Mouth-Watering Modena: A Cooking Class in Italy
“Secrets, especially with cooking, are best shared so that the cuisine lives on.”
– Bo Songvisava
After kicking off with a rich shot of espresso, we slipped into black ‘Chef for a Day’ aprons for the beginning of our cooking class in Modena, Italy. In strolled our instructor, Chef Massimiliano ‘Max’ Telloli of the Osteria Stallo del Pomodoro restaurant, wearing a kelly green chef’s hat, a warm smile, and an enthusiastic willingness to share Emilia-Romagnan cuisine with us. We discovered that Chef Max is a Modena native, longtime gluten-free consultant, award-winning chef, and cookbook author. We also couldn’t help but noticing that Chef Max bears a striking resemblance to the American actor, Gary Sinise. :)
Quickly, we learned that one secret behind Chef Max’s tasty 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.
We instantly noticed that the yolks were a bold, dark-orange hue. Chef Max indicated that this hinted at the hens’ excellent nutrition. In the 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. Ricotta was also added to the gloriously golden, creamy mix before the concoction was poured 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 Stallo del Pomodoro restaurant is now situated belonged to the Countess of Hanover, housing a stable in which her horses were kept. Today, the interior is embellished by black & white posters, an old-time 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 course after course streamed through the kitchen door, with each plate full of exotic flavors and new spices like Fava Tonca, a powder with South American origins. By the end of the meal, we felt comfortably full, thanks to the richness of the cuisine and the reasonable portion sizes 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. We could’ve sat there for hours more, chatting with the friendly vintners and the Stallo del Pomodoro’s patient and engaging staff members, had it not been for an upcoming afternoon itinerary filled with more of Modena’s highlights. We left grateful that Chef Max had shared some of the region’s culinary secrets with us.
- 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
The cozy Stallo del Pomodoro restaurant, which was once a horse stable.
Shawn gets suited up for cooking class.
Gluten-free gnocchi in the making, made with rice, potato and corn flour.
Golden-toned ingredients for Chef Max’s Soufflé di Parmigiano: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, eggs, and Ricotta cheese.
Spooning the Soufflé di Parmigiano mixture into muffin tins for baking.
Attention to detail: Chef Massimilliano ‘Max’ Telloli
Chef Max’s assistant, Riccardo, checks on the vibrant-colored Soufflés di Parmigiano.
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.
Chef Max carefully pours the rich stream of melted chocolate and butter into a muffin tin, ready for baking.
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.
Shawn prepares to dive into a Crêpe with Ricotta & Radicchio Pesto, which was dusted with Fava Tonca Powder from South America.
Gnocchi, and copious amounts of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Saio Rosso Lambrusco, a delightful, fizzy red wine from the region, which at 11.7%, has a relatively low percentage of alcohol.
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.
Soufflé di Parmigiano.
Grilled Duck with Roasted Potatoes and Purée of Leek, garnished with pomegranate seeds
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 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?
- 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 © by Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. Video footage is courtesy of my husband, Shawn.