La Cucina Italiana, A Trilogy (Part II, Cooking)

Ciao Readers!  And Happy Passover and Easter!

So, today we’re going to cook in Italy – specifically my language classmate, Terri, and I are cooking with Chef Giuseppe from “Extra Virgin” cooking school.  As you may recall, I have taken a variety of cooking courses in many countries, ranging from the super casual paella cooking with a fun bunch of well-lubricated Australians in Barcelona to the more “professional” kitchen of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (ooh la la).

While honestly, I already knew much of what we learned (cooking in Italy, unlike France, is “simple” in the best way – a few excellent ingredients combined to perfection), the class with Chef Giuseppe was a wonderful way to end my stay in Lucca (and yes, of course, a DELICIOUS one!).  (As a side note – Chef Giuseppe was featured on House Hunters International with his American love interest, Liz – Liz and I e-chatted about our respective experience with house hunters before I arrived.)  We met up with Giuseppe in the morning and went to a few small shops to get ingredients for the day, where he would fill us in on the products and their “back stories” (and have long leisurely chats with the proprietors).  Once we arrived at the “palazzo” (their apartment, which is Artchitectural-digest-worthy gorgeous!) we were offered drinks (including, of course, prosecco) and enjoyed olive oil and cheese tastings with mini-lessons before we got to cooking. There was obviously great attention to detail paid before we even arrived as there was a beautifully printed menu and place cards with our names on them (more “ooh la la”s).

As I was feeling tired and lazy on my last day in Lucca, and Terri was interested in mastering technique (though she is actually a “professional” herself – she sells her artisinal homemade gelato in her native Seattle!), I mostly nibbled and drank prosecco while Guiseppe and Terri cooked (and Giuseppe somewhat obsesively cleaned-up behind us throughout the day). Don’t let the photo of me laying out the maccheroni to dry fool you (yes, that’s what Lucca’s local specialty pasta is called, and yes, it’s pronounced “macaroni”), Terri did the hard part – all of the kneading of the dough.  The cooking ended with a drool-worthy multi-course meal (artichoke frittatta and salad, risotto with asparagus and truffle butter, maccheroni with ragu, all topped off with a dessert of buccellato (Lucchesi specialty sweet bread with anise), strawberries and lemon custard), served at a beautiful table with well-paired wine.  We left with little gifts, the aprons you see us wearing, and a little cheesiness for good measure (“official” certificates).  Buon Appetito!

Tutti a Tavola a Mangiare! (or why Lidia Bastianich is super cool)

Ciao Readers!

Today I return to one of my favorite dual pastimes – watching cooking shows and then getting off the couch, compelled to cook what I just watched the TV chef cook (and as an added bonus, traveling to Italy vicariously).  If you’ll recall, I talked about this in a previous post, when I made Nigella’s yummy lemon almond cake back in our little kitchen in Florence.  Well, it happened again today, with Italian chef Lidia Bastianich and her nonna’s (grandma’s) apple cake.  One minute I’m spending a lazy Sunday watching previously recorded cooking shows, the next I’m in the kitchen mixing while Steve peels apples.  And yes, totally worth it!  So simple, but apple-y and crunchy and YUM!  (It didn’t dawn on me until we’d eaten most of it to try and take a photo, below; after looking at a real food blogger’s blog today, I realize my food staging photo skills need some serious work – it is way more delicious than it looks in my photo.)

Now, here’s the thing about Lidia and her show – they are on PBS.  No fancy “Iron Stadium,” no one getting “chopped,” no timer counting down, no celebrity judges and basically no hoopla.  Just Lidia, and sometimes a grandma or granddaughter cooking simple family recipes.  Maybe I’m just old-fashioned (i.e. old), but I still really like the plain old cooking shows on PBS (did you notice I used the word “old” 3 times on one sentence – ack!).  While I love trying to figure out what I’d cook from the ingredients on Chopped (black garlic, bull testicles and gummy worms anyone?), I am sure I’ve actually learned more about cooking from Julia, the gang on America’s Test Kitchen and Lidia. Lidia just makes good food!

Not only do I know she makes good food because my mouth waters when I watch her show, or because whenever I cook recipes from her show they come out yummy, but we’ve actually eaten at her restaurant Becco in New York (photos below).  Now I know that she was not personally there cooking, but it is her restaurant (and her son’s).  Funny, but despite the wonderful pastas and seafood dishes we had, the simplest thing left the biggest impression and it is something I have been replicating to this day – fresh grated lemon zest on your appetizer bowl of olives.  Try it!  You’ll be amazed at how such a little thing has such a big impact on taste.  Anyone who is responsible for teaching me something I will do forever or filling our lazy Sunday with delicious apple cake is super cool in my book!

If you haven’t seen her show, the title of this post is what she always says at the end of the show –  everyone to the table to eat!  Actually, there is one piece of cake left…..

Thanks for reading!

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