Finally, my first entry on the culinary course. This week, we were introduced to the cuisines from the central region of Marche, where we are. We learnt about the 2 common ways of food preparation here: in Porchetta, and in Potacchio. Basically, ‘in porchetta’ style of cooking uses wild fennel fronds which are in abundance here, while the ‘in potacchio’ style uses rosemary and garlic as the main flavoring ingredients. Centuries ago, spices were very expensive, while aromatic herbs grew in the wild, and were easily gathered by anyone, including the poor. Hence, these styles of cooking were developed as a result.
The first dish we made was Coniglio in Porchetta(Rabbit cooked in Porchetta style). Apparently, rabbits were raised as the other farm animals as a food source, and was often preferred over chicken because of its tender white meat. We cooked the rabbit in 2 ways, one filled and rolled, while other is roasted with pork rind, and served with rosemary, garlic potatoes. If this is the introduction to Marche cuisine, we are already impressed. The impression that I was given prior to this trip, was that Italian cooking was simple in that only a few ingredients are used. Well, this first lesson has proven that theory wrong. So much effort and care is given to food preparation, and the process so complex, it is in no way ‘simple’.
The next dish was Sfogliata Autunno, translated as Autumn Leaves. It’s a pasta dish that is layered like a Lasagna(but it’s not Lasagna), with different fillings like mushroom, ragu, radicchio, and zuchini, a creation of our chef insturctor, Marco, using the seasonal ingredients of autumn. The best part is that it is made with fresh egg pasta. After it is baked, the sides of the pasta is crisp while the centre parts are tender. It was a delightful explosion of flavours in the mouth. I am never ever going to settle for dried instant pasta again. I’m only going to use fresh pasta from now on.
Vincisgrassi(Lasagna Marche style)
Next, we made Lasagna Marche style(finally, a familiar dish). Again, we used fresh pasta, and we had at least 5 – 6 layers of pasta. With fresh pasta, you want to have more pasta, but back home, usually instant pasta is used and we prefer more ragu and bechamel, and less pasta. From now on, this is the kind of Lasagna I want to make.
Chickling Pea soup in Spelt Loaf
The next day, we made Chickling Pea(Ceci) soup. Ceci is one of the menbers in the family of Chick peas, but was almost extinct. Through the support of SlowFood organization, it was preserved, and you can say it’s starting to flourish again in Italy, in particular the central region. Believe it or not, we also made the spelt loaf that the soup is served in. This is one nutritious dish.
Cresc Tajat con sugo finto
The next dish Cresc Tajat is a very traditional dish made by the common people in those days. The pasta was made with left over polenta and flour. The dough is very smooth and chewy. It is cut into diamond shapes and cooked in salted boiling water like all pasta, and then served with a Sugo Finto(Pretend Sauce). There isn’t a good translation for this but it is easier to understand with the explanation. Usually, sauces are made with meat, but this dish is made with a sauce using vegetables and beans only, so technically it doesn’t quite qualify as a sauce, hence the name, Pretend Sauce in italian. Interesting!
Chickpea puree with Chicory
Using similar ingredients, we made Chickpea puree with chicory. Another very healthy and nutritious dish. However, I can only eat so much chickpeas. We usually serve the food we prepared for our lunch where we taste all the different dishes, and pair them with one. I met an ex-student of the school and he told me that he put on 6 kg in 6 weeks during the course, because there was so much good food to eat everyday. I can understand why. Look at all the food here!
Torta di mele
And how can a meal be complete without dessert? Chef Marco taught us to make an apple tart which has a base like a dense butter pound cake but has a dry crusty exterior. It was so good, even after 2 days, the flavor just develops further. We baked 2 big tarts nd 6 small ones, and ate them for breakfast and coffee break, the next few days.
Pasatelli in Brodo
Up next we have Pasatelli in Brodo, a very traditional type of pasta made with bread crumbs, flour, eggs and parmsan cheese. It can be served in a broth as shown here, or with a sauce.
Pollo in Potacchio
One of my favourite dishes is Pollo in Potacchio, chicken cooked with rosemary and garlic. The potatoes are added into the pan while the chicken is still cooking, so the potatoes are happily soaking up the flavor and the juices in the pan. It was so fragrant and absolutely delicious.
Frascarelli con Riso
Another very traditional dish we made was Fracarelli with rice. We boiled the rice in plenty of liquid, and when the rice was still half-cooked, we added the flour and cooked till it was creamy. Then we served it witha wonderful duck sauce. You can see from the picture here that the chef has transformed a simple peasant dish into a very interesting appetiser.
It is still the second day, and we are not done yet. We still have another dessert to finish off.
Varnelli mousse with coffee sauce
It took a really long time to complete this delightful dessert of Varnelli mousse. Varnelli is a liquer that has the flavor of anise seed, a popular liquer, that the italians drink after their coffee. Hence, Chef Marco created this dessert to combine the 2 flavor that are so familiar to the italians. The mousse was smooth, light and very delicately flavored, while the thin sponge base was soaked in espresso and coffee liquer(like Tiramisu).
On the third day, it was all about seafood in Marche. One of my favourites was Vongole Linguini. Usually, I would cook this dish with white wine and parsley. But Chef Aurelia did things a little differently. He didn’t use any wine, but used much of the pasta water to create a sauce to cook and coat the pasta. According to him, a good pasta will soak up the sauce, and the sauce should be cooating the pasta not the plate. It was definitely different learning to cook italian food from the italians, and in this course, we are learning from some of the best chefs in Italy.
Squid Ink pasta with fresh cuttlefish
It was ‘happy days’ for me. I finally learnt how to make my own fresh squid ink pasta, and how to tell if the pasta is perfect. For me, it’s a really exciting time. We also learnt to cook the Squid Ink Tagliolini with fresh cuttlefish, which I personally cleaned, washed, and julienned. This is one of Chef Aurelia’s specialty in his ristorante near the sea.
Fish Soup in S Benedetto style
The last dish on the third day was a dish that required a lot of preparation. This seafood soup was made with a very rich fish stock of vegetables and different types of fish bones. Usually, we(the other students and myself) use wine in preparing the soup, but, again, Chef Aurelia left out the wine. Instead, he used vinegar, which was a tradition because this dish was cooked by fisherman who had small fishes left over that were not sold, and it was cheaper to use vinegar than wine. It helped us to understand the culture and how various dishes came about. Besides, it tasted great. Chef Aurelia would rather we enjoy the wine while we ate, and that was we did. With different types of fish, prawns and all that cozze, not to mention bread, it was a meal in itself. Although, I couldn’t make it for the lessons the next day, it was already a very satisfying day for me. Cheers to the cuisine in Marche and the first week!