by Nancy Sweet, director, LLCC culinary program and operations
This past spring I traveled to Italy for an amazing two-week trip focused on Italy’s culinary heritage and customs. I was able to hear the experiences and stories of many small, family-owned businesses that have worked for generations to maintain the integrity and excellence of a number of Italian products that people often take for granted. And, during that time, I was able to eat a lot of great Italian food!
In conjunction with Centro Studi Italiani in Urbania, Italy, I traveled to three areas: the Marche region, nestled between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea; the food valley area of Modena and Parma, located in the Emilia-Romagna region and known for prosciutto, balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese; and finally the city of Rome, the capital of Italy.
Centro Studi Italian is an Italian language and culture school for international students. Founded by an Italian husband and British wife, the school has provided Italian language and culture classes and immersion experiences for students from all over the world. Centro Studi is located in a typical Italian town of about 7,000 people, where students can live a genuine Italian lifestyle, staying in their own apartments. I use the term “student,” but a student there may be the typical college student that is studying art, opera or culinary arts, or it may be a retired couple looking to experience a more authentic Italy while also learning conversational Italian.
My trip allowed me to participate in Italian language classes that included a trip with the instructor to the market where we purchased fresh figs and traditional porchetta sandwiches, all while conversing (albeit poorly) in Italian. I also traveled to several ancient hilltop towns, such as Urbino, a walled city that is a World Heritage Site, and Talamello, known for its Formaggio di Fossa, a cheese that ages underground.
I tasted local wines at an enoteca, learned the business of foraging truffles, and had an unforgettable meal at the small farm-to-fork restaurant Casa Tintoria, where Donatella, who serves as owner, chef, farmer, forager, florist, you name it, puts on an amazing and beautiful feast every night. In the Emilia-Romagna area, in Parma, I visited a dairy and saw the process of making Parmesan Reggiano from cow to wheel of cheese. In Modena, we visited a small, third-generation owned acetaia, where traditional balsamic vinegar is made and aged. One of the highlights of my trip was a cooking class at a small agrituriso right outside of Urbania. Below are several of the dishes we made that night that I continue to make at home.
If this trip sounds like a dream come true, Lincoln Land Community College will be offering this culinary-focused trip from May 26 – June 10, 2018 to both students and the community. If you would like to know more, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-786-4613 by Oct. 25.
Below are recipes from Anna, proprietor at the agriturismo Mulino della Ricavata. Though each recipe has very few ingredients, the key is to use the finest of those ingredients as possible.
Eggplant Soufflé with Tomato Mayonnaise
Serves 4 – 6 appetizer portions
*2 large eggplants
*3 eggs, yolks and whites separated
*1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
*2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
*1 ½ cups ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
For Tomato Mayonnaise
*5 medium, garden-ripe tomatoes
*1 tablespoon white vinegar
*1/2 cup quality olive oil
Peel and dice eggplants and boil them in salt water for about 35 – 40 minutes; rinse them and leave them to cool down. In the bowl of a mixer, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Scrape into another bowl and clean out bowl of mixer.
Once cool, squeeze out excess moisture from eggplant and then beat them in a mixer. Add the parmesan, ricotta, egg yolks, nutmeg and some salt and pepper.
By hand, fold egg whites into eggplant mixture until thoroughly combined. Pour the eggplant mixture in 4 – 6 small oven-safe ramekins, place on a baking sheet, and bake them for approximately 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.
Peel tomatoes and halve them; remove seeds/juice with your hands by squeezing them out. Place tomatoes in a blender, add salt and vinegar, and with blender running, slowly add olive oil. Mix for about 3 minutes.
When soufflés are ready, let them cook about 5 minutes. Evenly distribute tomato mayonnaise on plates in center. Carefully remove eggplant soufflé from ramekins and place on top of tomato mayonnaise. Serve.
Tagliatelle with Herbs
Serves 6 second-course pasta plates
*About 1 ½ pounds tagliatelle, fresh if possible
*1 bunch each:
*1/3 cup olive oil
*1 large red onion, sliced very thin
*1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
*1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Wash and dry all of the herbs and remove stems. Chop all of them very finely; it is OK to chop them all together. Mince shallot and zest the lemon.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Once boiling, cook pasta according to directions. Be sure to save one cup of pasta water after the pasta has been cooked.
In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Sauté shallot and onions for about 2 – 3 minutes then add the herbs and lemon zest. Add about ½ cup pasta water to the pan. Add the cooked tagliatelle and toss thoroughly. Arrange on a serving platter and garnish with parmesan and toasted pine nuts.
Ricotta Ravioli with Tomato Mint Sauce
Serves 6 second-course pasta portions.
*1 ½ pounds ricotta filled raviolis, fresh if possible
*1/3 cup olive oil
*8 cloves garlic, minced
*1 pound cherry tomatoes, halves
*1 bunch mint
*about 1 cup vegetable stock or broth
Heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add cherry tomatoes and cook about 4 minutes. Add garlic and let cook another 1 – 2 minutes. Add vegetable stock and let cook about 2 minutes. Remove from heat, toss in mint, and combine with raviolis. Serve.
Pork Tenderloin Medallions on Asparagus Cream
Serves 6 third-course entrée portions
*1 pork tenderloin, cut into 3/4″ inch thick medallions
*2 bunches tender asparagus
*1/2 cup quality olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
*2 tablespoons olive oil
Trim asparagus ends. Cut off asparagus tips and set aside. Cut remaining stalks into 1 inch pieces and cook in boiling salted water for about 15 minutes. Drain. Puree asparagus in a blender until smooth. When blending, slowly pour in olive oil until it becomes a soft cream.
Blanch the remaining tips briefly in boiling salted water, about 3 minutes; drain.
In the meantime, season pork medallions with salt and pepper. Heat a large sauté or non-stick pan over medium high heat. Pan fry pork on each side about 3 minutes each.
To serve, pour the asparagus cream onto a serving platter. Arrange medallions on top and scatter asparagus stems on top.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts