From how Michelangelo ate to an eggplant-intensive course, there’s one for everyone

An array of pasta fresca shapes
An array of pasta fresca shapes
Fresh semolina pasta from a Domenica Cooks Pasta 101 class. Photo: Domenica Marchetti

For those of us missing Italy, sipping Chianti or gesticulating with Duolingo might soothe withdrawals, but a cooking class led by an Italian professional could work even better. Here are a dozen virtual food and drink experiences — from a course about Michelangelo’s eating habits to a two-day eggplant intensive — that bring a bit of Italy to you.

1. Pasta and preservation with Domenica Cooks

The multi-part Pasta with Domenica Cooks series, taught by Virginia-based Italian cookbook author Domenica Marchetti, is well underway, with workshops on stuffed, hand-pulled, and whole-wheat pastas, plus more. Some classes have sold out as of this writing, but the series will restart later in the fall or winter (and you’re free to join in the middle). …


It seems so obvious

A plate of wide pasta topped with fried pasta and chickpeas.
A plate of wide pasta topped with fried pasta and chickpeas.
Ciceri e tria at Le Zie Trattoria Casereccia in Lecce, Puglia. Photos: Sara Cagle

Meat was once scarce in the southern Italian region of Puglia — but that didn’t mean that its classic dishes lacked in heartiness.

Just look at ciceri e tria. In true cucina povera fashion, the Pugliese enriched the flavor and mouthfeel of this brothy pasta dish, consisting of fresh tagliatelle and whole and mashed chickpeas, with what they had on hand: more pasta — this time, deep-fried into crispy, golden-brown ribbons called frizzuli. These fried filaments contrasted with the chewy pasta and smooth chickpea sauce so satisfyingly that the primo piatto is famous to this day.

The frizzuli are just one tasty component of this wholesome dish, which is believed to be Arab in origin. Two clues are the name and the cooking process itself (tria likely derives from itriyah, an Arabic word for pasta, while ciceri means chickpeas in Pugliese dialect). Arabs have long been known to preserve grains by drying them and frying them in animal fat — and they’re the ones who introduced dried semolina pasta to Italy by way of Sicily as early as the 1100s. …


Eating in the streets of Bari, Puglia, can be magical

Pasqua, wearing a blue-and-green floral dress, peers around thin white curtains next to pasta laid out to dry outside.
Pasqua, wearing a blue-and-green floral dress, peers around thin white curtains next to pasta laid out to dry outside.
Pasqua, a ‘pasta lady’ in Bari, Italy, takes a break from making orecchiette. Photos: Sara Cagle

“Mangia, mangia!” (“Eat, eat!”) said Porzia Petrone, the nearly 90-year-old Italian woman I’d met an hour earlier. We were eating lunch in her home in Bari Vecchia, the historic center of Bari in the Puglia region of southern Italy.

Porzia’s daughter, Rosa, busily refreshed my plate with tuna-and-tomato bruschetta and fried cod, my glass with red wine from a plastic jug, and, later, my bowl with homemade stracciatella gelato and juicy plums. I could barely keep up with the family’s conversation in the unfamiliar Barese dialect, let alone focus on the constant influx of food.

Meanwhile, the granddaughter modeled her new sunglasses and the men asked me what beaches I’d visited in Puglia — everyone seemingly unfazed that a random foreigner was joining them for Tuesday lunch, apparently a common occurrence in Porzia’s house. …


It’s not the most delicious thing I’ve eaten, but it is the most rewarding

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A panino al lampredotto in Piazza Sant’Ambrogio, Florence. Photos: Sara Cagle

I will never forget my first panino al lampredotto.

It was a hot Saturday morning in July at Da Nerbone, a famous stall in Florence’s Mercato Centrale that has specialized in simple primi piatti, herby porchetta, and panini al lampredotto, the city’s famous sandwiches of boiled cow stomach, since 1872.

