Alright folks, have I got a treat for you! For the first time ever, Will has written a post for the blog. Yes the same Will the blog is named after. I can’t believe he’s never directly written a post up until this point, but man is this the way to welcome him to the blogosphere. I’m beyond stoked to be sharing this experience of his with you as well as to bringing him in to be a part of the (guest) bloggers crew. Read on to see what I’m talking about:
Will, here. This May, I had the chance to travel to Italy on a short-term with other graduate students at the William & Mary School of Education. Though my primary motivation in participating was because I plan to work in the study abroad field upon graduation, the culinary experience was also a large draw. I don’t think I ate anything during the trip that I did not enjoy. From the swanky (read: over priced) cocktails at the Martini & Rossi lounge in Milan, to the budget doner kebab from a street stall in Padua, to the endless varieties of gelato that you can barely go two blocks without seeing – everything was delicious. Perhaps the most unusual dish I sampled was “Spaghetti alle seppie nere” or “Spaghetti with black cuttlefish.” If you can get over the color of the black ink sauce, the dish was quite good – salty and very fishy! Perhaps we will make an attempt to reproduce it in our kitchen? So if anyone knows a good source for squid ink in the Tidewater area, let us know!
The true culinary highlight of the trip, however, occurred on our first night in Rome on the final leg of our journey. We took a group cooking class where we prepared our own four course meal of traditional Roman dishes, under the directions of local chef, Andrea Consoli. He provided all the ingredients and then showed us how to make everything. We divided and conquered the various recipes and within a few hours had an amazing meal to enjoy after our hard work. My favorite dish was the meatballs. They turned out so much better than any other ones I have made, and I look forward to attempting to replicate them in our own kitchen. Making pasta from scratch was also a fun experience and much easier than I ever realized! I even bought a special pasta rolling board to use at home (you can see it in the video).
Overall, it was an excellent experience for all of us and the food turned out amazing! If you are ever in Rome, I highly encourage that you schedule a class with Chef Andrea. You can read more about his kitchen here. I’d also like to profusely thank Josh Chung for taking amazing photos of our evening and creating this fantastic video of the class.
Here are the recipes from the man himself, Chef Andrea:
All the ingredients are listed by weight as well as by volume to make you all able to reproduce my food back home, but always keep in mind that measures by weight (especially for flour) are more accurate. Measuring flour by cup sometimes requires to sift it, as it might be more dense than the one we used – in Italy we use a 00 flour.
Appetizer: Eggplant Parmigiana (parmigiana di Melanzane) (serves 4)
4 large seedless eggplant, cut in 1 cm/0, 4-inch slices
1 lt/4 cups sunflower oil to deep-fry
1 kg/2, 2 lb. tomato, skinned-chopped (the best quality are the fresh tomatoes like the one on the vine, or even San Marzano. The closest type that you can get back home could be the Roma tomatoes)
5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
Few leaves fresh organic basil
1 bowl medium-size fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded or in chunks (I’d suggest normal mozzarella and not the buffalo one because it’s drier and it will not release too much liquid/milk to the Parmigiana while baking in the oven)
100 gr/1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, saute garlic with e.v. olive oil (remember to leave the skin on and do not burn the oil, just wait for garlic to get brown). Then add chopped tomatoes previously blanched and peeled, and allow them to cook and saute. After the tomatoes have cooked down for about 10 minutes, they’ll look softer and release some water, add salt. You are able to blend the sauce for your own personal touch, if you like it smoother. Or if you like chunks of tomatoes in the Parmigiana, just leave it the way it is after cooking. In the end, add freshly chopped basil leaves.
In the meantime, place the eggplant sliced into circles in a colander and sprinkle with the coarse sea salt. Let drain for 1 hour (we skipped this in the class, because the eggplant I got for you at the market were seedless). Heat up the oil in a deep large frying pan until very hot. Shake the salt off the eggplant, dry them out onto paper towels and fry small batches until golden brown, 1-2 minutes per batch. Drain onto paper towels. Add salt.
Preheat oven to 180 C/350 F. Grease a medium baking dish. Spread a layer of eggplant in the baking dish, topped with tomato sauce, shredded mozzarella, a few leaves of fresh organic basil and top it with parmesan cheese. Repeat eggplant, tomato sauce, mozzarella and parmesan layers. Bake the tray of eggplant until hot and bubbly for about 15 minutes. Serve covered in Parmesan cheese and decorate with a leaf of fresh basil. Can be served hot or warm.
First Course: Homemade Cavatelli shaped pasta with fresh tomato sauce and basil leaves (Cavatelli fatti a mano con sugo di pomodoro fresco e basilico) (serves 4)
Ingredients for the dough
500 gr/4 cup of semolina flour (hard durum wheat)
250 ml/1 cup lukewarm water
4 pinches of salt
Ingredients for the sauce
5 tbsp E.V. olive oil
1 kg/2, 2 lb. fresh and organic San Marzano or tomatoes on the vine (back home you are able to use Roma tomatoes too)
A few leaves of fresh organic basil
1 clove garlic
100 gr/1 cup Pecorino Romao or Parmesan cheese (to coat your dish)
Instructions for the fresh pasta:
Cavatelli pasta (also know as Gnocchetti Sardi or Malloreddus) are made with a hard durum wheat (semolina) flour and water (no eggs) which gives them a distinctive golden yellow color (if you want to increase the yellow color just add a few pinches of saffron to it). It’s not a difficult recipe, but you may want to have some helpers if you have large numbers of gnocchetti to make!
To get ready with the dough, make a ring with the flour on a flat surface, marble or board and pour some of the water into the middle. Add salt and draw the flour towards the middle using your finger tips. Keep doing this until you have incorporated most of the water and flour into a sticky dough. Knead it lightly, adjusting water and flour until the dough is relatively smooth and elastic. Wrap in clingwrap and chill for at least 15-20 minutes.
Once chilled, divide the dough into quarters or more for ease of rolling. Roll these out using your fingers into long ropes of dough about 1 cm/0, 4 inches thick. Cut each rope into thin “pillows” and then press each pasta piece against the wood paddle or tines of a fork with your thumb, pulling down as you press and leaving a small dent inside. This should add the characteristic grooves to the pasta. Patience, practice and helpers will win out here! Either cook straight away or dust with semolina flour to prevent them from sticking while you prepare the sauce.
Instructions for the sauce:
In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, saute garlic with extra virgin olive oil (remember to leave the skin on and do not burn the oil, just wait for garlic to get brown). Then add chopped tomatoes previously blanched and peeled and allow them to cook and saute. After the tomatoes have cooked down for about 10 minutes, they’ll look softer and release some water, add salt. You are able to add your own personal touch to the sauce with some chili flakes (but not too much) or fresh ricotta chunks in with the tomatoes. In the end, add freshly chopped basil leaves.
To cook the pasta, put a large pot of boiling water over high heat. When the water is boiling, toss in a couple of tbsp of salt with the pasta. Stir to keep it from sticking and cook for 5-6 minutes until a piece of pasta tastes cooked (if the pasta is freshly made, just cook it for a couple minutes because that will be enough, otherwise the result will be too soft and mushy). Anyways, once they are ready, they will float to the surface of your pot. When the Cavatelli pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the frying pan with tomatoes. Drizzle with cheese to coat the pasta. Season your dish with pepper if you like and garnish with some fresh basil leaves and serve hot. It will be delicious!!!