For years my mum and aunt have regaled me with tales of the ‘old tomato days’. They tell of bubbling pots, and of sterilised jars brimming with fragrant pasta sauce.
I always picture the pair of them, with their dark wavy hair, giggling as they run in and out of their nonna’s kitchen, their 1960s frocks stained red with juice.
I feel sentimental each time I cook up a batch of pasta sauce, the garlic and basil aromas wafting from the pot conjuring a sense of pride in our heritage.
I never had the opportunity to meet my great nonna, or my actual grandparents for that matter, but part of my heart belongs in Italy and I have always felt the need to perfect these rich homemade dishes, and what better way to do so than in the home country while on a holiday in Bellagio.
Perched on the edge of the majestic Lake Como in the Lombardy region, this quaint village welcomes you with its cobbled lanes, centuries-old crumbling villas and colour. Colour in the wild flowerbeds with bursts of pink and yellow, in the green mountains that frame the picturesque town, and in the personalities of the local residents, including the animated chef Luigi Gandola who greets us with his infectious grin as we clamour into his car excited for a day of cooking.
As the car pulls to a stop we take in the rustic yellow restaurant. Green vines, laden with bunches of deep purple grapes, twist and climb around wooden beams. It’s stunning. The kitchen itself is like many Italian kitchens, welcoming and warm.
Our small group who make up the cooking class at Ristorante Salice Blu are enthusiastic and eager to get to work.
Luigi is humble and bouncing with energy as he shares his recipes for coloured ravioli, gnocchi and saffron risotto. We mix, roll and cut our creations, taking in his expertise. He has, after all, secured more than 34 gold medals in the industry and has been named the best chef in Lombardy.
As we sit on the restaurant’s veranda, with smells of fresh basil and oregano tickling our noses, we sip on Italian wine, enjoying our handmade fare and chat with Luigi about the beauty of cooking and sharing family recipes.
Family has always been his motivation. The Italians believe to live is to eat, family recipes are priceless and the moments shared cooking create lifelong memories. Just ask my mum.
Cooking tours continue to grow in popularity. From ancient villas to farmhouses and restaurants, the locations are diverse and exciting. Here are five suggestions to get you inspired.
GOOD TASTES OF TUSCANY
Offering one-day, two-day and week-long cooking classes in the kitchen of the Renaissance Villa Pandolfini, you will enjoy a hands-on lesson with a qualified Italian chef. The focus is on Tuscan fare. Visit tuscany-cooking-class.com.
RISTORANTE SALICE BLU
Located a short drive from the centre of Bellagio, chef Luigi offers one-day classes. Visit ristorante-saliceblue-bellagio.it.
You’ll find this castle in the heart of Siena.The Tuscan Retreat Cookery Program was created by celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and resident chef Stylianos Sakalis. There are various levels, depending on your skills. Visit castelmonastero.com/en/home.
SLOW FOOD COOKING SCHOOL
Participants will make pasta by hand with a few organic ingredients in an 1839 farmhouse. There are a range of options including family, vegetarian and wine lover’s classes. Visit slowcookingschool.com.
Offering luxury cookery holidays in Italy, the tour includes six nights of accommodation, classes, food, wine, trips, tours and tastings. Visit stirredtravel.com.