“I asked Barbara if she could put together a three-day cooking class. Within weeks I received an itinerary of when and where we would shop, when and where we would cook and where I would be staying. The menu: ragù napolitano, cassata di ricotta, melanzane imbottite, home-made cavatielli, pastiera and strufoli. I could hardly contain my excitement.
The italian grandmother: Maria Affinita, mother of three and nonna (granny) to an extended family for whom she has been cooking two meals a day for nearly 45 years.
Experienced she is, yet one would never know by looking at her kitchen. There were no Cuisinarts, standing Kitchen Aides, Le Creuset pots or the other trappings we associate with a ‘serious’ chef here in the U.S. In fact, Maria only used one, small six-inch serrated knife with a white plastic handle. However, what she lacked in kitchen gadgets was amply made up by the high-quality cooking ingredients we used: eggs from her chickens, meat from her butcher, local liquors and one especially important ingredient purchased at the farmacy (!) called Essenza di Colomba – a vial of concentrated citrus and flower aromas used to flavor the pastiera, the typical cake made at Easter.
Maria has two kitchens, one connected and one disconnected from the house. I am told this is the typical organization of kitchens in Campania; this way the frying odors do not permeate the house. In between these two kitchens was the most beautiful patio overlooking the Taburno mountain range in the foreground and Mt. Vesuvius in the background. I was shaken from my contemplations as Maria began barking orders at me in Italian. We needed to get cracking if were to be ready for lunchtime when her husband, children and nephews would all be in attendance.
Cavatielli are the traditional form of pasta in S. Agata dei Goti and are made with flour and eggs, but the technique is what’s noteworthy. The dough is folded onto itself several times and then cut into long strips about a half-inch wide. they are then cut into smaller strips about 2 inches long and 1 inche wide. It is these smaller pieces that are rolled into the cavatielli shape.
Taking the point of your index finger, you roll the piece of dough onto itself, creating a hollow core. The reason behind this is so that the sauce better adheres to the pasta! Don’t you just love Italians – they have created a way to get more delicious sauce into your mouth by studying the shape of the pasta!… Learning to make pasta from an Italian grandmother is an opportunity that doesn’t come around too often and it was the most profound lesson of my European cooking experience.
Maria is a wonderful woman who opened her home to me (a stranger). Upon saying our goodbyes I was caught off guard by the emotion of the whole experience. In the end, I made a new friend in Maria as well as with the entire family. This friendship is one I will always carry with me and for which I have to personally thank Barbara and Federico.
Barbara and Federico were gracious, knowledgeable and easy-going hosts. They acted as chauffeurs, translators, historians, and most importantly, as sincere friends.”