Can you think of a better way to learn to cook authentic Italian food than standing over the saucepot at the elbow of a real Italian grandmother? Perhaps it would be better as part of a holiday in Rome. Well, if that sounds like a bit of a dream itinerary, that’s exactly what Eating Italy Food Tours offers you as part of their evening long (dinner included) “Cooking With Nonna” experience.
Set in a suburban apartment that’s been converted to a teaching space by removing the wall between the kitchen and bedrooms, “Cooking With Nonna” (Italian for grandmother) offers small group classes. Arrangements can be made for private instruction, or they’ll match you up with others who have similar interests and itineraries. “Team Nonna” consists of two grandmothers who alternate sessions, and often a translator (as Nonna may not speak English).
During our session (which started around 6pm), we were pleased to learn the secrets of moist and zesty meatballs and a fabulous red sauce. (You’ll have to take the class to find out – no spoilers here.) We were then thoroughly gobsmacked to witness the arm strength required to make homemade pasta.
After a big strong guy from Australia and I both tried and failed to come up to Nonna’s standards, we looked on (jaws dropped in awe) as she threw the dough around and pummeled it into submission with arms of steel, honed from years of pasta making and grandchild rearing. And after we’d pressed, cut, mixed, and assembled the ravioli, we each doctored our own tiramisu and headed for the table.
Just across the hall from the massive kitchen, we stepped into the family-style dining room, where a massive table dominates this space. As the food we’d just prepared was brought in we sat around and relished the work we’d done, and continued pestering Nonna about Italian cooking. She happily told us about learning to cook as a child, cooking for her own family, and the Sunday meal she was planning to cook the next day for her extended family.
Ours was a table full of travelers and eager cooks, so, naturally, all we talked about was other meals. But, as with most cooking classes, the crowd tended to be self-selecting for people who are curious about food, and, in particular wanted to know why so much of what we’d eaten around Rome was different from the “real Italian” we were offered back at home. Nonna and Kate, her translator, patiently explained that things like chicken Parmesan and other meat on pasta concoctions were generally not part of the Roman food experience. They eat their pasta and sauce by themselves, and will have, for example, the meatballs (with sauce) as a separate course from the pasta. Insights like this were worth the price of admission and helped shape our food choices for the rest of our trip. And at the end of the night, everyone in the class (regardless of their experience level) left well-fed, proud of the work they’d done, and feeling as if they’d learned a lot. And a few days after our class we were delighted to receive an email from Eating Italy containing easy to follow recipes for all of the dishes taught in our class.
In the end, “Cooking With Nonna” proved to be an excellent beginner and intermediate introduction to the Roman style of Italian cooking. It’s reasonably priced at around €85. The teaching space is open and comfortable, and the program usually includes a meal. But menus, times, and other details are subject to variation, so book early and plan your day around this experience. You won’t be disappointed.
text and photos by Glenn D. Kaufmann
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1. Personal Interviews and experiences