Arriving at the front of Cook In Milano you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d arrived at the wrong place. Tucked away in a quiet (for Milan) neighbourhood in an apartment block with an arched and very private entrance into a courtyard. The doorman smiled knowingly, our fish out of water look meant he instantly directed us to the cooking class. Found several flights up, Clara’s (who owns Cook in Milano) apartment is as warm and welcoming as the host. Greeting us with a wide, immutable smile- Clara guides us into her living room where we meet the other three students, take in the menu we’ll cook for the morning and don our aprons. The day was already running warm as we stepped into the heat of the kitchen.
Opposed to a long list of courses, the menu for our cookery class was three different pastas followed by a simple, but utterly delicious dessert of macerated strawberries topped with homemade vanilla gelato. It was a kitchen you knew been loved through copious if not unending amounts of use. The course is kept to a maximum of 6 students and as one didn’t show the 5 of us had plenty of room to work with. The cooking began with the making of the fresh pasta dough. We started with tagliatelle both a normal fresh version and a spinach variant which was a verdant, deep green on finish. It was the second time we’d made pasta- though this time it was much, much better. I enjoy bringing the dough together by hand and the kneading was therapeutic as always.
Whilst the dough rested we made a start on the sauces. A tomato sauce for the gnocchi we were to make later, a three-cheese sauce for a rigatoni (unfortunately not homemade) style mac and cheese, and a fresh Genovese pesto. The room filled with the smells of simmering tomatoes, grated Parmesan from a well-aged block and freshly chopped basil. The top tip at this stage was once the Parmesan was reduced to the rind it was added to the tomato sauce to further impart its flavour. As the sauce simmered gently we all turned our attention to the pesto as each of us added a different ingredient from the basil to pine nuts and ricotta and as it came together it became smooth and grass green in colour. The flavour was sublime as the cheeses balanced and that unmistakable hit of basil came through compounded by the salt.
The tomatoes were on a low heat and I made a start on peeling the potatoes for the gnocchi. Once peeled and boiled they went into a ricer (a tool I’ve since purchased for making my own) and were mixed with the rest of the usual pasta ingredients. Bound and rolled into sausages they were carefully sliced into fingertip sized pieces. This is where the magic really happened. Each taking a gnocchi board (somewhere between a washboard and percussion instrument) each piece was pinched and rolled to give those unmistakable grooves. The grooves are made so that the sauce is held better by the gnocchi and gnocchi which doesn’t undergo this is considered inferior and probably not worth eating.
Whilst all of this was going on, the strawberries had been chopped and left sitting in sugar and squeezed fresh lemon and the whirring of the gelato machine was in the background. Lashings if not lakes of cream, egg yolks, sugar and fresh vanilla bean stirred to a silk like consistency, waiting for dessert time to arrive.
The pasta dough for the tagliatelle had finished resting and we rolled into a rectangle shape. Then the real work began, rolling and stretching, rolling and stretching. This was opposed to using a pasta machine roller. We were told good pasta could be seen through, but great pasta could be read through. We placed name tags underneath to know we’d gotten to the right thickness before the pasta was folded over and over. This gave a manageable sized piece of dough to contend with for slicing as we made our way along. Unfurling the pieces, they were then left to dry slightly on an enormous drying rack whilst the rest of the dishes came together.
The gnocchi had been left to prove and were ready to be cooked. Added to a saucepan on a rolling boil they sunk to the bottom. We were told that gnocchi are ready when they float to the top, a mere 3 minutes or so and they started to do just that, a stir of the pot sent most soaring to the surface. They were taken and added to the tomato sauce and stirred through. The rigatoni and cheese sauce were baked and removed from the oven. The cheese had browned and darkened in places and was still bubbling even as it was taken to the dining table. The fresh tagliatelle was pulled from the racks and quickly boiled, 2 or 3 minutes max before being immersed in the Genovese pesto and tossed.
Everything was brought together and we stopped for a celebratory toast of prosecco commending our efforts before we assembled in the dining room. Clara was an excellent dinner party host as well as a teacher as we took our seats filling our bellies and the room with laughter. The pastas were plated, cheese oozing from the rigatoni and the pesto and tomato sauce combining on the plate, a Holy Trinity of food. The wine served alongside was a refreshing and fragrant rosé. As an anecdote the grapes for this one were grown on vineyards reclaimed from Mafia activities and the company was run by those who otherwise would’ve fallen into gang-related crime.
I had serving after serving of pasta (even packing some up for our train journey the next day). Followed by one of the most memorable desserts. The homemade gelato and macerated strawberries. The gelato was luxurious and heavily punctuated with vanilla- perfect. The strawberries prevented the gelato by itself from being too rich a dessert and offered a freshness to the dish that otherwise would’ve been lacking. Combined with the biscuit that worked as an edible mop it was a delight.
Diplomas, recipe books and pasta packed. We bid Clara goodbye along with the other students and practically rolled out onto the street in search of our next adventure in Milan. It wasn’t long before it was time for an aperitif.