Bologna Cooking School!!

As you know from my last post, my family and I are traveling through Italy and we are currently staying in beautiful Bologna! The land of pasta, Bolognese sauce, beautiful towers, architecture, outdoor markets; and of course, Big Carlo – owner and operator of the Bologna Cooking School.  On the morning of October 18th, I stepped off the train into Bologna Central Station and was swept into the crowds.  Being the tourist that I am, I followed the GPS walking directions on my phone.  I navigated the 4 blocks to Carlo’s home that doubles as a busy Bed & Breakfast and a successful cooking school.

The school caters to tourists curious to learn the culture and tradition from a Bolognese chef, as well as take advantage of the opportunity to drink his regional wine and roll out handmade pasta dough.  As I approached my destination, which was a looming apartment building, 13 “students” of the school stumbled and spilled out to the street speckled with flour, eyes gleaming with joy that the wine in Italy is always eager to bestow upon it’s consumers.  Feeling not so sure what I was getting myself into, I rang for Carlo.

Several months ago when I first contacted “Big Carlo”, my objective was to learn from the best about the history and tradition of real Bolognese cooking.  My second objective was to NOT have two days of pasta making lessons but rather focus on the sauces, flavors, and history of the food.  When I found Big Carlo and read his tagline “Emotions of Bologna’s Cookery”— I knew this was my man.  I emailed Carlo before we left the States to arrange my lessons and asked him to please make the lesson gluten free and explained to him that I wanted our cooking to focus on what goes on top of the pasta or what’s served in addition to the pasta of a traditional Italian meal.  Due to the obvious language barrier and only being able to communicate via email, prior to my arrival I did not even attempt to explain “paleo” and was simply grateful that Carlo was receptive, willing and even excited to develop a gluten free course. I could tell that his objective was to simply to teach me the “emotion of his cooking” based on his Bolognese roots and years of experience, with or without the gluten…

Carlo greeted me at his door, all smiles and energy.  My immersion into Bolognese tradition had begun.  I was swept into a dream and plunged into a moment of moments that I will never, ever forget.  I cooked with Gabriella, Carlos’ 82 year-old sister who spoke no English but taught me with her eyes and her hands how to weave love into a simple sauce of fresh calamari, garlic, tomatoes and spinach.  I listened intently to Luciana, an instructor at Carlo’s cooking school, tell me how she made her first pasta when she was ten with her Grandmother in Bologna.  Luciana talked about her passion for cooking. Her passion is what drives her the 30 km down the hill everyday to teach the cultures and traditions that she loves to perfect strangers who may or may not remember that what they are learning is precious and is now dying away. These traditions are slipping away into store bought pastas, sauces, and McDonalds that pop up on every corner in an ancient city built on a strong foundation of family and food.

At the market with Big Carlo in Bologna!

Carlo’s eyes grew dark as he explained to me that his beautiful history was being forgotten. Dying. He said it was criminal. The mamas no longer want to cook, do not have time to cook, do not have mamas who teach them how to cook.  The children do not understand the importance of sustainability like they used to, that they eat “the sugar” and the foods that have a “different flavor” than what is simple and fresh and they want more and more and more and more until they forget that quality is what makes food taste great.  Carlo rubbed his belly and said, “My work in restaurants made me this way, and I started to lose my joy for cooking, so I walked away and now my cooking is filled with passion again.” 

 

Carlo visits the markets everyday to buy his ingredients, straight from the producers and he says, “I buy from the ones I know, I check, I check for quality, I know what I buy is good because I know the producers.”

Making gluten free gnocchi with Luciana. My goal is to try a more paleo version!

From Luciana, as we make gnocchi together, her first attempt at a gluten free version, she tells me how years ago her grandmother would buy the potatoes, the specific quality potato from the local farmer who knew how to produce the right kind of potatoes for gnocchi.  Her grandmother only had 2 types of flour to choose from.  Both contained very little gluten, one was simply a finer grain, ground from “soft grains”.  Everything they made came from this one type of flour; a low gluten flour, and the amount of pasta they made was small and the focus was on the ragu or on the quality of the potatoes they used to make the gnocchi with. Luciana explained that now there are several options for flours. The high-gluten flours for pasta and bread, which make rolling the dough easier for the pastas.  High-gluten flours for cakes and pastries, but that the grandmothers do not like the choices.

They miss the quality of the ingredients they used to have to choose from to make with the pastas and feel as if too many choices take away from the traditions of the past and the quality of the other ingredients.  Luciana was curious about our lifestyle and I shared with them my most recent book. She expressed to me that 10 years ago, no one in Italy had ever heard of “Gluten-Free” or “Senza Glutine” and now there are special stores that offer gluten free products or special sections in the markets and that several restaurants now offer gluten-free options as more and more Italians are becoming gluten intolerant or diagnosed with Celiacs disease.  I asked her if she thought there was a correlation between the rise of gluten intolerance to how their grain is grown and flour is produced as compared to when her grandmother only had the one choice of the “low-gluten” flour and before I could even finish asking she responded with a resounding, “Yes, of course!”

Cooking with Gabriella

My lessons continued as I made traditional Bolognese with Big Carlo, crushed fresh garlic for a fragrant and scrumptious sauce made simply with fresh zucchini, prosciutto, and parsley, and made a risotto with porcini mushrooms that we picked up from the morning market.  I worked side by side with Gabriella as she guided me to cut the calamari precisely and to pour in the white wine a little at a time. It’s art in motion to watch these beautiful people keep their traditions alive.  I ate balsamic vinegar aged for 25 years drizzled delicately on zucchini flowers as I soaked in the stories that sang like beautiful love songs from the lips of Carlo and Luciana.

Gabriella, the 82 year old sister, asked Carlo to apologize that she could not speak English to talk to the camera and I wanted to hug her and tell her that I was sorry that I could not speak Italian because it was impossible for me to express my gratitude for simply being in her presence. Her spirit and her obvious joy that cooking the traditional food brings to her shines through and she does not need to speak my language. I am a guest in her country after all.

 

I left the cooking school filled to the brim with food, wine, sadness, happiness and a better understanding of the importance of being close not only to your food but closer still to the ones that you love.  Big Carlo gave me his blessing to take his recipes home and to make them paleo. He said again, “The way food is today is a crime, it is criminal, and we have to keep on cooking with the passion or these traditions will be gone.”  Carlo, I promise I will do my best to do justice to the rich traditions of the Bolognese people and share what I’ve learned with all of my readers… Thank you for sharing your story with me and teaching me the emotions of Bolognese cooking.

Now I’m off to Venice for the day to wander with my children, to hold them close, and to carry with me the passion.  Please stay tuned; more to come later as my cooking continues in the Marche region early next week!  Enjoy the photos below and please post your thoughts and questions to comments.

The fresh fish merchant!

The amazing butcher in Bologna. He has been working as a butcher for 64 years…

Meat. Need I say more??

The coolest shop EVER with the best mortadella and prosciutto I have ever tasted.

Back to cook with our fresh ingredients from the market! Calamari, porcini mushrooms, zucchini flowers, meats for traditional Bolognese, and loads of vegetables.

Salute!

Comments

  1. Sandy says

    Oh Sarah!!!!! So wonderful!!!! All I can think of, is when the book will be published and available:):):)
    Well, besides enjoying every moment of your journey!!!!
    Thank you do much for sharing your adventure!!!!

  2. Lee Jacobson says

    Sarah! Your writing and description of your experiences, the people you are meeting and your interaction with Carlo and his family, brings the reader into the moment with you. Such an exciting time for all of you! You are making memories for Jaden and Rowan to last a lifetime. So glad that yoo took this time to show them such a beautiful part of our world! Much love to you all! Lee (and Jake)

  3. Edith says

    Thank you so much for these posts.  I can see you are radiating jubilance from your beautiful pictures and I am thrilled for you and your family.  Everyday of my Paleo life I cherish the memories from my own giornata in Italy and now I am reliving them vicariously through your blog.  I wait in anticipation to read more.

  4. says

    You’re making me relive my trip to Italy back in 2002. I’m getting the itch to travel again after reading this post! Sounds like you’re having tons of fun. Don’t forget to hike the Cinque Terre!

  5. Dad and Sass says

    Wonderful account of your stay in Bologna. We loved reading about your visit with Big Carlo and the cooking school. We are eager to hear more as the days go by. Love You. Dad and Sass.

  6. Annette Scherrens-Sehlstrom says

    Thank you for “taking” me to Italy with you! I can’t wait to see the results of your travels with a new cookbook!
    I run a childrens dayhome, and have met resistence from kids on my paleo cooking. Some Italian food, paleo style, would be greatly appreciated by these these little wheat fanatics!

  7. Lynn says

    Sarah,
    So jealous of you right now. My husband and I met in Naples and the food in Italy is like no other and the Italians sure know how to live, enjoy life and stop to “smell the roses” . We would eat pasta all the time, but since going paleo…no more so I cannot wait to see and taste what you come up with. Words can not even describe closely to what it is like there unless you have been there yourself and experienced it. So enjoy and live it up over there. Ciao!

  8. Vanessa says

    What I also find very interesting is, that the Italians cook without fancy appliances. Just some pot, wooden spoons and done:-) Enjoy…

  9. Lori Ann says

    I was fortunate enough to study in Italy when I was in college, I miss so much of what you talked about. You told your story beautifully, it brought tears to my eyes. Now that you have been, Italy will never leave you. Cant wait to see the fabulous recipes!

  10. Lisa O'Driscoll says

    Thank you so much for sharing this experience! What a reminder to nourish yourself with not only good food but life and family. I look forward to hearing about your family’s journey! Safe travels and many blessings.

  11. says

    You can just sense and hear the passion and joy in these travel posts. I am so excited for your family. What a blessing to have such sweet memories. This types of trips do change you in amazing ways. Bask in every minute!

  12. says

    Amazing Sarah, I love what you are doing. Actually I am on a similar mission. I am an italian living abroad and I am fully paleo since june of this year. And I have been working now to convince my mother (that lives in Marche) to cook more paleo style for herself and even if she is not paleo (yet) she dropped some carbs and she is feeling better already.
    Do you need any advice for your trip in the Marche region?

