Saturday, June 25, 2011

La Cuoca

Our language school includes various social activities outside of class to help us learn Italian culture and have some fun while hearing and speaking Italian in practical settings.  These are all optional, but there was a pretty good turnout for an afternoon stroll across town to La Sorbetteria, a shop noted in guidebooks for its original flavors.  And gelato was followed by a wander through Giardini Margherita, a large urban park with trees, a lake, fountains and great expanses of lawn.

But this time I’m writing about an extracurricular cooking class and dinner arranged for four of us students, Alex, Peter, Cyndy and me, in the home kitchen of a woman named Alessandra.  We didn’t really know what to expect except that the menu sounded good and the cuoca (cook) came with high praise.   What we found was someone molto gentile e simpatica (very kind and companionable) with a small but well-organized kitchen in a modest third-floor apartment.  
We arrived about 6 p.m. and had our aprons on and tiramisù underway in just a few minutes.  Dessert came first because it had to chill for a couple of hours after assembly before we could eat it.  Here Cyndy, Alessandra and Peter layer coffee-soaked Savoiardi biscuits into the mascapone custard. (We call them ladyfingers, but they originated in the 15th-century Duchy of Savoy—which later became the royal house of Italy.)

A more ambitious project was lasagne including freshly-made pasta and ragù Bolognese.
Here’s the ragù simmering on the stove.

To make the pasta, Alessandra started with a little volcano cone of flour and slowly worked eggs into it.  The eggs had the most amazingly bright orange yolks!  With a few adjustments of a bit more flour and a bit of water the dough was ready for rolling.  In addition to normal rolling, she used a technique we’d never seen of stretching the dough along the length of the rolling pin while it wrapped around.  Lots of flour on the dough so it didn’t stick to itself while rolling.  Then she sliced wide strips of the pasta and laid them out to dry a bit while she made the béchamel sauce (in Italian it’s besciamella).  The lasagna was assembled with layers of ragù, pasta, besciamella and grated cheese, then popped into the oven.

Alex rolling lasagne pasta

While the lasagna baked, we completed the menu with polpettini di melazane, which you might think of as eggplant meatballs, made of cooked eggplant, fine breadcrumbs and grated parmigiano reggiano.  Here Peter, Alex and Cyndy cut up melanzane.  After it was cooked and pulped and blended with the other ingredients, the balls were formed, rolled in more breadcrumbs and briefly fried in olive oil.

Everything was ready by about 7:45, so Peter opened the wine, a very nice Negroamaro from Salento in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot.  

Here’s the lasagne ready to eat, and the tiramisù, after severe depredations. Yum yum! 
(Or in Italian, gnam gnam.)

All this time Alessandra had been describing the recipes, ingredients, history of the dishes, and techniques.  When we all sat down to eat the conversation ranged from the simple but true, caldo! caldo! (yikes that’s hot!) after my first bite of sizzling lasagne to discussions about food, wine, regions of Italy and even Italian politics.  We left about 9 p.m., well stuffed and with a few left-over polpettini to take home.
One good result of all this is that Cyndy was inspired to make tiramisù here in our apartment.  Here’s a picture.
And here’s the ricetta. 

Buona fortuna,

INGREDIENTI (per 4 persone):
1 confezione di savoiardi
3 uova
Caffè (circa 10 tazzine)
60 gr di zucchero
500 gr di mascarpone
Cacao amaro
Per prima cosa preparate il caffè , tanto quanto basta per inzuppare i savoiardi, versatelo in una ciotola (se volete zuccheratelo a piacere) e lasciatelo intiepidire.
Per la crema:
Montate i tuorli (rossi) delle uova insieme allo zucchero fino ad ottenere un bel composto chiaro e cremoso.
Montate con uno sbattitore elettrico i 2 albumi (bianchi) delle uova con un pizzico di sale.
Aggiungeta all’impasto il mascarpone e gli albumi montati, mescolate fino ad ottenere una crema senza grumi.
 Adagiate in un contenitore i savoiardi e iniziate ad bagnarli col caffè ; dovranno essere ben imbevuti ma non completamente zuppi. Ricoprite i savoiardi inzuppati con uno strato di crema al mascarpone. 
Disponete poi  il secondo strato di savoiardi. Ricoprireteli con la restante crema.
Terminata questa operazione spolverizzate con abbondante cacao amaro la superficie del vostro Tiramisù.
Riponete in frigo per qualche ora per far compattare il dolce.


  1. Sounds like more than one good result!

  2. How did the polpettini di melazane turn out-- and do you have the recipe? I've just re-entered a phase of reading recipes, looking for fun and different things to try... (the school you picked sounds really wonderful).

  3. The polpettini were good, but as Cyndy says, by the time the eggplant had been cooked enough to remove the bitterness and we had added enough grated cheese and bread crumbs to make them hold together, the result was pretty much a lightly fried cheese and breadcrumb ball. Good though! Here's the recipe in case you'd like to try yourself.



    INGREDIENTI (per 4 persone):

    600 gr di melanzane (1 lb 5 oz)
    150 gr di pangrattato (5.25 oz)
    150 gr di Parmigiano Reggiano grattugiato
    1 bottiglia d’olio per friggere


    Tagiate a cubetti le melanzane. Fate bollire in una pentola grande l’acqua salata.
    Aggiungete le melanzane e fatele cuocere per circa 15 minuti. Scolatele e fatele raffreddare nello scolapasta schiacciandole con una forchetta.
    Ponete l’impasto in una coppa grande e aggiungete 1 uovo e 3 cucchiai di pan grattato, il Parmigiano Reggiano grattugiato e un pizzico di sale e pepe.
    Mescolate bene l’impasto e formatene tante palline rotonde, grosse come una noce.
    Passatele nel pan grattato, friggetele nell’olio e tenetele al caldo.