As part of my little jaunt to Milan, I included a short detour to Bologna for a cooking lesson. I booked a cooking lesson with Taste of Italy. It was all arranged by Maribel (founder, teacher and coordinator extraordinaire!) and my cooking instructor was Joanna. We had arranged to meet in Bologna in the main square around 9am. Unfortunately, I got on the wrong train in spite of having bought the right train ticket. Note to self: There are multiple trains leaving for Bologna. Check for the correct train number! And ended up not making to Bologna till 11am. Oops. Good thing I was the only person scheduled for that lesson and Joanna was really gracious and told me to take my time to make sure I get there safe.
Well, I met up with her way later than expected. But she took me on a nice tour to the food street anyway. We saw fresh vegetables, went to the various delis and got the meats needed for making the dishes she was going to teach me how to make. And she explained where everything came from, and how all their produce is season dependent because Italian cuisine depends on the season so that everything is safe and respects the environment where it comes from (ie, not importing tomatoes when tomatoes are clearly not in season, etc). Unfortunately, it was a Mon, so all the fish places were closed (we weren’t making any fish dishes, so no big loss).
After that, she took me back to her lovely home and we got started on getting to work. But before we started, I felt that I should warn her that I hardly ever step into the kitchen. In fact, most of my culinary adventures seem to end up in the Accident and Emergency department. But Joanna, ever the gracious host, reassured me and said that she would teach me everything I needed to know. She was just so calm and lovely, I immediately felt at ease. The first thing she did was to show me all the stuff we were going to be using from fresh eggs used specifically for making fresh pasta (she said the yolks are nice and big and so it allows the pasta to look really yellow) to the tomatoes and figs. I got hungry just by looking at the ingredients!
And then she got me chopping. And chop I did. With very clear instructions to make sure that my fingers are firmly gripped on what I’m chopping. And the finer the ingredients are, the better.
After that, she poured some olive oil into the saucepan and we put the fresh ground meat in there and stirred until the meat was brown and then we put everything else in there and started to stir. There was a lot of stirring. She said to stir until the onions are clear. Fresh ingredients are important. So we stirred everything together. And after a while, she said to let it simmer. We also added some wine and stirred some more followed by water.
And then she said to ignore it. We are going to make the pasta noodles now! And so we did. We used the eggs and the flour. And there was a lot of mixing of the two to make dough. I wasn’t very good at it because I was afraid of breaking down this wall of flour. And boy, was it hard work (she kept a glass of water ready for me). And there was more stirring and kneading until we actually had some workable dough. And then we used this gigantic pin and started to thin out the dough. I kept thinking it was going to break. We kept doing this until we had flat pasta dough. Then we started cutting up the pasta to make tagliatelle (which are long thin strips) and square pieces so that we could make tortelloni which were later stuffed with ricotta and parmigiano cheese).
Anyways, once pasta was made, we decided to check on the ragu. We added some tomato sauce to “give it its color”.
The tagliatelle was then cooked in boiling water for a few minutes. She tasted it to make sure it was cooked: she said Italians like their pasta al dente. And then we added the sauce to the cooked pasta. And voila! Lunch! Bolognese Ragu!
The tortelloni was also cooked in boiling water and then served with cheese. To be honest, making the tortelloni felt like we were making chinese dumplings. Maybe the two are connected?
Oh yeah! We also made antipasto and dessert.
Dessert was ricotta mascarpone cheese with a hint of nutmeg. Unfortunately, I ate it up without taking any pictures! But I can reassure you that it was very very easy to make. And very very delicious!
So there you have it! My first Italian cooking lesson. I wish I can write a more comprehensive recipe. But Maribel made it very clear that the recipes were to be distributed to pupils only. Anyways, if you are interested in learning more, dare I suggest planning a trip to Bologna for a cooking lesson? The class sizes are normally limited to about 4 people max. And its quite affordable. It was 135 Euros for me. Maribel has this entire price list. So email her and find out! The combination of the tour and the cooking lesson was well worth it. I hope to be able to recreate these dishes. I know Joanna keeps saying they are simple basics. But I don’t even know where to find mascarpone or ricotta cheese. At some point this weekend, I need to go to one of those European specialty stores to find the ingredients! That Mascarpone dessert was really good. And I liked how light the ragu turned out. The ones I’ve had in the US are normally very heavy. And thick. This was light. And very delicious.