I love taking cooking classes when I travel. I’ve long believed that food is the best way to learn about a new culture so, by extension, learning how to cook these delicious foods offers an even more personal immersion into those cultures. My most recent cooking class experience was in one of the world’s great culinary destinations, Italy, where I not only learned how to make the perfect pasta, but I also learned why food is so very important to the people who live there.
“Remember, we eat the pasta when IT is ready, not when WE are ready,” Chef Aurora, the owner of Cook and Dine, gently reminded us as we concentrated on the task before us. Making pasta from scratch is hard for even a seasoned pro, much less a bunch of amateurs, but our success was an early testament to the skills of Chef Aurora. She learned her trade at a cooking school in Milan, but honed them around the world by working in restaurants in countries as far flung as Australia. Eventually she and her husband returned home and she decided to open her home to strangers, giving them the opportunity to learn how to cook authentic Italian food in a friendly and fun environment.
Italian cuisine is one of the most popular around the world, but doing it well is sadly not nearly as common. Technique and ingredients are both critical in creating delicious Italian food, as Chef Aurora quickly taught us. There’s something inherently calming about being in someone’s house, in their kitchen when learning how to cook. Had we been in a large industrial space I know I would’ve been a little nervous, but cooking alongside Aurora in her personal kitchen made it seem like I was hanging out with a friend instead of a teacher.
The menu was an ambitious one, but Aurora had faith in us. On tap was:
- Osso buco with saffron risotto
- Pumpkin ravioli
If a group of trained chefs were cooking together I would expect a menu like this one, but we were far from professionals and I wondered what the final product would actually look like. But I didn’t realize just how impressive a teacher Aurora really is. Taking firm control of the kitchen, she gave all of us our specific duties and carefully watched over us, scolding gently if we did something wrong.
Chatting with her I learned that she typically has students in her home almost every day of the week. Folks from all over the world book classes with her, eager to take home a little culinary knowledge along with their memories of Milan. I for one would be exhausted with such a schedule, but seeing Aurora’s eyes light up as she described past students I could see the excitement there. Some people have the gift not just to teach, but to truly enjoy being around others. She has this in spades and instead of exhausting her, the constant influx of students just makes her more excited.
After masterfully preparing the veal, risotto and even the homemade ravioli, Chef Aurora and her husband shoed us out of the kitchen to her dining room, so that she could finish up the meal and plate everything for us. Laughing and almost giddy after a job well done, it was strangely gratifying to see the procession of courses make their way to the table. We had done it. Somehow, in spite of all odds, we had put together a delicious and traditional Italian dinner and no one even got sick afterwards.
More importantly, to me at least, was the knowledge with which I left her home that evening. Sure, the recipes and the practical kitchen know-how was great, but I mean a more cultural education. I learned a lot about dishes that are important to Milanese, meals that they have enjoyed in their homes for generations. Instead of a soulless restaurant meal, the food at Chef Aurora’s was created like all amazing Italian meals, with heart and passion. It’s that secret ingredient that made the meal and the experience so delicious and one that I am sure to never forget.
Have you ever participated in cooking classes on your travels?
While I can’t replicate the same homey feeling, here are the recipes we used so you can try these delicious dishes at home.
Risotto with ossobuco (4 people)
For the risotto:
350 g Carnaroli rice
1 glass of dry white wine
grated Parmesan cheese
1 gram of saffron
1 stalk of celery
4 cuts ossobuco rear center
1 glass of dry white wine
parsley, garlic and grated lemon skin
For the soup:
Celery, one carrot, one onion, 2 bones of the knee, salt, stock cube
Preparing the meat broth
Place in a pot with 2 liters of cold salt water, vegetables and whole washed clean, celery, onion
carrot peeled. Add the beef on the bone and leave it on high heat until boiling. When it boils, let it cook for 3 hours with the flame to a minimum.
Remove the meat from the pot and vegetables and keep aside. Strain the broth.
Flour the 4 shanks on all sides.
Chop celery, carrot and onion in small pieces and fry lightly with butter and olive oil. When the
veggies are browned,add the ossobuco, cook on both sides for few minutes and then add
white wine and let evaporate.
Allow to cook the meat for about 2 hours, and add some soup if it sticks leaving aside to cover a
vent; control the cooking every now and then does not stick to the ossobuco. Add salt and pepper to taste. When it is ready switch off the fire and sprinkle on the meat a mixture of chopped parsley, garlic and grated lemon peel.
Preparation of risotto
In a saucepan melt the butter then add chopped onion and let fry. Then add the rice and toast it for a few minutes, pour the white wine and let it evaporate. Add saffron.
Moisten with broth constantly until cooked. When the rice is ready,switch off the fire and stir in
butter and Parmesan cheese.
For the filling
pumpkin, amaretto biscuits ( 1/3 of pumpkin weight), fruit mustard (pear or peach
or apricot), nutmeg, Parmesan, 2 eggs, grated lemon zest
For the pasta (portion per person)
100 gr white flour 00, 1 egg
For the sauce
butter, sage leaves, Parmesan
Bake the pumpkin with aluminum foil sealed all around it, then put in the mixer all the filling
ingredients, mix all together and add salt to taste. It must be a thick filling.
In a bowl put the flour, make a hole in the middle a scramble an egg with a fork.Don’t add water.
Slowly mix your flour with egg and when it’s all stuck together take out from the boll and work by hand on a wood board covered with flour. With a rolling pin thin the dough in a rectangle about 5-7 cm high and no more than 2 millimeters thickness. With a teaspoon put on the sheet the filling; the distance between one and the other filling is about 2 cm. Stay close to the edge of long side of your sheet about ½ cm. Brush the edges of the pasta lightly with water. This will help the ravioli to have a tight seal and not break when boiled. Fold your sheet over the filling and squeeze out the air with your fingers and seal each ravioli. Cut around the filling to make squares or circles. Boil water with salt, add a spoon of oil to prevent that ravioli stick together and when they come up taste if they are ready,depend on the thickness of the dough.
Melt the butter with sage in a little pan,just 2 minutes;drain the pasta add the sauce, mix well and then add Parmesan.
4 veal cutlets
Beat two whole egg and add a pinch of salt.
Pass the cutlets in beaten egg and then in bread crumbs to cover the whole cutlet from both side.
Melt the butter in a pan and add the cotoletta. Leave to cook on both sides and serve.
6 eggs, 120 gr.of sugar, 500 gr Mascarpone, dark cocoa, liquid coffee ,lady fingers 400
To prepare the tiramisu, divide the egg whites from the yolks, add half of the sugar to the yolks and whisk until you get a nice mixture that is light, fluffy and creamy.
Add the Mascarpone to the mixture of egg yolks, and then take charge of egg whites: add the other half of the sugar and continue beating until stiff.
Once the egg whites will be mounted to perfection add them to the mixture of egg yolks, sugar and Mascarpone. Do this gently, stirring from the bottom up, with a spoon so as not to disassemble.
Wet the ladyfingers in the coffee being careful not to soak them too much, and then arrange them in the cup by cutting them in the form or put in a pin.
Lay a tablespoon of cream over the biscuits, level the cream and cover with another layer of sponge soaked in coffee , well leveled and sprinkle with unsweetened cocoa powder .
If you want you can sprinkle the top of the cup with a few curls of chocolate. Put in the fridge for a few hours to shrink and … bon appetit!
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