LIFE/Risa Johnson: A Day in Cuisine Class


I love Mondays.

That is something I never thought I would say, before I came to Italy.

Italian Cuisine is a course USAC students can take to learn Italian cooking methods and recipes, taught by

Renée, owner of Le Cose Buone in Viterbo.

The class starts with a short, bumpy bus ride full of chatter from Tuscia’s main campus. We all cringe as the bus bottoms out, every time. The sun is usually setting with pink and orange hues when we arrive to the restaurant in the countryside. Inside, Renée is waiting for us and she greets us at the door.

“Buonasera, ciao, ciao…”

Then it’s time to get to work. We wash our hands (in the coolest sink ever – made of a bike), and roll up our sleeves. Each week we make new recipes from a different region. This week was Sicilian. We made caponata, parmigiana di melanzane (eggplant parmesan), arancini and cannolis.

We began with chopping the vegetables for the caponata which resulted in a mountain of cubed zucchini and onions. If there is one thing I have learned from class, it’s how to cut better. I am still slow, not as embarrassingly as the first day.

I remember two Christmases ago, preparing Christmas dinner with my family, as my mom watched me struggling to open a can of cranberries and cutting vegetables painfully slow. I’m not that bad anymore. I have learned that the big knife is my friend.

After the vegetables were chopped up and thrown into a pot, Renee demonstrated how to slice the eggplant properly, douse the pieces in flour and shake the excess off before throwing them in oil – you don’t want to know how much oil – and layering them with tomato sauce, mozzarella and parmesan.

As the eggplant parmesan baked, Renee showed us how to prepare the arancini, by cupping rice, stuffing meat and cheese inside and forming a ball. Her learned hands made it look as natural as making a snowball.

But then it was my turn.

I took too much meat and cheese and not enough rice, and the rice wasn’t sticking. People snickered as my ball crumbled, but I told them to wait until they tried it for themselves, and then they understood. We rolled the arancini in eggs and breadcrumbs before they were tossed into oil to fry.

Lastly, we prepared the cannolis. Renee had already prepared the dough, which she wrapped around small foil cylinders for shaping. We made the crème, mostly consisting of ricotta, also with dark chocolate shavings and orange zest.

In the dining room, it is always freezing, because the restaurant hasn’t opened yet and doesn’t need the heater, so we put on our jackets and combine the tables so as to sit all together. We talk and take in our surroundings while we eat. I don’t know how to describe the restaurant other than a word my friend used: kitschy.

The ceiling lights are upside down tomato cans, the chairs seem to be random pieces from a garage sale and on the wall are all kinds of graphic posters, including an old advertisement for a Super Mario game. By the front door, there are sewing needles and yarn and a book on English.

On the windowsill by my seat are dinosaur toys and an old typewriter. While we were cooking, I noticed a woman decorating something in the room, and I was curious to find out what it was. In the corner of the room, there is a cabinet with dolls pressed up against the glass, contorted in different positions.

All I can say is I see something new every time.

When the first plate, this week the caponata, comes out, we get quiet, acting like starved children. As we moved on to the second and third plates (arancini and eggplant parmesan,) groans of appreciation go around the room. But the cannoli was the star of the show. We all tried to capture just the right angle of our model.

Even though the sweets are always the smallest, they deserve to be savored.

“The bus is here,” Renee says, and I feel like I woke up from my food coma. Until the next dreamy dinner.

Risa Johnson  studentessa USAC

Hi everyone, I am a journalism student from Chico, California. I study Italian and journalism at the Università degli Studi della Tuscia. In my free time, I enjoy eating Italian food, creative writing, being outdoors and traveling as much as possible.

Ciao tutti, sono una studentessa di giornalismo di Chico in California. Studio Italiano e giornalismo all’Università degli Studi della Tuscia. Nel mio tempo libero, mi piace mangiare il cibo Italiano, scrivere creative, stare all’aperto e viaggiare per quanto possibile.