Florence: A Tuscan cultural experience for ISU students

July 8 2008

With each step on the cobblestone street along the flowing Arno River in a city steeped in history, Krystal Griffith meditated on how her stay in Florence, Italy, impacted her life.

"I get to go out and experience more, experience the world instead of just being at Indiana State the entire time," the Indiana State University sophomore family and consumer sciences major from Lewis, said. "I get to get out and explore the world."

That exploration came through a Food, Wine and Culture of Tuscany class offered for the fourth year by ISU's family and consumer sciences department in conjunction with Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence.

"We have a lot of first-generation students in our department, just like the entire university does," said Frederica Kramer, chair of family and consumer sciences at ISU. "I've taken many students that have never flown before, never been out of the country or never been out of the state."

Kramer was one who had not traveled outside of the United States when she began attending Indiana State while working on her graduate degree during the late 1950s. While working on her degree, the former head of the department, Anne Lee, invited her on a travel abroad trip.

"She might as well have said could I go to the moon because I had two small children at home and I didn't think it was possible," she said. "She talked me into it. My husband and I went the first time with her. When we came back, I said the whole family has to go and I've not stopped traveling since."

It"s that passion for traveling and new experiences that Kramer wants to pass on to her students, as well as their parents, ISU alumni and others who sign up for the trips.

"I have a new passion, a new love of traveling. It's not going to stop here," vowed Ashley Comer, a senior elementary and special education major from East Chicago.

Griffith is one that has been similarly impacted by her trip to Florence this year, and who plans to return to Florence next year. In traveling from Indiana to Italy, the change for her occurred in more than space and time.

"It's an entire cultural experience," Griffith said. "You get the cooking class, you get the history, you get to see the art and the architecture and then taste the wine, explore at night."

During the classes' nine days in Florence this spring, the exploration included walking tours of the city's historic architecture, art museums and markets, as well as a visit to the vineyards of the Frescobaldi family, who has been creating wines for more than 700 years in Tuscany.

"I have never seen grass so green and just the acres of grapes," Comer said about visiting the vineyard. "Wine tasting is a whole new etiquette that we aren't really exposed to so much in the United States. Tasting the different kids of wines and the grapes and learning so much about it has been wonderful."

Italy conjures culinary images of pasta and olive oil as well as wine, and students had hands-on training in those arts. In classes, Apicius' internationally certified chefs guided the students in making fresh egg pasta with walnut sauce, ricotta and spinach ravioli, artichoke risotto, lamb in a bread and herbs crust, a fresh fruit tart and gelato.

As Pierluigi Campi, a chef at Apicius, led the students through creating the meals, he would offer advice.

To a student working on the crust for the fruit tart, "You must do it very fast. The heat of the hands is going to melt the butter. This is not good."

In describing how to pick a good artichoke, he advised, "You touch it. When it's hard, like this, it's a good one."

It is such advice • as well as the classes -- that helped to give confidence to novice cooks and expand the horizons of knowledgeable cooks.

"I'm actually scared to cook," Comer said. "So I think it helped me to just experiment a little more with the cooking."

"I've learned to cook Italian style," Griffith said. "They rarely use butter. They use olive oil for tons of things. Everything [on the trip] centered around Italy -- what we ate, what we cooked and what we bought."

With Florence as the home of the Renaissance, Italian art and art history seemed to be around each historic corner.

"The Medici lived there, but they got tired of it and moved," Griffith said pointing out a building to a fellow visitor.

The Medicis dominated Florence and Italy during the 13th to 17th centuries. Three popes and numerous rulers of Florence came from that family, who also commissioned pieces from such artists as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael.

"You hear Florence all the time [when discussing art]," Griffith said. "Michelangelo, Donatello and Botticelli - they were all here."

At the Uffizi Gallary, Griffith found herself facing pieces fashioned by Italy's well-known artists, including "The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli.

"They're world-renowned and I'm five feet from them," she said. "We've seen so many things that you only hear about."

For Comer, visiting the Accademia Gallery and encountering one of Michelangelo's most famous creations provided a highlight to her trip.

"It was wonderful just to see 'David,'" Comer said. "I read about it in all the history books, but finally I had the chance to put the actual statue to the actual pages of books."

Griffith also enjoyed the interactions with the Florentines and Tuscans, which added to the richness of her experience in Italy.

"We also get to meet people who lived here their entire lives and get perspectives on it."

Though the trip is made of many experiences, the students also are held accountable. The trip is for class credit and they are tested about what they saw and did after their return to Terre Haute.

"It's experiential learning at its best," Kramer said. "We don't have a textbook. We don't have students who fuss about going to class. They will stand for three hours in the cooking labs. We start early in the morning and we go until 10 or 11 at night."

It is the changes that can occur on such trips that makes Kramer think every department in a university should encourage its students to explore the world.

"I think we get tunnel-visioned and we only see what's right in front of us," Kramer said. "That's where some of our prejudice and bias comes from because here in central Indiana we don't have a multicultural society."

When a person's viewpoint expands, so does her world.

