Positano – Exploration and Cooking Class

After a decent night’s sleep (though at some point, as there was no air conditioning, we had to figure out how to set up the fan for some night time breeziness as it was a little on the warm side) we arose the gorgeous view of the Positano coast outside our balcony.  The clock tower also helped wake us up at 7am as it inexplicably chimes only at 7am and 7pm. I have no idea why.

Eventually, we headed up to the terrace roof where breakfast is served in the B&B.  As the views were so lovely, we decided to sit outside in the sun.  This proved to be a bit of a mistake as the wasps were immediately attracted to our food so I made Nick move us back inside. But not before we got a nice photo.

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Seated inside and safely away from the wasp swarm, I was much happier enjoying our food and we chatted with the owners.  They had us in stitches as they talked to us about their many cats.  The ‘big black one’ is named Obama and his wife is Michelle. So funny!

We enjoyed the pastries, cereals, cheeses and cold meat selections on offer for breakfast along with coffee and juice before heading out into Positano to explore the town.

Again, we caught a bus into the main area and from there walked around, checking out the stores and eventually found our way down to the beach level.  Positano has another black pebble type beach and while we didn’t want to go swimming this morning, we might do so another day.

Eventually we found ourselves walking along a path that hugged the coast line where we took a few nice scenic pictures.

Before long though, we needed to get back to Positano to find our location for the day’s planned activity.  Our Positano Home Cooking class run by Peter Capraro. This started at midday and was located in a 12th century Italian villa home, Peter’s family home as it turned out.

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View from Peter’s balcony

I went in not really knowing what to expect.  Nick had found this class randomly googling for places to eat while planning our trip and came across this place.  The reviews were overwhelmingly positive and I had asked him if we could do a cooking class while we were on holiday.  So it seemed a no-brainer.  Nick booked us in and all we had to do was show up. It was lucky we booked so far in advance as we found later, the class books up fast.

Now honestly, seriously, this is probably one of the very best travel experiences I have ever had. I can’t at this moment think of a more fun, more educational or more delicious way we have ever spent a day on vacation. It was all the more wonderful as Peter encouraged us all to treat his home as if it were his own – to the extent where he was telling us that we could take things out of his fridge if we wanted! Even take tomatoes and lemons from the kitchen (though we didn’t use them for the day’s recipes).  I genuinely felt more like a guest then someone paying for a service. It was fantastic.

We started the ‘class’ with a glass of fine prosecco with Peter coaching us through how to make crostini.  These were delicious little morsels and I can’t wait to have a dinner party or something at home so I can attempt to recreate these.  Now, before I get started, I should note that Peter believes in using only whole, organic and fresh vegetables, fruit, meat and fish. So everything we made today was done using local produce and even most of the wines were certified organic.

The crostini started with a toasted bread base spread heavily with butter and topped with shaved parmesan cheese.  We could also have used Gorgonzola cheese instead but I stuck to parmesan. Over the cheese, we poured a light drizzle of truffle oil.  Peter told us about the amount of research he did into his truffle oil and the astonishing results.  He had actually sent samples of many truffle oils to a forensic scientist friend who analysed the oils and found a whopping 90% of them didn’t have any truffle in them at all – only truffle flavouring.  In some cases, the oil base wasn’t olive oil, but sunflower oil.

But the stuff Peter had procured for his classes was the legit stuff.  And you only needed a tiny, tiny dribble as the oil was very potent.  Over the oil went a handful of arugula (rocket for us Aussies) and over that, a drizzle of the thickest, sweetest balsamic vinegar I have ever seen.  It was more like a syrup than anything else.  And then we draped some prosciutto elegantly over the top of all this.

All together, it tasted like heaven and we went out onto the Villa’s balcony to eat the dainty appetisers, enjoy the prosecco and ogle at the view.

Now aside from us, there were 3 other couples attending the class and they were all lovely and quirky people who I loved getting to know and chat with.  The whole class honestly felt more like a social mixer where even my shy self was able to come out of my shell and feel a little cheeky and bold.

Nick and I were the only Australians whilst everyone else was from the United Stated. We had Brian and Debbie from Texas.  Brian is a doctor and Debbie works as a flight attendant.  Then there was Meredith from New York with her mother Ellen from California.  Then we had another Debbie (who writes murder-mystery novels! exciting) and her husband Dave.  I didn’t catch exactly where they were from but they were also American.

It was probably helped along by Peter plying us all with so. Many. Bottles. Of Wine. So many. While we were doing the appetisers and the prep for the next dishes, I reckon he must have opened maybe 4 bottles of white wines and distributed amongst the group. Carefully explaining what each one was and its characteristics.  We took photos of all the labels so we could remember them later.

