Cooking in the Undiscovered Hilltown of Casperia, Italy
Without a doubt, one of the very best parts of my job is taking clients on cooking trips to Italy. Although many of these cooking trips are to The Awaiting Table in Puglia, last week I spent time with a family of three sisters-in-law and two teen daughters in the very charming hilltown of Casperia, just an hour or so north of Rome in the Sabina hills.
Our home base for this visit was La Toretta, a B&B run by the warm and welcoming Scheda family – Maureen, Roberto, and their daughter Jenny (for whom I have a special fondness since she shares both my daughter’s name as well as her passion around cooking).
Staying at La Torretta is one of those special things you just have to experience for yourself. You peer out the back windows from your room, or lounge on the lovely terrace upstairs, watching the sheep graze, imagining the farmers going about their daily chores, and wondering just how they built all of these hilltowns so many years ago.
Cooking lessons are taught in the upper floor kitchen at La Torretta by Maureen’s daughter Jenny…
…and Wendy who is from Holland but settled into this area a few years ago.
First thing on the agenda: making homemade paste dough. Unlike Puglia where they only use water and they mix in barley flour with the semolina, in this region of Italy they use eggs mixed into a 50/50 mix of all purpose flour and fine semolina.
We rolled that dough out very then – and I mean really thin, as in it was quite the upper arm workout – before laying out spoonfuls of ricotta and spinach and shaping that into ravioli.
The smaller scraps of dough that are left are laid out flat on the chitara over which you roll a rolling pin, cutting the dough into linguine. Genius, really!
We made saltimbocca alla romana the classic way – thin slices of veal topped with a small slice of prosciutto and a large sage leaf, skewered together with a toothpick and dusted in flour. These are very simply seared in some olive oil and then a quick pan sauce is made with a little broth.
The girls with us were vegetarians, so Jenny helped them make some zucchini timbales. You line little custard dishes with thinly sliced zucchini that has been baked in the oven, then fill them with a caprese mix of tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella.
We made small baskets out of Parmigiano cheese by melting some grated cheese in a hot pan and then shaping them over a small bowl. Jenny filled these with arugula and apples (or melon) dressed in lemon and olive oil – really good.
We finished our ravioli with a simple sauce of butter and basil, some fresh tomatoes, and a sprinkling of Parmigiano cheese.
Alongside the saltimbocca Jenny served some green beans with mint and a caponata type of vegetable dish.
Fianally, we surrendered about 3:00 in the afternoon after eating the tiramisu we had made. After a meal like that, served al fresco, a nap is about the only thing you can do!
Gorgeous rooftops of Casperia
We had also arranged for a cooking lesson at Gusto al Borgo, an agritourismo that recently renovated a spectacular palazzo within the pedestrian only walls of Casperia. I had eaten at the restaurant at their farm just outside of town a couple of years ago, but had never cooked with them and was really looking forward to our evening.
The girls in our group made the amaretto semifreddo first so it could chill – and then enjoyed licking the remains of the bowl!
We also made a very simple chicken dish using the farm’s tomatoes by browning chicken parts then simmering them with the tomatoes, white wine, olives, and rosemary.
For our vegetarians we whipped up some simple eggplant Parmigiano stacks along with a simple sort of pie or custard made with zucchini, ricotta, eggs and Parmigiano.
Can up believe how beautiful the view is out of Gusto al Borgo’s kitchen window? Honestly I spent as much time staring out the window as I did cooking – it was that lovely.
I did manage to master rolling potato gnocchi off of a fork to shape it, something I have always struggled with.
But all of us struggled with making strangozzi, the pasta that is hand stretched and rolled until very thin. Paola from Gusto al Borgo helped us finish it properly (she was also the teacher for the overall cooking class).
We enjoyed the eggplant Parmigiano for an appetizer, followed by the gnocchi dressed in a simple tomato sauce. we also had the strangozzi with fresh tomatoes and basil, but I was evidently too busy eating that to snap a photo.
While we savored the chicken, the girls dug into the zucchini and ricotta dish (which we liked as much as the chicken).
I’ not sure how I managed to eat a single bite of the semifreddo – after eating for hours, including two pasta dishes, and I don’t know how many glasses of the house made red wine from Gusto al Borgo. This is on my list to make again and enjoy as an entree when I can finish every bite!
Casperia is a special place, and La Torretta is the perfect base from which to enjoy it. It’s only an hour from Rome, so makes for a nice addition to a trip. Take the time to idle there a bit – you will be so glad you did.
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