Wednesday, 3 August 2016

My Bologna Has a First Name – Learning to Make Pasta the Bolognese Way with Taste of Italy

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Holy crap – it’s been a YEAR since I posted here.  I am so ashamed.  To be fair, the past year has been the busiest of my life so far: I started teaching middle school, jumping right in at the deep end with no previous full-time experience, and I was (as you’d probably have guessed) completely consumed.  Any time I had to myself was spent grading, answering parent and student emails, lesson planning, or maybe, if I got really lucky, zoning out in front of a crappy TV show with a bottle of wine and my concerned boyfriend.  Needless to say, I didn’t cook much, let alone photograph it.  Which is too bad, really, since my apartment was super cute and photogenic, and living off Goldfish all year left me unhealthy and heavier than usual by June…  


Anyway, excuses aside, I come back now to share just a smidgen of the bounty from my much-needed summer vacation!  My boyfriend and I saved up a few thousand dollars, freed ourselves from our responsibilities, and set off for Europe the week after school let out – we went to Berlin for a week, then took trains through Austria and all down through Italy, ending in Sicily, and then we hopped over to France for a few weeks to help a friend with her new baby.  It was a pretty epic 7.5-week journey (all of which is documented on my Instagram feed), and while we didn’t cook often, what we did cook was as epic as the trip itself.

Berlin was all about the bratwursts, which were delicious and cheap and plentiful, so we didn’t cook at all there, and in France we were usually cooking and handling a two year old at the same time, so we didn’t get a lot of photography in.  Italy, though, is the land of food tradition and home cooking, and we were moving at a very civilized, adult pace, so I have a couple of posts lined up for you from that part of the trip.



When we were planning where to go and what to do (which we did from January to June, basically), we got a thousand different ideas from a bunch of sources, but the loudest and most insistent was probably my friend Kelsey – this is wholly within the usual bounds of her character, but we listened this time as she regaled us with tales of a cooking class she’d taken in Bologna back in 2013.  I remembered her mentioning it multiple times over the years, and I’d always wanted to learn to make my favorite Bolognese dish, Tortellini in Brodo, so I looked up the company. 

Taste of Italy turned out to be a small business run by a local woman named Maribel, who had lived in Italy for something like twenty years and had been teaching Italian cooking lessons since 2007, after discovering a knack for both cooking and teaching.  She offered two kinds of classes: cooking a traditional Italian meal (which could be Tortellini in Brodo if requested, which I did, of course), or starting at the market and buying all the ingredients and then cooking the meal.  I opted for the longer class, including the market tour, and did not regret the extra cost one bit.

My boyfriend and I spent pretty much the entire day with Maribel – shopping, walking, cooking, rolling, and talking about everything from pasta-making to Italian culture to family drama to career choices to writing.  It was unexpectedly enlightening and enjoyable, on so many more levels than just the food.  And the food.  Oh my god.  My boyfriend still says that the Tortellini in Brodo we made that day was one of the best things we ate during our entire trip, and we ate a lot of delicious things.

We were, it must be admitted, completely wiped by the end of the class – all that hand-rolling and tortellini-shaping is backbreaking work – but we were also full and happy, and we spent the short walk back from the city walls chattering about the special occasions on which we might make the dish again for those who merited the time and effort.  

NB: This post is more of a review of Taste of Italy than a cooking post, since I wouldn’t want to share proprietary recipes.  If and when you find yourself in Bologna, I highly recommend taking a lesson with Maribel – she’ll email you the recipes afterward, but in my experience it’s the process and the in-person advice that will really make the difference in your future cooking endeavors.  (For more photos, see my Flickr photostream.)

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