A Class Act

Meet Jason and Ashley Bartner! They run La Tavola Marche cooking school, near Urbania in Le Marche, Italy.

Photo: Studio Fotografico Righi. From latavolamarche.blogspot.com
I got an email one day from our friend Joanne, with whom we have visited Italy three times. She knows how much we love Italian food, and also that I dream of attending a cooking school in Italy. The cost of cooking schools can be prohibitive and, to be honest, there would be difficulties with my participation due to my garlic allergy. Joanne’s email had a solution, though.

She told us about La Tavola Marche, and their online cooking classes. Naturally, I was intrigued... I had missed the first class, but signed up for the second and have attended several since.

They are set up as webinars, and each class lasts about an hour. As soon as you sign up, you are sent the list of ingredients for the class, and what you need to have ready when the class starts (oven preheated, water boiling, etc.). Once the live webinar starts, you and Jason are cooking together - on different continents!

The classes are taught in real time, meaning that, when you are done, it will be time to sit down to an incredible meal. Make sure the table is set beforehand and your wine Is open and ready!

If you have questions, you can ask Jason and Ashley by typing into a dialog box, and they respond quickly. You can see everyone else’s questions and answers too, and they will often weave responses into their live dialogue. One really great advantage to is that, when done, the Bartners send all participants a video so that they revisit the class, take notes, etc.

They offer classes on Sundays at 1:00pm and 4:00pm (both U.S. Eastern Standard Time). Knowing that, you can figure out when it will occur in your time zone. I like to take the early class, which means we sit down to a noon dinner in our time zone.

Another nice advantage is being able to tailor the meal to your needs and preferences. Can't eat garlic? Omit it, or use a shallot. Don't eat rabbit? Use chicken thighs. Jason is very careful to identify what is authentic to his region and distinguish his own departures and innovations.

In this regard, my favorite moment was when we were roasting potatoes and he said we could leave the skin on or peel them - it was up to us. He then said that, in Italy, one never leaves the skins on. He once did, and every plate from every Italian came back to the kitchen with little piles of very meticulously removed skins. Don't mess with culinary tradition in Italy!

Today I am sharing a pasta recipe they shared with us: Pasta alla Norcina. Like most authentic Italian pasta recipes, it is very simple, has few ingredients, and is incredibly flavorful. Jason explained that the recipe is from a town named Norcia – thus alla Norcina – which is famous for both its pork and black truffles.

I highly recommend you visit La Tavola Marche online - both their blog and website are beautiful, and I hope you will consider joining them (and me!) for an online class or two soon. Oh, did I forget to mention they are only $5 per class? Best bargain on the Internet!

My new dream is for Mark and me to visit Le Marche so I can cook elbow-to-elbow with Jason and Ashley! And eat well, of course!

Buon appetito!

~ David

Pasta alla Norcina (Pasta with Sausages & Cream)

olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
8 ounces sweet or hot sausage meat (homemade sausage recipe follows)
salt & pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
small handful of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 pound short pasta of your choice - penne or rigatoni are traditional

Shave truffles for garnish (when in season)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

Add a few glugs of olive oil (a couple of tablespoons) to a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add shallot and gently sweat, stirring, until clear and just beginning to turn golden.
Remove shallots from the oil and discard. (They are just to flavor the oil.)

Add chopped carrot and sweat (still over medium-low heat) for a minute or two.

Add in the sausage meat. Raise the heat to medium and, with the back of a large fork, break the meat up as it cooks.

When no pink remains in the meat, add the cream, lower the heat, and let it reduce by half. Give it a taste and check the seasonings adjusting by adding salt and pepper, if needed.

Shut off the heat until your pasta is ready. Then on low heat, bring your sauce back up.

Drain the cooked pasta from the water and place directly into pan. (Do NOT discard your pasta water).

Over low heat, mix the pasta together with the sauce and a handful of cheese, adding a little pasta water if needed. Give it a taste and adjust the seasonings, as needed.

Serve immediately.

(If you are able to find truffles, shave over the top just before serving or at the table.)

Serves 4.

Homemade Italian Sausage

1 pound ground pork – not too lean

1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoons toasted fennel seeds
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon anise seeds
2 teaspoons freshly chopped Italian parsley leaves
1 tablespoon dry red wine

Mix all ingredients together until the spices and herbs are evenly distributed. You will need half of this amount for the Pasta alla Norcina recipe.

Makes 1 pound.

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