Mouth-Watering Modena: A Cooking Class in Italy

A chef, wearing a green hat and uniform, holds a tray of bright yellow souffles, preparing to put them in an oven.

“Secrets, especially with cooking, are best shared so that the cuisine lives on.”

Bo Songvisava

Having just thrown back a rich shot of espresso, we slipped into black ‘Chef for a Day’ aprons. Our cooking class in Modena, Italy had officially begun.

In strolled our instructor, Chef Massimiliano ‘Max’ Telloli of the Osteria Stallo del Pomodoro restaurant. He wore a kelly-green chef’s hat and a warm smile. Chef Max also exuded an enthusiastic willingness to share Emilia-Romagnan cuisine with us.

Earlier, we’d read that Chef Max is a Modena native, longtime gluten-free consultant, award-winning chef, and cookbook author. Now that we’d met him in person, we couldn’t help but notice that Chef Max bore a striking resemblance to the American actor, Gary Sinise. :)

Quickly, we discovered that one secret behind Chef Max’s celebrated cuisine is his use of quality, rich ingredients.

“Each week, we use about 5 kg. (11 pounds) of butter, and 200 eggs at the restaurant,” he mentioned, as he set aside the ingredients for our first dish, a Soufflé di Parmigiano.

When we made a remark about the yolks’ bold, dark-orange hue, Chef Max said that this characteristic hinted at the hens’ excellent nutrition.

In this land of authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano, Chef Max added copious amounts of the beloved cheese, noting that the grated batch had been aged for 24 months. He also added ricotta to the gloriously-golden, creamy mix before pouring the concoction into muffin tins.

As the soufflés-to-be were put into the oven, Chef Max and his assistants — like a cadre of busy elves — set to work showing us how to make gluten-free gnocchi, grilled duck, and a chocolate torte. The aroma of melted butter, cacao, cheese, and pasta danced in the air.

As substitutes to traditional wheat flour, Chef Max used gluten-free blends made with corn, rice, potato, and even buckwheat flour.

After all the dishes began cooking, we set off to explore the interior of the cozy eatery. In the early 18th century, the grounds on which the restaurant is now situated belonged to the Countess of Hanover. They housed a stable, where the Countess’ horses were kept.

Today, the Stallo del Pomodoro’s interior is embellished by black & white posters, a vintage radio, and shelves filled with a significant wine selection, the latter of which we’d get to enjoy during our lunchtime feast.

Soon, a triumphant parade of courses streamed through the kitchen door. Each plate offered novel flavors and spices, including fava tonca or tonka bean (a legume with South American origins, it’s curiously banned in the United States).

By the end of the meal, we felt comfortably full, thanks to the richness of the cuisine and the reasonable portions Chef Max and his team had created. A group of local winemakers who’d been dining at a neighboring table, swung by to offer us complimentary glasses of their delightful wine. Had we not had a full afternoon dedicated to seeing more of Modena’s highlights, we could’ve chatted with these friendly vintners for hours.

We reluctantly left a short while later, feeling grateful that Chef Max had shared some of the region’s culinary secrets with us.

Our Menu:

  • Wine:  Saio Rosso – Lambrusco dell’Emilia, 11.7% alcohol content
  • Grissini Breadsticks & 3 Types of Panne Aromitisato: Flaxseed, Rosemary & Tomato
  • Crêpe with Ricotta & Radicchio Pesto, dusted with Fava Tonca (a South American spice)
  • Gnocchi with Sauce
  • Soufflé di Parmigiano
  • Grilled Duck with Roasted Potatoes, Purée of Leek, garnished with Pomegranate Seeds
  • Tortino Ciocallato (Chocolate Torte) Filled with Pears, Dressed with English Cream, Dusted in Cacao & Confectioner’s Sugar
Stallo del Pomodoro Modena Italy
The cozy Stallo del Pomodoro restaurant, which was once a horse stable.
Modena Cooking Class Stallo del Pomodoro
Shawn gets suited up for cooking class.
A male chef makes gluten-free gnocchi at a restaurant in Modena, Italy. Only his hands are visible.
Gluten-free gnocchi in the making, made with rice, potato and corn flour.
Two bowls sit on a table in the kitchen of a restaurant in Modena, Italy. One is filled with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese; the other is filled with about 20 egg whites and yolks.
Golden-toned ingredients for Chef Max’s Soufflé di Parmigiano: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, eggs, and Ricotta cheese.
Modena Cooking Class

