Yes, I am back in cooking school. It was a bit of a toss-up as to whether or not I wanted to take the Level Two classes at The New School of Cooking here in Los Angeles. After stressing so heavily over the testing weeks of the Level One classes, I was hesitant. However, after I found out that there is no testing on this level, I decided to go for it. Plus, I convinced my friend Cathy, who went through level one with me, to take it too.
This time around, the classes will last for only three months, as opposed to six. Plus, our new teacher, Carol, has a totally different vibe than May. Don’t get me wrong, I loved May, but Carol is all about being an intuitive cook. This is just my style. She’s going to let us have our heads - to a certain extent. We’ll still get recipes, but we can get creative. Isn’t that what great cooking is all about?
The concept for this round of classes is world cuisine. Each week, we’ll concentrate on a different country. We’ll learn about the culture, regions and specialties and then get to cook various examples of them. This week’s country: ITALY!
Who doesn’t love Italian food? Carol began with a map of the country separated into regions. She started with Piedmont and Lombardy and worked her way down to Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Umbria, ending at Calabria and Sicily. Each of these areas is known for various produce because of the varying climates and soils.
Piedmont and Lombardy (Milan’s region) and the northern regions are known for their cheeses. This area has fertile soil because of the Alps and the deep lakes made from the run-off. It’s perfect grazing for cows, so the cheeses are creamy and delicious. Carol gave us a tasting of six different kinds of cheeses from the area: cheese with juniper berries and Gorgonzola from Piedmont, Fontina and Tallegio from Lombardy and a Pecorino Tuscano and Ragusano.
Arborio rice is grown in the Po Valley, so it would make sense that this area is known for its risotto dishes, Osso Buco and crème dishes.
Liguria, just below Piedmont, is considered the Italian Riviera. Genoa is in this region. The soil is rocky and not as fertile. It’s perfect for herbs, garlic and olive oil. Gee-what can these make?! You got it, pesto! Of course, since Genoa is a port city, they’re also known for their fish. In this area, they use anchovies instead of salt.
Trentino, next to Lombardy, has more Germanic influences in its food. There are more smoked pork products and dumpling noodles. Fun fact: Jagermeister is made in Trentino. Who knew?