There is no other experience in Rome that will leave you walking away from the table, over-stuffed and happy, with the sensation that you had been on the receiving end of a huge Italian hug, than Cooking with Nonna. For this one evening, no matter where you grew up, you are part of Nonna’s big Italian family. And that is a very good thing.
The minute we walked into the apartment we were warmly welcomed by Nonna (Grandmother) Bruna and her assistant/translator Alexandra. The fact that Nonna doesn’t speak a word of English did not slow her down or diminish her command of the kitchen for a moment.
Nonna immediately ushered us in and poured us some prosecco. From the first moment the party had begun. Nonna offered us a seat at the kitchen table and prepared a snack of bruschetta (toasted crusty bread, in this occasion topped with olive oil, sprinkled lightly with salt and joined by fresh ricotta cheese. She explained that we’d need a little bit to eat to start us off since we were going to be helping to make the dinner. And since that involved making fresh pasta from scratch, that would take a while.
Then, as promised, Nonna put us to work. We started by making individual cups of tirasmisu so that they would have time to set and chill by the end of the meal. I had always thought that this classic dessert was made with whipped cream. But the creaminess in the dish is actually accomplished by beating egg whites and yolks separately and then gently combining them back together before layering them with espresso soaked finger cookies.
Nonna oversaw each step, making sure that we didn’t over-stir as the egg whites and yolks were recombined.
Next, and my favorite part of the evening, we made pasta from scratch. This involved combining flour slowly with eggs, scrambling the eggs in the center of a flour well and gradually incorporating more flour from the sides until it became a firm ball of dough. She showed us tricks to knead the dough properly so you don’t end up with a grainy lumpy mass of inedible goo at the end.
And, honestly, Nonna had to take over kneading our dough ball which was dangerously close to becoming just that. By the time she finished with our goo ball it was a shiny round ball of perfection. Alexandra explained that Nonna frequently has to do this (Don’t worry, Nonna always fixes them!).
We used a classic Atlas manual pasta maker to shape and cut our dough into strands that were lightly covered in flour and put aside to dry.
Then we were ushered into the next room to use the sink to clean off our sticky hands. All the while Nonna shaking her head and gesturing dismissively. How could an architect make a kitchen with a sink in the next room? Mamma mia!
Nonna then turned our attention to the main course, Veal Saltimbocca. Which translates literally to “jump in your mouth.” This dish involved pounding thin slices of veal, adding a slice of prosciutto ham and securing them with a toothpick skewered with a sage leaf. The veal is then lightly coated with flour and sauteed in butter and olive oil.
Each of dishes that we made had very few ingredients, which is typical of Italian cooking. In Italy they choose the best and freshest ingredients and use techniques to highlight the flavors – not mask them. But the proof is in the tasting…
We ate dinner family style, drinking wine and laughing.
Everything was as good as it looks, maybe better.
We left feeling like we had just had dinner with old friends. My only complaint is that I may now be spoiled for store bought pasta. And you may be too. But I’d suggest taking the Cooking with Nonna class anyway and experiencing the best dinner of your stay in Rome.
Thank you to Eating Italy for providing us with this class. Our story and our opinions, as always, are all our own.
Nonna has provided us has us with recipes for us to share so that you can get a glimpse of what it is like to cook with Nonna, until you get the chance to be with her yourself.