If you ask any traveller what their favorite part of travelling through Italy has been, no doubt that many of them will recall the food (probably whilst salivating).
Each Italian region has its own specialty dishes and Italians take a lot of pride in their culinary endeavors. That said, the Emilia Romagna region which encompasses Bologna is often referenced as having the ‘best’ food in Italy—even people from other regions will begrudgingly agree!
Many renowned Italian delicacies originate from Emilia Romagna – Ragu, Parma ham, Parmesan and Tortellini to name but a few.
This past spring I spent the Easter month exploring this region of Italy and decided to sign up for a cooking class to try and discover some of the secrets as to why Italian home cooking is so damn good.
My search for cooking schools found those that fell into two categories – cooking in the home of an Italian local, or a formal restaurant/cooking school environment. I opted for the former; I wanted to know the sorts of recipes that Italians really cook in their homes, the methods and dishes that have been passed on from their mother’s mothers and so on.
I stumbled across ‘Taste of Italy’ cooking school and I am so pleased that I did. Taste of Italy is ran by Italian local Maribel who teaches recipes in her beautiful home kitchen in the heart of Bologna. She has been featured in the New York Times so I knew that I was in good hands!
We met bright and early in the Morning in Bologna’s old town and started the day with a tour of the market place. Maribel took me to her favorite food stores in the area – from fromageries, to butchers selling the best cuts of meat and Mortadella, to patisseries that would make you drool at the scent of freshly baked chocolate salami as soon as you passed through the door.
We discussed the vegetables and fruits that were in season, and from this made a decision on what recipes to make, sourcing our ingredients from the grocery stalls to find the best organic fruits and vegetables delivered from local farms earlier that same day
Ingredients in hand, it was decided...I would make two varieties of pasta, two sauces, an appetizer and a dessert.. Phew!
Step aside Martha Stewart! Let’s take a look at what I rustled up…
Appetizer – Stuffed Zucchini Flowers
What a lovely concept eh? Eating a flower. These turned out absolutely delicious.
Zucchini flowers stuffed with a filling comprised of ricotta cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano and nutmeg and then lightly fried.
Main Courses: The Handmade Pasta
Making the pasta was no walk in the park, lemme tell you that much – I had blisters by the end of the day like war wounds for my culinary endeavors! I’m also sure that there is much more presentable pasta than mine (as evidenced by the photographs you see before you!)
That said, as with anything it felt like one of those things where it would probably get easier with practice and experience and I’m not opposed to giving it another go should I host a dinner party any time soon.
Maribel was a very patient teacher and showed me a number of techniques for rolling out the dough as her mother and grandmother had taught to her.. She also ensured my glass was constantly topped with some very lovely local Vino which, in my personal opinion, is a great resolver of any problem!
The tortelloni was filled with the same filling as that of the zucchini flowers – ricotta and parmesan cheese, and a hint of nutmeg. Once cooked, we made a lovely sage and butter sauce to serve them with.
For the second pasta dish, I prepared tagliatelle which was served up with asparagus, shallots and pancetta – a traditional dish from the region of Bologna and perhaps my favorite new recipe. So simple, yet so tasty!
The great thing about cooking with a local is that it is your own private lesson. It’s not like a cooking school environment where you have to worry about keeping up the pace with everyone else. It also gives you the opportunity to ask questions, and have the support that you need from your teacher.
I loved Maribel’s class because it was so flexible. Ahead of meeting for the lesson we discussed the foods I enjoyed to come up with recipes and a plan completely tailored for me.
Of course, the best part of cooking is obviously the eating – this isn’t about laboring under false pretenses! We sat and enjoyed each course in Maribel’s dining room which was a pleasure. She has lived and taught the art of Italian cooking all over the world yet is so humble and down-to-earth. It really was a lovely experience that will always be a highlight of my time spent in Italy.
All views, photography and opinions expressed throughout the article are my own. High Heels and a Backpack is in no way affiliated with Taste of Italy.