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5 Mar 2012

Cooking classes and my Tomato sauce

Pasta alla Norma
March is starting to look like a pretty busy month. Long time has passed since I had so many deadlines and possibilities to earn some money.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I have started giving cooking classes in my town, Bonn. It took some time for the city (represented by the Volkshochschule) to realize the need of offering public classes in English but once they started I was right there to offer my contribution.
Nothing better than some tasty Sicilian food, right? So I decided to offer two classes delving on Sicilian cuisine (one of them for vegetarians) and so far the answer has been excellent!

The first class took place last Wednesday among a suitcase full of ingredients and a load of papers to distribute.
We were a total of 15 in a space containing 3 useful cooking stations.
I had devised a 4 courses menu with traditional and original recipes invented by yours truly, so to showcase the range of flavors we find in Sicilian cuisine.
We started by an all-time classic: Pasta alla Norma (rigatoni pasta with basil-tomato sauce served with fried eggplants and aged ricotta).

For this purpose I had brought some of the cheese straight from my home town in Sicily, from a local cheesemonger who produces some of the most amazing sheep's cheeses I have ever tasted.
As main course I have developed a recipe for Meatballs Sicilian style, spiced with fennel seeds, pine nuts and raisins, that we served with another staple of our cuisine: Orange salad.
Meatballs Sicilian style with Orange salad

The dessert was the Pistachios Cuccìa I already proposed you in a past post.
Cuccía di Pistacchi
The evening went by very smoothly and we managed to fit into our time constrains; I think I might get a hang at mindfully-directing people. It felt great to go around and share tips and tricks with each and every student, clarifying their doubts and relieving any eventual performance stress.
By the end of the evening we had polished everything we cooked. For once, my recipes were balanced (also considering the multi-courses menu)!!

Next class will take place next Wednesday and we will cook Vegetarian treats. We will start with a Pasta with fried Zucchini and oregano.

Pasta with fried Zucchini
The main course will feature Orange spiced eggplant sandwiches
Eggplant Cordon-Bleu Sicilian style
and a Cauliflower salad Sicilian style.
Sicilian Cauliflower Salad
For dessert I decided to propose a treat that my mom's aunt was used to do when I was a kid: Olivette al Rum (rolled rum-almond cookies).
Olivette al Rum
Are you around Bonn this month and want to join us? By all mean sign into the fun!! Conversely, if you know any place around the Globe who could host my classes, then please email me (I am willing to travel).

Aside the cooking classes, March deadlines include the monthly Secret Recipe Club appointment. This time I was assigned with Amanda's blog Dancing Veggies where she posts her experimentations with vegetarian treats.
With my momentary food restrictions, I could only afford to cook (and eat) few of her recipes and was particularly attracted by her Baked eggplants with tomato sauce. It also gave me the chance of trying to cook eggplants in the oven (a leaner version than the canonic frying pan).
I have adapted the coating to accommodate for my grain/gluten restrictions so I decided to use roasted chickpea flour. This also allowed me to skip on the egg since the chickpea flour forms a rather sticky coating by itself.

Crispy baked Eggplants with fragrant Tomato sauce

Crispy baked Eggplant with Basil tomato sauce
Ingredients (serve 2):
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 2 tablespoon roasted chickpea flour
  • 1 tablespoon Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon minced scallion
  • salt & pepper

For the tomato sauce:

  • Extra-Virgin Olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Red chili flakes to taste
  • 1 small can of tomato chunks in juice
  • Basil leaves to taste
Cut the eggplant into thick slices, around 1cm-2/3", salt them on both sides and place on a colander under a weight for around 20 minutes. They will loose some of their bitter water and gain in texture.
In the meantime prepare the tomato sauce.

In a small saucepan place some olive oil, 1 tablespoon of water and the minced garlic clove. Let the pan heat over medium fire until almost all the water will be evaporated; you will be able to smell the garlic at this point too. Carefully pour the canned tomatoes into the hot pan followed by a pinch of baking soda and the red-chili flakes (if using). Add half the tomato-tin in hot water and let the sauce simmer for a good 30 minutes.

When the eggplant will be ready, heat ur oven to 200C/400F. Rinse the eggplant slices under cold water and gently squeeze each slice between your hands to eliminate the excess moisture. Reserve them on a plate.
Prepare the coating mixture by combining all the ingredients thoroughly in a small bowl.
Using your fingers, press some of the chickpea mixture on each side of the eggplant slices and lay them on a baking tray coated with olive oil. Drizzle some more olive oil on top of the eggplants and place it into the hot oven for 15-20 minutes or until both side will have a nice golden color. Since the bottom side will most probably cook faster than the top, flip the eggplant slices over and cook for further 5-10 minutes.

In the meantime that the eggplants are cooking, the tomato sauce should be ready to be seasoned with salt, sugar and a little lemon juice, if needed.
At this point immerse completely the basil leaves/branches into the tomato sauce, cover with a lid and let the sauce steep out of the fire for 5-10 minutes.

When the eggplants will be ready, transfer them to a serving plate alongside some of the tomato sauce (you can leave the basil behind if you want).

For a more hearty meal, you can add some noodles seasoned with the tomato sauce to the dish.


  1. What a great pick! I love eggplant parmigiana, but the pan-fried version is just so full of fat that I can't justify making it more than once or twice a year... love this healthier version, especially with the chickpea flour coating. It sounds delicious!

  2. The eggplant looks marvelous Al! What a great pick :) And congrats on the cooking classes, so great!

  3. That eggplant and tomato looks amazing! Love the idea of doing something similar to eggplant parm but healthier without the cheese. Yum! :)

  4. I love the color in your photos. It's gorgeous.

  5. Wow, you have been busy. I would love to be one of your class participants. And do I see you are working with HDR range photos again with the rum-almond cookies, or is that just moodily lit? Beautiful as always, Alessio.

  6. I bet the addition of chickpea flour was great. About a year ago I had chocolate chip cookies made with chickpea flour and I've been obsessed ever since.

  7. Congratulations to the cooking classes! If ever I hear of any-one looking for culinary training in Bonn, I'll recommend you. These dishes are great. If ever you give classes in Berlin, let me know. ;-)

  8. so proud of you hope to attend one in future

  9. Congrats on the cooking classes and would love to attend one sometime in the future!

  10. Your cooking class of today was wonderful and super-delicious! Thank you so much.

  11. My mom taught cooking classes in our home when I was a kid. I used to watch from the kitchen table while I was (supposedly) doing homework. Great things will come from this venture. Congrats. GREG