    • Sarah says

      Hi Claudio! Is there a restaurant here that you recommend that I must go to before we leave this region?? Otherwise, I think I’m all set. I had a cooking class yesterday and another one today. : ) Thank you so much@

      • Maria says

        Sarah,

        How can I express the overwhelming gratitude for this post. I am in tears. I am full-blooded Italian (father is from Sicily and mother is from Abruzzo). My mother is plagued with many diseases that I believe my newly-found Paleo lifestyle could significantly improve (like it has done for me). However, telling Nonnie to eat GF has been impossible. While living in Italy a few years ago I was reminded of the wonderful dishes and memories of my childhood.
        I have both of your cookbooks and highly encourage them to the CF members I workout with. PLEASE, if you have any recipes that could be made with raw coconut flour, I am standing by to purchase this book. Food should be fresh, loving, and simple!
        Also, Venice is my favoriate place in the entire world. ENJOY the love, laughter, and great feeling of being entirely alive there!

        Molto Grazie,
        Maria

  13. Emily says

    Sarah, I was trying to explain to someone recently that Paleo is more then just a diet, it’s a lifestyle. There is so much more to being Paleo then just what you put in your mouth. Eating “paleo” food is important, but there’s something to be said for finding quality ingredients and creating a meal with love with your own two hands. Even more then that Paleo is spending time in nature and learning new things and having fun with loved ones. There’s just so much to it that I couldn’t find the right words to describe it. This post and your previous post do such a beautiful job of explaining the Paleo lifestyle. I can’t wait to direct my friend to these posts so that she can see the happiness and joy that can come from living the Paleo life. Thank you!

  14. says

    Sarah!!! I have to say I’m SOOO jealous that you are in Italy! Both sides of my family are Italian and I plan one day to take my family out there and see our roots :) I know you and your fam will enjoy the wonderful people, food, traditions, and scenery…how can you not!?

    I have a big favor to ask of you (after you get back and settled in). I would like to hear your take on being Paleo (or when you first started out) and how it was going to parties, friend’s houses, kid’s parties, etc. I have been gluten-free my whole life and that’s an easy to one to say no to when I’m at people’s houses, but I struggle with Paleo because it’s a choice. Also, since my daughter is 2 and going to parties, mother’s day out events, etc, she is wanting those ‘bad’ things, too. If you already have a post you can direct me to that would be lovely. I don’t want to come across as I’m ‘better than you’ cuz I watch what I eat, but I struggle with the willpower, as it has been a huge mental hurdle for me growing up GF before anyone really knew what it was. I have been inspired by you and your family and want to stay on track especially in social situations. I’m sure people know how ya’ll eat everywhere you go but I could use some insight when you get a chance.

    Thanks for all you do! Ciao!

  15. Sara G says

    Agreed! Love this post. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait for your paleo versions once you return. Completely jealous of this experience! Thank you for taking your readers along!

  16. Leanne Wheeler says

    Jealous! I’m SO Jealous. And so happy for you. You sound like you are really soaking in all the great experiences offered to you. I can’t wait for this book! A friend of mine just left for Hong Kong and Thailand today and I told him to send me pictures of everything he ate. He thinks I’m pretty weird! Enjoy!!

  17. Sue Wilkinson says

    Hi, just stumbled upon your sure and read your Italian adventure. Sounds wonderful. Please add me to any mailing list you might have as I’d love a Paleo Italian cook book. I’m new to Paleo and struggling to know how to creat whole meals. Did you eat the gnocchi even though it was potato and had some sort of flour on it? What about the risotto? I thought rice was out.

    And if you have any advice for baking I’d appreciate being pointed to it. I miss being able to make a cake or a pie crust.

    I really enjoyed your story, but it’s made me hungry and its now the middle of the night after a long evenings work and I don’t have anything to eat,

  18. Nidia says

    It’s amazing that I came across this post! My husband and I are new to Paleo and we are planning a trip to Italy within the next few months. I love Italian food and am hesitant to what our experience will be in Italy being Paleo. What kind of things are you eating? Do you have any advise for us as to how we can follow our Paleo lifestyle while enjoying Italy? Thanks!

  19. Alison Ginno-Garner says

    Sarah,

    Your stories in Italy brings back memories when I traveled to Italy some 15 years ago. It reminds me how they appriciate the simple things and spend time on things that matter the most. I wish there was more of that attitude back here in the good ol’ US of A. It made me sad when Carlos said that the mama’s no longer want to or don’t have the time to cook. It makes me want to quit my job and stay at home full time with my two little ones and make sure they get the attention and time with me…..and the quality food they deserve. I look forward to more stories and hopefully another cookbook!

  20. Michelle says

    I am so very excited to have run across your blog! My daughter is studying this semester in Bologna at the University. We will be traveling to visit her in June. I’ve always wanted to take cooking lessons when in Italy and this time I’m going to make it happen! Can you please tell me howI can contact big Carlos? I would love for my daughter and I to learn to cook the Bolognese way!!

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