‘Don’t eat fresh tomatoes in winter’ & other things learned at Italian cooking school

The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later, you’re hungry again. – George Miller

Italian food is all about ingredients. It’s not fussy. It’s not fancy. But don’t think for a second that you can easily make it without proper instruction. Italian cooking is an art form which must be learned. Luckily, that’s easy to do in Milan.

Owned and operated by a Milanese chef named Clara, Cook in Milano is an English-language cooking school in the city’s Cadorna district. Classes are limited to just six people, giving students a hands-on experience inside Clara’s own kitchen.

The menus are varied throughout the week, and designed around the season – because Italians would quite frankly rather do without an ingredient than eat a tomato that has been transported from across the world and lost its flavor in the process.

On market days, you’ll stroll down the street with Clara before class begins. You’ll watch her carefully choose the precious organic ingredients which will become the heart of your culinary creations. But this is more than just a shopping trip. It’s an education into the habits of Italian food purchasing.

Don’t eat fresh tomatoes in winter, they don’t taste of anything. Make sure you get genuine Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Read the code on the eggs, it tells you where they come from.

marketday

The stroll is a feast for the eyes, mostly because Italian vegetables seem to shine brighter than any other country’s produce. But your taste buds will have a party of their own as you sample Italian cheeses, mushrooms, and anything else Clara feels you should try.

marketdayshopping

Once everything is purchased, it’s back to Clara’s house, where you and your five fellow classmates will begin preparing a beautiful three-course meal. No one is exempt from the prep work; whether it’s chopping onions, washing mushrooms, or peeling potatoes, you’ll be put to good use. But don’t worry – grating cheese has never been so fun.

foodpreparations

The important thing that sets Cook in Milano apart from more commercialized cooking schools is that Clara only uses equipment that you actually own. No fancy “as seen on TV” gadgets are used. In fact, you need only the most basic of instruments which are found in every kitchen.

This is part of Clara’s mission – for her students to easily transfer the skills learned in her home to their own homes, whether those be located across town or across the ocean. She only uses ingredients that are easily found worldwide, so replicating the recipes won’t mean driving 20 miles to a speciality store in your own country.

Cooking is like painting or writing a song. Just as there are only so many notes or colors, there are only so many flavors – it’s how you combine them that sets you apart. – Wolfgang Puck

Putting on our aprons

On a sunny Saturday in November, the Postcards from Milan team tested their culinary skills – or lack thereof – in Clara’s kitchen. On the menu was a perfect seasonal list of fall goodies: mushroom risotto, ricotta gnocchi, chicken baked with herbs and potatoes, and castagnaccio – a chestnut tart with pine nuts.

It seemed like quite the list for a course that would only last from 8.30-13.30, including the market tour and eating. But hey – when in Rome, right? Or in this case, when in Milan.

Cooking was truly a team effort, and while everyone had their own part to play at any given time, those roles rotated so that everyone could try their hand at each dish.

If you’re shy, get over it. You’ll be sharing a kitchen and cooking instruments with five lovely strangers in the private home of an Italian chef that expects you to do exactly what you came to her house to do: cook.

cookingtogether

Under the guidance of Clara, the gnocchi dough was rolled into bite-sized pieces – some into simple balls and others with beautiful lines made not with an expensive machine, but with an ordinary fork. Simple, organic ingredients were combined to make the delicious tomato sauce.

gnocchiprep

gnocchi

The risotto was carefully made, and the chicken and potatoes served as a reminder that Italian fare goes far beyond pizza and pasta. Clara assured us that this hearty dish is commonly enjoyed as a Sunday meal, alongside family and a few bottles of wine.

By far the most unique item on the menu, castagnaccio is a dessert like no other. Not particularly sweet and boasting a somewhat odd texture, it’s a perfect autumn treat for those whose sweet tooth isn’t actually all that sweet.

italiandessert

If this three-course meal sounds like a bit too much to create in just a few hours, don’t worry. It isn’t. You’ll even have time to enjoy your meal family style at Clara’s table.

table

And hard work doesn’t go unrewarded. Prosecco is served during the cooking process, and your meal is accompanied with wine.

You’ll be sent home with your very own Cook in Milano diploma, along with a recipe book of everything made that day. And although we’d love to share the recipes with you, we’ve been sworn to secrecy – so you’ll just have to attend a class yourself.

gnocchi2

The only thing we can say with absolute certainly is that just as Clara promises at the beginning of class, her recipes are certainly easy to cook, and the ingredients aren’t difficult to find…no matter where you live.

And that, dear readers, is the beauty of it all.

prima

Classes are held five days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday) and range from €85 to €120 per person. All information can be found on the Cook in Milano website.

Lynsey Free

Lynsey Free is founder and editor of Postcards from Milan. As a freelance journalist and copywriter, her work has been published on RT.com, RT television, Sky News, News Corp sites, and MyFox channels. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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