La Propria Cucina Italiana
You never know who’s going to walk through our door—famous writers, artists and even television stars from the hit show The Office as well as Today Show host Meredith Vieira. Yet, it’s the people who fly beneath the radar you have to keep an eye upon. You know, the ones who are right underneath your nose and never let on. You see, my husband and I own a boutique wine and spirits store in Eastham. Unbeknownst to us, we had a local treasure visiting us on many occasions. Yet, it was pure happenstance that a twist of fate brought us together.
We are well known for our keen interest in wine and food across many cultures, but our personal preference for wine is firmly grounded in Italy. We specialize in wines from this hotbed of vinous lusciousness and for good reason. Italian wines feed the mind, body and the soul. For quite some time we had a client requesting off-the-radar wine values from Italy. It wasn’t until much later we discovered, purely by accident, that this particular client was teaching Italian cooking classes in the hills of Truro and using our wines to accompany the dishes.
As a borderline food-obsessive wine merchant, my mind went spinning when I heard of these local hands-on cooking classes. I’ve traveled to many parts of the Earth to learn regional cooking in countries as far flung as Indonesia. The hills of Truro? Sign me up.
Nancy Thornley has a cooking school at her home in Truro called La Propria Cucina Italiana, which translates to The Authentic Italian Kitchen. Having lived in Rome with her husband for twenty years, Nancy is a font of knowledge regarding regional Italian food and wine.
Oddly enough, Nancy fell into teaching cooking classes after a local wine tasting group she participated in became disappointed after comparing several Chiantis without food. Nancy knew from experience that Italian wine is meant to be consumed with food rather than on its own, so she offered to conduct a session for her group on Italian wine and food pairing. This session was so well received that six participants on the spot spontaneously asked her to teach them how to cook.
As with most serious cooks whose food cultures are steeped in Old World traditions, Nancy firmly believes in the notion that great cooking is a marriage of good quality ingredients and simplicity, allowing the natural beauty of the ingredients to shine. I couldn’t agree more.
My husband Kevin and I visited with the Thornleys on one of those picture-perfect postcard days with brilliant blue skies above and golden shimmering water below. When we first walked into the Thornley kitchen two things stopped us in our tracks. The first was a massive British racing green Aga stove, which is on 24/7 and provides warmth to the kitchen throughout the year. Cool points for the British stove. You don’t see that every day. The second is the view. Perched high on the cliffs of Truro, one is offered breathtaking and sweeping views of Cape Cod Bay.
Nancy’s culinary proficiency spans all of Italy. You’re welcome to choose any region you prefer to study, or any specific dishes you may wish to learn, and you’ll be rewarded with a brief history lesson, one remarkable cooking class, and some seriously good eats afterwards (and, if you prefer, a wine pairing for just a bit extra). You’ll have to contact Nancy directly for rates, but in my opinion her classes are so seriously affordable and reasonable I’m afraid to print them lest a stampede ensue and Nancy curse me for life.
The focus of our cooking class on that afternoon was the beautiful seaside region of Liguria. One might wonder why we chose such an off-the-beaten-path location, but let’s get serious. How could we resist the home of pesto?
We were presented with a beautiful menu, which started with grissini con seme di finocchio. These super-thin and crunchy breadstick-like creatures were spiked with aromatic fennel seeds that made them not only addictive but refreshing. They were made by the baker of the house—who also happens to be its talented architect—Nancy’s husband John Thornley. We paired the grissini with one of the few wines to be exported from Liguria, a light and refreshing white wine known as Pigato from the winery Colle dei Bardellini. The steep landscape in Liguria that falls off precipitously into the sea doesn’t allow for much area under vine, so it’s a rare treat to have a delicious Pigato which is genetically related to both Vermentino (also grown in the region) and the prickly Favorita from nearby Piedmont.
The main course, and the heft of the cooking class, was pansoti alle noci. These are somewhat large handmade pasta pillows (or jumbo triangle-shaped ravioli) filled with a savory mixture of locally grown kale, fresh ricotta cheese, herbs and garlic, served with a walnut and garlic sauce and garnished with bright yellow kale blossoms that were harvested after the plant bolted. (They’re delicious, who knew?) This portion of the class required three workstations. Fortunately, we came with backup.
We were joined by our good friends Brandy and Brion; Brandy was assigned the walnut and garlic sauce station because of her love of garlic, while Brion managed the technically challenging pasta station with confidence and ease given it was his first time making pasta from scratch and rolling and cutting it by hand. Kevin and I cleaned and cooked greens and prepped ingredients for the pasta filling, and then Brandy and I stuffed and sealed the pasta pockets with great care, warned of the dangers of little holes which might cause the pasta pillows to explode in the boiling water and ruin the dish (they didn’t).
The pasta course was served in the formal dining room and we paired it with a rich and aromatic red wine from nearby Piedmont called Malvira Roero Nebbiolo. The combination was heady, earthy and delicious. Even though we were nearly satiated, we then devoured an insalada verde, a simple green salad composed of locally grown wild arugula tossed with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and coarse salt.
We concluded the meal with a classic Italian dessert pairing: biscotti e vin santo. We dipped these super crunchy and not-too-sweet cookies into Isole e Olena’s sublime Vin Santo, which allowed the crispy treats to soften and absorb the nectar of the wine. Vin Santo is a semi-sweet Italian dessert wine made from dried and concentrated grapes, and it was a lovely way to end our cooking class. A final offering of espresso and we were on our way, happy as clams.
You may contact Nancy Thornley at PO Box 23, Truro, MA 02666.
Phone: 508-349-6861. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leslie Plumb is a local wine merchant who owns Town Center Wine & Spirits in Eastham with her husband and photographer Kevin Plumb. You can sign up for her wonderfully fun and informative wine emails at www.towncenterwine.com