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Casa Gregorio day 4 & 5

ITALY | Thursday, 14 March 2013 | Views [614]

Day 4 at Casa Gregorio began with a visit to a farm. As we stepped out of the vans we were met with the familiar smell of cow manure blowing on the wet breeze. I don’t mind the smell, it reminds me of being on Erin’s farm when I was young. I have nothing but fond memories attached to that rich farmy smell. This farm had cows and buffalo, and because it is March, there were babies! Baby cows are just so sweet. When we rounded the corner to see the buffalo we were surprised to find that they were water buffalo, not the big hairy beasts we know from movies about cowboys and Indians. They have shorter black hair and swooping horns that sit like a bad toupee on the tops of their heads. They were very curious about us, but they never came too close.

Inside the storefront we were shown how to make sausage by a lovely woman who is going to school to learn English. She tried to do the lesson herself without Gregory translating, and she did a great job, though she has a ways to go before becoming fluent. We tasted the cheese and the sausage, and we bought some of both. Every region of Italy has a particular way they make sausage, which means each region has a signature ingredient. In the Ciociaria region that ingredient is orange rind. It is added to the raw meat before being stuffed in the casing, and it makes the sausage taste unbelievably good; fresh and citrusy.

From there we visited Erzinio, a prosciutto factory. We wandered the little shop front sampling delicious meats and breads and cheeses, and picking up items for lunch before taking a tour of the factory. Mostly what we saw were legs of prosciutto drying, curing or being processed in various rooms, along with sausage making, and on a different floor, baking. Erzinio makes delicious almond cookies that are crunchy on the outside and chewy in the middle and that melt in your mouth. We also bought almond nougat that was divine. We stayed at Erzinio and had a picnic lunch up in their event hall. We had sandwiches made in the shop, plus pickled eggplant, amazing olives, truffle spread, crunchy bread, wine, and more ridiculously good cheese. Apparently there are very few Italian prosciutto factories that can ship to North America, and those that do have a monopoly. Parma ham is the one Gregory mentioned, and it’s one that I’ve seen at home. Of course, this doesn’t include prosciutto from Spain, which is also very good.

That night’s dinner was another cooking class, all about pasta. Gregory brought in a pasta maker named Pasqualina, a woman who spoke no English but who has been making pasta for her husband every night for something like 30 years. She was amazing. We all watched her in awe as she kneaded a massive pile of flour and egg into perfect smooth pasta dough. She then rolled it so thin you could make out her board’s wood-grain through it. At some points during the kneading process, Justino joined in to help her. We all thought this was so sweet, as it was a sign of respect for this woman who has spent her life mastering one thing. I think we were all glad she could pass on her wisdom to us. It will be a long time however, before I can touch a ball of dough and either exclaim “bella!” or shake my head and take over the kneading. Pasqualina also brought her own pastry board, and a metal scraper used to get the sticky egg and flour off the board. This scraper was her grandmothers, it was made by hand, and it was more than 100 years old. It really made me realize the importance of family, of transferring knowledge, and of being good at something you love.

Pasqualina also helped us make gnocchi, which is actually easier than I imagined it would be. The ingredients are largely the same as pasta, with the addition of potato. I couldn’t believe how well they turned out. For sauces we used some of the leftovers from antipasti night, including the grilled eggplant and zucchini (aubergine and courgette), which had been marinating all day in olive oil, garlic and basil. We also had pasta e fagioli, which is small ear shaped pastas (that we made), in a tomato sauce with beans; and another sauce which had pancetta in it. All of them were delicious, but the sauce made with the grilled vegetable leftovers was unbelievable. For dessert we had an Italian cream puff (called bigne), which nearly killed me because I was so full, but was absolutely outstanding.

This was the last night we had Chef Justino with us, so we all said goodbye and thanked him for being so wonderful. I am always amazed by the patience and energy of people who work hard all day, and then come and work in a setting where they have to be friendly and nice to people. Gregory told us that Justino works in his in-laws bake shop before he comes to Casa Gregorio. In other words, he has to deal with people all day long. Perhaps the experience is different in Italy, but in my experience helping others all day can really take a toll on your behaviour towards your fellow man. Justino was always pleasant, even when I poked fun at him about the frittata incident.

