Una Cucina Italiana

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a terrible cook.  I knew from age four, when I burned my hand on an oven rack because I thought one oven mitt would protect both my hands, that I was not cut out for the world of cooking.

I get nervous in the kitchen, I break things, I spill things. When it comes to cooking, I have the opposite of a Midas touch. Everything I touch turns to trash. Also it probably catches on fire. I’ve tried to become better, but no Pinterest hack, FoodNetwork recipe, or YouTube tutorial has ever really helped.

Lucky for me, and my smoke detector, there are ways to fix this.

Cooking classes!

Through Temple, I was able to sign up for a three-hour cooking class. I figured, why not take advantage of the incredible food, and culture surrounding food, in Italy to actually learn what to do in the kitchen. So while most of Rome was headed to Olympic stadium for a big Rome-Lazio game, I tied back my hair, washed my hands, and got cooking. 

We arrived to this incredible apartment in Flaminio, and met our hosts, who told us what we would be making: a light spring meal of home-made pasta with tomato and basil, and crostata (mini Italian pies filled with ricotta cheese)But before we could start cooking, we had to have an aperitivo. This is Italy, after all.

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No better way to start cooking than with some rosé wine. And snacks

After the wine, we started on our desserts, as they needed time to bake in the oven. I’m not much of a baker, either, but I do have to say that my strengths in the kitchen lie more with cookie sheets than they do with frying pans.  We started by mixing the ricotta and sugar for the filling, and added one egg yolk, not the whole egg (this was apparently very important. I left that bit up to my baking partner, because I wasn’t too fond of the idea of picking eggshells out of our ricotta mix).

Once that was all added, we could choose our flavors- chocolate, orange, or both. I went chocolate, because you can never go wrong with a classic. Then came decorations, where I adorned mine with my initial, just in case anyone got any ideas and tried to sneak an extra pie. Also because this is real life, not Instagram and there’s not time to make things pretty when theres pie on the line, okay? With that, our dessert went off to the oven to bake, and we got started on actual dinner.

Confession time: when I was a kid, I begged my mom for a pasta maker. Not because I had a weird childhood obsession with pasta or anything, but because my best friend had one that she used to press clay down with (I was a typical art student from the beginning). I thought it was so cool- we could mix together a bunch of colors and squish them down and make tie-dye clay!

Never did get that pasta maker.

Which means I’ve never used one to make actual pasta. I’ve never even made homemade  pasta. I just assumed that since it wasn’t minute rice, it was out of my wheelhouse. Turns out, it’s pretty simple! We mixed two flours- a heavy one, and a light one- with one egg and one egg yolk (again, left up to my friend). Then we mixed it. When it gets too thick to mix with a fork, we went in with our hands. Turns out, Italians don’t just talk with their hands, they cook with them too. After that, we had to knead the dough on the table, cut it into four sections and roll out those sections until they were long and flat.

Then came the fun part: the pasta machine.

We took the rolled dough and rolled it through the machine until one of our hosts, Laura, deemed them thin enough and they were set off to the side. When they were all thin enough, we ran them through another section of the machine- the part that turns it into actual noodles. And voila! Pasta. Totally not as hard as it seems.

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The pasta noodles were then placed into little nest shapes on a sheet to rest before cooking them.

We took the break to drink a little more wine (of course), and chat. Even with Temple Rome being such a small group, it’s impossible to know everyone. So it was nice to get the time to talk to people I hadn’t gotten to meet yet. Even with a little under a month left, there’s still time to make new friends!

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But we couldn’t chat forever- there was pasta that needed cooking. Our hosts had been simmering a tomato sauce for us, so that was one thing we didn’t need to worry about. (thank God, because putting me near a sauce pot is just a recipe for disaster.) All we had to do was wait for the pasta to boil and we were ready to go. Since it was fresh pasta, and not pre-packaged stuff, it only took about three or four minutes. It was added to the sauce immediately, and we threw in some basil and a healthy portion of parmesan cheese and mixed it all up. Then, finally, we could eat.

And it was fantastic.

I always assumed that pasta with tomato sauce was pretty…simple. I was wrong (this shouldn’t be a surprise). This pasta was delicious. Maybe it was the freshness, the homemade-ness, or the fact that I hadn’t eaten all day and probably would have thought the table was tasty. But I don’t care why it was good, just that it was. And I had made (some of) it!

And of course, I can’t forget about dessert. I’m not the biggest ricotta cheese fan, but these little pies were so good I could forget that. They were sweet, but not overly so, and were just the perfect size for after dinner.

I had a really great time at this class. I don’t think it’s made me a master chef, and if I ever met Gordon Ramsey he would still probably tell me my food is so burnt it’s like I used a flamethrower instead of an oven. But I think it helped me realize that a lot of things I think are just impossible actually aren’t that hard at all- like making pasta from scratch. So who knows, maybe by the time I get home I’ll be making my own pasta and sauce all the time.

Or maybe I’ll stick to the minute rice.

About romaniamh

Hello! My name is Niamh, and I'm from Long Island, New York. I'm a junior majoring in Advertising and Film, with a minor in Italian. I started studying Italian at age eleven, after my mom returned home from a trip to Rome with stories of art, food, and culture that made me fall immediately in love with the country. And now that I'm able to through Temple, I'm finally going myself! At Temple, I've been able to fully submerge myself in my studies, winning Gold in the Collegiate ECHO Marketing Challenge, presenting original research at TURF-CreWS, and participating in a partnership between the American Advertising Federation and a non-profit called generationOn to build a campaign to promote volunteering. My passions include art and design; I tend to get a little more excited about good typography than most people would. In my free time, I like to read, attempt (and usually fail at) Food Network recipes, and practice my hand-lettering. And I love a good cup of tea. I'm most looking forward to Rome for the immersion in Italian culture. This is the language I've been learning, and city of been dreaming of, since I was in middle school, and I can't wait to jump right in.

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