Travels with Jessica: Italian Cooking

We take a cooking class at Scoglio di Frisio, a restaurant near the train station in Rome. The chef praises Jessica for her excellent questions about how sauces are made.

“Brava,” he tells her over and over as they consult about the sauces, discussing how the addition of wine prevents the overcooking of the meat in the sauce, and he explains about how alcohol evaporates when Jessica says, “I am too young for alcohol,” and then further describes the various substitutions one can make if required.

My use of the knife gives him indigestion. “I do not know how you have not cut off all of your fingers,” he says, wrestling the knife away from me. “Ay ay ay.”

I have never actually heard someone say that until now, and it’s just as emotive as you’d think. Then he teaches me how not to cut off all my fingers with the knife, which is kind of useful.

He turns to Jessica to discuss the best way to cut squid for the most tender, flavorful sauce and then they move onto how the pork is cut from the cheek of a pig, which makes me a little woozy – I don’t eat meat for a reason – but Jessica is quite impressed and months afterwards makes me deal with squid in the risotto.

“My mom uses sauce from a jar,” Jessica confides, which nearly gives Eugenio a heart attack. He suggests that perhaps she should take over kitchen duties from me.

Then it is time to make the pasta – from scratch, of course. There is no need for Jessica to tell Eugenio that I get mine from a box, because he has already guessed this successfully. “How did you know?” she exclaims, and he just rolls his eyes.

“I make pasta using a rolling pin, but it is too hard for you,” Eugenio says, “so you use a pasta press, and then you will make fresh pasta, eh? And not dried, from the box.”

But Joel, the assistant, gets an extra dowel down for me to try rolling pasta myself, and Eugenio sighs, and shows me how to do it, and I’m kind of enjoying myself, there is something zen about it.

“Do not think!” Eugenio says. “Just do!”

“You are putting wrinkles in,” Jessica says as I try to roll the pasta around the dowel as Eugenio can do, and Eugenio takes pity on me and show me how to roll the wrinkles out.

Later we eat the meal we have made, a most delicious meal, and Eugenio gives us a parting benediction: “Now you will leave Rome with more knowledge than you had when you came.”

Jessica looks at me on the walk back to the hotel. “I think risotto is easier to make. I think you should probably try to learn to make risotto, and not pasta.”

I don’t take offense; I don’t have a serious interest in making fresh pasta every night. “We have had some fantastic risotto in Italy, haven’t we? Who knew you could make risotto in so many varieties?” I ask. “It is probably easier to make than pasta. I think all you need is patience.”

“Uh oh,” says Jessica.

A few of my favorite things


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