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How To Cook And Eat A 4-Course Meal. (TIK Tour Day 2, Part 2)


Two nights ago, the weather turned spicy cold. Well. Spicy cold to a 10-year southeastern U.S. transplant. Spicy cold means I need to put a thick faux fur blanket on top of the down-alternative comforter and walk around my house with a 3-foot tall space heater in tow. Spicy cold means I crave nothing but chili and casseroles and basically anything with sausage, and I only drink red wine or alcoholic beverages whose names contain the word “mulled.” Nothing with ice cubes, thankyouverymuch.

I also learned that spicy cold means it’s time to start missing southern Italy, with its dreamy Mediterranean breezes, crisp white wines, buttery olives, and cliffside resort towns. I’m also missing the friends I made there — the sassy Texans, Betsy and Renee, and the classy Californians, Jessica and Valerie. And of course, my friend Alaina.


As you can imagine, after 6 nights together in a boutique hotel, several cooking classes, plenty of day tours, and multiple meals shared at the same table, we connected in a way that’s rarely achieved by strangers on vacation.

Especially during the cooking classes.

We had 3 different cooking classes in our itinerary for the week, and going in, I had no idea how they would be conducted. On our second day, we returned to our sanctuary of a hotel in the early afternoon after a long, luxurious morning of learning how to make mozzarella cheese and limoncello, at which point we had a few hours to ourselves. Some walked into town for gelato, others took naps, and of course Alaina and I drank wine on the veranda.


Hey. We’d found our happy place, and this was day 2 of no luggage.

After we’d established a semi-permanent vacation buzz, it was time to meet in the kitchen for our first cooking lesson. Now. I’ve been to casual culinary classes before and thought, hey. No big deal. We’ll maybe whip up some fresh pasta with a tomato sauce and call it a night.


This was not the case.


The classes were casual, definitely, and geared toward beginner to intermediate cooks. But guess what? It turns out beginner to intermediate cooks can cook a lot. That very first night, we made:


Deep-fried Mozzarella Eggplant Rolls

Sorrento Style Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce

Potato Encrusted Filet of Fish


Had we been a more experienced group, however, I’m sure they could’ve stepped the classes up even further, but I’m so glad they didn’t.

Gathered around the huge lavastone island in the Oasi Olimpia’s incredible teaching kitchen, wine in-hand at aprons at the ready, the six of us stared in shock when Chef Carmen brought in a bowl of beautiful silver fish. I mean, she’d told us we were starting with the fish, but I’m pretty sure we’d all envisioned some fleshy little cuts of pre-scaled, de-boned triangles, previously frozen and pulled from the shelves of the local Walmart-o.

What we were not expecting was a bowl full of fins and scales and heads with beady eyes, their lives not long departed.


Uh oh.

I’d like to tell you that we were mature about the fish.


I’d like to.


But I can’t.


Chef Carmen was disapproving at first, but eventually she saw our side of things.


Once we were done respectfully playing with our food, it was time to cook. Chef Carmen taught us how to filet and de-bone our fish. We used a mandolin to thinly slice some potatoes, then we layered them over the fish like scales. Finishing up with a drizzle of olive oil, some salt, pepper, and rosemary, and we’d successfully completed Dish #1.

After that, it was time to make a mess with gnocchi. And make it, we did — everything from peeling the parboiled potatoes, to kneeding and rolling the dough, to cutting and cooking and compiling the sauce.

Somehow, while we were cooking the gnocchi, the other half of the kitchen magically cleaned itself (thanks to Lina, another amazing staff member at the hotel), and then it was time to cook Dish #3 — deep-fried mozzarella eggplant rolls.

This was one of my favorite recipes of the entire trip, and I believe I might try to re-create it to share with you one day.

At this point we were pretty exhausted, but we’d signed up for cooking classes, and they made sure that’s what we got. A culinary trip to Italy wouldn’t be right without learning to make tiramisu — a creamy, delectable, whipped dessert over coffee-infused ladyfingers — so that was our final dish for the evening.

In true vacation style, our mess was cleaned for us and our food was put in the oven, while we were sent out to relax with an Italian apertif of prosecco — a habit I’m thinking I should adopt at home. The alcoholic array served with typical meals starts with a sparkling light drink, the apertif, to whet the appetite. Then wine with dinner, followed by coffee or espresso — not cappuccino, which is only a morning drink — completed with an after-dinner digestif of limoncello, grappa, or some other puts-hair-on-your-chest kind of spirit to help everything in your body do exactly what it’s supposed to do with all. That. Food.

