Scott and I have had such a great time exploring Italy. We've been to Capri, the Amalfi coast, and currently staying in Venice before heading home to our little ones. One of the most rewarding and memorable experiences we've had on this trip has definitely been the authentic Italian cooking course we took together at Villa Maria Hotel in Ravello, Italy. (Thanks, Lauren and Josh for the opportunity!)
Look at these views! It was breathtaking. The area, near the Amalfi coast, is known for its lush produce and sprawling vineyards.
Time for our lesson! We met with Vincenzo, who would be our teacher and guide through the courses. A local cheesemaker, Biago, also joined us to help make some homemade mozzarella.
One of Vincenzo's lessons was how to flip the pan of pasta. It's way harder than it looks! Luckily, Scott and I mastered it after a few too many tries.
Our first recipe was a DELICIOUS spaghetti with basil and Parmigiana. The flavor all came down to the fresh ingredients from the garden--especially the basil. When boiling the water, Vincenzo taught us to add the basil in so the flavor really comes out. Also, never overdo the salt and olive oil when cooking. That's something I'll definitely keep in mind when I get home.
Each course consists of a starter, a first, a second, and a side dish. Below are a few of the other dishes we prepared and tasted during our lesson. (A helpful conversion chart for measurements here)
Shrimp And Zucchini In Lemon & Fresh Mint Sauce:
- 400 gr. very fresh shrimps
- 3 zucchini, medium size
- the juice of 1 fresh lemon
- lemon zest
- a handful of finely chopped fresh mint leaves
- sea salt to taste
- extra virgin olive oil to taste
- shrimps' broth
STEP 1: Peel the shrimp delicately and clean them, by removing the head and the vein. In a pot with 600 cl. of water, add 16 shrimps' heads, a large pinch of sea salt, a handful of fresh mint leaves, some lemon zest, yellow part only, and bring to a boil, preparing a shrimps' broth. The reduction, at the end, will be 3/4 tablespoons.
STEP 2: Rinse, drain and cut the zucchini in half, removing all the white part inside and cut them finely into julienne strips.
STEP 3: In a very hot non-stick pan, add a bit of extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of minced garlic and a generous pinch of finely chopped fresh mint. Wait few seconds and add the juice of half lemon. Add the zucchini and 2 tablespoons of shrimps' broth reduction.
STEP 4: Cover the pan and cook 2 minutes, over low heat. Add another tablespoon of shrimps' broth, mix well and make a circle in the middle, putting the zucchini around the edge and place the shrimps in the center. Add the juice of the other half of lemon, the rest of fresh mint finely chopped, cover the pan and cook for another 1 minute.
STEP 5: Serve, with the zucchini in the center of 4 serving plates and the shrimps on top. Garnish with a slice of lemon and mint leaves.
Eggplants With Smoked Mozzarella Cheese:
- 4 fresh eggplants medium size
- 16 cherry tomatoes
- 1 big clove of garlic, minced
- a handful of fresh basil leaves
- a large pinch of dry oregano
- 100 gr. of smoked Mozzarella cheese
- sea salt to taste
- extra virgin olive oil to taste
STEP 1: Rinse, drain and cut the eggplants in half, removing a little of white part inside. Rinse and make a small cut, as a cross, on the bottom of the cherry tomatoes. Add them in a pot with half-liter of boiling water, a pinch of sea salt and a handful of fresh basil leaves. Boil them for 40 seconds. Drain well.
STEP 2: Cut the smoked Mozzarella cheese in thin slices.
STEP 3: In a very hot non-stick pan, add a bit of extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of minced garlic, a generous pinch of fresh basil leaves, finely chopped and sauté few seconds. Add the eggplants, skin side up, cooking over low heat for 3 minutes. Turn and add in the cherry tomatoes, with a little of boiled water. Cook for 4 more minutes. Add a small pinch of dry oregano first, and the slices of smoked Mozzarella cheese. Cover the pan and turn off the heat, by allowing the smoked Mozzarella cheese becomes melted.
STEP 4: Serve, immediately, with some fresh basil leaves.
Some other cooking tips we learned from Vincenzo:
Always put parsley in warm oil and basil at the very end, otherwise, they will lose part of their scent.
Tomatoes must always be cut with a serrated knife, this way they will not be "crushed" by the blade.
Extra virgin olive oil is made simply by crushing olives and extracting their juice in the first eight hours after picking, when the olives have 70% green and 30% brown color. It is the only special cooking oil which is made without the use of chemicals and industrial refining. It should not go above smoking point when used.
When cooking, use the excess water from recipes to emulsify with other dishes. To prepare an emulsion, use lemon juice to liquefy salt, waiting 2 minutes.
Scott and I had such a great time exploring the rich history of Ravello's authentic cuisine. He even promised to put his new skills in action and cook the full meal for me when we get back! Hmm, we'll see if that actually happens! Either way--this was an experience of a lifetime. If you're ever in Italy, I highly suggest taking a course at Villa Maria. Visit the website here for more information.
Actress, model, active humanitarian, & Mom! Author of 'Everyday Chic'.