Dimmi come mangi e ti diro’ chi sei (Tell me what you eat and I’ll tell you who you are)
It is hard to believe that more than one year ago, I entered a Foodbuzz Recipe Contest that was sponsored by Barilla, a global leader in the pasta business. I entered with no expectations of progressing beyond the first blog post submission; after all, I typically don’t win anything of this nature. By a mere strand of luck, I was a one of six finalists (see post), and months later, I was informed that I would get the opportunity to go to Italy because the grand prize winner was unable to go. Runner up yes, but I’ll take it!! And gladly I did.
Fast forward to Summer 2012: I strategically arranged for my trip to be after graduation so that I could enjoy it wholeheartedly without any lingering worries of project deadlines, papers, exams, etc. during the school year. From July 7th – 12th, I was graciously pampered by Academia Barilla in Parma, Italy, and I could not have asked for a better way to celebrate the completion of my MBA, the amazing depth of Italy’s food (particularly in the Emilia Romagna region), and the sheer joy of immersion in Italian culture. While I consider myself sufficiently versed in Italian cuisine and cooking , there is always an opportunity to delve deeper into history, traditions, and techniques — and boy, was this the perfect opportunity to do so! I am very honored and fortunate to have been able to relish this experience.
Academia Barilla in Parma is a center that is dedicated to the dissemination, promotion and development of Italian Gastronomic Culture throughout the world. It provides cooking courses, gourmet tours, certification programs, food conference hosting, and corporate team building events. Its goal is to spread awareness and education about authentic Italian cuisine and products. It also has a Gastronomic Library that contains more than 8,000 books all related to food, from regional Italian cuisine to food culture, it has it all. This was very much a heavenly playground for me!
The itinerary for my culinary travel program that was arranged by Academia Barilla was as follows:
Day 1: Tour of Academia Barilla facility, half-day cooking course in The Art of Italian Gastronomy, guided city tour of the historic center of Parma
Day 2: Gourmet Day! Visits to a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese producer (caseificio), Prosciutto di Parma producer (salumificio), and Balsamic Vinegar producer in Modena (acetaia).
Day 3: Product tastings for extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cheese, prosciutto, compotes, and free time to explore Parma
This post will focus on Day 1, and Days 2 and 3 will follow shortly!
Day 1 began with a tour of Academia Barilla’s facilities. It’s really amazing. From the Auditorium to the Demo rooms and Library, it’s a delight for anyone interested in cooking and culture.
Promptly following the facilities tour, I was introduced to Chef Mario Grazia who would be guiding me through my cooking course. Our menu to conquer for the day (displayed below):
Parmigiano-Reggiano Flan (sformato)
Chicken Salad with Balsamic Vinegar and Pine Nuts
Raviolone with Butter and Thyme
Pork Filet Wrapped in Caul with Marsala Wine
Tortellini with Butter and Sage
Tagliatelle with Fresh Tomatoes
Mixed Nuts “Sabbiata” Style
Vanilla Gelato (also made Hazelnut, Pistacchio, and Chocolate using a Fiordilatte base)
Emilia Romagna is a special food region. Many items above are specialties of Emilia Romagna, land of regional goodies such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, and traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena, among other cultural icons such as opera (e.g., Giuseppe), cars (e.g., Ferrari, Maserati). From a friend’s request, I will post the recipe for fresh pasta that can be made into tortellini, tagliatelle, pappardelle, etc. After all, fresh egg-based pasta is another gem of this region.
Tagliatelle With Fresh Tomatoes Recipe
Courtesy of Academia Barilla
Preparation time: I hour and 45 minutes
For the tagliatelle:
- 300 grams all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs
For the sauce:
- 6 ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 1 medium onion, small diced
- 2 sprigs fresh basil, plus more for garnish
- Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- Place the flour on a tray or marble surface and make a well in the middle. Break the eggs in the middle and mix. Knead until dough is smooth and homogeneous.
- Let rest in a kitchen towel or wrapped in plastic for about 20 minutes.
- Using pasta roller, roll out the pasta to make thin sheets (divide dough into 4 pieces). Let the pasta dry a little.
- Cut the pasta crosswise into strips. The thickness will determine whether it’s tagliolini (4mm), tagliatelle (8mm), or pappardelle (16mm). Slip a long knife under the middle and lift up the strips so that they unravel. Let them out to dry before cooking.
- Brown the onions in a saute pan with olive oil. Add the tomatoes and basil. Let the tomatoes cook for 15-20 minutes. Remove basil. Add more olive oil and a pinch of salt to taste.
- Cook tagliatelle in salted boiling water for 2-3 minutes, drain, and toss with the tomato basil sauce. Serve immediately.
- Ingredients are key: Use quality eggs with bright and deep yellow yolks, fresh herbs, extra virgin olive oil (more on this in a later post)
- Pasta rollers have multiple number settings as a scale for thickness. In my class, we rolled starting from #2 to #7 (thin, but not the thinnest), but the numbers will vary by roller. Each number gets one iteration.
- Lambrusco is a lovely sparkling red wine that pairs well with the cuisine in Emilia Romagna — because some of the dishes are richer, the acidity of the wine helps mitigate the heaviness. I have seen it served slightly chilled and at room temperature, so either is fine.
In a nutshell, this was a wonderful experience for me, particularly because I am passionate about Italian gastronomy — not only is it about the cooking, but it is also a window into understanding the history and culture of a nation that has brought so much influence to the rest of the world. Finally, it reaffirmed the truth behind the many myths of Italian cuisine that has somewhat overshadowed the authenticity of its regional products and flavors. Thank you Foodbuzz and Academia Barilla for making this all possible!