Modena Cooking Class
Spooning the Soufflé di Parmigiano mixture into muffin tins for baking.
Modena Italy Cooking Class Osteria Stallo del Pomodoro Chef
Attention to detail: Chef Massimilliano ‘Max’ Telloli
Stallo del Pomodoro Modena Italy Soufflés
Chef Max’s assistant, Riccardo, checks on the vibrant-colored Soufflés di Parmigiano.
Chocolate Torte Ingredients
Next, Chef Max sets to work in making dessert, Tortino Ciocallato, or chocolate tortes. The first step is to melt copious amounts of butter and cacoa chips. Later, that heavenly blend will be mixed with flour, vanilla powder, and eggs to create a torte filled with pears. English Cream and confectioner’s sugar will be the finishing touches.
Modena Italy Cooking Class Chocolate Dessert
Chef Max carefully pours the rich stream of melted chocolate and butter into a muffin tin, ready for baking.
Modena Italy Cooking Class Group Shot
With the shadowing portion of our cooking class complete, Shawn and I pose with the ever-patient, carefree Chef Max before heading to the restaurant’s dining room.
Crêpe with Ricotta & Radicchio Pesto
Shawn prepares to dive into a Crêpe with Ricotta & Radicchio Pesto, which was dusted with fava tonka powder from South America.
Italian Wine Stallo del Pomodoro Modena italy

Lambrusco dell'Emilia
Saio Rosso Lambrusco, a delightful, fizzy red wine from the region, which at 11.7%, has a relatively low percentage of alcohol.
Stallo del Pomodoro Modena Gluten Free
Restaurant co-owner Nunzio poses with the Stallo del Pomodoro’s delightfully-friendly waitress, Jejek. On the right, the gluten-free bread and bread sticks that nearly brought me to tears because they were so good and I hadn’t had ‘real’ bread in so long. Varieties included flaxseed, rosemary & tomato.
Souffle di Parmigiano Modena Italy
Soufflé di Parmigiano.
Grilled Duck
Grilled Duck with Roasted Potatoes and Purée of Leek, garnished with pomegranate seeds
Chocolate Torte and Espresso Modena Italy
The chocolate torte, resting atop a swirl of English Cream, and dressed with confectioner’s sugar and cacao. It was perfectly paired with espresso.
Stallo del Pomodoro Modena Italy

Stallo del Pomodoro Modena Italy Group
Stallo del Pomodoro staff members mingle with vintners from the region who very generously stopped by our table to share their wine with us.

Our Video of This Experience:

Where in the World?

Planning Pointers:

  • The Osteria Stallo del Pomodoro is located in the heart of Modena at Largo Hannover 64. Touch base with them to coordinate a cooking class experience, or simply go there to enjoy their fantastic fare!
  • While in Modena, we spent 3 nights at the elegant, historic, and centrally-located Hotel Canalgrande (affiliate link). One of our favorite memories from Modena, in fact, was sitting out on our hotel room balcony just before sunset, looking out over Modena’s rooftops, while enjoying goodies that we’d procured at the Albinelli Market earlier in the day.
  • Peruse the Emilia-Romagna Tourist Board website for more details about Modena’s and the region’s rich offerings. The tourist board just recently released a free e-book that chronicles Emilia-Romagna’s Art Cities. I wish it’d been published when we were in the region, yet it’s since presented even more excuses to return to this stunning part of Italy.
  • If you’d also like to “eat, feel and live local in Italy” as we did in Modena, check out the BlogVille project website.
  • Need more inspiration? This link contains an index of all my posts from Italy.

Disclosure & Thanks:

Our Modena visit was supported by the Emilia-Romagna Tourist Board, to which we extend thanks.

An extra special thank you to Nick and Francesca for coordinating all the details and making us feel so welcome in Emilia-Romagna.

Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. Video footage is courtesy of my husband, Shawn.

Published by Tricia A. Mitchell

Tricia A. Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. Born in Europe but raised in the United States, she has lived in Valletta, Malta; Heidelberg, Germany; and Split, Croatia. An avid globetrotter who has visited more than 65 countries, she has a penchant for off-season travel. Tricia has learned that travel’s greatest gift is not sightseeing, rather it is the interactions with people. Some of her most memorable experiences have been sharing a bottle of champagne with distant French cousins in Lorraine, learning how to milk goats in a sleepy Bulgarian village, and ringing in the Vietnamese New Year with a Hanoi family. She welcomes any opportunity to practice French and German, and she loves delving into a place’s history and artisanal food scene. A former education administrator and training specialist, Tricia has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in international relations. She and her husband, Shawn, married in the ruins of a snowy German castle. They’ve been known to escape winter by basing themselves in coastal Croatia or Southeast Asia. Her writing has appeared in Fodor’s Travel, Frommer’s, and International Living.

35 thoughts on “Mouth-Watering Modena: A Cooking Class in Italy

  1. Such a rich post, incredible photos and the story behind the photos as well. I like the mention of using the best ingredients, I perked up with this, as I miss the rich golden/red yolks of eggs from the countryside, they taste so much better. Sigh…the Italians/French sure know how to cook, and to learn from experts is great but what would interest me most is covered in the video: tasting the great food (and then of course finishing it off with some nice wine!). Beautifully done Tricia!

    1. Randall, we remarked that because the ingredients were really rich, they helped us keep our appetites at bay. If an additional Soufflé di Parmigiano (or two) had been presented to me, however, I probably wouldn’t have passed it up. Ah, it was so good.

      Having spent a few months in Southeast Asia and India two years ago, I know the feeling of missing foods that aren’t widely available there (primarily cheese, and crispy bread). Now that we’re back in Europe, however, I’m experiencing the ‘grass is greener syndrome’ and longing for spicy fare, rice noodles in soup (I’m a gluten-free eater), and tropical fruit. Too bad we couldn’t swap cuisine now! :)

      1. Ha, ha, just after reading your post I told my friend that while I do a pretty well watching what I eat (portion/healthy) at home ~ when I go to a restaurant it is a treat I take full advantage of, it looked so good.

        Agree 100% about your ‘grass is greener’ comment! Tomorrow I head to Hangzhou, and my first dish of dumplings are already on my mind :-) The breads in the area are atrocious, so when I get back to HK/States I play catch-up…

      2. Ha, ha! Yes, exactly! Same place, and it has become a tradition that my first meal is in their little restaurant. Let me know if you want me to add seats to my reservation :-)

      3. We’ll be there. I’m guessing you must have a Stammtisch (German for ‘regular’s table) there by now? Perhaps we can reciprocate here in Novi Sad, Serbia. We just visited the fresh market today and have been devouring the cherries and strawberries at a furious pace. :)

        Bon appétit!

      4. Perfect, I do have my seat I love ~ and would love to make a table in Novi Sad, really just a dream to see just a part of what you have shown! :-)

      5. Indeed, we’ve been very lucky to have mingled with so many kind people in many corners of the world. It’s funny – we do most often find ourselves talking about the food and the people. They seem to best define a place. :)

    1. Lucky indeed, Patty! As cliché as it sounds, we couldn’t keep from pinching ourselves, and now, I just can’t get the Soufflé di Parmigiano and chocolate torte out of my mind. :)

    1. Leigh, thanks so much for sharing the post. To describe this is as a “dream cooking class” is fitting – especially since these talented chefs and cooks were creating wonderful, gluten-free, slow-cooked food. Hope you get to have a similar experience in the future too, and thank you for joining us.

    1. Carol, with all the important ingredients present (great food, wine, and welcoming people), we certainly did. :) I wish I could come close to making the exemplary soufflé and gluten-free bread that Chef Max did.

  2. Yum, I always make the mistake of reading your post just before lunch! Ok it’s not really a mistake.

  3. Thank you, o friendly foreigner, for picking out and highlighting the very best our little country has to offer. You make me proud to be Italian. Grazie, Tricia! (E buon appetito!)

