Participating in a cooking course during my travels is something I always love to do. It’s a great way to learn about the local culture and cuisine, and to pick up a new recipe or two. During my visit to Lecce (map), a historic city in southern Puglia, I had the opportunity to join a cooking class at the Awaiting Table, the most established cooking school in Lecce (founded in 2003). The school offers week-long courses, as well as day classes, which I opted for as I was only in Lecce for a few days. I knew I was in for a treat but it turned out to be one of the most fun, educative and immersive things to do in Lecce!
There were four of us at the daytime cooking course that day. We met Silvestro, the founder of the Awaiting Table, at Lecce’s main square, next to the city’s iconic amphitheatre.
Silvestro welcomed us and gave us a short introduction to Puglian food and wines before taking us to the fish market. At the market, he told us about the various types of fish and their origins, and the best ways to cook them. For our lunch course, he selected some fish and squid, which we would later learn to prepare and cook.
From the fish market, Silvestro led us across the historic city centre, with its beautiful Baroque façades, to the vegetable market. The fresh rocket leaves, artichokes, tomatoes and mushrooms were a mouthwatering sight! We gleefully filled our baskets – I wasn’t the only vegetable lover in the group – and continued on our way to Silvestro’s cooking school in the city centre.
Located in a historic building, the Awaiting Table school, is both cosy and colourful. Filled to the brim with cooking books, pots and pans and all sorts of kitchen utensils, it sure was a cheery sight!
We donned our aprons and got ready for our first lesson: pasta! Silvestro explained the different sorts of flour used, and that barley flour is commonly used in Puglia. As we kneaded the dough, Silvestro gave us the choice of different pastas we could make. We voted for cappalletti (a pasta shape reminiscent of Mexican sombreros).
It was a fun exercise, using a glass to cut out shapes from the flattened dough, then folding them before utilising a bottle to create the ‘sombreros’.
Preparing seafood and vegetables
Next up, Silvestro introduced the different types of seafood and vegetables we were going to eat. He then gave us a masterclass in how to prepare artichokes and squid. Gosh, I had no idea how many steps were involved in cleaning and preparing these! Cleaning the squid was particularly tricky. It sure made me appreciate the work done by fishmongers every day to deliver them ready-to-cook.
A crash course in Puglia wines
Silvestro invited us into the dining room when we were done. He proceeded to tell us about wines in Puglia – one thing I learned is that, contrary to popular belief, Primitivo is not the most prevalent grape variety in Puglia; the most widely-grown grape variety in Puglia is Negroamaro. We then enjoyed a wine-tasting of three different rosés. Puglia is famous for its red wines so it’s no wonder that the most popular chilled wines are rosé and not white (though Puglia also produces, amongst others, a gorgeous white variety called Verdeca).
Cooking our lunch
After the wine-tasting, we were invited, one by one, back into the kitchen to cook the dishes. I volunteered for the pasta dish: cappalletti, cherry tomatoes and squid.
When everyone had cooked their dishes, lunch was served. It looked absolutely mouthwatering! My favourites were the grilled fish, which was fresh and super tasty, and the artichokes and sautéed wild rocket. So delicious!
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I looked around and everyone had looks of joy and wonder on their faces; ‘wonder’ because we couldn’t quite believe that we’d just prepared and cooked everything on the table!
The Awaiting Table cooking course sure is one of the best things to do in Lecce! Inspired by what I learned at this Lecce cooking class, I passed on the lessons to my kids at home just a week later. We spent an afternoon making pasta and had a terrific time!
In addition to cooking classes in Lecce, the Awaiting table also organises week-long cooking classes (some with yoga and cycling) at a nearby castle. For more info, check out the Awaiting Table courses.
Note: I was invited by the Awaiting Table to participate in this class. As always, all views stated above are mine.