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From Barnes & NobleA Cooking Class with Giuliano Bugialli
Giuliano Bugialli is one of the world's foremost experts on the food of Italy. A scholar whose depth of knowledge about his country's cuisine comes from poring over ancient manuscripts looking for references to food as well as from talking, cooking, and eating with home cooks from all over Italy, Bugialli is a teacher par excellence. He came to the New York cooking school De Gustibus at Macy's to give a special class last spring, in which he demonstrated brand-new recipes from various regions of Italy. Speaking in a charmingly thick Italian accent, Bugialli was by turns funny, intense, and imperious as he shared his wisdom on cooking authentic dishes with the very best ingredients.
About Giuliano Bugialli
In 1973, Giuliano Bugialli founded the first English-language cooking school in Italy, and today Giuliano Bugialli's Cooking in Florence is one of the best-known cooking schools in the world. Students in several different programs learn hands-on cooking techniques in the modern kitchen of a centuries-old farmhouse just outside the city, eat specially prepared meals, and meet chefs in restaurants around Tuscany, or travel through other regions eating and visiting artisans like cheese producers and pasta makers. Bugialli still teaches all the classes personally, and he warmly greeted several attendees of his De Gustibus class who had visited the Florence school.
As well-known as the cooking school is, it's Bugialli's many cookbooks that have established him as an authority on Italian cuisine. He does painstaking research for each one, delving into family archives, tracking down early printed cookbooks, and talking to home cooks. His mastery of the history of the food of Italy is obvious, as is his fascination with it: "You can reconstruct a dish from a description in an old manuscript," he says. "You know that food was perishable, that people had to do all the shopping the same day, so you also learn what was available when. You can learn so much about the culture, about the lives people led."
His first book, The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, is an acknowledged classic, with menus and recipes from different parts of the country. It's particularly strong on bread-making, sauces, and desserts.
The cuisine of particular regions has been the focus of Bugialli's recent books. The Foods of Tuscany explores the wonderful and complex food of Bugialli's native region through authentic dishes and beautiful photographs, and includes absorbing descriptions of the origins of recipes and common variations on them.
His latest, The Foods of Sicily & Sardinia and the Smaller Islands was nominated for this year's James Beard Award for best Italian cookbook. As De Gustibus director Arlene Feltman Sailhac said, "I didn't think I needed another cookbook in the world until I saw this one." Recipes from coastal areas feature the freshest seafood; meats and cheeses figure in inland dishes; and wonderful herbs, vegetables, spices, and breads are used throughout. Stunning photographs of the area's landscape, people, festivals, and markets are interspersed with pictures of the beautifully presented food.
About the Menu
Bugialli began the class with a simple but very flavorful carrot salad. The carrots were boiled until tender but not mushy, then sliced and combined with leaves of Italian parsley, capers, garlic, olive oil, and delicate little slices of whole lemon, rind and all. I thought the lemon slices would taste bitter, but in fact they were delicious and refreshing in combination with the other ingredients, and lent the salad a special punch. Next came a wonderful, long-simmered dish of white beans, chard, and shrimp -- simple ingredients, cooked to perfection, that combined to make a dish more impressive than the sum of its parts. A light and tangy Italian Pinot Grigio, from the Pighin vineyard, went perfectly with both dishes.
Bugialli introduced the main dish, Pasta nell'Alveare (Fresh Spaghetti Baked in a Beehive of Pasta), by saying that he had won a fight with Arlene Feltman Sailhac over whether or not to demonstrate it. "She thought it was too difficult and complicated, but I think you can do it," he said, laughing. He explained that each region in Italy has its own pasta shapes and special, complex pasta dishes served on holidays and for family feasts; this was one of those labor-intensive special-occasion pastas. First Bugialli made fresh pasta with flour, water, salt, and eggs, expertly combining the ingredients and kneading the silky dough that resulted. Then he rolled it out in a manual pasta machine, cut the long, flat leaves into spaghetti, and let it dry slightly while he assembled the beehive. Long, thick, hollow dried pasta ("these are the real ziti," Bugialli said, "not the cut ones you find here. These are the long ones like in Italy") were cooked until almost tender, then spiraled around the inside of a large ovenproof glass bowl. It really did look like an inverted beehive! Then Bugialli cooked the fresh spaghetti briefly, combined it with a rich ground beef and pork sauce, and filled the beehive with the sauced pasta. The whole creation went into the oven for baking, and after 40 minutes or so was unmolded onto a platter. The class was suitably impressed with the result, but many were somewhat disconcerted by the fact that the ziti pasta that made up the beehive shell, unlike the spaghetti in the interior, was not meant to be eaten. But all agreed it was extravagant and delicious. We ate the pasta with a hearty Chianti, and finished with light, buttery orange-flavored cookies.
Tips From Giuliano Bugialli
- Cook carrots for salads or other preparations with the skin on. "There are the good boiled carrots, and there are the bad boiled carrots," Bugialli says. "If you skin them, all the taste comes out into the water. If you boil them with the skin on, it comes off very easily after they are cooked, and the carrots have much more taste." He also advises cooking them thoroughly, so they are fully tender but not mushy. He frowns on the undercooked, flavorless carrots he often tastes in restaurants, which he calls California style.
- Don't overuse balsamic vinegar. "I am not in love with balsamic vinegar -- too many chefs use it like they want to take a shower in it," Bugialli says. "It's wonderful used in the correct way -- it's used a lot in Italy, but only in a few dishes. A few drops in a bowl of fresh strawberries or raspberries, for instance, or with a roast, and especially with game."
- For perfectly cooked beans, first soak them in cold water overnight. Then drain them, mix in flavorings like chopped prosciutto and chopped garlic, and cook at a low simmer until tender -- this can take up to 2 hours. The key to tender beans, Bugialli says, is to cook them without salt until they're nearly done, then add salt near the end. Adding salt too early makes the beans fall apart before they ever get properly tender.
- It's essential not to overcook fresh pasta: It will become limp and sticky. Bugialli advises cooking fresh pasta for just one second after the cooking water returns to a boil, which takes only a few minutes.
- While preparing ingredients for the orange biscotti, Bugialli demonstrated a trick for grating orange peel efficiently:
Lay a piece of cooking parchment on top of a box grater, and grate the orange right through the paper. The grated peel stays on top of the parchment, instead of getting stuck on the grater. Just lift off the paper and brush the grated peel off to use.