La Cucina Italiana ~ A Day in Italy

So, an American expat walks into a Canadian winery where a German chef is teaching   Italian cooking …

View from the terrace at Mission Hill Winery

That might sound like the setup for one of those dreadful “a guy walks into a bar” jokes but it’s actually a true story, and a delectable one at that.

Vineyards at Mission Hill Esate Winery

Earlier this Spring I attended a culinary workshop at Mission Hill Family Estate led by the always affable Chef Jan Dobbener. From Tuna Carpaccio to Polenta Cherry Cake, Chef Jan led us through a spectacular five-course meal that showcased the very best of regional Italian cooking. I didn’t think it was possible for him to surpass the wonderful recipes he demonstrated in his first Italian-themed workshop from the Winter program, La Cucina Italiana, but I was wrong.

Chef Jan Dobbener plating food at Mission Hill Winery

Our Day in Italy started off with an appetizing plate of Tuna Carpaccio done two ways. First, Chef Jan demonstrated how to make aioli from egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, grape seed oil and a whole bulb of roasted garlic. He taught us to start with a cold bowl when making aioli since it will help with the emulsification process. Once he made the aioli, he used a brush to paint a slash of it across the plate then sliced Albacore tuna very thin and arranged it over the aioli. Although the recipe called for raw tuna, he chose to use slices of raw tuna on one side of the plate and smoked tuna on the other. He then garnished the dish with toasted pine nuts, capers, lemon, arugula, shaved parmesan, celery hearts, fennel fronds, and a light dusting of fennel pollen. I enjoyed the smoked tuna more than the raw but both were delicious. After tasting this dish, I had no trouble picturing myself enjoying a chilled plate of Tuna Carpaccio on a sunny terrace in the Mediterranean.

The second recipe Chef Jan demonstrated was a hearty White Bean Soup – a tasty combination of white beans, Italian sausage, onion, carrot, leek, fennel, garlic, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and chicken stock. He also cracked open his precious supply of saffron and added just a few threads. By weight, saffron actually costs more than gold!

For me, one of the essential components of a successful culinary workshop (especially a demonstration style workshop) is the reproducibility of the recipes. It doesn’t do me much good to learn how to make a dish that requires professional equipment or uses ingredients that aren’t readily available to the home cook (like demi-glacé). I’m happy to say that this recipe definitely passed the test! I’ve made it at home twice now – once almost exactly as written (but omitting the saffron), and the second time with turkey sausage, diced zucchini and a can of crushed tomatoes. Both versions made for a delicious, healthy, satisfying meal.

Tuscan white bean soup with Italian bread slice

The next recipe Chef Jan demonstrated was Truffled Potato Gnocchi. This was, hands-down, the best dish of the night; comfort food taken up a notch; way up. Chef instructed us to start by baking Yukon Gold potatoes on a baking sheet that’s been sprinkled with salt. To make the gnocchi, you need a dry, fluffy potato and the salt on the tray helps to draw out some of the moisture. Cook the potatoes until they are very soft then remove them from the oven, cut them in half and leave the skins on. While the potatoes are still hot, push them through a tamis (the skins will stay behind). Wear a rubber glove to make the hot potatoes easier to handle. You could also mash them using a ricer or food mill. Add egg yolks to the mashed potatoes, then add flour, corn starch, salt, and nutmeg. Be careful not to over-mix. Flour the board lightly (as if you were feeding chickens). Place the potato mixture on the board and roll it out into long snake-like portions. Start in the middle and roll outwards. Cut into pieces, about one inch in length. Blanch the gnocchi in boiling water until they start to float. Place on a well oiled tray, then put them in the fridge to cool down. Fry them in butter and oil until golden brown. Pour off any excess butter and oil, then add heavy cream. Serve with chopped chives, truffle oil, and if you can get your hands on one, fresh summer truffle.

Potato Gnocchi with Black Truffle and Chives

Once we had finished swooning over the gnocchi, Chef Jan invited us into the kitchen to have a look around.

You too can have a stove like this beauty – for a mere $100,000!

Kitchen at Mission Hill Winery |

dried lavender bunches in the kitchen at Mission Hill Winery

Jars of preserves at Mission Hill Winery

Empty wine bottles in the kitchen at Mission Hill Estate

Oh my. Did we really drink all that?

After the break, we learned how to make Chicken Puttanesca – tender chicken thighs smothered in a classic spicy, tangy sauce. Along with the chicken, Chef Jan demonstrated how to make olive tapenade and shaved fennel salad. Did you know that puttanesca comes from the phrase “like a prostitute”? Presumably because its quick and easy.

Chicken puttanesca with shaved fennel on pelican plate

Last but not least, we learned how to make a Polenta Cherry Cake with Mascarpone frosting, toasted pistachios and Oculus cherries, served with a side of preserved lemon sorbet. I bet you’re wondering where the photo is. Well, I suppose I should apologize. In my haste to taste, I completely forgot to take a picture. My bad…

The Urban Dictionary defines My bad as:

“I did something bad, and I recognize that I did something bad, but there is nothing that can be done for it now, and there is technically no reason to apologize for that error, so let’s just assume that I won’t do it again, get over it, and move on with our lives.” 

So yes, I forgot to take a picture of this divine dessert. And if you’re paying attention, you might have noticed that the same thing happened with the Tuna Carpaccio. My bad…

The sun setting over Lake Okanagan as seen from the terrace at Mission Hill Winery

I hope Chef Jan is hard at work writing recipes for La Cucina Italiana III because this   American expat just can’t seem to get enough of the tasty Italian cuisine this German chef delivers.

Related Articles:

La Cucina Italiana

Mission Hill Family Estate
1730 Mission Hill Road
West Kelowna, Okanagan Valley
British Columbia, Canada  V4T 2E4

The Dynamics of Wine and Food
Culinary Classics - Spring Program ~ La Cucina Italiana II
Date:  March 15, 2012
Cost:  $79.00 CDN
Style:  Demonstration, Dinner with Wine Pairing
Duration:  3 hours
Chef Instructor:  Jan Dobbener

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  1. Sounds like an excellent 3 hours well worth the time & $$. Photos are great. Next time I am in Kelowna I will be eating at Mission Hill.

    • We’ll make it a date! They also have a very nice wine shop that’s worth a visit.

  2. Oh my goodness, it sounds sooo fabulous! Thankfully I’m going to a great Italian restaurant for lunch tiday! You’ve really got my tastebuds working :)

    • Thanks Charlene. Hope your lunch was fantastic :-)

  3. Looks great! Yeah, I’ve been known to forget a picture or two…
    Where’s your like button?

    • Thanks Laura. I moved from to a self-hosted solution last weekend and haven’t quite sorted everything out. I haven’t figured out the like button or the little blog icon yet, but I’m still optimistic :-)

  4. You can never go wrong with a class at Mission Hill Winery. Everyone is so talented there. I think I would have swooned over the gnocchi as well!

    • Hey Val! Glad to see the comment feature is functioning for you now that I’ve moved over to self-hosted. I can cross that off my ‘need to fix’ list! Thanks for stopping by :-)

  5. I love the cooking of my country of origin. I especially like northern Italian cooking; however, I’m not as wild about the cooking of the south – it seems too piquant for me. My mother is a great cook. I only wish I had taken down her recipes.

    • Family recipes are such a treasure. I’ve been after my Mom for awhile now to write down all of her specialties.

      I’m like you in that I also love Italian food! Even though I’m enamoured with French culinary technique, Italian cuisine is my favourite food to eat. I hope to visit Italy in the next year or so, and take some cooking classes there.

      Hope you have a nice long weekend :-)



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