CASA ARTUSI- Trip Report, Emilia Romagna Food and Wine Site Inspection
by Nancy O’Neill
Casa Artusi was set up to celebrate the life and work of the man considered to be The Father of Italian Cuisine, Pellegrino Artusi, born in 1820 to a relatively wealthy family in Forlimpopli. Seeing as the Artusi family were merchants and grocers, they fled to Florence (the heart of trade at that time) in 1851 to escape the terror and violence inflicted upon them by a notorious bandit of the area. In Florence he continued to develop his career in trade however his attentions were more and more focused on his true passions; writing and gastronomy. Living in such a cosmopolitan city, Artusi was exposed to cultures and cuisines from all over Italy and indeed all over Europe.
He started to collect recipes from Northern and Central regions while travelling for work all of which were tested by his own cooks Francesco Ruffilli and Maria (Marietta) Sabatini and in 1891 he published “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well” a collection of recipes and a cookery handbook. The book was a great success and became a traditional wedding present for the bride of Italian families. Subsequently, women from all over the country started to send Artusi recipes which their families had been using for generations resulting in the 14 updated versions being published until he died in 1911.
Marietta worked alongside him throughout his later life and to honour her dedication there is now an organisation called The Mariette Association in Italy which was set up to research, collect and log all types of information about Italian cuisine especially that of the Emilia Romagna region. You can even contact them with your own family’s heritage of Italian recipes. At the cookery school Mariettas are called in to help during the pasta and bread making classes only.
However, Casa Artusi is not only a cookery school. This modern, state of the art building located in what was once an old convent, also houses a library, a museum, a restaurant and a wine cellar/shop the latter run by Jamila Khaled, the resident sommelier. On show in the museum there is a beautiful collection of gastronomy based literature both modern and old plus a vast range of Artusi’s writings shown off in glass display cases.
The cookery school offers a variety of different private and group courses for all levels from beginners to professionals. The light, airy kitchen is decked out with 20 individual cooking stations with plenty of room to move about. While I was there I had the opportunity to part-take in a Piadina making class. Piadina is a delicious flat bread traditionally found and eaten in Romagna. With my “Marietta” Adele at my side talking me through each step I was able to make my very own Piadine in less than 15 minutes. The recipe is a simple, white flour dough which unlike most other Italian breads is not left to rise but cooked straight away on a flat non-stick pan like a pancake. Traditionally specially designed terracotta dishes were used to make Piadine which we also tried during the demonstration however I have it on good authority (from “Marietta” Adele) that the Piadina tastes better from the non-stick pan as it doesn’t dry out so much.
After our hands-on class we tucked into our own fare along with some delicious cold-cuts, preserved vegetables, cheeses and conserves. Of particular interest were two types of “Savor”, conserves/jams one made with Autumn forest fruits the other with pumpkin and both wonderfully tasty combined on top of the Piadina with Lo Squaquarone, a local fresh cheese similar to Ricotta but more like yoghurt in consistency. Also on the menu were Pesche Nettarine di Romagna IGP; a local variety nectarine which is this particular recipe was picked while still extremely unripe and green (think slightly larger than an olive) then cooked and preserved in water, vinegar and sugar. Unusual and a little bit strange but exquisite on the palate. All this sumptuous food washed down with light, fruity Sangiovese red wine made for a very satisfactory pay-off after all our hard work slaving over the stove!
An interesting addition to our gourmet culinary tours in Italy.
Piadina recipe: (makes 4 or 5)
500g white flour
70/80g soft lard
8/10g baking powder
Tepid water and kneed well until it forms into a soft, pliable dough.
Roll out 4 or 5 portions to the size a small dinner plate, cook on a non-stick pan (prick dough with a fork) until slightly brown on either side.
More info on our offerings in Emilia Romagna–