Villa Boccella 2011    ❖     Recipes


These are the recipes we made for the ‘cooking class’ during Kelly & Hadleigh’s wedding week. There wasn’t much time for explaining or sharing tips while we were preparing the dishes, so I’ve gone into more detail here.

These recipes are not purely Tuscan/Italian, but living in Florence for the past seven years has definitely influenced the way I cook. Before moving here our meals were mostly designed around the eclectic offerings in Trader Joe’s prepared food section, but I have found the simplicity of the local cuisine to be very inspiring. Enhanced by the seasonal produce, the basic ingredients seem to allow endless potential for adaptation.

A few notes on my approach to cooking . . . I look at recipes mainly as inspiration. I am not very precise about measuring (if I measure at all); quantities are usually based more on a combination of past experience and what feels right as I go along, so variations on these amounts should not result in any catastrophes. Also, I tend to substitute ingredients rather freely, according to what I have on hand; I hope you can use these as starting points and customize them however you wish.

I will always remember what a treat it was to prepare the meals in those spacious, well-outfitted kitchens. But even more memorable is the amazing crew of family & friends who worked so beautifully together to get dinner for forty on the table that night. Thank you all SO much. And special thanks to the younger generation—for your enthusiasm, energy and willingness to take on any job.

ingredients for six


1.5 kilos/3 1/3 lb pork loin

    (bone removed & trussed)

4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Coarse salt, roughly ground

2 cloves garlic

    (peeled & lightly crushed)

Sprigs of thyme or sage

180 ml/3/4 cup balsamic


1 Tbsp peppercorns

    (lightly crushed)


Try orange juice, cranberry juice, lemonade, espresso with milk—even orange soda, ginger ale or tonic water with lime juice—to create refreshing, slushy granita. (We used blood orange juice for half of the ones at Villa Boccella, and the rest were made with a combo juice called ‘Red Fruits’: pomegranate, blood orange, cherry, etc.) Choose a glass that’s sturdy enough to withstand both being in the freezer and absorbing the impact of a fork as it breaks up the semi-frozen liquid. Ideally you will catch the granita before the liquid completely freezes, at its peak of ‘slushy-ness’. But no worries if it has become solid by the time you are ready to serve . . . simply leave the glass at room temperature for 15-30 minutes (depending on the ambient temperature, intermittently breaking down the juice crystals with a fork, and it will soon reach the right consistency.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

This is a very simple way to serve spaghetti, but with quite impressive results. At Villa Boccella we whisked the eggs with the cheese and pepper before coating the pasta, but this step isn’t really necessary for fewer servings. In fact, when making this at home, I often simply crack the egg right onto the drained pasta, without bothering to whisk first, then add the pepper and cheese once the egg is incorporated—it could hardly be easier.

Pork roast simmered in balsamic vinegar

Pork roast, known as ‘arista’ here, is typically cooked in the oven—in fact, I doubt any Italian would recognize this as an arista, since traditionally it’s not cooked nearly long enough to become as tender as this. When you ask for an arista locally, the butcher will take care of removing the bone and hand-tie the roast for you.

Potatoes—oven roasted or boiled—are our usual accompaniments to the roast, but since I had originally planned to make gnocchi (potato dumplings) for the primo, I didn’t want to repeat the potatoes in another dish. [The recipe for gnocchi can be found on this page of my website.] Considering the weather and the amount of food, the valeriana salad and sliced tomatoes seemed more fitting side dishes for a summer night.

Because I like to cook the pork until it pretty much falls apart when sliced, it is a decidedly untidy dish to serve. I thought John’s idea to ring the platters with half moons of lemon, sprigs of thyme and the remaining bruschetta was lovely; you may like to try something similar.

We usually warm any leftover pork in BBQ sauce, breaking apart any whole pieces to allow the sauce to thoroughly saturate it—a delicious filling for a crusty roll.

