Hannah Hardenbergh is an official CAPA blogger for summer 2018, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An American History and Literature major at Harvard College, she is studying abroad in Florence this semester.
In this week's post, Hannah discusses her hands-on experience with Italian cuisine and how this encouraged more interactions with locals in Florence.
One of CAPA’s excellent opportunities for me to engage with the culture of my study abroad city is their My Global City events. These events, ranging from boat rides down the Arno river and hikes in nearby Tuscan hills to attending lectures taught by visiting authors, encourage students to see a culture through new experiences and to learn about different customs through being active in the local community. I went to a CAPA My Global City event at Cookery World on Borgo San Frediano, in the Santo Spirito neighborhood (south of the Arno river)—for cooking school!
A photo of our recipes on a Cookery World pamphlet signed by Alberto himself!
There, I met up with a group of CAPA students from my Italian class to learn how to cook dishes with pasta fresca, risotto, and cantucci—almond biscuits that are traditionally served. Our teacher, Alberto, led us in making fresh dough balls, flattening and drying the dough, cutting the dough with the pasta cutter, and boiling it to perfection. Alberto was amiable and curious about our lives as students in the States. He wanted to know where we all lived and studied, and to our surprise he had been to almost all our home states. He told us about his life in Italy, too, complaining jokingly about not quite reaching the official retirement age. He also told us, without much sarcasm, that cooks are born a little crazy in Italy: “It’s all chemical and physical reactions in the kitchen,” he said, “Then, stop! Stop! That’s it!” He made us laugh as we asked him about so called “crazy” Italian chef habits.
Fresh pasta from the market with tomato sauce and fresh bread.
Everything about the dishes we made was simple and easy—there were few ingredients and steps, and as Alberto told us: the simpler, the better. We used water, butter, and crushed black pepper for the pasta sauce, and simply flour (no. 1!), salt, and an egg for the fresh dough. And it was so delicious! It was obvious that the quality of the ingredients was much more important than involving more spices and steps to the recipe. I learned that the number of flour is important, and that pasta fresca will never cook al dente. It also took only 2 minutes in boiling water until it was ready. Alberto’s swift hand guided the pasta into the saucepan with the buttery sauce he had heated on the stove.
Aperitivo at a local restaurant—salmon with orange slices and buffalo mozzarella with arugula—giving me inspiration to make more Italian dishes of my own!
As the dough was drying, before we had cut it into long, flat strips for tagliatelle pasta, we watched as Alberto made a risotto with chicken broth, cheese, and rice. He added asparagus and bacon, which was a really good combination. Of course, we got to test all of the dishes we helped make. Now, at home, I can make pasta from fresh dough for my family!
Fresh produce to try out some cooking of my own at our apartment.
This My Global City event at Cookery World was not only really fun and interesting, but also yet another testament to the friendly nature of the locals in Florence. They say that Italians come off as a bit cold, or standoff-ish at first, but I found time and again that the locals were happy and curious to speak with me, and to let me learn from them. The event also inspired me to get more adventurous at the market and order new things in Italian. I probably cooked about 75% of the time while I was in Italy, so I used the cooking class to try dishes at our apartment! It’s really easy to find amazing produce at the daily market in San ‘Ambrogio, and I really enjoyed trying to ask the merchants for different things in Italian.
Fresh daily pastries at a coffee shop near CAPA Florence.
I would definitely recommend CAPA’s My Global City events to future study abroad students. It was a fun, inspiring new experience, and I now know a bit more about Italian cuisine for many meals to come!
Hannah's journey continues every Thursday so stay tuned.