, so fluffy, and yet so creamy and dense all at once. And just the right amount of sweetness with the fresh strawberries and amaretti cookies – it was a beautifully balanced dessert.
After what felt like hours of eating and chit-chatting, we said our goodbyes as it was time for the restaurant to prepare for the dinner service. Although with Trattoria Garga, it is never really a ‘goodbye,’ just a ‘see you next time.’