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Gianna Bellina ModottiAround mid-afternoon on the following day, I took a long walk from my hotel to meet Gianna Bellina Modotti, who ran a cooking school out of her home on Via Palmanova. I fell in love with the elderly woman at first sight. She was tiny, with curly, white hair, sparkling eyes, and a warm smile that lit up the room. Immediately, I wanted to adopt her as my nonna.

Signora Modotti had invited me to attend a cooking class that afternoon as her guest. I was disappointed that the subject was not going to be Friulian cuisine, which was naturally her specialty. Instead, the famous Sorelle Simili were in town teaching a course on pizza and pasta. The twin sisters, Margherita and Valeria, grew up in Bologna, working at the family bakery and later opening their own cooking school. In addition, they traveled throughout Italy teaching cooking courses and were the authors of several popular cookbooks.

Sorelle SimiliThe sisters, also elderly, were slender, wiry, and a bit hunched over from decades of kneading bread. The pair began the lesson by demonstrating their technique for making pizza dough, and with Signora Modotti and her daughter assisting, they turned out several different kinds in a matter of hours: tomato and mozzarella, zucchini and stracchino (a soft, creamy cheese with a slight tang, similar to cream cheese), potato and stracchino, and apple and stracchino. The apple pizza was the most unusual of the bunch; sprinkled with sugar and a splash of rum, it would definitely qualify as a dessert.

Sorelle SimiliIn addition, the sisters prepared a calzone-like focaccia farcita all scarola that was stuffed with escarole, raisins, capers, pine nuts, olives, and anchovies, as well as a pasta dish from their native Emilia-Romagna, roselline romagnole. For the latter, the sisters demonstrated their herculean strength by rolling the pasta dough by hand using a rolling pin as long as a broom handle. I was amazed at how paper-thin they were able to roll the dough without using a machine! The dough was cut into rectangles and layered with slices of prosciutto cotto (cooked ham), mortadella, and Fontina. After a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano, these were rolled up jellyroll-style and sliced in half. Cuts were made in one end of each roll to give it the appearance of a flower. Finally, the little “roses” were baked in a béchamel sauce laced with a little tomato paste.

By the end of the five-hour class, my brain was exhausted from struggling to follow the instructors’ Italian, and I was perspiring from the heat of Signora Modotti’s basement kitchen. Even though it was past my dinnertime, I was quite sated from all of the delicious pizza and pasta samples. Nevertheless, I stopped on my way back to Hotel Principe to indulge in a refreshing gelato di limone.

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