This is what slow dining is all about.

Our first Italian feast was gluttonous, rich, and oh-so-satisfying. We couldn’t believe that we’d prepared that delicious food ourselves, and it felt right to take an hour to enjoy it after spending several hours to make it.

Why we don’t eat like this in the U.S. every day, I absolutely can’t fathom.

Oh, that’s right — we don’t all have a Lina to clean up our kitchens.

Need to Know:

The International Kitchen
Mediterranean Cooking Experience
Women-Only Week

Good to Know:

  • If your luggage doesn’t happen to be lost, bring comfortable clothes and shoes for the cooking classes.
  • Chef Carmen selects the dishes based on skill level and available seasonal ingredients. She’s flexible to suggestions.
  • Be prepared to COOK! There’s plenty of relaxing time on the tour, but the cooking is no joke. You will learn, and you will love it.

Disclosure: My Women’s Only Week Culinary Vacation was provided for review by The International Kitchen. Rest assured, though, that all opinions — as always — are entirely my own.


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Beautiful……gnocchi are not so easy to make…can be temperamental. Everything looks delicious….


Everything tasted delicious, too! Especially that deep fried eggplant. ;)


Many a “real” chef have lost large chunks of fingers to a mandolin – bravo for making it through! Do you actually participate or were you photo girl all day? I remember having the intention of taking photos when my hubby and I did our baguette class in Paris, but once the hands got in the flour there was no way that was happening! I imagine once you had fish guts or the flour for the gnocchi it was the same situation – or did you stop a lot and do a lot of hand-washing between photos? I ask because I am pretty impressed with the volume and quality! I love the Italian style of eating. And the prosecco and sprtizs at aperos before dinner and limoncello at the end, we should all eat like that every day!


When I bought a mandolin for our home, I made Justin SWEAR he would always use the protective guard thing. It definitely makes me nervous!

As far as the pictures — yes, there was a LOT of hand washing involved. And my camera may or may not have gotten covered in flour. I did manage to make my own gnocchi and filet my own fish, but for the items that were a group effort, like whipping up a large batch of tiramisu, I focused on photos for the sake of the blog and let the others do the work. ;)

Heather | girlichef (@girlichef)

This is EXACTLY the kind of trip/vacation/tour that I want to take. The food, the social aspect, the time in Italy…sigh. I think I’m going to start saving now.

p.s…I’m so incredibly hungry, and this post sort of made me feel desperate. In a good way.


It really was perfect! And there was something really special about staying in this little village just outside of all the tourist bustle — it made it even more relaxing.


Haha *I* wasn’t kissing the fish — I just took the pictures as evidence of the people who did. ;)

Amanda @ MoveLoveEat

Wow, this trip looks amazing! Beautiful photos and I’d love to learn how to make gnocci as well. I have this fantasy that when we buy a house I will have a huge kitchen to make beautiful things like these but in my fantasy someone else does the cleaning ;)


Making gnocchi wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d thought! Some chefs like to use a spoon to shape the dough differently, but rolling them into a snake and then cutting them into tiny pillows (Chef Carmen liked little gnocchi) was super simple. But yeah… I’m right there with you — it was much more fun when you knew someone else was cleaning up the mess!

Christina @ Christina's Cucina

I cannot tell you how incredibly ENVIOUS I am of you right now! Gnocchi are one of my all time favorite foods, and I can never make them as well as my aunts in Italy! Everything looks divine, and I would have given my first born (sorry Steven) to be there with you! ;)


The last part of your comment cracked me up! Though there’s no need to be envious of me — you have aunts in Italy!! :)


Everything looks so delicious! We made it a goal to do a date night and make at least a 3 course meal. I wish we were doing it in Italy with this class! :)


Haha! Maybe *next* date night. ;) (You just made me realize that I’ve never made a multi-course meal for a romantic dinner at home. I might need to try that!)

Colleen Brynn

Okay, so I was SO worried about you without your luggage. I’ve been made a fool! Your suffering was tempered quite well on that veranda of yours. ;)
Also, I have to say a holiday based around cooking never really appealed to me, something about my focus being just on the eating, but you’ve changed my mind! This looks like a blast!


Haha! We were suffering SO badly. ;) And this really was a blast — I’ve never been good at cooking, but I really enjoy the process. Especially with a glass of wine in-hand, there’s just something relaxing about preparing a meal. Mix in a few other fun-loving women and a professional Italian chef, and this is something I’d pay to do again and again!

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