Nancy Sweet has turned this week’s article over to second-year LLCC culinary student Elizabeth Wright.
This spring for the first time LLCC offered “Tasty Italia” an international travel culinary program open to students and the community. They partnered with Centro Studi Italiani, a language and culture school in the small town of Urbania, Italy. As a long time chef and first year LLCC culinary student I jumped at the chance to go because it offered an in-depth look at Italian culture, history, language and most importantly to me, food! We traveled for two weeks around the Marche, Emilia-Romagna and Umbria regions, and our experiences were life changing.
The food is incredible: the wine, pasta, cheeses, vinegar … everything was fresh and perfect; for someone who’s spent her whole life eating and cooking I don’t say that lightly. Authentic Italian food is something special, I think because of the depth of history and the focus on fresh ingredients. The “agriturismos” (reclaimed farms converted to restaurants and B&Bs) and restaurants were each delicious and incredible in their own ways. The recipes are typically seasoned simply, but the quality of ingredient shines through. It’s really what everyone loves about home cooking: you feed the best to the people you love. The tradition of Italian food has this love and passion for quality at its base, and it makes it exceptional.
One of the best parts of the trip was being welcomed by so many of the producers of Italy, most of them having been run by the same family for generations. Wineries, prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar of Modena and so many more; it was incredible to experience the heritage of these ingredients first hand. The producers we met gave us new perspectives both on agriculture and cooking, and their passion and dedication to their craft was inspiring.
Italian cuisine has so much deep history, and each region still has its own ingredients, recipes, wines, traditions, even its own grape varietals. While there is huge variety in dishes as you go across the country, the one common theme of the different regional dishes is, again, fresh, local ingredients. With this background it’s not surprising that there is a huge local food movement in Italy, including the largest organic farming movement in Europe, and it’s continuing to grow.
Interestingly this is where Italy reminded me most of central Illinois, as the local food movement in our area has been growing for several years, and it’s exciting to see the success in Italy because it shows the potential for even more growth here. Helping this movement grow can be challenging, and it isn’t always the most convenient option, but after my experience in Italy I’m finding that there are lots of little changes that I can make toward eating and cooking food that is better for me and better for my community.
Learning to cook a new recipe with local ingredients is a fun and tasty way to learn about what’s being produced in an area. Going to the farmers market to shop every week can get you better quality, fresher food, and often cheaper than big grocery stores. Plus, you can learn about the farms in the area and the people that are producing our food. There are so many local restaurants now that are using local ingredients, visiting these is another great way to help build a local food community.
Slow Food USA, an organization started in Italy that promotes the idea that food should be good, clean and fair, has a chapter right here in Springfield. I encourage you to get involved if you’d like to learn more about what farmers and chefs are doing already in our area. Food is a universal piece of the human experience, used throughout history to celebrate and bring people together. It is one of the greatest ways to connect with people and learn about them and their region. Illinois is no exception to this rule – there are so many wonderful culinary experiences waiting to be discovered!
A recipe for Tagliatelle with Ragu follows, it’s a recreation of the traditional dish we ate several times in the Marche region. Most of the ingredients listed here can be sourced locally. I challenge you to give it a try – it’s worth it! Bon appetito!
Tagliatelle with Ragu
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup onion, diced fine
¼ cup celery, diced fine
¼ cup carrot, diced fine
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground pork
6 cups ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced fine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup white or red wine
½ tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 pound tagliatelle or other fresh pasta, can be purchased or recipe follows
½ cup parmesan, to serve
In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic. Add ¼ tsp salt and cook about 10 minutes until vegetables have softened. Add ground pork and cook until completely browned, if necessary drain off any excess fat. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, wine and nutmeg. Bring to a boil then cover and reduce to a simmer, let cook about 1 hour until thickened slightly. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Shortly before the sauce has finished cooking, prepare the tagliatelle. Place a large saucepan of salted water on a high heat and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions if using purchased pasta. If making fresh pasta cook just until pasta floats to the top of the water. Drain, reserving about ½ cup of the pasta water. Return pasta and water to pan and add as much sauce as desired. Serve with grated parmesan.
For fresh pasta, start with 100 grams of unbleached flour and 1 egg per person.
On a work surface, pile the flour into a mound. Make a well in the center of the mound. Crack the eggs in the center and gently beat the egg with the fork, gradually drawing in flour from the sides of the well until the egg has been absorbed by the flour. If needed, drizzle a small amount of warm water, and continue mixing. Once the dough has formed, clean your hands and the work surface. Flour the work surface again. Knead the dough about 10 minutes by hand then shape into a ball. Cover and let rest for at least 1 hour. Flour work surface again and roll to 1/8 inch thin or less. Cut into strips ⅛ wide for tagliatelle or shape as desired.
PS: Does this sound like a trip of a lifetime for you too? LLCC will be sponsoring the same trip late May 2020. Be sure to watch the LLCC website starting fall 2019 for more details!
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 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.