First Cooking Lesson with Ayu

About a week ago I had my first cooking lesson with Ayu. We made Gado-Gado (Boiled Vegetables With Peanut Sauce), Tofu With Peanut Sauce, and Fried Banana for dessert. Here are the recipes and a few photos:

Tofu and Vegetables with Peanut Sauce


1 pound firm tofu

10 long beans (or 2 handfuls green beans)

1 large handful bean sprouts

½ bunch spinach (or 1 package baby spinach)

1 cup raw peanuts

10 cloves garlic, chopped very small (1/3 cup?)

2-3 shallots, thinly sliced

2 red chili peppers, seeds and veins removed

1 T. sweet soy sauce

1-2 T. cane sugar

*Optional: A squeeze of fresh lime juice. (We used half a Balinese lime, which is teeny tiny lime about the size of a ping-pong ball. You don’t juice it, you just put it in rind and all.)

coconut oil for frying

(Serve with white rice or thin rice noodles. If you have leftover rice you can warm it up with boiling water just before serving. If you need to make rice, start it cooking at the beginning of the process.)

Clockwise from upper left: Spinach, long beans, bean sprouts; tofu blocks; garlic, shallots, bali lime; salt; sweet soy sauce; coconut oil in the plastic water bottle; peanuts; bananas; jackfruit (which we also made into fritters for dessert.)


  1. Peel and mince the garlic, slice the shallots, and chop the red chilies. Put each ingredient on its own small plate.

    Prepping the veggies

  2. Slice the tofu ¼ inch thick from the small end of the cube and put it in a bowl.

    Slicing the tofu.

    3. Wash and trim the spinach. Drain well. Cut the long beans into 3 inch lengths.

    4. Heat coconut oil (1/4 inch deep) in a large skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, carefully add the tofu slices one at a time with tongs. When you can see they are becoming golden on the bottom, turn them to cook on the other side. If the oil gets smoky, turn the heat down (or off) for a little bit. When cooked on both sides, remove to a strainer placed over a bowl to drain and cool.

    5. While the tofu is cooking, heat more coconut oil in a small frying pan. Fry the shallots until crispy and browned. Remove them to a plate. Using the same oil, fry the garlic and chilies until the garlic is very pale golden, just a couple of minutes. Remove them to a separate plate.

    Fried shallots, and fried garlic and chili in coconut oil.

    6. After the tofu is finished cooking, use the same oil (add more as needed) to fry the peanuts. Stir constantly until the peanuts are nicely colored. Remove them to a plate to cool. Dispose of any remaining frying oil.

    Frying the peanuts while the tofu drains in the natural bamboo colander.

    7. Put a large pot of water on to boil. When the water is boiling, add the long beans or green beans. Put the lid on and let the water return to a boil. Taste a bean for doneness. It should be tender crisp. Add the spinach on top and push it down into the water. Then add the bean sprouts. Move them around in the water for one minute, then turn off the heat. Put them in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Let them drain.

    8. Make the peanut sauce. Grind the peanuts in a mortar and pestle or put them in the food processor. Add a little water to loosen the paste. Add the shallots, garlic, and chilies and process until smooth.

    Grinding peanuts in a stone bowl with a round rock.

    Seeing how it’s really done.


    9. Using the same large frying pan that you used for the peanuts, heat some water (approximately an equal quantity as the peanut paste.) Stir in the peanut paste. Add salt, sweet soy sauce, and cane sugar. Taste and adjust flavors as needed. Cook the sauce until it is the consistency of gravy. (At this point, you could try adding a little bit of lime juice to brighten the flavors, or just leave it as it is.)

    10. Put the tofu on a wide serving dish and spoon half the peanut sauce over the tofu. Drizzle with more sweet soy sauce.

    11. Put the vegetables on a separate serving dish and pour the remaining peanut sauce over them. Stir to coat all the vegetables with the sauce. Add a little more salt, some sweet soy sauce, and taste. Correct flavors as needed.

    Main dishes ready for the table. Gado-gado on the left, plain white rice in the middle on a beautiful banana-leaf mat, and tofu with peanut sauce on the right.

Fried Bananas   (Makes 8 small fritters)


2 cups white flour

2 eggs

¼ t. salt

4 T. sugar

2 bananas

coconut oil for frying


  1. Crack the 2 eggs into the flour. Add salt and sugar. Stir with whisk just to combine.
  2. Peel the bananas. Cut them in half to make 3-4 inch long pieces. Cut them in half lengthwise (to make them skinnier.)
  3. Start heating coconut oil ( ¼ inch deep) over medium flame.
  4. Gently place a piece of banana in the batter. Using a spoon, gently move the banana around until it is covered with batter.
  5. When the oil is hot, use the spoon to gently place the coated banana into the oil. Fry for 1 minute or so until golden. Using tongs, turn to cook the other side.
  6. Remove from the oil and drain in a colander placed over a bowl (or on paper towels on a plate.)
  7. Repeat with the other pieces of banana. (You can cook as many pieces as will fit in your pan at the same time, but make sure you still have enough space to turn them over.)