    1. Louise, pleased to have you join in on our adventures, and thank you to Leigh for the introduction. I often try to include recipes from our cooking class experiences, but didn’t get the opportunity to do so here. Perhaps this culinary experience will nevertheless inspire you to whip up some Italian-inspired cuisine. :)

  4. I am envious of your gluten free experience, Tricia. Cooking classes can be so much fun, especially with a chef who is patient and friendly. I would have to climb several mountains to work the weight off. :)

    1. Lynne, I guess Modena does have the potential to linger with someone in spirit, and in calorie form. :) Seriously though, the manner in which the people there eat reminds me of what they say about French cuisine. Since it’s so rich, a reasonable amount truly satisfies. Also, I think gluten-free food sometimes has a bad reputation for being tasteless and textureless. Not the case at all with this food. Shawn regularly eats breads with gluten, and actually liked my version even better. :)

  5. Wow – this is REAL food, slow food. I sure hope that it will cross the Atlantic at some point :-)
    BTW, our chickens lay eggs with rich, orange yolks like that. They get to pick out tasty morsels from the grass and eat real food to their heart’s content. food is becoming such a contested issue here in the US; with Monsanto pumping millions into defeating mandatory GMO labelling. And, yet, our health and wellbeing boils down to pure, unadulterated food. It truly is the best health insurance!

    1. Annette, I agree with your statement about pure food being the “best health insurance.” Well said.

      A few sources have now told us that the rich, orange yolks are indicative of the chicken’s healthy diets and the egg’s excellent nutrition value. We encountered eggs like that in Croatia, Macedonia, and Germany, and I know they’re out there at other small markets. How wonderful that you have your own eggs like this! How many chickens do you have?

      We’re now in Serbia, and loving the wonderful fresh fruit & vegetable markets! A kilogram of strawberries for $1 USD, a kilo of cherries for about $2.00. I know that all the food is not organic here, but it’s refreshing seeing vegetables that haven’t been waxed, and that don’t bear perfect proportions. They just feel more real and natural. Can’t wait to get another overflowing bag of strawberries tomorrow! :)

    1. Dorothy, that was my first time trying duck, but it was quite nice. (I’m a bit of a ‘selectarian,’ only eating poultry and fish.) As a self-professed cheese and chocolate addict, I must confess that the soufflé and chocolate torte were my favorites, but it’s difficult to rank the dishes since they were all exemplary. :)

  6. All I can say Tricia is WOW! Absolutely amazing – I feel like I can smell and taste this gorgeous meal all the way over here. Beautiful photography and descriptions. Anything that involves “copious amounts of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese” gets my vote. Does the chef normally prepare gluten-free gnocchi? ~Terri

    1. Ciao Terri! I will not deny that cheese and chocolate are two of my vices. :) Having visited a Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese producer just outside of Modena, I also gained a greater appreciation of the cheese that extended beyond its flavor. Just like a symphony, the production is well orchestrated from the beginning – the cows are fed a healthy diet, they’re treated well, and one of the employees we met there seemed to be putting a lot of love into what he’s been doing for several decades.

      I think Chef Max generally makes gnocchi and other dishes with gluten, however, since he’s a gluten-free expert and cookbook author, he can make the shift between gluten & gluten-free practically effortlessly. He seems to instinctively know just what type of substitution needs to be made to make a gluten-free dish unrecognizable from its gluten-containing counterpart. It seems to require a definite food chemistry balance.

      Having been gluten free for nearly two years, I really almost did have tears of happiness when his team brought out my plate of bread. It was so good Shawn wanted to devour it too. :) We found that the Italians are the most well-versed on celiac disease and gluten-free dining. There’s much awareness for people’s sensitivities, and I read somewhere that they’ve been cooking with different types of flour (buckwheat, chestnut, etc.) for centuries. That said, however, the gluten-free pizza & pasta that I was hoping would be readily available on every corner of Italy just wasn’t. We were extremely lucky to have found Chef Max though.

Join the conversation.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: