When I first heard that Nonna and I were going to be teaching a class at La Scuola di Eataly in New York City, I couldn't believe it! When I attended La Scuola's opening about a year ago to watch the Dean of students, the incomparable Lidia Bastianich, demonstrate a spring menu, I never imagined that I would have the honor of being able to share that classroom with Nonna and our students!
I was floored to learn that the class was sold out and full of some familiar faces!
Immediately I enlisted the help of Cooking With Nonna's consulting chef, Pasquale Martinelli, who assisted Nonna and I while I got carried away telling stories that accompanied the recipes. Pasquale is currently a successful private Chef in New York and has his own company , Warm Palate www.warmpalate.com. Like Nonna and I, he is also from Mola di Bari and understands the traditional significance of all the Pugliese recipes we demo together.
I decided to put together a spring menu since the class was taking place the day before Palm Sunday. Eastertime brings so many wonderful traditional dishes that Nonna and I love to make together.
Photo: Tricia Cushing - Scalcione - Savory Scallion Pie with Tormaresca, Roycello Fiano IGT 2011
Scalcione has been an Easter time staple in my family for as long as I can remember. Usually, we fast all day on Good Friday and then eat a hearty slice of Scalcione before going to Mass. Nonna wanted to show everyone how to make it the "Nonna" way and roll out the crust by hand with her favorite rolling pin, which was really a leg of a chair that predates the unification of Italy, but unfortunately I accidentally broke it going through the door as we were on our way into La Scuola! I still feel guilty! We managed to salvage what was left of it, but it will never be the same again. Nonna says she forgives me :).
Emily, Eataly's Sommelier, introduced the first wine to the class. A lovely Fiano IGT 2011 by Tormaresca from Puglia that complimented beautifully the appetizer.
Next it was time for pasta!! Nonna and I wanted to make a pasta that was refreshing and traditional. We chose the Cavatelli with Cozze and Carciofi because it perfectly represents Puglia in all its components. Besides the official pasta of Puglia, Orecchiette, Cavatelli is a close second. I like to describe it as an almost-orecchiette. When making the pasta fresh, Cavatelli are dragged across the wooden board with either a knife, or in my case my thumb and left that way where as an Orecchette would be flipped over your finger to create a little ear shape. Nonna is such a pro at making fresh pasta, and she should be since she's been doing it for 68 years!!
Our entree, Spezzatino di Agnello, was a hearty lamb stew perfect for Easter. Spezzatino is considered a peasant dish because it is made from the less expensive cuts of meat that would usually be left over.
As everyone ate with delight, Nonna and I prepped for our dessert (always my favorite part of every meal)! Bocche di Dama (Ladies' Mouths) are an almond paste cookie filled with wild Amarena Cherries and drizzled with a sugar icing. As I was doing my research, I noticed that there were no other recipes for these cookies online. I knew I absolutely had to share this special recipe at La Scuola as it's an incredibly simple and beautiful cookie with a wonderful significance. Bocche di Dama are traditionally made in my village for wedding days. It is said that every woman, whether she be a peasant or a noble, is a lady on her wedding day, and since these are the cookies that pass through the mouth of a lady, they are called Bocche di Dama. Everyone really appreciated the quick and easy recipe!
What was really a special treat was the Birthday Cake we decided to include in our menu as it was several people's birthday that evening! (It was also Nonna's 80th Birthday a few days later) If this cake looks familiar it's because it's the same cake we made on 24HR Restaurant Battle. The cake itself is a rum soaked (and Nonna likes her rum in her cake!) sponge cake with pasta reale (royal almond paste) amarena cherries, and lemon custard, topped with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. Every birthday I've ever been a part of in my family has always included this cake and I was so happy to be able to share it with everyone at La Scuola.
I was so proud of everyone on my team, especially Nonna! She never ceases to amaze me with her drive and determination even as she approaches her 80th birthday. She is still such an incredible inspiration to me as a woman and a food personality, proving to me that it is never too late to do anything in life because women have no expiration date. She is truly my favorite teacher and I will be her student as long as I am lucky enough to have her.