A Private Chef in Italy

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

During a recent trip to Italy for my husband's 40th birthday, we were lucky enough to have friends from different parts of the world join us to celebrate. We decided early on in the planning process that an apartment rental in the center of Florence was the way to go - this way we'd be able to entertain everyone comfortably. And since everyone was traveling from afar to be with us, it was pretty important to Chad & me to do something special, memorable for them. So working with friends over at Bravo! Concierge, I hired Chef Claudio Rossi to prepare a laid-back, traditional Italian meal for a dinner party in our rental.
The morning of the dinner party, Claudio met me & some friends at our apartment and took us to the local market to shop for ingredients. Wanting a total surprise at the dinner table, I left the menu up to Claudio. So the entire time we were shopping, with each new ingredient he'd select, my mind was running trying to peg the dish. Rows of produce, fruits, fish, meats, cheeses, breads, pastas, wines. At each new stall we'd stop at Claudio would smile my way to see if I could guess the dish. Not a clue. Until he picked up zucchini flowers, and I was hoping he was frying those babies. With a wink my way, I kinda knew he was. Before dropping the groceries back at the apartment, we stopped off for a cappucino - Claudio's treat. Such a gentleman.
Claudio returned to our apartment shortly after lunch, with his sous chef in tow - Ilaria, a spunky woman from Pisa. Friendly with a fiery red pixy, I immediately liked her. She & I talked some as she began making preparations. I soon left them to work their magic in peace.
Upon returning to the apartment a few hours later, I walked in to find Claudio setting the table and our friends mingling, sipping the cabernet we'd bought at vineyards the day before. I paused in the doorway to just soak in the moment.

To borrow words from a client, "It was just one of those moments where you have to stop and say to yourself.. 'What a privilege it is to be here.'"
It wasn't a fancy affair. Casual, comfortable, with mismatched linens and dinnerware. But what it was was 7 courses of pure love with the undertone of 'Welcome to Italy, welcome to Florence, I hope you enjoy our home.' Claudio & Ilaria joined us at the table for the last course. We laughed, we talked. They'll be cemented in my mind forever. How could they not? I felt like the food I was eating was intimately special to them for one reason or another, I felt like they wanted us to get a real taste of their life, of their childhood, upbringing, of what their grandparents cooked for them and so on. Intimate and honored.

The menu that Claudio & Ilaria prepared for us is below. My favorite dish was a twist on the caprese salad. I loved it so much, I requested the recipe from Claudio; it's below for your enjoyment as well.

Ps, Thank you Ana Paula Toledo for bringing Claudio & Ilaria into our temporary home in Florence!

Course #1, Tuscany " focaccia " with Colonnata Lard
Course #2, Fried zucchini flower
Course #3, Caprese
Course #4, Pappa al pomodoro
Course #5, Zucchini and saffron risotto
Course #6, Stuffed pork fillet with fennel and orange salad
Course #7, Apple crumble

Caprese recipe, straight from Claudio ..

some "sheets" of carasau sardinian bread
some tomatoes confit
500g mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) or 2 smaller
basil olive oil

1) break the carasau sheets creating 3 pieces each (as squared as possible), the size can be almost as the mozzarella slices  or a bit larger. You can use scissors to help you, be very delicate as the bread easily breaks.

2) Cut the mozzarella in slices, need to have 3 slices each person. Cut it some hours previously as it needs to lose its "water"

3) Create the plate: 1 mozzarella slice, then tomato confit, 1 piece of carasau bread, repeat it twice (or more if preferred). On the last sheet of bread put some tomatoes, decorate with basil oil and just an idea of olive oil. 

use a lot of basil leaves, washed and gently dried. Put the leaves inside the blender glass with olive oil (as much as needed to create a soft cream), blend very well. Use a chinoise and filter the cream. Store it immediately in the fridge (otherwise the basil tarnishes). It can be used for some days.  

Use small red and compact tomatoes, cut in two. Or you can cut slices of red tomatoes like "Roma" quality. Put the tomates on a baking tray with hoven paper, the cut side up. Spread them with some salt, provencal herbs, a thread of olive oil, icing sugar. Put in pre-heated hoven at 100° for almost 90 minutes, until they start to dry..


  1. I relived the memory of that special evening as I read your words - plus got the recipe for the Caprese! Scotty and I were so happy to be a part of it. Grazie ancora!

  2. I Love such a lot your web site and recipes, I share all the time with my friends. Its there foreruns so attention-grabbing to Pine Tree State reading this narrative concerning the winter and your passion for edible fruit.


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