In my previous post I mentioned that Iconic Rome is often associated with the Vatican and Colosseum ( or images of Russell Crowe as a Gladiator, slaying lions on the Arena floor). But when I mention Italy, you might (in fact I hope you do), begin to salivate over the food. I know we do. There is no building, vista, cityscape or historical building that could possibly compete with Italian cuisine.
The sad thing about Italian cuisine is that it can be hard to replicate in North America. Our tomatoes can’t compete, our flour is inferior, and we lack the necessary concentration of Italian “Nona’s” to pass the traditions on to their grandchildren. The great thing about Italian cuisine is that with a good teacher, you may just learn enough to bring home 50% of the skills required to continue savouring Italian goodness in your very own kitchen. And that 50% authentic Italian skill set is still 100x better than any Italian food you will find here (yes, I am talking about the Olive Garden).
We were lucky enough to be able to get in with Chef Andrea. Reviews of his cooking school online were amazing, and Ray was disappointed that he was closed over the holidays when we were there at Christmas, so the fact we could get in – not just with Ray, but with the entire group of 30 – was amazing. Ray and I took the morning group, who cooked from 10 – 2, where Sue and Sarah came by at 6 pm with the evening group.
Our time began with snacks (various crackers and jams) prepared for us by the Chef. We sat at a long dining table just big enough for our group, and chatted while he prepared for our cooking lesson. We could see in the kitchen a pile of the most delectable produce and ingredients, and we were excited to get going.
After we finished our snacks, Chef Andrea came out and introduced himself. He was a chef who had owned and sold a few restaurants before deciding to open a cooking school. The space he has in Trastevere is warm and inviting, and feels like you are in his home. The group was to work together to make our lunch, rotating through a variety of jobs as a team. First up – the pasta.
Using gnocchi boards, and drying racks, we learned to roll out, cut, and press pasta dough into adorable little twisty noodles called cavatelli. This job was going to take a good 1.5 hours, because we needed thousands of them in order to feed the group (they are just bigger than a macaroni noodle). A handful of the group got started with the pasta, while another handful entered the kitchen.
In the kitchen there was much prepwork to do. Cheeses needed to be grated and roman broccoli needed to be washed and cut. Tomatoes were blanched, cooked, peeled, and the meatballs needed to be mixed – part beef and pork). We had to put together a tomato sauce for the pasta, roll out and cook the meatballs, make the broccoli (known as broccoli romaneschi ripassati in padella), and cook the noodles. And then of course we needed to make dessert. Nothing is most quintessential Italian than tiramisu, so I was elated to see it was on the menu. (There is a story about Ethan, Ray and the espresso I could tell here, but I think the memory of such a moment is too devastating for them to relive, so just know that when you are in the kitchen – DON’T knock over the espresso!).
After almost 3 hours of cooking, everything was ready, and the smells had filled the kitchen and dining room. It was time to sit. Another piece of advice – remember that the head of the table is reserved for the elders of the group. Italian life lesson. Chef Andrea then brought out for us the dishes we had all made. Culinary heaven meets food coma. After we thought we could not possibly eat any more, the piece de resistance – tiramisu.
Everything about our time in the kitchen was perfect. Chef Andrea knows his stuff, and answered every question we had about the how’s and why’s of his cooking methods. I’m not going to share all of them with you here (or the recipes), because I want to encourage you to go to Rome and learn from him yourself. You won’t regret it (for information on Chef Andrea and his cooking school, chef out his website). It was relaxing, enlightening, authentic, and enjoyable. It brought us together as a team, gave us insight into this important part of Italian culture, and started off our day perfectly. An absolute highlight of our trip.
After we left we had no choice but to walk – we were all beyond full, so a slow walk was necessary to help digest our food. We started by walking through the Campo di Fiori – the most famous of Rome’s food markets. I great place to taste test oils and vinegars, and buy them, along with pastas and, in my case, an excellent truffle honey.
We then headed to the trifecta of Roman goodness – Largo Argentina Cat Sanctuary, Sant’Eustachio’s, and Punto Gelato. The Cat Sanctuary is one I have mentioned many times. Ray was very clear with the kids that who ever was going to be in his group was going here, and we had many hands requesting to be part of this team. We spent a good 45 – 60 minutes counting the 20+ outdoor cats basking in the sun on the Roman Ruins, plus visiting with the dozens more hiding inside. Some of us decided to have their first real Italian coffee bar experience, and then walked across the street as we bought the whole group gelato. After this more walking was needed. A few souvenir shops, some Italian gloves, leather journals, and tacky tourist wares, and we were home bound for some time off our feet. We didn’t even begin to think about venturing out for dinner until after 7:30, when we headed to this small street about 10-15 minute walk from the hotel that Chef Andrea recommend (Urbana I think it was), full of cheap food, and many locals. They had a great fixed price menu, with appetizers and entrees. Our group was overly ambitious, and left much of the food on the plate because we were still so full from lunch. We then stopped for one more round of gelato on the way back to the hotel. Because no matter how full you are, there is always room for gelato.
And so we had successfully dedicated an entire day in Rome to FOOD. And walked away with full belly’s, big smiles, and no regrets.