Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mamma e Io: Cooking Classes in Rome

 Mom and I Holding Pumpkin (Zucca) Blossoms in Front of Our Menu

Italian: Cucinare
English: To Cook

As I mentioned, my Mom came to visit me in Rome for my first break of the school year. We did a whole lot of exploring, sight-seeing, eating, amongst other adventures, but by far my favorite day was the cooking class we participated in at Cooking Classes in Rome, with Chef Andrea and his wife. 

 Our Family Style Table (Il Tavolo); Homey Wall Decor: Past Participants Notes

Cooking Classes in Rome is conveniently located in my current neighborhood of Trastevere. It's about a fifteen minute walking distance from my apartment (only ten from the hotel Mom and I were staying at). Chef Andrea and his family have lived in this area for quite sometime. His parents own a restaurant called Le Fate, where Chef Andrea's cooking classes were originally held. 

A couple of years ago he, and his wife, opened up this quaint location a few blocks away from the restaurant. Andrea's wife explained how they were aiming for a very welcoming, homey-Italian vibe with the decor. The table was perfect for embracing the tradition of family-style dining with the rest of our class. I quite enjoyed reading the wall decor as well, which featured photographs, reviews, miscellaneous notes, and Italian wine boxes.

 Our Menu; Fresh Produce; Mom grating Pecorino Romano; Chef Andrea instructing

Our cooking class was made up of twelve individuals, Mom and I included. It was quite a diverse bunch, mainly American. There was a family of five who had returned their third year in a row to Italy, and in turn their third time taking Chef Andrea's class. An American couple from Ohio/California/Nebraska...(we lost track of where they were from after a while). A pair of girl friends who meet up annually in a different country, one was from Australia and the other from Chicago. Lastly, there was a lovely woman from Japan who was in the midst of a speedy Italy trip.

Mom and I were amazed as to how Chef Andrea had set up the kitchen. It was a pretty small space, and yet there was exactly enough spots for twelve people to each have a work station. We were slightly cramped, but the bright lighting, cleanliness, and combined with Chef Andrea's enthusiasm while instructing, made it so incredibly comfortable.

We immediately started cooking once all the guests had arrived by 10 a.m. Chef Andrea began explaining our menu, and the process of prep-work in the kitchen. He also questioned our group as to what we thought true "Roman," cuisine is. Very few of us were able to answer properly, and it made me realize not only how passionate a chef like Andrea is, but also the importance of really knowing the regional dishes of the various parts of Italy are, (An easy example is: If you go to Napoli (Naples), their pizza is going to be significantly better than Roman pizza because that's where pizza originated) and most importantly what ingredients are actually used.  For example, Chef Andrea asked one of the people in our group what type of meat is used in Spaghetti All'Amatriciana, I was surprised to see that I was the only one that knew the meat is guanciolo (pork cheek).

Pasta Making; Sifting the uncooked Gnocchetti; Hand-Made Gnocchetti!

In order to have everything finished on time, we had no choice but to split up the prep-work and actual cooking. Mom and I made sure to volunteer to work with the dishes we were particularly excited for. We stuffed the delicious pumpkin flowers, worked out our arms by making the beer batter to deep-fry the blossoms, made the pasta dough, kneaded it (well, I did), and shaped the little gnocchetti, as well as prep a few other dishes. 

I particularly enjoyed making these little gnocchetti. Can you believe all this dough takes is Semolina flour and warm water? Somehow I ended up kneading our dough (I was the youngest in the group, so I guess I possessed the most "youth"), which left me with a pair of very sore arms the next day. Shaping these little guys was super fun too. They're essentially a baby-version of regular gnocchi, but not made of potato. 

 Freshly Fried Zucca Blossoms; Chef Andrea at Work; Pasta Dish in the Works

 Chef Andrea took over with handling the majority of the stove work (a.k.a. frying our blossoms and lighting the massive stove-top). It was around 2 p.m. when we were told to sit and relax at our table while Chef Andrea and his wife assembled our dishes.

 Pumpkin Blossoms; Pumpkin Blossoms with Southern Style Pesto; 
Fresh Homemade Pasta with Broccoletti & Sausage; Grandma's Meatballs in Fresh Tomato Sauce;
Side of Sauted Roman Zucchini; Lemon Custard with Peaches; The Wine

Every dish was absolutely delicious. Mom and I were most excited for our stuffed pumpkin flours, which had mozzarella with eggplant and prosciutto, accompanied by a delicious tomato-walnut pesto for dipping. It was hard to restrain ourselves during the first course. Although I don't usually eat fried foods, these are some of the tastiest things I've eaten in Italy.

Our pasta dish was surprisingly light, and very flavorful  I'm a big fan of mixing veggies and meat with pasta, versus just having a sauce. Mom and I agreed it was a tad over salted, possibly because we all had a different idea of what a "pinch," of salt really is, but I still enjoyed the lighter elements of this dish. Also, I was pretty proud of the gnocchetti.

The meatballs (polpette) are the best meatballs I have ever eaten. They were so incredibly moist, and flavorful. They literally melted in your mouth. The trick is to soak solely the inside of a fresh baguette of bread (no crust), in whole milk, versus using bread crumbs. This is the first dish I plan on making out of our menu.

Our meatballs were accompanied by a side of sautéed zucchini. Since I'm always grateful for vegetables, I found these enjoyable. They possessed a lot of flavor for simply being sautéed  but every dish from this day was fabulous.

Lastly, the dessert! I will be honest in saying that I've never been a big fan of fruit as, or in, my desserts. However, every since I've been in Italy I've definitely been eating a lot more fruit considering how fresh it is, dessert included. This was wonderful. We caramelized the peaches and made a light lemon custard to go along with it. Mom and I are usually not pudding fans, but we both thought it was very refreshing.

We did the wine pairing with our meal, which is yet another great way to learn about local and regional wines in Italy. I smiled when I saw the Frascati from Vini Principe Pallavicini, which I blogged about here. Overall, it was a fantastic experience, and I would definitely take another class from Chef Andrea. Not only is he friendly, but he really caters to his guests. Whether you know how to cook or not, he makes you feel immediately at ease in the kitchen. In addition, he emails all his guests the recipes and instructions for the dishes we make (downsized to serving 4 people, rather than 12). Now I have no excuse but recreated the fantastic dishes I ate this day (pumpkin blossoms included). Stay tuned for more posts about the mother-daughter adventures!

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