After lots of wine and good conversation, we were all off to bed. When Susan asked me later what cooking class was my favourite, I replied of course, with “pasta night!”


Casa Gregorio day 5


We were up a little later this rainy day and down to the local bar for breakfast. This was the first time I got to go to the bar for breakfast, as the other two times I couldn’t get it together fast enough to make it there. Bars in Italy are not like bars at home, they are coffee bars where you go in and stand at the counter to drink your espresso. At most of the ones we’ve been to, the price of the menu increases if you want to sit at a table, and there’s usually only one or two tables to choose from. I am a huge fan of this custom for a couple of reasons: first, because the drinks are espresso it takes no time to drink them, and you can be in and out in less than 10 minutes; and second, I can’t think of the last time I saw a to-go cup. Nobody takes their coffee to go, because it takes two seconds to stand at the bar and drink it. I haven’t seen a Starbucks since I’ve been here, and I have to say I don’t miss it. Despite Italy’s severe lack of recycling programmes, their garbage is not overflowing with those green and white cups that plague Vancouver.

We left the house later on this day because we went to a wine tasting, so it would have been too early for wine otherwise. I say it’s never too early for wine, but what do I know? The winery we visited was strictly organic, and they took their vines very seriously. Most wineries let several bunches of grapes grow per vine, maximizing output without compromising quality. This winery only let one or two bunches grow on each vine, saying that this technique ensures that every grape is good enough to be made into wine. Their output is small as a result, but the wine is extremely good. They make a Syrah Rose, which is so popular that they didn’t have any for us to sample. Mom bought two bottles, a red and a white, which we will drink before coming home.

After touring the winery, we went for lunch at an amazing restaurant that was once a wine cellar. The owners have kept a lot of the old wine-making tools including an old wine press that sat in a corner of the room. The whole room was painted stone, and there were arches spreading from the centre of the room. Everything was lit from below, which showed off the arches and gave the room a cozy antique feel. The restaurant was opened just for us, and we enjoyed the remarkable room almost as much as the food. I had ricotta ravioli with pancetta and broccoli rabbe, and grilled lamb. It was perfect. Paolo had a plate of rice for lunch, and because he spoke very little English we asked Gregory why he was only having rice. Gregory replied, “he gained weight over the winter so he’s on a diet.” We were all shocked because I think it was the first time we’d ever seen a 23 year old man on a diet, especially when there was so much good food around. Perhaps it was because of the good food that Paolo thought he needed to be on a diet. I think I know then how he feels.

Our cooking class for the night was hosted by Gregory himself, and was a lesson in meat cooking. We made grilled pork loin which we flattened, breaded, fried and baked with apple; and sausage with potato, red pepper, garlic and onion. It was a much easier class than the pasta, but it was still enjoyable. Because the meat portion of the class didn’t take much time, we had a second class with one of Gregory’s staff whose name I can’t remember (possibly Alessandra). In this lesson we learned the very difficult art of food sculpture. Alessandra showed us how to make flowers out of zucchini and carrot, and also how to carve a sunflower out of potato. My potato turned out alright, but my zucchini/carrot creation was a disaster. Everyone struggled with this task, and I’m just happy nobody lost a finger trying to carve carrot with a very sharp knife. I suppose I won’t give up my day job, whatever that is…

The meat dishes all turned out beautifully, and I will absolutely be trying them at home. By this point in our stay at Casa Gregorio, mom and I hit some sort of food wall. We could not finish anything that was put in front of us (except perhaps the ricotta pie). There had been so much food on this trip already, and I can’t say no to food, especially when it is of the calibre we were experiencing. That night I’m pretty sure I slipped into a food coma, albeit temporary, as I knew there would be lemon custard croissants at the breakfast table.

Tags: casa gregorio, erzinio, farm, gnocchi, pasta, prosciutto

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