I ordered my panino piccante and received a hot plastic sack of meat with that particular offal smell and bread soaked in its juices. I ate with my elbows on the counter, sweating from the spiciness of the chile sauce and the searing summer heat. …


Here’s a game to get you out of your quarantine cooking rut

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Anchovy- and mozzarella-stuffed fried zucchini flowers. Photos: Sara Cagle

Like most enthusiastic eaters, I started the coronavirus lockdown in a culinary frenzy. I finally cooked all of the recipes I’d had bookmarked since my sophomore year of college. I used and replenished my pantry staples with great frequency. And then I hit a wall with a great big splat. After six weeks of nonstop cooking, I no longer knew what I wanted to make, much less what I wanted to eat.

So I turned to my Instagram followers. (Which is to say, my mom, my friends, my mom’s friends, and a few other people who like pictures of pasta.)

I explained my predicament in a video story and asked them all to send me one to three ingredients. …


It’s the swirl, jerk, flip method

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My first attempt at Julia Child’s 20-second French omelet. Photos: Sara Cagle

This time last year, we were making omelets in Julia Child’s kitchen.

“Swirl, jerk, flip!” we chanted the three steps of Child’s 20-second omelet technique, inhaling the aroma of melting butter in the kitchen of the cook’s former Provençal vacation home.

“It’s ready. Flip!” our instructor prompted as my brightly yolked eggs coagulated before me. I held the handle of the piping-hot pan with my palm facing up, as Child instructs in The French Chef, and maneuvered my omelet onto a warm plate.

In La Pitchoune, the name of her cottage tucked in the peaceful hills of Châteauneuf de Grasse in the south of France, Child cooked and shared meals with M.F.K. Fisher, James Beard, and other figures who helped introduce French cuisine to American home cooks in the 1970s. …


I ate them because I should; now I do it because I want to

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Irresistible zucchini at Mercato Sant’Ambrogio in Florence. Photos: Sara Cagle

I’d never been a big “vegetable person.”

My favorite green thing used to be scallions, and my idea of getting my veggies in was stirring spinach into my Annie’s mac and cheese.

I know it’s a bit embarrassing, especially for an adult who’s enrolled in culinary school.

Before I started my cooking classes in Florence, I thought my vegetable-averse habits would remain the same. I’d learn how to make fresh pasta by day, eat doughy pizza by night, and supplement my diet with mozzarella cheese and pistachio gelato.

But then I noticed something: Vegetables were making their way into just about every dish we learned to prepare in class, from involtini of red bell peppers, breadcrumbs, capers, and anchovies to caponata to frittata. …


Savoring île flottante au chocolat

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Kid- and adult-friendly chocolate soup has chocolate crème anglaise, poached meringue, and a cherry on top

These last few weeks have been so serious.

Endless handwashing. Relentless cooking and cleaning. Unceasing worry. Repeat.

It’s no wonder I’ve been thinking so much about my childhood, when the hardest thing I ever had to do was choose between Easy Mac and Chef Boyardee.

Born in 1996, I was a kid during what was probably the golden age of microwave meals. …


Here’s how long days in isolation are changing the way I cook

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Photo: Sara Cagle

I thought that living through a pandemic would change my priorities.

Maybe I’d ponder the brief and instantly changing nature of life, or embrace the chance to explore things I’ve always wanted to learn about, like the deep sea or the cello.

Maybe I’d reconsider my line of work, which relies on freelance pay that’s unstable as it is.

Or maybe I’d at least consider sending out the postcards I wrote a month ago.

And, yeah, that’s all happening. A little.

But I’m still thinking about food, pretty much more than anything else.

My mind wanders to the subject of dinner minutes after I eat lunch: “OK, I’ve got tons of rice. Should I make risotto and add pancetta and parmesan? I’ve also got tons of fresh herbs to use before they turn black, so maybe I should make something a little lighter.” …

About

Sara Cagle

Freelance food and travel writer. Living in Florence, Italy, for culinary school and writing all about it on saracagle.com and IG: @caglecooks

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