How do you fall deeper in love with a man? Watch him cook for you! How do you fall deeper in love with a place? Learn to cook one of the dishes that its residents cherish.She said: Blessedly often, I am able to observe my sweet man working his magic in the kitchen since he is the far superior cook of this duo I am one half of. At home in New York, I often take it for granted — I won’t lie — when I am doing the dishes, I just wish we had the money to order in every night so neither of us had to slave over pans or a sink. (Who hasn’t wished that at one time?!) BUT, when we found ourselves in Emilia-Romagna taking a cooking class with Federica at Podere San Giuliano, an agritourismo just outside Bologna, I fell deeper in love with Danté watching him follow the chef. Because I noticed how much of an expert he already was at handling a knife, sensing proper measurements and generally knowing his way around a kitchen he’d never even been in, till moments before tools were thrust into his hand. He was a natural! The sweet Federica taught us how to make the local dish: Tagliatelle Bolognese. In the United States, I often see Spaghetti Bolognese on the menu so I thought I was familiar with the dish we’d be learning to make. I was wrong. What I am familiar with is actually quite a bastardized version of the true Bolognese Ragu. What we learned to create is a meat sauce that simmers for hours and is served over a wide, flat noodle called Tagliatelle that bears little resemblance to what we find in American restaurants. Passed down through generations, a dish almost all Emilia-Romagna residents learned from their mama and their mama’s mama, the recipe can vary slightly but the heart of the dish is always the same. It combines very finely chopped carrots, onions and celery with several kinds of meat and tomato sauce (as well as seasonings of course) which are combined with water and boil down over time to a thick sauce that hugs the tagliatelle noodles when finally served. It’s a dish that is also enjoyed reheated, making for great leftovers. Federica taught us not only how to make the ragu, but also how to make, from scratch, tagliatelle noodles. After the several hours-long process was completed, we sat with her in the main dining room over plates of past and sauce, glasses of wine made from grapes on the property and talked about cooking, about life, about love. When her young son joined us begging for some of his mama’s ragu, I had to smile and even laugh just a little. Neither Danté nor I have an Italian mama in Emilia-Romagna but it felt for just a minute like we could understand the love that they put into their cooking. And since Danté is Italian by ancestry, I felt for the first time I had a connection to one of my favorite countries that will turn into a deep and abiding love which I’ll carry with me for life. This is what happens when you learn about a country through its traditions and through its food, alongside the one you love.He said: I must admit, from someone who really enjoys the art of cooking, I was really excited to learn that a cooking lesson was on the itinerary – not to mention that we would be preparing a classic Italian dish I’ve always wanted to learn how to make, Tagliatelle Bolognese. My love of cooking comes from my father. He has been the single most important influence on my life, having solely raised me since I was little. One of the many things he has taught me is the basics of cooking, the proper technique of using a chef’s knife, how to prepare and execute a recipe. It’s amazing how much a child can learn just by watching their parent through the years as they prepare lunch or dinner. The art of cooking (and I consider it to be an art form) almost becomes second nature, especially when I’ve been watching a chef like my father do it over and over again. This was the first time I had ever taken cooking instructions from someone other than my dad. And much like cooking with him, I felt totally at ease in the kitchen with Federica. She was very patient, warm, friendly and her English was excellent. Spending several hours with her cooking, chatting, drinking wine and eating embodied the Italian spirit and was a perfect example of the wonderful hospitality of the Italian people. This was an afternoon I will never forget. I’m glad to bring back home with me the knowledge of how to make this dish and the memories that this afternoon provided.
September 11, 2013