Cooking in Venice with Enrica Rocca
It was the end of my summer trip to Venice, and I decided to splurge. I spent my last night in the beautiful city taking cooking classes in my beloved Italian food. I found Enrica Rocca's cooking classes, a kind of cult-of-personality cooking experience. It's as much about listening to Enrica's stories and watching her make her way around the kitchen, as it is about cooking yourself. You're welcomed into her aristocratic home on the Giudecca Canal in Dorsaduro — a 19th century palazzo carved up into beautiful apartments, with Enrica (who's technically a countess) inhabiting the erstwhile laundry room.
The master chef doesn't really believe in recipes, she believes in the best ingredients and flavors. She picks out the ingredients that look best at the Rialto Market in the morning (an outing you can accompany her on if you go in for the full day class) and brings them to her apartment to mix together with vitality and attention to detail and a tremendous amount of olive oil. You spend the lesson with an-ever full glass of wine in your hand, socializing and taking turns trying to craft your part of the meal.
It's all simplicity, fresh ingredients are layered together to help bring out one another's flavors and textures. Our antipasti:
Blended tomatoes, yellow pepper, and cucumber; flavored with garlic, basil, and chili pepper; textured with olive oil, bread and an ice cube.
A combination of a toasted freshly baked bread, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil (pictured above.)
FIGS AND PROSCIUTTO
You and I both wish we had our own at-home deli slicer to carve the most delicate melt-in-your-mouth hams. I don't even like ham, and this dish was amazing.
Here's the montage of students-in-action: We started our Pasta a la Norma with a tomato-based sauce (top left), then removed the skins from roasted red and yellow peppers for a side-dish (bottom left). This was right after the peppers had cooled off a bit, removed from the oven where they had been aromatizing the entire apartment from the beginning of the lesson. And then, it's me learning how to use the deli slicer (right)! Closely observed by Enrica's partner-in-crime, Marloes Knippenberg, to make sure no parts of my fingers made it into our sliced aubergine. Yes, I'm going to use the word aubergine instead of eggplant and I don't care if it's douchey. It's a way prettier word.
Enrica shared samples of everything with the group at all stages of the production. She emphasized tasting all of the flavors individually before combining them, because that's how you really learn what food tastes like.
PASTA A LA NORMA
For our Primi we made a spaghetti dish with tomato garlic sauce, fried aubergine, and grated ricotta. One of my classmates took charge of the tomato sauce, made from beautiful whole tomatoes and crushed-not-chopped garlic. I got to place the thinly sliced (perfectly by yours truly, thankyouverymuch) aubergine a couple of pieces at a time into the heated oil until they were perfectly browned. Finally Enrica cooked the pasta in salty water and mixed all of the ingredients together into a large bowl, with delightfully medium sized portions. A big thank you Italy for inventing meals with a mandatory pasta dish in addition to the appetizer.
Starring red and yellow peppers and diced anchovies; flavored with garlic, parsley, Australian river salt, pepper, Chinese chilies, and drizzled with balsamic vinegar and some fancy special juice of anchovy.
For the pasta we used those big fat ones, but for the side we used the Japanese-style thinner ones, dousing them in oil and piling them high on a plate to snack on while we finished cooking the rest of the bajillion amazing dishes we made. You know, you wouldn't want us to get hungry.
PAN-COOKED DUCK WITH CHANTERELLES
The piece de resistance, our Secondi, packed the most punch — easily the simplest but most impressive looking, sounding, and tasting part of the meal. Basically everything was just cooked to perfection in olive oil and parsley on the stovetop. Fancy meats and mushrooms, FTW.
The outside of the palazzo on the canal — If you're ever in Venice, you should take your own turn at Enrica's Cooking School. Or if you're not planning a jaunt to Italy any time soon, she does have a recipe book (Recipes!? Gasp, I know). It's called Venice on a Plate, but What a Plate! and all of the dishes are plated in the beautiful local Murano glass.