"It broadened me as a person because I can now say 'I've been to Florence. I've been to Italy. I've been out of the country.' It's opened up my cultural exposure. There's a lot more out there than Terre Haute and Indiana," Griffith said. "I'm going to realize how small Terre Haute is."

Recipes courtesy of Apicius International School of Hospitality

Artichoke Risotto

(Serves 4)

2 cups of Arborio rice

4 artichokes, trimmed

4 shallots, halved and thinly sliced

2 oz. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

½ cup dry white wine

6 cups water for vegetable broth

1 onion

1 carrot

1 potato

1 celery

1 zucchini

1 tablespoon parsley

4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Salt to taste

Prepare vegetable broth: peel onion, carrot and potato. Cut those vegetables along with the celery and zucchini into big chunks. Put them in the pan with cold water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Keep simmering gently while preparing the risotto.

Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan and sauté the shallots, stirring often. Add the artichokes, stir well and then cover and sweat over a low heat for between 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent from sticking to the pan. Stir in the rice and toast for between 2 to 3 minutes at high heat stirring continuously. Add about 2 cups of broth and reduce the heat to medium. Mix frequently and once absorbed, add ½ cup of wine and salt. Keep adding the broth, and as it is absorbed by the rice, add more broth to keep it soupy. Continue doing so until the rice is cooked, which should be between 15-20 minutes. Add the parsley and remove from the stove. Mix in the cheese and serve immediately.

Lamb in bread and herbs crust with sweet wine sauce and beans

(Serves 10)

Rack of lamb, about 7 pounds (7 ounces per person)

5 tablespoons Thyme, marjoram, rosemary and parsley, finely chopped

¾ cup Almonds

2 cups bread crumbs

11/2 cups cannellini beans



5 cherry tomatoes

21 ounces of lamb bones

Vin santo - a sweet Italian dessert wine

3 eggs


Chicken stock

For the lamb - Cut each cutlet into ¾-inch thick pieces, trim and lightly flatten using a meat pounder. Set aside. Saute the chopped herbs with a little olive oil. Add the bread crumbs and toast. Blend in a mixer and then pass through a sieve. Add a few chopped almonds. Saute the lamb, dip into egg and then bread and herbs mixture, making sure fully coated. Cook the meat with clarified butter about 2 minutes on each side or until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 136 degrees F. Dry on paper and serve with cannellini beans and vin santo sauce. (Egg can be replaced with mustard, honey or clarified butter.)

For the beans - Boil the previously soaked cannellini beans in water with sage and 5 pressed garlic cloves until soft. Drain and remove the herbs. Serve warm, seasoned with high quality Tuscan olive oil, salt and pepper.

Vin santo sauce - Saute the bones on high heat and add a finely chopped mirepoix (onions, celery and carrots). Drench with vin santo, then add stock, reduce and pass through a sieve.

Fresh fruit tart

(Serves 6-8)

For the pastry

3 egg yolks

1 ½ cup flour

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup butter

For the custard

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup milk

2 teaspoons flour

For the gelatin

2 lemons juiced

4 tablespoons sugar

Seasonal fruit -- strawberries, banana, kiwi, pears, peaches, grapes, blueberries

For the pastry -- make a dough of the ingredients by mixing them quickly. Set in the refrigerator for half an hour. Then roll in a round shape and line a pie pan with it, rising it along the side. Pierce the surface with a fork and bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees F.

For the custard -- heat the milk. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until fluffy, then mix in the four. Pour into the hot milk, while stirring constantly and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 minute.

For the gelatin -- heat together the lemon juice with the sugar until dense and sticky.

To assemble, remove the pastry from the pan and put it on a tray. Spread the custard on top. Place upon the fruit, either cut in shapes or left whole, in a design. Spread the lemon gelatin on top and refrigerate before serving.


Contact: Frederica Kramer, professor and chair, department of family and consumer sciences, Indiana State University, 812 237-3297 or fkramer@isugw.indstate.edu  

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, assistant director of media relations, Indiana State University, at 812-237-7972 or jennifer.sicking@indstate.edu

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/272913527_UxFCL-D.jpg  

Cutline: Krystal Griffith, an Indiana State University sophomore from Lewis, pauses to look at the Arno River during a stroll around Florence, Italy.

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/272890144_LHsQS-D.jpg  

Cutline: Apicius International School of Hospitality Chef Pierluigi Campi discusses a dish with Lesleigh Groce, an ISU graduate student.

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/272893469_weD4Y-D.jpg  

Cutline: ISU students stop to admire fruit being sold at a stand in Florence, Italy.

Photo: http://ISUphoto.smugmug.com/photos/272915189_iW9Ht-D.jpg  

Cutline: Krystal Griffith, an Indiana State University sophomore from Lewis, listens as Frederica Kramer, chair of family and consumer sciences at ISU, discusses different cuts of meat while shopping at a market in Florence, Italy.


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Story Highlights

Exploration came through a Food, Wine and Culture of Tuscany class offered for the fourth year by ISU's family and consumer sciences department in conjunction with Apicius International School of Hospitality in Florence.

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