Villa Santa Chiara: a Tuscan holiday under the sign of good food


Maria Valiani, chef and cooking teacher, on Tuscan food tradition, and how to enjoy it when on holiday at Villa Santa Chiara

Maria Valiani: sommelier, food lover and passionate teacher of traditional Italian recipes.

She started about 14 years ago holding her cooking classes in the Tuscan countryside and then kept on working for different cooking schools in Florence and its outskirts.

Today she still teaches in farms and villas (like Villa Santa Chiara) all over Tuscany, but her biggest work is in a charming Florentine cooking school.

We have asked her a few questions on Tuscan cooking tradition, and the best way of enjoying it in Siena, at Villa Santa Chiara

Maria, you are a successful young creative chef and a highly respected cooking teacher. To what extent your own cooking style has been influenced by Tuscan food culture?

MV: Being born in Florence I grew up appreciating Tuscan food and discovering recipes from relatives and old ladies who came and helped my mum in the house.

One of these ladies, even being 92 , is still happy to give advice and suggest tricks whenever I call her. Having been  a child during the Second World War she knows exactly how to respect every part of the seasonal vegetable, leftover piece of bread or hard parmesan rind.

We should remember that most of our Italian recipes come from what was left in the house, so poor but flavored dishes.

Tuscan holiday under the sign of good food

As it happens with almost every tourist spending holidays in Tuscany, expectations are quite high when it comes to both art and culture food & wine. In fact, cooking is part of Tuscan culture, which is deeply rooted in the land. How would you describe the connection between cooking, culture, and land in Tuscany?

MV: Florence was the cradle of Renaissance. Farmers used to come from the countryside to sell their goods and offer the best products to satisfy the market.

Let us remember that Caterina de’ Medici was fond of food, culture, table settings and many other things which brought with her when she went to live in France. She helped spread Tuscan flavors and recipes around Europe.

Italy is world-famous for the quality and variety of its food traditions. As one moves from one Italian Region to another, recipes change a lot. The same applies to cities, even to small villages. Based on your knowledge and experience, what are the main differences one can find during a holiday in Tuscany, as one moves, for example, from Florence to Siena?

MV: We are proud to be from Tuscany, where every village or city has its own traditions and secrets for the same recipe. From Florence to Siena, for example, we come across small country areas, tiny and big villages and we can notice how different they are.

Altitude, microclimate, limestone or clay on the soil provide opposite features to the same product.

Cheeses are more or less salted, fresh pasta has different shapes, sausages can be aged or not, certain types of garlic can enrich our recipes in many different ways. There is a whole world, around Tuscan products.

Moving to the all-important issue: you can certainly suggest the recipes of three dishes the guests at Villa Santa Chiara should learn, or try at least, to better understand and experience Siena’s cooking culture? Which wine from Siena’s territory would you suggest to fully enjoy each of them?

MV: If you decide to come and spend your vacation at Villa Santa Chiara in Siena you might want to learn how to make fresh pasta from scratch only using flour and water and an easy tomato and basil sauce. We can make ravioli, or pici or tagliatelle, for example.

Then you have to know how to cook a piece of roasted pork loin, with garlic, bay and sage leaves and wine, called arista ( comes from aristos, the Greek word meaning “the best”).

As dessert I would suggest a creamy tiramisù or a sweet panna cotta.

As for wines: a good young Chianti or a white Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a Rosso di Montalcino, a sweet Vin Santo .

Fancy a journey into the secrets of Tuscan recipes and Siena’s flavors? Let us know in advance and we will arrange for you one or more cooking lessons with Maria Valiani at Villa Santa Chiara!