12 Jul,2017 By Jagabond
If they ever made a cooking reality show for bumbling, brainless chefs, I might just win. In my life I’ve been fired from two fast food jobs, and been ‘politely removed from the schedule’ at another. I was also a failure as a coffee barista and a dishwasher, before I luckily found my calling in a non-food service field. The shame has since kept me away from the kitchen and ‘eating in’, thus lining the pockets of restaurant owners everywhere.
So what was I doing at a cooking class in Italy?
The glowing Tripadvisor reviews swept me away. I quickly booked the class without remembering that the most complicated meal I’ve made in six months has been canned vegetable soup (which is really good if you add Zatarain’s creole seasoning). However, sometimes good instruction can overcome untalented students like myself…such was the case at the Cinque Terre Cooking School.
The school is nestled in the hills overlooking Monterosso, the last town that comprises the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. The class consisted of a nice cross section of the U.S. – San Diego, San Francisco, Oklahoma and Boston. The Filipino chef, Rusti, was a very patient teacher as he walked us novices through a variety of local cuisine. He even took a class photo of us!
800g small fresh anchovies
5/6 lemon juice
1/2 glass olive oil
Pinch of chili powder, oregano and pink pepper salt
Anchovies are not my favorite thing…not at all. They are a delicacy in these parts, despite being nothing more than a never used pizza topping in the U.S. I started by prepping the anchovies, which involved pulling off the head, slicing open the body, and extricating the spine…much like my freshman biology class. This process was bloody fun indeed! The acidity of the lemon juice had the anchovies ready in two hours. Not bad…the before and after pictures are strikingly different.
Basil and Garlic Sauce (Pesto)
40/50 small fresh basil leaves
1 spoon grated sardinian cheese
4 spoon parmesan cheese
50g pine nuts
1 cup of olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic and pinch of salt
Armed with a mortar and pestle, one of my favorite cooking tools, I pounded the pine nuts together with the basil. The pine nuts put up a fight, but they stood no chance. They eventually succumbed to my strength and persistence, as they devolved into an off-white slurry that blended nicely with the green, oily basil leaves.
I carefully sliced the raw pasta into half inch strips. Later the pasta was boiled and mixed with the pesto for our primi piatti, or first course. I’ve always thought that pesto looks better than it tastes…and damn does this look good!
1kg of mussels
2 cloves of garlic
Olive oil and 1 glass of white wine
Red hot pepper
I was never a mussel fan before coming to Europe. I always thought the reward was too small for the work, as you had to fork out the tiny piece of meat. Look at the chunks of garlic simmering with the mussels, and the expert flipping of the skillet. This was our second course and in case you didn’t know, mussels go great with white wine!
Sweet Bread (Pandolce)
2 eggs + 2 yolks
300g candied fruits
100g pine nuts
1 small packet of yeast
2 tbsp honey
I was never much for baking, way too messy. Kneading all the ingredients together guarantees gooey hands! This was a perfect dessert…along with the locally made Limoncello, of course. Now wash those hands!
The verdict: The Cinque Terre Cooking School is a fantastic experience for those with all levels of kitchen knowledge. It’s four hours of your life you will always remember, and you even get to keep your apron!
How to get there: Visit their website to book a class. The cooking school staff will pick you up in Monterosso, as the location is a ten minute drive from the main town square.