Cooking Class in Umbria
A Summer Menu from the Garden
Ceci with Garlic and Rosemary
Fresh Strachetti Pasta with Zucchini and Tomatoes topped with Fried Squash Blossoms
Panna Cotta with Glazed Peaches
We spent four days at Podere le Olle, an agriturismo in Umbria, just 6 km from the A-1 at Fabro, but worlds away from the hustle and bustle. This charming B&B is run by Marina and Gianluca, who do an outstanding job of making guests feel comfortable and welcome. Their place is lovely: typical old stone buildings remodeled into clean, simple, and well-furnished rooms; a pool below the house; and a long view across their olive orchard to the green mountains that stretch off in every direction. Besides offering basic lodging, Podere le Olle hosts cooking classes taught by Gianluca, who was a chef in Brescia before he and Marina bought their farm 10 years ago.
Dan and I found ourselves in the sparkling kitchen in the back of the house one late afternoon preparing our own dinner. Gianluca did all the prep work and, to be honest, virtually all of the work over the hot stove. But we got to help! And just watching a chef tackle a menu from start to finish was a valuable experience because timing is everything when preparing a meal.
I took notes while watching Gianluca so that I would not forget the sequence of steps involved. Here I share those notes with you and I hope you will find sufficient detail to replicate the dishes. The recipes make four servings.
1. Strachetti Pasta
Strachetti are flat, randomly shaped rectangles of very thin egg pasta.
Stir together and mound on a clean counter or large board:
150 grams Tipo 1 flour
150 grams Tipo 0 flour
(A total of approximately 2 cups flour — all purpose is fine if you don't have Italian flour.)
Break three eggs into the flour and mix with fingertips to incorporate. As the dough becomes uniform in texture, gather it and knead like bread for several minutes until it has a smooth consistency. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest 30-60 minutes to allow the gluten to become elastic.
Cut the dough into four sections and flatten each into a square. Put through the pasta machine, starting at the widest setting, folding each piece in thirds and putting it through again several more times. Then put it through once on each successive setting until you have produced a very thin length of pasta dough. Cut into two or three sections on a well-floured board. Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut into random rectangular shapes. Sprinkle with more flour and set aside to dry.
The pasta will be cooked last, when everything else is prepared. Boil water, well salted, and add the strachetti. Cook for approximately 3 minutes, then lift with a strainer spoon and add to the Zucchini sauce.
2. Frigitelli Peppers
Frigitelli means fried, and it is a common way to prepare small sweet or hot peppers for eating as an appetizer. It should be served at room temperature.
Mince a clove of garlic and set aside.
Wash and dry a few handfuls of small, green peppers such as the variety Frigitello, which is sweet. You can also prepare hotter varieties such as Padron the same way.
Put a thin layer of olive oil in a large pan and heat it gently over medium heat. Add the peppers when the oil is hot. Stir and flip the peppers often to ensure they get browned and blistered on all sides.
Remove from the pan to a serving dish and sprinkle with the uncooked garlic, salt to taste, and more olive oil. Let cool to room temperature before serving with the chick peas below and some parmesan cheese.
3. Ceci (Chick Peas) with Garlic and Rosemary
Use fresh chick peas if available, or dried chick peas that have been soaked overnight and then cooked for an hour in boiling water. Drain them, saving the cooking water.
Mince a clove of garlic and add with some olive oil to a frying pan. Heat and cook the garlic briefly, then add the chick peas. Add salt, pepper, and a sprig of rosemary. Add a ladle of the cooking water from the chick peas and cook gently for 5 minutes until ceci begin to soften. Remove the rosemary and discard it. Cook for a few more minutes, then cool to room temperature.
4. Zucchini sauce with fried squash blossoms
Wash 8 squash blossoms, opening the flowers and handling them gently, to remove any insects, soil or pollen. Place on towels and set aside to dry.
Peal and quarter a white onion, then slice it very thinly.
Halve and thinly slice about 6-8 small zucchini.
Quarter about 2-3 cups of cherry tomatoes.
Slice a handful of fresh basil.
Put onions and olive oil in a pan, turn on heat, and cook until they begin to soften, then add basil and zucchini. Cook over high heat, keeping the vegetables moving until the zucchini begins to look soft. Add the tomatoes and salt. Add water to just barely cover the bottom of the pan, about a half cup. Reduce heat and cover, cook for about five minutes, then remove from heat and leave pan covered to finish cooking. Let it come to room temperature.
To make the squash blossoms: Put about 1/2 cup rice flour into a bowl and add enough cold sparkling water (or beer) to make a thin batter. Heat peanut oil in a small frying pan, to a depth of about 2 inches. When the oil sizzles from a drop of batter, coat each squash blossom in batter and place carefully in the oil. Cook, turning often, until the batter begins to brown. Remove, sprinkle with salt, and drain on paper towels.
To serve, cook the pasta, drain, and add it to the zucchini sauce. Arrange on dinner plates and top each serving with two fried zucchini blossoms.
5. Panna cotta with glazed peaches
Place 300 grams of heavy cream (approximately 1.25 cups) in a saucepan with 60 grams sugar (not quite 1/3 cup).
Prepare 6 grams gelatin (approximately 2 tsp.), following the package instructions.
Heat cream and sugar over medium heat until hot, then add the gelatin and continue to cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Do not allow it to boil but when it gets close to the boiling point, put it in ramekins and let it cool, then refrigerate for 3-4 hours.
Slice two large peaches into uniform, quarter-inch slices.
In a nonstick pan, heat 50 grams of sugar (1/4 cups) until it liquefies and begins to brown. Add the sliced peaches and cook, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes. Add a bit of water to help soften the peaches. After another minute, remove the peaches, leaving the ball of caramel in the pan.
Add about a half cup of water to the pan and stir until the caramel dissolves. Pour the glaze over the peaches, toss them to coat them, and set aside for dessert.
To serve, remove the pannacotta from the ramekins — you can run hot water over the outside if they are hard to remove — and place on dessert plates. Cover with the glazed peaches and sprinkle with cinnamon.