Taking a cooking class in Italy is a great way to get a more in-depth introduction to the local culture, so on a recent trip we decided to take a cooking class in the Dolomites. A group of 12 of us (we sent the kids off with a babysitter) spent a wonderful morning with chef Erika in Alta Badia learning how to make two very local dishes. Both dishes, explained Erika, have been prepared by her husband’s family members for hundreds of years. She would teach us how to make a traditional Barley and Ham Soup and Frittelle, a sort of deep-fried ravioli. These two recipes were “Saturday recipes”, meaning that every Saturday the women of the household spent the day cooking, while the men worked with the land and the animals, and then everyone ate together. These recipes aren’t typical to just Erika’s family – these are traditional Saturday night dishes for the entire area.
Erika welcomed us into her compact kitchen, and explained that the farmhouse had been in her husband’s family for 400 years, and they still didn’t have central heating. Instead, a couple wood-powered furnaces heat the main spaces of the house in the wintertime. You can see the living room furnace in the photo: the white ceramic structure under the bed (used as a couch, not a bed) is a wood stove. Even in the kitchen, the stove that Erika uses daily for her cooking classes and restaurant is wood-fired.
Every inch of space in her kitchen is put to efficient use, and we took turns guessing the function of the machine in the corner that took up a lot of real estate (see photo). After many incorrect guesses (pasta machine?) she gave us the answer: it’s a butter churn.
First, Erika got the soup going, which was quick:
This soup is simple, she explained: add everything to the pot, bring to a boil, and simmer 1 hour.
After the hour had elapsed, she pulled out the ham, cut it up, and added it back into the soup. She pulled out the bay leaves and the garlic cloves, sprinkled in some freshly cut chives, and that was it. Delicious! While the soup was simmering, we worked on the frittelle.
Frittelle are a local dish, found on practically every menu in the Alta Badia, and are essentially deep-fried ravioli. The filling can be sweet or savory and the ingredients change – as they do everywhere in Italy – depending on what’s in season. Erika had prepared the fillings ahead of time: a savory spinach filling, a savory saurkraut filling (which was locally made but from a jar), and a sweet poppy seed filling. First, we made the dough:
We helped mix and knead the dough, which she then rolled into long cylinders and cut into pieces, and then we all helped roll the small pieces into circular shapes:
Everyone wanted to participate, so Erika put us to work rolling out the dough and putting a spoonful of filling on each frittella. After the filling had been put on top of the bottom circle of dough, we added a second dough circle on top and pressed down around the edges. No additional egg or water was needed to hold it together, though we did have to press firmly.
The stove was hot by now, and the pan of oil was ready. Frittelle were dropped into the oil a few at a time, and Erika turned them until they were golden brown.
Then comes the best part of any cooking class: enjoying the fruits of your labor! Everything was delicious and disappeared quickly. This was our view as we ate lunch:
If you’d like to participate in this cooking class in the Dolomites, please note that this particular class is only in Italian as Erika does not speak English, although she was very patient as I translated her lesson sentence by sentence to our group. To book it, you can contact Erika at Sotciastel if you speak Italian, or get in touch with the Alta Badia Tourism office and book this class (and babysitters, and many other great activities) through them.
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