The Secret Society of the Tuscan Sisters

A cult, a clique,  a secret club, faithful followers – –  we are not sure what to call ourselves, but twenty-six of us came together to worship, indulge and participate in an unpublicized Italian food and wine event with the Tuscan Mammas,  Mimma and Franca, at Vignola~Cinque Terre, in Portland, Maine on Saturday, November 16th.  I have decided to call us The Secret Society of the Tuscan Sisters.

Vignola Cinque Terre sign

“Tutti a Tavola” – named after the age-old call to the dinner table used by families throughout Italy, was established in 1996 as a very successful and popular cooking course.  The “Mammas” teach their faithful followers with love.  They share their homes and kitchens in Radda in Chianti during the months of April and October, and it  is an experience one must participate in to understand the draw of this secret society.  We follow the Mammas and explore the art of cooking and friendship in Italy, Maine and beyond!

Franca and Mimma

Franca (L) and Mimma (R) – Our Tuscan Mammas

Chef Lee Skawinski opened his kitchen and restaurant for this hush-hush event.  His wonderful staff made all feel welcome and comfortable as cooking lessons were given and the Proseco flowed.

Chef Lee with Franca pointingVbreadProsecotable

Vignola interior shot lightVignola interior dark

As Mimma and Franca always explain to the gathered, they are not chefs.  They are cooks, passing along their love and tradition of Italian food and its history.  Their heritage and life stories meld together to bring forward  the art of preparing traditional Tuscan dishes.  Their antics and dynamics in the kitchen draw you in as if they are your Italian grandmothers, patiently instructing with love and laughter.  First, we have Proseco and then we cook!


Tutti a Tavola – Cooking as the Tuscans Do presents…the Menu of the day, from The Mammas’ Family Recipes

Gatto di patate (Potato flan)

potato flan start

RECIPE – Ingredients: 1 & 1/2 kilo potatoes; 2 whole eggs and 2 yolks; 100g butter; 100g parmesan cheese; 50g pecorino cheese; 100g ham or salami; 100g smoked provolone; 150g mozzarella; flat leaf parsley; salt & pepper.

potato flan instsruction2

PREPARATION:  Boil potatoes with skin on, puree them and mix in butter, parmigiano, pecorino, eggs, ham or salami in small pieces, thinly chopped parsley.  Adjust with salt and pepper.

potato flan Mimma gob

Oil the pan well and sprinkle it with a thin layer of bread crumbs before filling with one layer of the potato mixture, then a layer of slices of provolone and mozzarella and another layer of potato mixture.

potato flan ready for crumb topping

Sprinkle with bread crumbs; add small pieces of butter before cooking in a hot oven for 30-45 minutes.

potato flan going in oven

After baking, let it settle for half an hour before serving.  Also very nice served cold.

Risotto con la zucca (Pumpkin risotto)

Cavolfiore gratinato sauce Pumpkin for risotta

Pumpkin squash ready for risotto and Dijon, lemon butter sauce ready for cauliflower.

Spezzatino di nonna Melina (Nonna Melina stew), topped with Cavolfiore gratinato (Grilled cauliflower)

Spezzatino prep 1

Franca explains the coating process for the aged beef.

Spezzatomp prep 3

Spezzatino prep 4


Spezzatino happy Franca

Spezzatino finito

Spezzatino di nonna Melina – finito!

Cavolfiore gratinato prep1

 Pouring the Dijon lemon butter sauce over the cauliflower before cooking.

Cavolfiore gratinato ready for oven grilling

Grill or roast the cauliflower and then add to top of Nonna Melina stew when served.

Due to time constraints, many dishes had been prepped, but the Mammas did leave some fun for us in the kitchen.

Mimma fun-Emily


Mimma fun-paper

There are always  lively discussions with many hand gestures and laughter.

Mimma kitchen antics Emily

Kitchen instructions1

Now , tutti a tavola – everyone to the table!

We ate.  We drank wine from Franca’s vineyard, Podere Ciona.   We shared stories of our travels to Tuscany and our love and devotion to the Mammas.  All of us have very fond memories of our adventures in Italy.  If you want to read more about what really happens on a trip to Tuscany, see this blog’s archives for November 2012, Parts 1-6.


Table of ladies


Our first course was the Gatto di patate (Potato flan) that I neglected to take a picture of because I could not wait to dive in!  I will tell you that it was delicious and letting it settle pulled all the flavors together.  I will be making that style of mashed and baked potatoes for Thanksgiving.

Second course…

Risotto con la zucca

Risotto con la zucca – Pumpkin risotto

Third course….

Spezzatino di nona Melina

Spezzatino di nonna Melina with Cavolfiore gratinato

or Nonna Melina stew with Grilled cauliflower

Last course…Dolci – Dessert

Mattonella di Mascarpone

Mattonella di Mascarpone with chocolate sauce

  When the first spoonful hit my tongue, OMG!  The lemon zest tang, the smoothness and sweetness of the mascarpone, set off by the deep chocolate sauce…well, it was just mind shattering.  It rocked my world!

It was a great afternoon shared with my Tuscan sisters.

group overhead

For more about an escorted tour to Tuscany and cooking with the Tuscan Mammas, contact Michelle at – you won’t regret it!

See Tutti A Tavola Recipe App at the Apple store – search Mammas – look for the Tutti Logo


 Thank you Chef Lee Skawinski and Vignola~Cinque Terre.

For the Vignola~Cinque Terre experience contact

or phone (207) 772-1330.

Chef Lee with Franca Chef Lee with Michelle

A gracious and easy-going Chef Lee in the kitchen.


Grazie Mille, my Tuscan Mammas and sisters.

Respectfully, Susan

8 thoughts on “The Secret Society of the Tuscan Sisters

    • Hi Sally – thanks and yes, we are a great group of Happy Travelers and Tuscan Sisters. I’ll see what I can do to get the pictures to you. I have a whole folder. Can you take a zip file or drop box? Susan

  1. I am so blessed to be a part of the “Secret Society of the Tuscan Sisters” The best circle of women ever. Love to you all! Gail

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