  1. -Warm the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot just large enough to accommodate the pork

  1. -Beginning with fat side down, brown the pork well on all sides (including the ends) on fairly high heat

  1. -Sprinkle all surfaces thoroughly with salt, then add the garlic; sauté briefly

  1. -Add the thyme or sage & cook for a minute or two before turning down the heat to medium; pour in the balsamic vinegar & add the peppercorns. Simmer on the lowest heat possible (on a simmer plate &/or moved slightly off the flame) for upwards of 4 hours, turning every so often, until the meat breaks apart when tested with a fork

  1. -Remove the pork and leave to rest on a cutting board. Pour out most of the fat from the pot, add a couple of spoonfuls of water & cook on high heat for a few minutes so it reduces a bit, then strain out the herb stems (and the peppercorns if you wish)

  1. -Release the pork from the string and slice (the slices will be more like suggestions of slices, i.e. not very tidy). Drizzle with the pan juices, reserving an additional splash for each serving.

- Menu -

Bruschetta aglio e olio

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Pasta al pomodoro
Arista con aceto balsamico
Insalata di valeriana

Pomodori freschi


  1. -Cut the loaf into slices 1.5cm thick

  1. -Chop off the ends of each garlic clove, peel them & halve

  1. -Toast the bread for a couple of minutes on both sides

  1. -Rub the garlic over the toasted slices of bread two or three times; the garlic should essentially ‘melt’

  1. -Generously drizzle the bruschetta with olive oil; sprinkle with salt & serve immediately

ingredients for six

1 loaf of crusty bread

a few cloves of garlic

extra virgin olive oil


Tomatoes with garlic-infused olive oil

Any ripe, beefy tomato will work, but I especially love the canestrini tomatoes that we used for the cooking class; they are available in the summer months, and when cut crosswise the slices give the impression of ‘ruffles’. This is hardly a recipe, but more of a gentle reminder of how wonderful a good tomato can be with the simple addition of garlic-infused olive oil & a little salt & pepper.


Valeriana salad with pecorino & hazelnuts

In Italy it’s traditional for the salad to come later in the meal; it’s considered more of a side dish and usually shows up with the second course. Greens dressed simply with oil & vinegar, salt & pepper are common (a few wedges of tomato or cucumber might be tossed in), but I enjoy bringing in other textures and flavors too. While the pecorino fresco is good in a summer salad, the stagionato (aged, and therefore harder) also works well. The pecorino should be roughly cut on the slotted side of a cheese grater, allowing the shavings to be of a non-uniform thickness. Valeriana, which is also known as lamb’s lettuce or mâche, is a delicate green and is best enhanced by a squeeze of lemon, rather than the balsamic vinegar that I usually favor.

Most of the time that goes into this salad is spent on the preparation of the ingredients; once that’s done the assembly is simple (and fun—just ask those who assembled the forty salads for our cooking class dinner!).

ingredients for six

200 g/7 oz pancetta


2 eggs

150 g/5 oz parmesan

    (finely grated)

a good drizzle of olive oil

generous grindings of pepper

500 g/18 oz spaghetti

  1. -Fill a large pot with water (+salt)

  1. -Heat the pancetta in a pan on medium until cooked; drain the fat and set the pancetta aside

  1. -Grate the cheese

  1. -Whisk the eggs if you wish

  1. -Drain the spaghetti well, then return it to the pot; quickly stir in the egg, add the pepper & the cheese, drizzle with olive oil & serve immediately with a sprinkling of parmesan.

Pasta al pomodoro

This is another simple way to serve pasta. The sauce can be put together quickly & with few ingredients; even so, the variations are numerous. We used the lovely Tropea onions, which are incredibly fresh and crisp at the beginning of the season. If I have an egg, I coat the cooked/drained pasta with it before stirring in the sauce; this adds a little protein and a bit more creaminess/depth to the flavor.

The best pasta tips I’ve picked up while living here: boil in the pasta in an abundant amount of water so they have plenty of space to move . . . drain the pasta the moment the cooking time is finished, so that it’s al dente (and not overcooked) . . . return the drained pasta to the pot and incorporate the sauce before serving . . . don’t overdo the amount of sauce; it should just coat the pasta.

