When you think of Italian cuisine you most likely think of pizza, lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs. In actuality, pizza and lasagna are from the Italian region of Campania and spaghetti and meatballs didn’t even originate in Italy. In other words, each region in Italy is known for its own cuisine, so while you might find heartier pasta dishes in some places, there are others where seafood or risotto dominate dinner tables. When I attended a family style dinner at Eataly’s La Scuola and one of the Italian born instructors from Milan boldly proclaimed, “There is no such thing as broad Italian cuisine,” I was reminded of the country’s culinary diversity.
I came across the dinner, Cucina Regionale: Focus on Liguria through CourseHorse, an online discovery and booking tool for local classes. And while this technically was a cooking class, the educational aspects of the meal were presented so seamlessly it felt like a normal Sunday night dinner amongst friends.
Led by chef Jeremy Williams, the evening focused on cuisine from Liguria, a northwest region of Italy that sits on the Mediterranean coast. Upon arrival, we were given a variety of olives and focaccia, the signature bread of Liguria. This salty starter was dressed in olive oil and paired well with the first wine, Punta Crena’s Lumassina. Made with indigenous lumassina grapes, the knowledgeable beverage director let us in on how special the wine was — if it weren’t for the winemakers of the region this varietal would be extinct due to its difficult harvesting process. The citrusy notes of the wine complemented the first course of head on prawns, oysters, salmon crudo and smoked trout.
The next course was traditional Ligurian pasta with pesto, potatoes and green beans. Each ribbon of delicious homemade linguine was drenched in the rich and satisfying pesto and worked well with the crunchy green beans and well seasoned potatoes. Accompanied by Vermentino Pianacce from Giacomelli, the piquancy of this fruit forward wine was reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc. After this I could have been completely satisfied and stopped eating, but I’m happy I did not. The next dish was cheese stuffed pasta with walnut sauce. The chef informed us that hundreds of years ago, this dish was often found on the tables of low-income families. To avoid waste, all of the leftovers were stuffed inside the pasta shells and served at Sunday supper.
The most jaw-dropping course of the evening required the strength of two men for its presentation. A whole roasted sea bass was presented and cut table side. This meaty fish was buttery and melted in my mouth. The accompanying Waxman style potatoes (steamed and then deep fried) were golden brown, crispy and perfectly seasoned. Most unusually, the fish was served with a red wine, Rossese di Dolceacqua Beragna. The beverage director told us a little secret — when pairing red wine with fish look for a wine with low tannins (such as a Pinot Noir). A high tannin red wine will overpower the flavor of the fish.
The meal concluded on a sweet note with Ligurian cookies and biscotti. They were served with a rich and slightly bitter espresso, and I used the biscotti to soak up every last drop. Even though this wasn’t a traditional cooking class, it was an evening that deepened my understanding and appreciation for Ligurian cuisine, and I went home feeling happy and full…of both knowledge, food and wine.
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Featured Photo by Citalia