The Saturday before last, Cara and I took an Italian cooking class taught by a born Northern Italian lady named Wally (pronounced Volly) Maria Mazzucco Wyatt. The class was a birthday present to Cara from her mom. Cara had the choice of taking two classes or bringing me along with her for one class. She chose the latter. And I’m lucky she did.
The class was held at Wally’s home, which was amazing, her gardens spread across rolling hills in what I can only imagination was an Appalachian replication of her native Italian countryside. I’ve never been to Italy, so I’m guessing here. Cara has been and says that it reminds her of Italy because the landscape around Wally’s home is textured, on a hillside, and composed of very little grass.
Inside, Wally’s home was modern American with the hugest kitchen island table I’ve seen. That’s where the magic happened — the ravioli dough, kneaded by hand, rolled out by hand crank, and filled with fresh greens, herbs we’d just picked from her garden, and ricotta. On the stove, Wally simmered a walnut cream sauce. There were 6 of us, 7 if you count Wally, and we all pitched in and made food alongside her and washed dishes as if we were helping our grandmother prepare a Sunday feast.
In the middle of it all, Wally asks, ” Who wants espresso? . . . I do!,” she answers her own question. I can hardly believe it, and of course I want some. How often does an Italian ask you if you want espresso in her own home?
I drink it black (like her) but add a pinch of sugar. And just as I’ve finished my cup, Wally is poking around her kitchen closet for several moments and finally pulls out a glass bottle filled with a light brown liquid, places it on the table and announces, “Hazelnut liqueur . . . try some.”
Some of us are on our second pour when she says, “Oh, wait . . . you like this? Well, you just don’t even know . . .” and she pulls out bottle after bottle from that same closet, and before I know what’s happening, there are 10 bottles on the table and of course I’m trying every one. There was pecan, walnut, artemesia, pao d’arc, lemoncello, blackberry, eliser, dorato (bark of chicone tree — quinine), china (pomegranate, blackberry, and blueberry), nocino (orange peel, walnut, clove). She explains that Italians make liqueurs for health purposes, much as we make teas. Amen to that.
So, basically, in the middle of our cooking class, we take an unexpected (by all of us, including Wally) hour long liqueur tasting. And while the cooking was amazing and authentic and all of that, I’ve seen and replicated many of these methods from the culinary program. But to have the opportunity to prepare these dishes next to such a gracious and hospitable Italian chef was awe-inspiring.
But the liqueurs! That’s where the magic’s at! Wally lit up when explaining her processes and her experiments with making pecan liqueur. I want to take her liqueur class! Sure, I could probably play around with it and discover how to make it myself, but the experience of learning from her is what is inspiring!
In case you’re wondering, in addition to the ravioli, we also made baked zucchini with yogurt and herbs, eggplant balls, and a yogurt and cherry semifreddo. Delicious! We ate family-style at her dining table. The class was listed as 10am-1pm. We were there from 10am-4pm ish! Wowza! Time flies when you’re making ravioli and drinking liqueurs! How ’bout trying that at your next dinner party!