Wine and Dine

I must be feeling homesick because I ended up spending my only night in Milan taking a cooking class in a woman’s kitchen, which reminded me of watching my Mom (and aggressively taking notes) as she cooked Lebanese cuisine. Aurora, who used to be a chef for many years and has recently started giving private cooking lessons, runs Cook and Dine through her own home – what a treat!

The booking was a little shady so after submitting the payment of only 50 Euros, I immediately called to reserve a time slot (and to ensure it was legitimate). I was instantly comforted by the welcoming voice on the other side of the phone. The only question was wine or beer and the only rule was to arrive at 6pm as the pumpkin for the ravioli stuffing would be pre-baking in the oven.

My flight into Linate was delayed and I landed at 5:20pm. Skipping the drop off at the hotel, I went directly to her home – hand luggage, sweaty and all – to arrive promptly at 6:00. She is centrally located, conveniently only four subway stops away from Duomo.

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After buzzing the door, I entered into a quaint community of typical Italian houses with laundry hanging and neighbors chatting across their balconies. I went up the four flights of stairs (note to self: best to leave the luggage behind next time) but was then greeted by Aurora and her husband with a choice of refreshing Proseco or Iced Tea.

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The smell of baking pumpkin that filled her home and the plate of salami with crackers that awaited on the kitchen table made me wonder: Is it ok to dine before we cook? She placed a Cook and Dine apron around my neck and the intimate class of only three amateur cooks began.

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We started by making the dough for the profiteroles so they could bake while we made the rest. We then made the stuffing for the ravioli to which the baking pumpkin would be added, flavored with Mostarda (a sweet and sour apricot with cherries condiment) and lots of nutmeg. We moved on to the fun part: home-made pasta! Aurora disclosed her rule of thumb: for every 100 grams of 0.0 flour, use 1 egg. We saved a ball of dough for the gnocco fritto, which we would later fill with lard and fry.

Gnocco fritto with Parma ham

We flattened the pasta by hand with a roller and then used a machine as it is near impossible to get it down to a few centimeters by hand. We cut one rectangular piece, added a small ball of the pumpkin stuffing to fill each ravioli, used a paintbrush dipped in water to wet the corners, folded the dough over, pressed down to get rid of the air and cut it into squares.

Ravioli from Modena

We used the machine to shred the rest of the dough into spaghetti for the carbonara, which was later boiled in bacon fat with a slightly cooked egg added at the end.

Spaghetti Carbonara

Separately, we caramelized the onions and cooked cubed eggplant on a skillet. We added black and green olives, freshly chopped tomatoes and raisins (yes, you read right) to create a healthy medley of Mediterranean vegetables.

Caponata from Sicily

When we were done cooking, Aurora invited us to freshen up and go sit down at the dinner table in their living room. We were asked for our choice of red or white wine and waited anxiously for the dishes we created.

The gnocco fritto was served separately from the parma ham for us to create our own bites of goodness. The ravioli was served with sage. By the time we were served the spaghetti, we were stuffed and were taking a breather. “You eat when the pasta is ready, not when you are ready,” Aurora explained. We began eating immediately. The caponata was served as the fourth course, not as the side I would have expected it to be.

I was so full I couldn’t even fit an olive in my mouth when Aurora arrived with the desert pyramid. “You don’t always have room for desert, but you always have room for profiteroles,” she said as she placed the plate in front of us. And she was right! They were served covered with chocolate and powdered sugar but thankfully the cream filling was not too sweet.

Profiteroles

Our meal lasted well into 10:30pm and just when I was afraid we may have overstayed our welcome, Aurora appeared from the kitchen with certificates of completion rolled with a bow.

Throughout the evening, her husband took photos for us, judged the shape of the ravioli, served the wine and cleaned up after us. It appears that not only is Aurora a wonderful cook but she also seems to have created the perfect recipe for a good marriage: put him to work but wine and dine him in return.

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