Note: These should be eaten shortly after frying as they don’t keep very well. The batter will keep for a few days, covered in the refrigerator. Balinese people eat these for dessert and for breakfast.

Recipes from Cooking Class

Last week we had our second cooking class at In Tavola, which is a fabulous cooking school. If you’re coming to Florence and want to do cooking classes, you should check out their website. We made a 3 course meal, and then at the end we got to eat everything we cooked. They gave us a little recipe booklet, but I don’t want to carry around little pieces of paper, so I’m transcribing it here so you can try it out at home and I can have it again later, too.


  • Artichoke soufflè (starter)
  • Fresh egg pasta (used for the ravioli)
  • Spinach and Ricotta Filled Ravioli (main dish)
  • Panna Cotta (dessert)

Artichoke Soufflè

  • 300 g. artichoke hearts, sliced (see note)
  • 20 g butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 25 g grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 dl thick bechamel sauce (see below)

Note: We used small, fresh artichokes. Cut off the top third of the artichoke. Pull off the outside leaves until you get to the heart. Peel the stem. Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise. Cut out the choke (the little fuzzy part that you would throw away if you were eating the artichoke cooked).


Prepare the bechamel sauce (see below.) Boil the artichokes for 7 minutes (see note above). Drain and toss with the butter. Grind the buttered artichoke hearts in a mortar with a pestle, then pass through a sieve, or puree in a blender. (We used an immersion blender, with a little of the bechamel sauce in with it.) Combine the artichoke paste, bechamel, cheese and eggs. Puree until smooth. Put the mixture int a greased and floured pan (or ramekins) and cook in a water bath in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted comes out clean, approximately 15-20 minutes. Let stand a few minutes before reoming from pan to a plate and serving.

Bechamel Sauce

  • 60 g butter
  • 60 g flour type 00, sifted (all purpose flour should be fine)
  • 1 litre milk
  • nutmeg to taste
  • salt to taste

PROCEDURE: Melt the butter, whisk in the sifted flour little by little. Add the nutmeg and continue cooking and stirring for one minute to thicken. Put the milk in a separate saucepan and add a pinch of salt; bring to a boil. Slowly, add the milk to the flour mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook sauce for at least 5 minutes over low flame, stirring occasionally.

Fresh Egg Pasta

  • 2 eggs
  • 50 g flour of durum wheat
  • 150 g flour type 00
  • salt to taste

PROCEDURE: Put the flour in a mound on a large wooden pastry board, making a large well in the center of the mound. Break the eggs into the hole, add a generous pinch of salt. Beat the eggs, then slowly begin incorporating the flour from the inside perimeter of the well into the mixture with a fork. Knead well until smooth and elastic. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let rest for at least 30 minutes before using.

Cut dough ball into 2 equal parts. Working with one half at a time, slightly flour, roll with a rolling pin. Fold into thirds and roll again. Using a pasta machine, run the dough through the machine at settings 1, 3, and 5. Fold into thirds again and roll with pin to width of the machine. Repeat until pasta is desired consistency. For ravioli finish on setting 6.

Spinch & Ricotta Filled Ravioli

  • 250 g spinach
  • 250 g ricotta cheese
  • 60 g grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ground nutmeg to taste

PROCEDURE: Clean the spinach, boil and let cool; squeeze well to remove the liquid and mince finely. Strain the ricotta through a sieve then put into a bowl; add the spinach, cheese egg, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Put the spinach mixture into a pastry bag (or a plastic bag and cut a hole to dispense the mixture.) Roll out the pasta dough into one thin strip, about 5 inches wide. Using the pastry bag, place a dollop (about 1 T.) of filling in the center of the strip. Place another dollop about 3 inches from the first one. Keep working your way down. Leave 2 finger widths of pasta at each end. Gently fold the long strip in half. Using the blunt side of a round cookie cutter, press down gently around each dab of spinach mixture. Use your fingers to press out any air bubbles and seal the pasta together. Using a pronged pasta cutter, cut between the dollops to create individual raviolis. Gently flour the tops. Use a spatula to lift the raviolis onto a floured cardboard tray, taking care not to overlap them or they will stick together.

Place in boiling, salted water and cook for 5-7 minutes. While they are cooking, melt some butter and olive oil together. Scoop the raviolis into the butter and slide around the pan to coat. Sprinkle with a little parmesan cheese and serve.

