Welcome to a long-overdue installment of The Side Dish! At the end of last month, my fellow food blogging friend and cookbook author, Domenica Marchetti came to Houston to teach a cooking class at the Italian Cultural and Community Center where I volunteer. Ever since starting as a volunteer cooking instructor at the ICCC last year, I have enjoyed working with Erika, the center’s programs and events director, to brainstorm ideas for new cooking classes. Last month, I suggested reaching out to Domenica to see if she would be willing to come teach a class at the ICCC, and to our delight, she accepted our invitation! If you follow Domenica on Instagram and read her blog, you will see that she travels frequently to teach Italian cooking classes both in the US and in Italy. She also leads culinary tours in Italy in partnership with Abruzzo Presto and Beautiful Liguria. Domenica has recently been teaching classes to promote her latest cookbook, Preserving Italy: Canning, Curing, Infusing, and Bottling Italian Flavors and Traditions. Domenica is the author of seven wonderful cookbooks, all of which I own and cook from frequently. As a former journalist, Domenica expertly and meticulously researches the origins, history, and techniques of all her recipes. She is also a gifted recipe developer, often drawing inspiration from meals she has eaten in Italy and from her mother and aunts’ cooking. Domenica has particular expertise in the cuisine of Abruzzo, her mother’s birthplace, and the region she has been traveling to all her life. It goes without saying that choosing the theme for her cooking class was an easy choice!
The cooking classes at the ICCC are a combination of demonstration and hands-on learning which allow the guests to learn about the history of a region and the techniques used to make the recipes. In planning the menu for the class with Domenica, we liked the idea of incorporating recipes from her latest cookbook while also including traditional Abruzzese recipes. We decided to showcase two delicious recipes from Preserving Italy at the antipasto table where the guests were welcomed with wine and stuzzichini (nibbles) of Domenica’s tuna-stuffed sweet cherry peppers, and crostini topped with sweet and sour peppers. Once class began, Domenica taught the guests how to make tozzetti (a traditional Abruzzese cookie) and spaghetti alla chitarra (spaghetti cut on a traditional Abruzzese pasta cutting tool).
The day before the class, I spent the afternoon in the kitchen at the ICCC with Erika, Kat (the center’s marketing coordinator), and my husband, Peter making ragù Abruzzese, pallottine (miniature Abruzzese veal meatballs), and seven pounds of fresh pasta, all of which we cut on the chitarra and then froze. Since the cooking classes at the ICCC are only two hours long, logistics sometimes do not allow for every student to cook their own portion of every recipe they make. The guests started their lesson by making their own portion of tozzetti which we baked and packaged for them to take home. They then rolled out their own small portion of pasta and learned how to cut it on the chitarra to get the idea of how this pasta shape is formed. While the guests were enjoying learning how to cut their fresh pasta sheets on the chitarra with Domenica, Erika and I were in the kitchen cooking the seven pounds of spaghetti alla chitarra that we made and froze the day before. We then dressed the pasta with the ragù Abruzzese, topped it with the pallottine, and served the guests the pasta to enjoy at the end of class, complete with more wine and time to socialize with Domenica and one another. The guests left happy, well fed, and with a booklet of Domenica’s recipes so they can re-create them at home.
I was especially delighted to have finally met Domenica for the first time after having been virtual friends with her on social media for several years. What a highlight! It was a pleasure to work alongside her in the kitchen the day of the class, preparing ingredients, making fresh pasta, and assembling the appetizers. We talked about our travels to Italy, our food memories, and Domenica graciously answered all my cooking questions. I never thought that writing a food blog (which can be a rather solitary endeavor) would have led to so many lovely friendships. The friendships are without question, my favorite aspect of being a part of this generous and vibrant community, and I cherish this very much. It’s the people and relationships that matter the most, with generosity, authenticity, and kindness at its core. What a lovely way to wrap up this year’s cooking classes at the ICCC. Grazie, Domenica!