Bob’s enthusiasm for Italian cooking has helped us get into a few authentic Italian kitchens on this trip. In Reggio Emilia, where we stayed in the north, we were invited to cook lasagna and make pasta with our landlord, Maranella. In one afternoon, we made lasagna alla Bolognese, and then learned how to create cappelletti, a favorite filled pasta from the region of Emilia Romagna. Although this was not a formal cooking course, we learned so much by watching Maranella and actually making the pasta ourselves. As you will see from the pictures below, we didn’t master making the cute capaletti shapes.
When we arrived in Umbria, I thought it would be fun to try a cooking class there. We selected a one day cooking experience at the B&B, Alla Madonna del Piatto (http://www.incampagna.com)because I had read many nice reviews on the Slow Travel website—www.slowtrav.com. Also, we thought that the location near Assisi would be convenient, because it’s so close to Perugia.
Our class was scheduled for a Friday morning in late April, which turned out to be the perfect spring day—warm and sunny . We started out in a small shop in the town of Santa Maria degli Angeli, just below Assisi. The shop sells cheeses, meats and a wide variety of food items. Our lively instructor, Letizia, started us out in the shop so we could sample some typical foods of Umbria. She first had us taste and compare two local olive oils. After our assessments, she described how the olive oils in Umbria differ from other regions. The olive trees are smaller here because of the challenges of the terrain, so the taste is lighter and not as bitter as some olive oils we’ve had. We also sampled and compared various meats and cheese from Umbria. Each time, we learned a bit about the foods and we voted on which ones to bring back with us for our appetizers. Our last treats were some truffles, which are a type of mushroom found in this region. They have a strong taste at first, but it’s easy to get hooked on these expensive little delicacies.
After our tastings, we jumped into our cars and followed Letizia up the hill past the town of Assisi to the beautiful B&B, Alla Madonna del Piatto that Letizia and her husband, Ruurd, have been running since 2000. We first took a break on the outdoor patio with views of the Basilica of St. Francis and the valley beyond. While Letizia was getting things ready, we opened some wine and relaxed in the sun. Then, it was time to get to work.
The menu for our lunch was stuffed artichokes, potatoes baked with rock salt, involtinis and a fig tart. We all helped clean the artichokes and prepare them for baking. The artichokes we used are the smaller ones that are more tender. In Italy, they don’t eat the rough, outer leaves like we do. Instead, they remove the outer leaves and eat the small tender ones and the heart.
We didn’t have to stop and take notes because all of the recipes are on Letizia’s website. Many of the recipes are family favorites that she learned from her mother. However, she is constantly trying out new recipes and often adapts old favorites. The involtinis that we made come from Sicily, where Letizia has roots. We started with a very thin pork loin piece and added a piece of pork cheek on top. Then, we put a stuffing on top and rolled the meats tightly into a roll. Between each roll, we placed a fresh bay leaf, then we skewered about seven in each group. The stuffing included fresh bread crumbs, fresh parsley, garlic and cheese (but check the website to get it right) www. For dessert, we made a fresh fruit tart using Letizia’s homemade marmalade, made with the figs from her garden. We really didn’t have to work hard because Letizia had done so much ahead of time. But she explained how she had prepared things and gave us great tips on other ways to use these delicious dishes.
It was fun working together in her spacious and efficient kitchen. She has three sinks and a large marble table that was the perfect workspace for all six of us. The large stove is both functional and beautiful. The kitchen is spacious and has lots of natural light, which makes it fun and easy to work in. We also found out that they added air conditioning in the kitchen, so it’s also comfortable in the warmer summer months.
After everything was ready to go, we returned to the patio for our tasty appetizers and more wine. We all relaxed and enjoyed the meal while Letizia and her assistant, Maria brought out the dishes as they were ready. We really were pampered, but it’s obvious that Letizia loves what she does.
I would highly recommend trying a cooking class in Italy. It’s a special experience to meet the locals and spend some time together in a real Italian kitchen. We feel very lucky to have worked in two Italian kitchens—and we hope we can recreate these recipes when we get home.
Below: Maranella and Bob, two styles of cappelletti(can you find ours?), Letizia’s kitchen, the terrace at Alla Madonna del Piatto
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