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Pesce Aprile - our Italian cooking lesson

posted Apr 3, 2013, 4:19 PM by Jen Hayes   [ updated Apr 3, 2013, 4:39 PM ]
With all the delicious food we’ve been having in Italy so far, now is the perfect time to learn to make some of these spectacular dishes ourselves! We headed out to Lucca this morning for a cooking lesson from Paola, our friend and instructor from the very first Campanae Mundi trip. After a winding trip up hairpin turns to get to the kitchen space, tucked away in the middle of a vast olive grove and guarded by the ever-vigilant Oliver the basset hound, we donned our hats, aprons, and towels, and had a look at the menu we were about to prepare. Pinned to the front of our menus
were drawings of fish - today is pesce aprile, “fish April,” which is similar to the U.S.'s April Fool’s Day. 
Our cooking was no joke, though - first and most tempting, we gathered around to make the desserts. We put together a lemon cake and a chocolate cake, and had a short Italian lesson as we learned about a special crust decoration knows as ‘the beak’ that is traditional for Easter time. The crust is cut into points like a beak, or in a different translation like the corner of
one’s collar. 

We then pressed and breaded several veal cutlets in a handmade breadcrumb mixture and, with the leftover bread, tasted through an olive oil “flight,” - olive oil is serious business here! The Tuscan oil was the winner, hands-down of course. As we finished the oil and the veal was taken away
to be fried and baked, we started preparations for the star of the show - the pasta. Returning tour members nodded their heads along with the standard steps of pasta making: blending the flour, semolina, eggs, and oil together on the table to form the base of the pasta. This time however we were in for a treat as Paola brought out a couple small packets filled with a dark liquid - squid ink pasta! As we learned before, kneading is all-important in making pasta,
and luckily there were many of us to take turns working the
dough into the right consistency. We divided the pasta in two, one plain and one with squid ink, and set to work. Once the ink was incorporated into the dough we didn't have to worry about it rubbing off on our hands - but many of us were still dusted with flour by the end of our kneading! We then passed the dough through the pasta roller time and again to create the correct width... but instead of cutting it
here or forming ravioli, we were
making pasta alla chitarra this time - guitar string pasta! We coated the flat sheets of pasta in flour and laid it over what looked like it could be a big stringed instrument. We rolled the pasta over the strings until (if it was floured enough!) it fell right through in strands. We continued this process over and over until we’d worked our way entirely through the dough; at this point fresh pane came out of the oven and bottles of wine were opened, and our group convened around the fireplace while Paola finished the sauces for the dishes. Soon enough, we’d gathered around the table to partake in our hard work, declared entirely delicious by the whole group.