As mentioned we started prepping for our next dish which was a pasta dish.  Peter had set up little cutting board work stations for us with some absolutely amazing quality Japanese knives.  Peter also let us know that he sharpens the knives himself so, needless to say they were razor sharp.

Peter got us to work chopping zucchini (Nick’s job) grinding peppercorns into powder (my job) and various other tasks – I also got to use the scary as hell grinder to grate up the cheese for the pasta dish.  All the way to the parmesan rind!

As we were diligently working we got to hear a little about Peter’s story as Deb asked if he would tell us.  We got a truly impressive tale about Peter’s lineage (Italian father, British mother) and incredibly interesting work history.

But aside from all this, Peter is just a genuinely open and nice person.  Literally inviting people into his home and letting us have such a fun, low key experience with him and the fine foods he showed us how to make.

The zucchini slices were lightly fried in oil and while still hot, where placed in a bowl where basil was placed over the top and a tea towel thrown over the top so the basil infused the zucchini. Apparently you should never cook basil directly but sort of steaming it like this retains all the flavour.

While that was going, we cooked some pasta al dente and drained it off (reserving some of the pasta water).  Meredith then got the job of stirring a massive amount of butter (2.5 packs) into the pasta over the stove-top.  We added my pepper, the zucchini/basil mix, the two bowls of grated Parmesan and splashes of pasta water to loosen it all up.

Prior to making the pasta, we had also prepped some potatoes for the main course. This consisted of chunks of potato, huge amounts of rosemary, a generous shake of pink himalayan salt and generous pouring of olive oil.  These were shaken up in a covered pot before being poured into a baking dish. These were slotted into the oven to cook happily while we made and then ate our pasta out on the balcony again.

Peter then took us down into his wine cellar for a tour. This was super fun and he imparted a bit of knowledge on us about the wines on offer.  He ended up bringing another 5 bottles of red wine up for us to try with the food and again, explained the characteristics of each.  He decanted a couple of bottles which would benefit from a bit of air.  His generosity with his wines and his knowledge was pretty staggering.

Peter then asked us if we would like risotto AND steak or just steak and potatoes.  I think at this point, every one was a little iffy about their stomach capacity but (thankfully) we all indicated that we wanted to try the risotto so Peter said we would make a small amount.

The risotto was made with mushrooms, riso carnaroli (risotto rice – grown in the Novara region where we caught our overnight train from!) and Peter’s home made stock, made from an amazing stock concentrate which Peter promised to send us the recipes for.

An interesting note here is that Peter just peels his mushrooms as washing them makes them waterlogged and loses most of your flavour.  And also, as usual, there was tonnes of cheese in this one too.  It was one of the most sensational risottos I have ever eaten.

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But the crowning glory of the day was definitely our final course. The aged Black Angus steak and potatoes.  Since the potatoes were already cooking away, it was only left to prepare the steak.  We did so by simply seasoning the huge chunk of meat with salt and letting it sit for a while to draw out moisture and sort of form a bit of a salt crystal layer. As it was such a huge chunk of meat, Peter only cooked it rarely and then cut it into further slices and let people decide how much further they wanted to cook their own pieces, but advised that it was best to eat rare. This was both for the taste and for digestion as he reckons the human digestional tract is more suited to eating raw meat.

I had also ground up even more peppercorns for a peppery steak sauce which was made with cream and butter and more.

I am not kidding when I say that it was the best steak and the most magnificent potatoes I have ever had in my life. I don’t think much will top this experience for me and it was fantastic.

I was sure, just sure that I wouldn’t be able to eat another bite or risk exploding.  But as it turned out, Peter had one last treat in store for us. Our pick of dessert.  Crème brûlée, tiramisu or a panna cotta with a blackberry preserve (Peter had picked the blackberries himself when he was in the UK visiting his family in August).  This was a tough choice but Nick and I divided and conquered a tiramisu and a crème brûlée.  Peter scorched the sugar onto the custard tops for us directly and we had to wait for them to cool for a few minutes before we could eat them.

With the smell of the caramel all through the kitchen this was a tough ask! But we ate the tiramisu first, even managed to get a few bites of a panna cotta being passed around which was sensational. and then finally got to crack the caramel top of the crème brûlée. I think I was actually dying from happiness at this point. They were all fantastic, but I really can’t ever go past a really excellent crème brûlée.

Nick was a liiiittle bit tipsy by the end so I took charge of getting us home. It was still early, but the sun was just setting as we got back.  Nick played with the kitten in the street while I started blogging and we decided (as we certainly didn’t need dinner) to relax and turn in early.

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Making new friends where ever he goes…

Tomorrow we would try to work off some of this amazing food by going on a hike.

Km’s walked: 5.6 (lazy day! Literally spent the whole day eating and drinking!)

Flights complete: 5/10

Tomorrow: The Path of the Gods and Positano Beach

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