Five Secrets of Italian Cooking That Every Traveler Should Know

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Kneading pizza dough in Italy

When we were in Italy we took part in the most fantastic cooking class at a place called Mama in Florence. We made pizza, focaccia, gelato, and oh my goodness, all the delicious things that still make my mouth water! Since we love to cook (and eat), it was an adventure right up our alley.

Mama Florence kitchen

We cooked in a gorgeous, yet cozy kitchen and our chef and instructor for the day was Michele. He walked us all through the basics of Italian cooking, and helped correct any erroneous assumptions we previously had about Italian food. We snapped a ton of pictures throughout our 4 hour long cooking class, and what lies below are some of the highlights that we learned along the way!

Fresh Italian yeast

1. Fresh yeast

Have you ever heard of fresh yeast? It has the consistency of clay and delivers a slightly more yeasty flavor to the foods it’s made with. It's difficult to find in stores as it has a very short shelf life. However, some specialty food stores may be more likely to carry it, especially during the holidays when people tend to be cooking more. We felt quite fancy cooking with it and hope to find it in the US!

Potato focaccia in Florence, Italy

2. Focaccia Contains Potatoes

Did you know that in Tuscany, potatoes are the secret ingredient in focaccia?! I adore this thick, bready goodness and was delighted to discover the secret. The potatoes help maintain moisture in the bread. Each part of Italy has its own take on focaccia -- for example, we were surprised to find it thin and crispy and some restaurants in Rome. In Cinque Terre (rumored to be the birthplace of focaccia), it was thick and coated in olive oil and salt.


3. Burrata is heaven on earth

Burrata is a true delicacy, and it is derived from the Italian word for butter. The outside of the cheese is like mozzarella -- firm and delicious. But once you cut into it, the butter-like consistency of soft cheese comes spilling out. We learned that when cooking with burrata, be sure to throw it on after it is already cooked, as we did with our pizzas that day. The water content won't do well in the oven...and why mess with a good thing, anyway?

Fresh fried Italian pizza dough

4. Pizza dough is not just for pizzas

After our hard work all morning in our state-of-the-art professional kitchen, we went to the back patio where we waited while our food finished baking. We sipped on a crisp, sparkling wine and nibbled on fried fresh pizza dough dipped in marinara. Yes, we had made SO MUCH dough that Michele made some fried little morsels of it, then sprinkled a little bit of marinara, burrata (obvi), and fresh basil on top. With the beautiful sun and fresh food, it was amazing. Michele also managed to make a pear dessert with the pizza dough, by sprinkling it with sugar to give it a sweeter finish. Clearly, pizza dough is a blank canvas. 

Gelato with apple balsamic on top

5. Don't underestimate your balsamics

We got to do a tasting of different fancy balsamic vinegars as part of our class, which was really enlightening. Our favorite was an apple balsamic, which was delicious on top of our handmade gelato. We got a little bottle to bring home because it was so good! (Similar items available at home include this and this.)

Enjoying our Italian lunch


Our food was delicious, just as we expected. And this was an experience that we will not soon forget. Michele sent us home with full bellies, packed-up leftover pizza, and all the complete recipes of what we had made that day. And we certainly learned some really great secrets of Italian cooking along the way!

If you're interested in taking a course like this, we highly suggest Mama, located just outside the inner wall of Florence. We began appreciating all the Italian food we ate even more after this class -- we didn't know that was possible!

Buon appetito!

Five secrets of Italian cooking that every traveler should know