Panna Cotta

  • 6 g gelatin
  • 40 ml of whole milk
  • 200 ml of whipping cream
  • 40 g of sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean (or vanilla extract)


Whisk together the cream, vanilla, and sugar. Put the sheets of gelatin in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes. Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat until hot, but do not boil. Wring out the gelatin and put it into the warm milk; stir until the gelatin melts. In a saucepan, warm the cream mixture over low heat stirring constantly until just oiling; remove from the heat; add the milk/gelatin to the cream and stir to mix well.

Run individual serving cups or ramekins under cold water. Shake out excess water but do not dry cups. Fill each cup with the panna cotta until full, being sure the tops are level; refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Turn each panna cotta out onto dessert plates. Top with chocolate sauce, caramel sauce or fruit sauce as desired.

Thanks to our expert guides and the elves in the kitchen, everything turned out beautifully. We had a great time, too. It’s always so much more fun to cook with others than to cook alone. If you decide to try these out, invite a friend.

Limoncello making party

To celebrate the completion of the first week of classes, we had the faculty members and their families over to make a big batch of limoncello for all to share. For those of you unfamiliar with limoncello, it is a powerful, super-tasty, Italian lemon liqueur. I have been making it for several years now. In fact, I like to think that the teachers in the Florence program get along with each other exceptionally well because I introduce limoncello into their lives early in the process. Everything is just much more cheerful with limoncello.

Everyone brought 6 lemons, a little cash to cover the cost of the alcohol, and an appetizer to share. We made a double batch. After the lemons have steeped in the alcohol for 3 weeks, we will have 4 liters of limoncello – one liter for each family.

Here is the recipe for limoncello:

  • 12 lemons
  • 1 litre grain alcohol, such as Everclear (available at Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa, CA)
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 4 cups water

Zest the 12 lemons and put the zest into a clean, 1 liter glass bottle with a lid. Be careful not to get any of the white part of the peel of the lemon as it is bitter. When zesting the lemons, you want to only take the color off the outside. You can use a microplane grater, a vegetable peeler, or a citrus zester. Add the alcohol. Stir or shake it a bit to mix and leave it to steep for 3 weeks.

At the end of 3 weeks, the lemon zest will have given up all its flavor and color. Your alcohol will be yellow and the lemon zest will be pale, almost white. Strain the alcohol and throw away the zest. Combine 4 cups sugar and 4 cups water in a large saucepan on the stove. Heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. (This mixture is called simple syrup.) Let the syrup cool completely. Measure to make sure you have 1 liter of simple syrup. If you need more, it only takes a few minutes to make. Just use one part sugar to one part water.

Combine 1 liter lemon-steeped alcohol with 1 liter simple syrup. Pour into clean bottles. Serve very cold. Can be kept in the freezer or refrigerator. Because the alcohol content is so high, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, but should be stored in a cool, dark place. They say it keeps for a very long time, but I wouldn’t know. Ours never lasts that long.

Here, Calla and I demonstrate zesting lemons:

While the adults zested lemons, the kids helped juice the lemons and we made lemonade. Calla is a champion lemon juicer. She juiced about half of the lemons (12) by herself.  In addition to the lemonade we made, everyone got to take home lemon juice for making lemon bars or lemon granita (an Italian frozen lemon dessert.) We ate bruschetta, olives, cheese, chocolate covered panetone, and heavenly chocolate mousse (made by Maria), with prosecco (sparkling wine) or lemonade to wash it down. It was an “eclectic” mix of foods, but everyone had a great time. Just look at this happy bunch.

We realized at the end of the evening that there was an olive pit floating in one of the two jars of lemon zest soaking in alcohol. We blame it on the two year old.

We figured the alcohol would easily kill all the germs, so it wasn’t a big deal. We also decided we would have to have a limoncello TASTING party to see if we could tell the difference in the two batches.

Ribollita – Tuscan bean, bread, and vegetable stew

Howdy, foodie fans. Several of you asked for the recipe and a review of the homemade ribollita, so I am complying with your wishes. It turned out really, really good, but I must admit, not as good as what I had in the restaurant. I think mine needed more salt. I made it from the same recipe 3 years ago and I loved it. I will definitely make it again, but I will make a few adjustments – more about that later.

Ribollita is a traditional, hearty Tuscan bread stew, usually made during the winter months. It’s name literally means “reboiled”. It was made by reheating the minestrone from the day before, and adding stale bread to the mix to make it heartier and thicker.  It is part of the cucina povera (poor kitchen) style of cooking; peasant dishes that have rustic, rural roots.

When I had this stew in the restaurant, they assured me that it was vegetarian. The recipe in my cookbook, however, calls for “guanciale” (gwan cha lay) or pig’s cheek. If you can find pig’s cheek and you don’t mind having it in your stew, by all means, throw it in. You can use any type of meat or vegetable stock that you have on hand.

