Learning to cook in Italy: That's amore

09/12/2011 12:00 AM

09/12/2011 12:07 AM

Isn't it great when something you've always wanted to do turns out to be more fun and memorable than you thought it would be?

I've always wanted to take a cooking lesson in Italy. Nothing too difficult or fancy, just some tasty basics.

While strolling through Certaldo Alto in Tuscany, I saw a sign for La Cucina Giuseppina cooking school next to a platter of tomatoes drying in the sun.

I walked into a charming little shop, then on into a big room with a work table and two dining tables.

A very handsome young man, Luca, introduced me to his mom, Giuseppina Pizzolato, who gives lessons. She was as charming as her place of business. I couldn't sign up for a lesson fast enough. My friend Sally was arriving the next week, so I signed her up, too.

We took the lesson with a young man and woman from New Zealand who had been traveling for nearly a year together. They told Sally they thought if they could get along while traveling, they'd get married. That would be a test, all right.

Giuseppina said we could call her Josephina, her "American name."

First we made tiramisu, my favorite dessert of all time. In America, we use "lady finger" cookies. In Italy, they use savoiardi cookies, which aren't as soft as lady fingers.

Next, we made bruschetta with the delicious tomatoes Josephina grew in her garden. Tomatoes, salt, black pepper, olive oil and Tuscan bread is all it took. How could it be so good? Fresh. And as Luca explained, "The bread has to crunch. When it makes this sound, it is good," he said.

The thrill came when I helped make pasta. Not American Beauty out of the skinny bag — the real deal.

Josephina made a big circle of flour on the table. She cracked four eggs in the middle and added a hefty pinch of salt and a circle of olive oil. She whisked the eggs with a fork, then started to push the flour into the eggs, mixing it. And before long, it was a ball of dough that each of us got to knead.

It was a kick putting the dough through the pasta maker, turning the crank and, after several passes through the little machine, the dough was fettuccini!

Next came the fish course with a very light garlic sauce.

Some of the things I learned at my Italian cooking class:

* An Italian kitchen is well-appointed, but you won't find a measuring cup anywhere.

* We heard the word "fresh" a lot. We used nothing from a can except olive oil.

* You need lots of good-quality olive oil.

* The "garlic moment" is very important. Don't go overboard.

* There is a world of taste in fast, simple dishes.

It's difficult to remember everything when you're having such a good time cooking and eating, but I can't wait for another lesson, especially from Giuseppina, who believes, as I do, that every dish is better when you stir in some love.

Start walkin'! —Lace up your running (or walking) shoes and join me Saturday for the Wichita Walk to Defeat ALS at the Waterfront. I'm on the Rich's Rascals team again this year, honoring my longtime friend Rich Vliet. Visit www.alsa-midwest.org for more information.

And there's more! —Race for the Cure is Sept. 24, and I'll be walking with those crazy kids at Kissin' 102.1, KZSN radio.

Cathy, Anthony, Chad and the gang want you out there with us. Go to www.komenmidks.org for more information.

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