Today I am very excited to begin my day at il Mercato Centrale. One of the two cooking classes I signed up for the other day “made” and it starts at 11:30. The reply email they sent said I needed to come early so I could get the paperwork completed before class began. I showed up bright and early, completed my paperwork then got a bite to eat for breakfast and worked on writing you. Wifi is free at il Mercato Centrale so I thought I would make the most of it. The wifi at Bencidormi is much like the wifi at my first appartamento in Firenze, although you “have” wifi, it isn’t strong enough to allow you to get your emails.I work for about an hour and then it is time for school to begin!The name of the cucina area of il Mercato Centrale is you see above “La Scuola di Cucina of Lorenzo de’ Medici” and it is worthy of the Medici name…state of the art everything. I’m excited just to be in here. There are only nove of us and as luck would have it…I get my own cucina…everyone else had to double up.Class begins by an interpreter explaining that our english speaking chef is ill and an italian speaking chef will be filling in and she will be interpreting. Again…LUCKY us!! Along with the chef and the interpreter, there is a sous chef to help us.
As is normal for me, while they are introducing some things, I take peeks inside the cabinets and drawers, in awe of my piccolo cucina.One of my favorite features (which some of you may have but I do not) are the pop up outlets. When the sous chef showed it to me and I giggled and ooohed…I am sure she thought…”here we go”.Now for today’s lesson. We will be making-Our ingredients are-As any good teacher does, Chef Alessandro first demonstrates how to create the dough and the individual fusilli. He says that originally fusilli was made using knitting needles but we can use anything to twirl the dough around…even the stick of an umbrella he laughs…no-a excuses-a. We will be using little, wooden skewers. He takes the time to demonstrate how to make several other types or shapes of pasta using the same dough; orecchiette or “little ears”, pappardelle, and scialatelli to name a few. You can tell this man enjoys his job. Here he is telling us to “Make-a a leeettle rope-a”. Each cucina begins making their own dough. Chef Alessandro walks around giving feedback and assisting as needed. This place will not allow you to make an inferrior product.
As we finish kneading our dough to a smooth, elasticy, consistency the interpreter tells us that Chef Alessandro has said, “Since the dough has done so much sport, it must rest.” We wrap it in cellophane and begin our pesto. I have made pasta dough before and I have made pesto before, but I have never made a pesto with fresh tomatoes.
We begin by taking the juice and seeds out of our tomatoes. If I were at home, I would save this to add to bread crumbs as I learned in Costanza’s cucina. But here we just use the meat of the tomato, blending it a bit with our hand blenders.Next we add the remaining ingredients; ricotta (which I have also never used in a pesto), basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and salt. With the garlic, Chef said that it is a matter of taste. He only like to add a little to his. He also advised us to always take out the small heart or root in the garlic. He says it is better for the digestive system if you do.And then at the end, add olive oil. Tuscan Olive Oil has a very forte or strong flavor so it is suggested it not be used for delicate flavors.And of course, it is always important to taste to see if you need to add anything else. I found it interesting that although each cucina had the very same ingredients, each pesto was a different color and texture.Time to set aside the pesto and return to our rested pasta dough.
You can see how tedious this work is. The Chef adds that it is fun to get a group together, open a bottle of wine sitting around talking and rolling and sipping. This, he says, makes the dinner, the evening and the friendships that much better.
At one point, Chef Alessandro came by my cucina tossing my fusilli about a bit saying, “Aaahhh…you-a are-a very aaanggryyy.” “Cosa?”, I replied. He said, “You-a are-a very aaaannnngggryyyy.” And then I got it. “Hungry?” I said patting my belly. “Si, si, aaannngggrrryy.” I said, “Hungry” patting my belly and stressing the H and “Angry” making an angry face and growling. He started laughing. As he walked off I heard him repeat, “Aannngrrryyy…gggrrrrrr!!!!”.
Once the fusilli was created, we turned our water to boil, salting it before adding the pasta. We were to boil our pasta for 3 minutes. Remove pasta from the water with a strainer, transferring to a mixing bowl. Chef A said this pesto can be served room temperature or heated. He warned though that heating does change the flavors. He said what he likes to do is to add the pesto to the pasta, then while mixing for 2 minutes (the interpreter laughed at his precision) add a bit of the hot pasta water to create a creamy texture. This is what I chose to do.Plate, garnish and then top with a drizzle of olive oil.And there you have it, Fusilli con Pesto alla Siciliana.Buon Appetito!There I am up there on the Big Screen.Afterwards, Chef Alessandro graciously autographed our aprons and posed for photos.I have participated in several different cooking classes during my last two visits to Italy. This is one I highly recommend. I think the 50 euro fee is a bargain. You get to work in a fabulous cucina, top notch instruction from chefs that are qualified and love what they do, enjoy a wonderful meal that you prepare, wine and you get to keep the apron plus a little folder and pen they provide.
Bravo Cucina de Medici!!