On a hot Italian day, we awoke with anticipation for the experience ahead. Having spent a solid week eating our way through some of the most delicious carbs we’d ever encountered, this was the day we’d learn to cook up our own. In all of my trips to Italy, I’d never once participated in an Italian cooking class, which seems absurd to me now. If you ask either of us, we’ll be quick to tell you that the LivItaly cooking course we took in Rome was the highlight of our two weeks abroad.
Our teacher was Marilee, an American expat who calls the eternal city home. We met her one sunny morning at Piazza Sempione, a little outside of Rome’s bustling city center. As we accompanied her to local market stalls for our ingredients, Marilee shared the story of how she met her Italian husband. She’s been living in Italy and cooking Italian food for 36 years now, and we loved learning about her life and some of her favorite local shops.
She told us the sad tale of how the markets are dying down, and the ones that seem to be prospering are in fact simply catering to tourists. The authentic market we went to, while not completely bereft of stalls, clearly had seen quite a few shut downs. Still, Marilee is loyal to the vendors she’s been frequenting for years. We visited her favorite butcher stand and listened in on their sweet Italian exchanges. Doesn’t everything sound so much more beautiful in a foreign language?
Wanting to ensure we could recreate the meals we were going to cook with her, Marilee was full of ingredient recommendations along the way. She showed off the many types of ricotta and variation of meats available in Italian markets, suggesting what we could substitute for our own Italian cooking efforts in the states. Surprising to us both, she recommended we visit Eataly for our Italian cooking ingredients! Supposing that we now have a better idea of what types of products to look for, this may not be a bad idea.
After we shopped, Marilee invited us into her home and thus commenced the loveliest afternoon we could have dreamed of spending in Rome. Over the next several hours we cooked, swapped stories and ate to our hearts’ content. We made pizette, spinach ricotta ravioli, fettucine with ragu sauce, and bresaola with artichokes. We picked up some great tips over the course of the day — one of our favorites being her recommendation of Pomì sauce, which tends to be more flavorful and less acidic than a lot of the other pasta sauces out there. Also, Imtiaz spotted it in the background of a FRIENDS episode in Monica’s kitchen so obviously it has got to be amazing.
Marilee was the perfect teacher and host in one, keeping up the merriment as we kneaded pasta dough, made ravioli filling and navigated tricky artichoke shells. In between all the cooking, we paused to sit and eat each course while it was hot and fresh. Pure bliss!
We capped the afternoon off with some coffee (she allowed us cappucino even though it’s a big no-no after 11 a.m.), Marilee’s handmade biscotti and a sampling of her husband’s homemade limoncello. Before we knew it, it was time to leave to catch our train for Naples. Marilee sent us off with a thoughtful parting gift, plenty of tips to help us make our own pasta at home and fond memories of an afternoon well-spent in Roma.
Since our return, we’ve put what we learned from Marilee into action and made our own fettucine from scratch (using cake flour — another Marilee tip) when Imtiaz’s sister came to visit us in July. Next, we’ll be recreating ravioli!
Thank you, Marilee, for the experience that continues to give.
*A version of this post originally appeared on TheCityLane.com