Ingredients, as listed in the cookbook I found here in the apartment

  • 10 oz (300 g) dried cannelini beans
  • 3 onions, thinly sliced
  • 3 zucchini
  • 3 carrots, rough chopped
  • 3 tomatoes
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • a few sprigs parsley
  • 1 bunch kale, cut into strips (See Note 2)
  • 10 oz. (300 g) potatoes
  • 8 oz. peas
  • meat or vegetable stock
  • stale Tuscan bread, sliced (See Note 3)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt & pepper

Note 1: If you don’t know how to cook beans, you really should learn because it is very easy and very cheap. However, it is time consuming so if you don’t have the time to cook beans, you can substitute canned beans. I would guess that 10 oz. dried beans translates to about 4 cups cooked. Somebody help me out here. Is that about right?

Note 2: The recipe actually says “black cabbage.” When I went to the market and asked for cavolo nero (black cabbage) the guy handed me a bunch of kale. I thought maybe I said it wrong, but the little sign next to the kale did indeed say “cavolo nero”. This makes sense because when I had ribollita in the restaurant I thought it had spinach in it and the recipe didn’t call for any kind of greens, so kale must be the correct thing.

Note 3: After making this with sliced bread, I would use cubed bread next time. It was a little difficult cutting the slices of bread after the whole thing was cooked.

Note 4: Since this is a stew, you can customize according to your own tastes or what you happen to have on hand. I couldn’t find peas, so I just left them out. I’m also a little suspicious of a recipe for a traditional winter stew that calls for zucchini and tomatoes since they aren’t in season until summer, but I put them in anyway. I bet Italian peasants didn’t use out of season vegetables.

Ok, back to the recipe. Here’s what you do:

Rinse the beans, soak overnight, and then cook them in the same water over a very low heat. Meanwhile, chop the zucchini, carrots, celery potatoes, tomatoes, and half the onions, (also put in whatever pig parts you might be using) and fry them in olive oil in a large pan until softened. Add the peas, kale, and parsley. Moisten with the bean cooking water and some stock.

Small rant at this point. What the heck does moisten mean? How much cooking water? How much stock? If this is a soup/stew, shouldn’t it be more than just moistened? I put in about 3 small ladle-fulls of bean cooking water and 1 cup of stock. I admit that I didn’t have stock on hand, there wasn’t any in the store, and I didn’t have time to make it, all of which led me to do something I never do – use bouillon. I won’t do it again. When we had ribollita leftovers a couple days later, I did actually make the stock from scratch.

Ok, so after some experience I would recommend adding about 6 cups of liquid. Maybe more. You want it to be soupy because you’re going to add bread later.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 1 hour. Puree some of the beans in a vegetable mill (or a food processor, if you don’t live in the middle ages) add to the soup with the whole beans. Apparently I do live in the middle ages since I had neither a vegetable mill or a food processor and I had to mash my beans with the back of a spoon and add a little water to make a sort of paste.

Arrange the bread (slices or cubes) in the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Pour the soup over the bread and leave to cool. (I skipped the cooling step and I can’t figure out why they want you to let it cool. Maybe it’s just that if you’re cooking this early in the day and you want to have it for dinner, you just get it to this point and leave it until you’re ready to stick it in the oven for dinner.) Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C for you, Heather, and anyone cooking in Europe).

Finely slice the remaining onion and add it to the soup with more oil. Bake in the oven until the oil simmers and the onion forms a golden crust. This was a little vague for me. Since the soup was already on top of the bread, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to try to mix it in a little or make it a topping. I opted for making it a topping. I drizzled the whole thing with olive oil and that worked out pretty well. The onions don’t ever make a golden crust, but they were an extraordinary addition to the stew. I found some fabulous red onions in the local street market (I think they were torpedo onions) and they were really sweet. Next time I make this, I think I will toss the onions in a little semolina flour, fry them, and add a little salt. That would be great on top of the baked stew.

I cooked about half of this in the oven and put the rest of the vegetable stew in the freezer for later. We ate about half of what I cooked the first time. It was a little dry, but still yummy.  On the day we had the leftovers, I made vegetable stock from scratch. The extra is in the freezer with the extra stew. When I reheated the leftovers, I put a little extra stale bread in the bottom of two oven-proof bowls, topped it with the leftover stew, poured in the veggie broth, and topped it with aged pecorino from the farmer’s market. I cooked it in the oven, as before, and the texture was perfect. The addition of the cheese was fantastico!

This is one of those dishes that could have endless variations. It’s a great one to remember when you have leftover soup and leftover bread. Since I have more in the freezer, I’d love to hear your ideas for additions that might spice it up a little.

Buon appetito!