Wednesday, June 1, 2011
MY ITALIAN EXPERIENCE
Just back from a week in Bologna, Italy, and what a week it was. A week of over indulgence in every sense of the word. Eating, drinking, lazing the days away strolling around food markets and upmarket stores. Even spent a day at an Italian cooking School. It was a wonderful week, and more than enough material for one blog, so I will probably become an" Italian bore" over the next few weeks.
First I have to tell of my cooking school experience. My husband booked it as a surprise. As he would be at work he knew a one day class would keep me not only busy, but make me very happy indeed. Gee that guy knows me so well!
It was a one to one class. Just myself and Carmelita. We e-mailed each other a few times before the day. She wanted to know what I would like to cook, if I wanted to make fresh pasta, yes please, and if I had any foods I did not like. It was arranged we would meet @ 8-45 on the Friday morning in Cafe Terezi. She would be in the back room. A busy Bologna rush hour made me wonder if I had left enough time, but with the help of a crazy Italian cab driver I just made it. As arranged there she was. We had coffee, the best in the area according to her, and set about writing a shopping list. We then headed to the food markets to pick up our ingredients. On route we managed to take in a Balsamic tasting, Mmm! before heading to her apartment to prepare the menu.
We would be cooking:
Involtini di Pesce Espada
Ravioli de Pesce al Pomodoro e vongole
Coppa di Ciliegie e Ricotta al Croccante di Mandorla
So a filled, rolled swordfish to start, homemade pasta filled with shrimp and fish with a tomato and clam dressing, and to finish a layered cherry and ricotta cream with almond praline. Although on this occasion as I do not like almonds we used hazelnuts
Carmelita lived in a lovely Bologna apartment and her small but very practical kitchen seemed to hold everything needed to produce good food. The vibe was good, she was good company and a good teacher. As we worked our way through the starter I was eager to get started on making the pasta, and soon we were ready .
It was a very long and laboured proccess, different to what I had seen on TV or read in books. It was however very satisfying. After a few falters and good natured telling offs, I started to get the feel for it. I couldn't possibly give instructions here it is way to complicated. It's not so much the steps but the way it feels and reacts which just cannot be explained. All I can say is we used 2 whole eggs, I had always thought you only used egg yolks, to 200g of flour. Simple ingredients which produced a delightful course to eat later in the day. There was still work to be done.
As the pasta dough rested we made a very important trip to the local wine store to pick the wine for the meal. A chat with the owner and we were sorted. He wanted to know what we were eating and suggested a Riesling, Italian not German!
I was so impressed by the passion and knowledge everyone had for their products. We have lost this here in Britain and it really is so important. I think it is the passing of small independent stores which has caused this. We all rush to giant supermarkets here, we are all too busy to take time and really think about what we are buying. How can you ever tell how fresh a tomato is if it is covered in plastic, or how fresh a piece of fish is? It was a real treat to wander round the stalls with everything laid out temptingly, and the assistant on hand to impart their knowledge of their product. I know with Farmer's Markets on the rise here we all want this food shopping experience but this is still a long way from what I saw in Bologna.
I know it would be a luxury to be able to shop every couple of days for the freshest results instead of filling freezers and fridges. I think that it is because generally kitchens are much smaller over there they have less space for storage or huge fridges, forcing their shopping habits to be as they are. Perhaps this is how most of us would dream of shopping given the time, I do hope so.
So back with the wine. Popped into fridge while pasta was filled. There is definitely a knack to this and even in the short time I was able to pack in more filling than I could with the first lot. Time is of the essence to stop it drying out. By rolling out just small amounts at a time this should help, but you still need to be quick. Thanks for your patience Carmelita.
Job done. Dessert prepared. Water on to boil, dressing ready and wine opened. Now the big test.
Carmelita set her table and we sat down, for the first time in the day, to try and hopefully enjoy what was before us. The starter was delicious but we both agreed it could have had slightly less breadcrumbs in the filling, but a great starter non the less.
Time for the pasta. I was so excited about this and was not disappointed. Slightly al dente, a nice fishy stuffing and light fresh tomato and clam dressing. I loved it. Hopefully I will be able to reproduce it in my own kitchen at home. Don't call for a reservation just yet as it will take a bit of practice lol.
The dessert finished the meal off perfectly. We chatted and put the world to rights over the table. We had shared interests, more than just our love of cooking, and I felt I had made a friend in Bologna who hopefully, if I am lucky enough to go back some day, will share a cup of coffee with me in the same little cafe.
This was a wonderful experience for me, I highly recommend it. It will live with me for a long time.
All that is left is for me to put to use the instructions and be able to put a plate of freshly made made pasta in front of my husband as a big thank you for his thoughtfulness.