Italian Cooking…Central Italy

The second week of our Italian Cooking focused on the areas of Liguria. Toscona, Lazio, and Coastal Campania…This weeks class could also be called the week of the flour…We did some baking…and learned how to make a Biga…

Our “antipasto” for this week consisted of a selection of regional cheeses, Focaccia Bread and Ciabatta with olive oil, Tuscan Sage Omelets & Ricotta Frita with Tomato Salad…a delicious way to start the evening…

I have to confess that I am not a baker…I understand the basic concepts of baking, but I think I’ve always enjoyed eating the baked goods rather than trying to make the baked goods…I love Focaccia Bread. It is one of my favorites, so I was very interested to see how it was made, and was very surprised at how simple it was. Focaccia and Ciabatta have a very short list of simple ingredients, and with a few tricks that Debe taught us, I am now confident that I could do this on my own.  The Ciabatta was a little more complicated as we first had to learn to make a “Biga”.  The “Biga” is the “bread starter” the Italian version of sour dough.  Once you have a Biga going, you can cultivate it in your refrigerator and keep it alive indefinitely. The breads came out great and, so was our first experience with flour.  Then we made Tuscan Sage Omelets, again with simple ingredients, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano,milk,sage,salt & pepper, butter and flour…This was a deliciously simple appetizer, made fritatta style then rolled and cut into bite size pieces…the Ricotta Frita also was also very simple and very tasty.  Ricotta and Parmigiano cheese blended with sea salt, black pepper, an egg and flour, browned in olive oil and served with a chopped tomato and basil salad…Our first wine of the evening was from Tuscany…Vagnoni Vernaccia di San Gimignano. The second white wine that I choose was from Campania… Nifo Falanghina di Sannio  These two whites are very different in style.  The Vernaccia is a lighter style wine with crisp fruit and nice acidity.  It went very well with the cheeses, the breads dipped in olive oil and the sage omelets.  The Falanghina has more weight to it and rounder fruit. It was a very nice complement the Ricotta Frita and Tomato Salad.  The Falanghina also paired well with the next course, Gnocchi al Pesto… 

Gnocchi, for those not familiar, is potato pasta, made with potatoes, salt and flour. We had to “rice” the potatoes, which gave me my first experience with a “food mill” ( I decided that I need to get one of those things). The rest of the process is done by hand, one Gnocchi at a time…kneading, rolling and cutting, is what takes the most time.  The cooking of the Gnocchi goes very quickly, just a few minutes, and then we tossed them with pesto, or butter and parmesan cheese, and served them with the first red wine…Gode II Rosso di Toscana.  Gode II means “enjoy twice” and Rosso di Toscana just means “red of Tuscany”.  This wine is made of Sangiovese, the primary component in Chianti. Sangiovese makes for a medium weight wine with great acidity. Acidity is your friend when it comes to pairing with foods, especially foods with olive oil, butter or cheese. A delicious wine with a simply delicious dish…

Our last course, before dessert, was the only course that did not require flour…Porchetta…pork loin wrapped in pancetta. Yum! We served this with Red Onion Jam and Green Beans in Tomato Sauce.  For this, I chose a wine from Lazio, northwest of Rome. Cincinnato Polluce Lazio Rosso was made with a grape called Nero Buono, which means “black good”.This wine was only slightly darker in color than the Sangiovese, and was of similar weight, but it had much rounder fruit and a lot less acidity. This wine was new to me…and  it was delicious. Porchetta was a dish that I had not had before, and it was also…delicious.  I was very lucky that the wine and the dish went so well together. Sometimes you just have to take a chance…

Finally we made desert. No wine needed here. Panna Cotta with fruit sauce…and Biscotti. Did I mention that we also made Biscotti earlier in the evening? Well we did…and so concludes Italian Cooking week two…the week of flour.  Thanks Debe…