Velia's cooking style

Velia's cooking style
Old World blends with New World in Umbrian countryside

By Marcia Vanderlip
Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I savored Orvieto, Italy, for two weeks while my husband taught a class in the ancient, cliff-top village. Most mornings he coached American college students while I roamed the town — gawking at the astonishing Duomo, medieval architecture and roses. Daily, I walked along the Percourso Rupe, a trail that skirts the foot of Orvieto’s volcanic butte and offers stunning vistas at every turn. I also took a culinary detour to a cooking class.

I met my teacher, Velia De Angelis, and her partner, Gianluca Antoniella, on a sunny Tuesday at their wine bar, the Champagneria on Piazza Marconi. The other student was Kristi Nicholls, a Coloradan who had learned of Velia’s classes through a Web site called Gourmet Getaways. The cost for this class was $185 online — or 130 euro.
At 10 a.m. we sped — not too fast for Italians — nine kilometers in an Alfa Romeo down Orvieto’s steep slope and snaked through farmland until we came to Borgo Fontanile, a rustic, renovated bed-and-breakfast and mini-farm. All the food — including pork, fruit and vegetables — is raised on the property for the guests of the B&B. Velia’s cooking school is another Borgo Fontanile perk.
Our hosts, Domenico Torrisi and Paola Cacciarino, greeted us and spent the day pitching in. Domenico is owner and resident handyman, farmer and butcher. This was a harvest day, so he picked cherries and peas and brought them to the kitchen. Paola, the B&B caretaker, made cherry marmalade.
Paola also laid out an Italian breakfast on the patio: Fruit tart, or crostata de frutta, her ciambellone — a sweet Italian ring cake — and some some Sicilian blood orange juice — arancia tarocco. Giancarlo prepared espressi and cappuccini for everyone. After coffee we went into the kitchen, which overlooked a swimming pool.
Velia didn’t waste any time. After a quick slice of ciambellone and a coffee she dove into prep work for the lunch menu: a stuffed eggplant roll, freshly made pasta with a basil and tomato sauce, “drunk sausage” — a stew of wine, sausages, grapes, carrots and onions — Italian breads stuffed with cheeses and sausage, and an apple strawberry tart.
“My food philosophy is to use fresh food in season,” she said as she worked bread dough. “I like simple food, traditional, new, fusion, confusion,” she laughed.
Later, after the dough had risen, she formed what she called “pane-pizza,” topped with olive oil, fresh rosemary and a soft yogurt cheese called crescenza, which she pressed into the dough. With the remaining dough we made rolls or panini. Similar to rolls I had enjoyed at her wine bar — see last week’s column — these were stuffed with Italian sausage and Edam cheese. Others were filled with roasted eggplant and sausage. We rolled the tops in sesame seeds or kosher salt.
Velia has been cooking since she was 5, but she honed her skills after leaving Orvieto at age 22. She went to London, where she learned English and worked for the Virgin Hotel Co., cooking in banquet kitchens. After earning a degree in custom service care she returned to Italy, to the Amalfi Coast to work at the resort hotel Palazzo Sasso.
In 2001, she opened her first cooking school, focusing on the seaside Italian cuisine. Three years ago, she and Gianluca moved back home to open Champagneria.
“Now we are making noodles,” she sang as Shubert’s “Ave Maria” filled the air. Velia broke the eggs into the flour well on a colossal cutting board, and worked the egg into the flour, then rolled it into a sheet with a long, thin rolling dowel. She prefers her trusty rolling pin to pasta machines. Paola lifted the pasta sheet and board and carried it to another room to dry. Later, Velia showed us how to make hand-cut “tagliatelle” — long, flat noodles. Cooking “al dente is very important,” Velia explained as she dropped the pasta into a fryer filled with boiling water. “If you overcook pasta, it becomes a simple sugar, and you will get fat. I eat lots of pasta, but I don’t get fat.” This appeared to be true.
Soon, Gianluca opened a bottle of prosecco and poured a little for everyone to go with bruschetta. It’s pronounced “brus-Ketta”; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Refreshed, we moved to the sauce. “This is a tomato sauce, not a marinara,” Velia informed the two Americans. “Marinara has anchovies.”
She dried eggplant slices and covered them with olive oil before putting them in to roast. When they were done, Velia arranged them on parchment paper in a single, interlaced layer, then added layers of basil, tomatoes and finally dry ricotta cheese. After rolling it up in parchment, she chilled it and eventually sliced it for serving. With cooked carrots she made a carrot-basil puree to garnish the dish alongside a green olive, garlic and olive oil puree.The apple and strawberry tart began with Velia directing Domenico to peel and slice apples. She tossed them in a little flour, sugar, lemon and enough strawberry jam to cover all the apples, then rolled out a pastry tart within minutes, decorating the top with pastry leaves and rosettes.
When the table was set. Gianluca opened an Orvieto Classico Salviano white and a Colli Amerini Rosso Sandonna, 2007— “merlot and ciglio grapes” he announced, to go with the drunk sausage. We all sat down together, late in the afternoon. We feasted, sipped wine and inhaled the scent of jasmine.
The eggplant recipe that follows is a great summer appetizer or main course. The “drunk sausage” was delicious and would also be a nice autumn dish. The apple-strawberry tart would be great any time. Buon Appetito!


Anonymous said…
Wow, I think you need some photos to make me want to read this post. I might have read it in the news paper, but I need images on the web. I bet you have some good ones!

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