Our time spent on Regional Italian Cuisine blew past before I had a chance to really let it all sink in; punctuated by a “Hurricane,” Labor Day, and a lot of soaking up the last moments of summer, we’ve already moved on in the kitchen to curries, noodles and sushi. But I’d feel amiss if I didn’t spend a bit of time talking about the cuisine of one of my favorite counties and sharing our culinary education through this great country with some photos and detail.
First of all, probably the coolest thing we covered in our Tour d’Italia at ICE (that I didn’t learn in my Italian Techniques recreational class last year) was how to make our own fresh mozzarella. I know, it seems too good to be true, right? How could this much beloved food, whose creation is a mystery to most of us, actually be easy enough to make in your own home / classroom? It blew my mind how simple it really was!
You start with a pot of super salty (as in saltier than the sea) water, and bring it to a boil. You’ll also need some cheese curds, two big bowls, a ladle and a wooden spoon, and a few pairs of latex gloves lest you burn your little fingers. Add the cheese curds to a bowl, and ladle some hot water over them, until they’re just covered. Don your gloves and man your spoon! Use the spoon to massage the curds until they start to form a large, soft mass. Eventually switch from the spoon to using your hands to massage the cheese, kneading it gently until it is just soft (be careful not to over work it). Switch out the cloudy, cooling water for fresh hot water frequently.
Once the cheese is soft, the fun part kicks in. Remove the mushy cheese mass from it’s salty brine, and begin to stretch it, as perhaps you’ve seen on TV, or if you’re a New Yorker, in Eataly. Stretch and fold the mass a few times until you are back to having a small ball. Place it in your bowl, switch out the cooling brine for hot water, and repeat this process two more times. Once you’ve done that, you’re basically done! Just form your cheese into one, two, or three small balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate in a container of left-over brine until you’re ready to use. That took, what, five minutes? Sweet.
We used the fresh motz to make some truly delicious and super simple sandwiches, also known as Mozzarella en Carozza or “Mozzarella in a Carriage” (cute, eh?). It’s as simple as layering the cheese along with some fresh tomato and basil in between two slices of Italian bread, dipping in egg, then breadcrumb, and frying in hot olive oil until golden brown and crisp on both sides. Think of this as an upscale version of Mozzarella sticks!
Excellent dipped in marinara and enjoyed until a food coma sets in.
And then, of course, there was pasta. Everything from fresh, hand-rolled tortellini and ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and pine nuts, to stiff, hearty semolina bucatini tossed in a savory tomato-ricotta sauce was fair game. We kneaded, rolled, and sliced more fettucine than I care to recall, though it’s a source of personal pride to say I’ve now mastered both an old-school hand-cranked pasta machine, and the rolling-it-out by hand technique.
The resulting butternut squash ravioli in a sage-brown butter sauce (my cure for all life problems) was to-die-for. Simple, exquisite, delicioso!
And so, over the course of five days, we gave life to these indulgent plates of flour and egg, cheese and olive oil…
Warning: Do not proceed on an empty stomach.
Hand-cut fettucini with pesto, green beans, potatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano
Rigatoni with mini cauliflower florets and sweet Italian sausage
Anyone who reads my blog regularly probably knows this already, but it’s worth mentioning again that I’m a huge fan of Italian cuisine. If anything, our few days spent exploring the varied and delicious cuisines of Italy only reaffirmed my love for this country’s food, while imparting in me a great knowledge for the lesser known specialties and regional dishes. While perhaps it wasn’t all new information, it was certainly one of the most enjoyable and fun-filled sections of culinary school to date – here’s hoping for more to come :-)
Keep an eye out for a recap of our Culinary Silk Road and see how ICE does Asian fare with dishes from India, Thailand, China and Japan – coming up soon!