Eight years ago when I began my Panini Girl trips to Lucca I met a very talented local woman whose passion is cooking. By day she works for the archdiocese located a few blocks away from our apartment and in her spare time she teaches cooking classes. We are lucky to stay in an amazing apartment with a very large kitchen which is perfect for a class where everyone can get up and participate in the preparation of the meal.
We began the class by making the dessert first since it needed time to chill-panna cotta with a fresh strawberry sauce. From there we moved on to our starter which was fried pizza dough that we ate topped with salumi. I grew up eating pizza fritta, but we always topped ours with a marinara sauce and a little pecorino romano cheese. There is something incredibly satisfying about the combination of the warm dough and the salty and somewhat fatty salumi. Oh-don’t let me forget to mention the creamy stracchino cheese.
Next we moved on to a the heart of the class-a lesson in pasta making. What I loved about this part of the evening was that everyone realized that preparing fresh pasta is a lot easier than you think. After we each took a turn at mixing the dough Alessandra demonstrated the traditional method of rolling pasta using a matterello (rolling pin) that had belonged to her grandmother. She made it look easy, but she also knew that it would be best if we used the traditional hand cranked pasta machine to roll out our dough.
Last year when I stayed in Lucca with a group of friends I had Alessandra and her side kick Tamara cater a dinner for us. She served us what was probably one of the best baked pasta dishes I had ever eaten-tordellata. I had never heard of it and she explained that it’s based on the ingredients in tordelli-the traditional stuffed ravioli of Lucca. When I had planned the menu for the cooking class with Alessandra she suggested making this with the group.
Since we had a limited amount of time for our class (not enough time for a baked dish) we would prepare the tordellata two ways-one which we would eat that evening where the pasta was tossed with the ingredients-spinach, parmigiano, ricotta, nutmeg and a meat ragu. The other would be the baked version for the following evening where we added a béchamel sauce to the other ingredients.
Hard to believe but we weren’t yet finished with the class. Next was our main course which was a pork loin roast with an onion sauce that was prepared on top of the stove (sorry no photos). The onions were slow cooked and rendered to a sauce that was both sweet and creamy. The peppers I’ve prepared at home many times-a saute of tri- colored peppers and shallots cooked in a tomato basil sauce with a little touch of fresh mint .
As much as we thought we would never be able to move on to eating dessert, we did. The panna cotta was the perfect finale-rich, silky smooth and yet light. Not only were all the courses classic and representative of the cuisine of Lucca, but they were not at all difficult to prepare.
Thank you to Alessandra and Tamara for teaching, feeding and entertaining us!
And as a side note, the baked tordellata that we ate the next night was worth the wait…