Yesterday was our cooking lesson day with Monica and Arianna. Their company is Cook in Venice and we had a great time with them. The day started off with us not hearing the alarm and having only about 45 minutes to shower and dress and get to the vaporetto. We ran into a bakery on the way and bought two pastries but had no coffee. We ate one pastry waiting for the vaporetto and one after we got off the vap to meet Monica at the Tronchetto Mercato stop. The pigeons of Venice have lots of crumbs to thank us for. The Tronchetto is the cruise ship depot area and cars are allowed on that island. Monica picked us up about five minutes after we arrive and drove us up the Brenta Canal past many of the very palatial homes of wealthy 18th century Venetians. We stopped first at her favorite fishmonger. What beautiful fish! She bought both cuttlefish and mussels for us to cook.
We then proceeded to go to a green grocer store. The quality of produce in Italy is amazing, almost all of it is entirely Italian grown. Each different fruit or vegetable is labeled with the place of origin. I did see bananas from Ecuador, so it is not exclusively Italian, but mostly. We have no pictures here, but imagine red, ripe tomatoes in several varieties, three or four different kinds of unblemished eggplants, flats of fresh artichokes in various sizes. Yup, you are getting the picture.
We continued to Arianna’s home where the lesson would be, and the first thing she did was make us each a cup of coffee. You are a life saver, Arianna! Monica set out some salami and asiago cheese and wine for us to enjoy and after aprons were distributed, we got started.
First we started on a loaf of fresh bread. Monica uses fresh yeast instead of the dry yeast we buy, so this was new to us.
We then got a lesson from Arianna on making the crust for the almond-amaretti torte. During this time, I proceeded to knock over my wine glass and smash it on the floor. Quick break for vacuuming and mopping. Then we gloved up and tackled the seppie (cuttlefish).
There aren’t a lot of pictures here as we were very busy learning to clean fresh seppie which includes dealing with the very black ink. First you make a deep slit in each eye to drain the contents of the eye so when you remove it next, it won’t break on you. Then you remove the entire peak assembly (the mouth area) which is at the base and inside the tentacles. Next you push the cuttlebone out, pushing on the bottom while guiding it from the top. Yes, this is the same cuttlebone one finds in a bird’s cage. How many of you knew that is where those cuttlebones came from? Then you carefully pull open the belly area, break the covering membrane and VERY carefully remove the ink sac. This is a very delicate operation and only one ink sac was broken in all the seppie we cleaned. I won’t say who broke it, but she was already responsible for breaking a wine glass. You then clear out the rest of the guts, dispose of them, and thoroughly wash the empty seppie. They are set aside for later use. Meanwhile, you have proofed the bread, punched it down and made a braided loaf which is now rising. After dealing with the bread, the torte crust is thinly rolled out and placed in the pan, and the filling of ground almonds, ground amaretti cookies, eggs and sugar is processed and placed in the crust which then goes into the oven.
Back to the table with fresh gloves, we now debearded the mussels, and steamed them. After steaming them, we opened them, removed the mussels and set them on a shell half, and sprinkled previously cut garlic and parsley and breadcrumbs into each shell, added a few drops of brandy to each and set them aside for a very quick bake right before eating (drizzle a little olive oil on them before baking in a very hot oven). Don’t use very much garlic, parsley, brandy or breadcrumbs because, as Monica says, Italian cooking is having mussels with garlic, not garlic with mussels!
Back into the gloves, this time we sliced the seppie into half inch slices. There is absolutely no waste and the entire cleaned cuttlefish is used. One or two of the seppie was cut very, very thin as it was part of the pasta dish rather than the stew dish. Off come the gloves and now we chop tomotoes, onions, garlic, parsley, and potatoes. Monica showed us how to make the pasta sauce with the cuttlefish ink, and Arianna showed us how to make the seppie stew with the potatoes, green peas, and tomato sauce. The stew cooks quite a while on the stove top, while the pasta sauce is relatively fast.
Now came the part that Alan was looking forward to, a lesson in pasta making. Arianna demonstrated while Monica translated, the biggest lesson being one egg to 100 grams of flour. The flour was a blend of 0 and 00 flours, as this was the compromise our teachers reached, being that each one had her own preference. Alan learned to make a well, add the eggs, and slowly blend the flour in.
Lots and lots of kneading came next.
Then came rolling it out so it is thin enough to see through.
Arianna showed Alan how to fold and slice it.
And boom, tagliatelle is born!
Here are some of the dishes we made. Without a doubt, this cooking experience has been one of the top highlights of our trip. We would love to do it again next trip.
And here is a picture of our two teachers.
We have one more week in Venice. Since Alan still is not feeling well, we probably will lay low again today, but hopefully by Sunday, he should be better.