One of the things about traveling for an extended period of time is that you miss out on the things “normal” people do. Getting together with friends, making dinner and having a few drinks, that sort of thing. What if there was a way to get invited to a dinner party, with great people and delicious food, anywhere in the world? There’s actually a growing movement of places that give travelers the opportunity to eat (and cook) with locals in a laid-back, home environment. We were able to to take a part in one of these experiences while in Prague with Cook and Meet.
While this experience took place in Prague, our host Daniele is from Piedmont, Italy, and passionate about all things Italian. We learned that he conducts regular tours to Italy to introduce people to his home country (and home town, in some cases). A number of people at dinner had been on tours with him, and couldn’t say enough great things. We quickly learned that we would doing an Italian cooking night, complete with specialty Italian cured meats and wine from Daniele’s last trip to his homeland.
Our fellow dinner guests also entertained us with Daniele’s “rules” for eating like an Italian. When we suggested to him that we’d like highlight his dogma in this post, he told us “I spread civilization with pleasure!” We’ve sprinkled some example rules throughout the post, such as:
Meat in pasta sauce is used in specific recipes like ragù alla bolognese, lasagne, etc. Never use chicken or turkey on pasta or, even worse, on pizza. Your Italian passport would be burned on the spot.
When we arrived at Daniele’s flat we were welcomed like old friends. At first I wondered if we were the only newcomers to the dinner – but it quickly became apparent that old and new acquaintances were welcomed with the same enthusiasm. We were invited in, asked to remove our shoes (and shown a colorful collection of slippers to choose from to make sure our feet stayed warm), and introduced to the other guests. In all, our dinner party would include 11 guests, from Italy, Russia, the Czech Republic, and the U.S.
No cappuccino after breakfast. A large amount of warm milk after a main meal interfere with the digestion process.
After introductions and some friendly chatting, we got to work on dinner, which in addition to the appetizers, included dessert and two types of pasta sauce, complete with hand-made pasta. The dessert was a chocolate soufflé that required time to set up, so we began with that. Everyone either took part in the measuring and mixing, or peered over shoulders to see what was happening. And, of course, it wasn’t long before the first bottle of Italian white wine was opened.
The only morally and legally acceptable coffee is espresso at the bar (just ask for a “caffè”, no need to say “espresso”) or with the Mocha machine at home. “Americano” or instant coffee are seen only in HBO series.
We’re no strangers to making homemade pasta so we were familiar with the process, but it was fun to share the experience with a number of guests for whom it was the first time. A couple of the women giggled in amazement as the lumps of dough transformed, with the help of a pasta machine, into long, thin tagliatelle pasta.
Check the color of pistachio ice cream. If green, run away. Pistachios are light brown.
While some of us rolled, shaped and cut the pasta, Daniele supervised a few more guests making two sauces. There was a traditional meat ragu, and a second sauce made from the rind of oranges — something we had never heard of before, let alone eaten.
Once the pasta was cut and hanging, we started sampling the appetizers — all specialties imported from Italy. They were as beautiful to look at as they were tasty!
Always pour the cooked pasta (al dente or a few instants before) into the saucepan with the sauce. They need to be invited to merge and massaged to get married.
We (Italians) love french wine. It’s perfect for sangria or hot wine, provided that plenty of spices are added.
Once we’d polished off the appetizers, we pushed the prep tables together to create one big communal table, and sat down elbow to elbow for our meal.
The pasta was combined with a delicate sauce made with oranges and finished with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. We also had a version of Ragu Bolognese – both recipes from Daniele’s Grandmother that he graciously shared with me, and has allowed me to share with you.
And yes, he gave me that recipe too.
As we ate, we swapped stories, laughed, and drank some more wine, all with a group of people who had gone from strangers to friends in just an evening.
It’s not often enough that we walk away from a travel experience talking about how incredibly authentic the experience was, and knowing that we had made new friends in the process. This was one of those nights.
As always, all our opinions are our own.