Sometimes, especially to vary leftover sauce the following day, I will add a handful of cooked pancetta or some cooked sausage and/or ground beef. Alternately, you can go heavy on the onion, or add another sautéed onion the second day to stretch the sauce. I put the onion bits to sauté as they’re chopped; this way there’s a nice range of texture in the sauce, from tender to just cooked. Also, sometimes I dice them, and other times I leave them as half rings. A splash of cream creates a ‘pink’ sauce and imparts a nice flavor, and fresh herbs are always an easy way to bring a sauce to another level. Instead of simply grating parmesan to serve on top, shavings of pecorino make a great alternate garnish.

ingredients for six

2 tomatoes

    (roughly 225 g/8 oz each)

2-3 cloves garlic

    (peeled & crushed)

60 ml/1/4 cup extra virgin        

    olive oil

sea salt & peppercorns

    (freshly ground)

  1. -A few hours (or even days) before serving, infuse the olive oil with garlic: peel & lightly smash the garlic with the flat side of a knife, place in the olive oil, cover & set aside

  1. -Shortly before serving, slice the tomatoes crosswise, in fairly substantial slices; arrange, partly overlapping, on a platter

  1. -Drizzle with the garlic-infused oil & season with grindings of salt & pepper. Serves 6.

  1. -Fill a large pot with water (+salt)

  1. -Let 3 tbsp oil heat as you chop the onions & crush the garlic

  1. -Sauté the onions & garlic until soft

  1. -Add tinned tomatoes & simmer for at least 20-30 minutes

  1. -Once the water has boiled and while the sauce is simmering, cook the pasta according to the package instructions

  1. -Drain the the pasta & return it to the pot, then coat with the egg & stir in the tomato sauce

ingredients for six

3 tsp extra virgin olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic

2 red onions

1-400 ml/14 oz can tomatoes

1 egg

parmesan, freshly grated

  1. -Prepare the ingredients

  1. -Place a pile of valeriana on each plate

  1. -Scatter with rings of the white part of onion

  1. - Drizzle each salad with olive oil

  1. - Squeeze on a little lemon juice

  1. - Top with the pecorino shavings

  1. - Garnish with the stalks of the green onion

  1. - Add generous grindings of salt and pepper

  1. - Garnish with the hazelnuts

ingredients for six

100 g/3.5 oz valeriana

2-3 spring onions

    (finely sliced)

12 tsp olive oil

1/2 lemon

130 g/4.5 oz pecorino

    (roughly shaved)

grindings of salt & pepper

30 g/1 oz hazelnuts

    (chopped & toasted)


150 ml/5 oz juice/soda/coffee

    per person

(Keep in mind that the liquid will expand as it freezes, so leave some space at the top of the glass; this way the ice crystals won’t go flying everywhere as you break them up with the fork.)

  1. -Pour single servings of the various juices into each glass & put in the freezer (cover with plastic wrap if you won’t be having the granita the same day)

  1. -Using a fork, break up the partially frozen juice after approximately 2 hours, then return to the freezer

  1. -Test the consistency of the granita after about 3 hours total; if you can get it to a slushy consistency with a fork it is ready to serve (if not, let it sit at room temp for a bit first)

Bruschetta with garlic & oil

Bruschetta—toasted bread—can accommodate all sorts of toppings, but I find it hard to choose anything else over the pure goodness of garlic and olive oil. You can toast the bread on an outdoor grill, in an oven under the broiler, or in a pan on the stove; just take care to catch the slices before they begin to darken.

A big thank you to John for taking on the task of orchestrating the bruschetta-making; he and Michaela sawed through several kilos-worth of enormous loaves, and must have had garlic-infused dreams for days afterward! Luckily we weren’t in charge of the other antipasti; my father assembled a crew in the dining hall and shared his favorite tips for putting together a nice selection of chorizo, cheese & olives.

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Photos: Dave Pflederer (with the exception of the cypresses & the granite, which are mine)