Mamma Agata’s Cooking Experience on Italy’s Amalfi Coast
If you have never heard of the Amalfi Coast, let me assure you it is much more than the place where I got stung by a jellyfish. Even though that did happen, and it was terrible, yes, there is much more to the region; indeed it is one of Italy’s most beautiful coastal areas, and in a country that is by in large beautiful coastline, that’s saying something.
The famed island of Capri is located here (shortish pants, anyone? Not me but anyone else, I mean), as are myriad sites both historic and scenic. I will leave you to research the region at length on your own as I zero in on one very special part of the Amalfi Coast, namely the property of an almost painfully, charmingly typical Italian woman known to all as Mamma Agata.
What most people know the rotund, beaming Mamma Agata for is her wonderful cooking class. Why then did I mention the property in the paragraph above, rather than dive right in? Because it is the property that makes the experience so unique and the food so superlative. You see, everything you cook and eat at Mamma Agata’s classes? Yeah, they grew it there, too. From tomatoes to lemons the size of footballs (I am not kidding, look it up) to every imaginable herb (these have to be real herbs you are imagining, mind you, not imaginary herbs like… um… Spicearius! Spice of Kings!), you pick the food on site, then cook the food in ways you never dreamed of, then you eat the food. Except for the mozzarella cheese, that was delivered fresh before our eyes—I think it was less than 12 hours old—and some cured meats, everything we ate could simply not have been fresher.
As is the sassy, frenetic Mamma Agata herself! Fresh, I mean. Was that lead in too weak? Well, it got us to this paragraph, whatever. Always side-by-side with Mamma Agata is her daughter, Chiara, who is both interpreter, sous chef, and by-in-large the business manager for the whole operation. The women have their banter down to a T—their playfully bickering exchanges almost feel rehearsed, until you remember that you are not watching a couple of Italian cooks squabble over how much oil to use on some godawful TV show, but that you are in fact watching this happen in an uber-Italian kitchen. In Italy. So yeah, it’s a pretty genuine-feeling experience, is what I mean.
The day consists largely, as you may well imagine, of cooking. And, again, as logic would dictate, you prepare meals largely in the order that you eat meals, meaning hors d’ oeuvres and small plates frst, sides and main dishes next, deserts last. Our group cooked so much food (and subsequently ate so much food as to induce a near comatose state of reverie, potentially enhanced by generous servings of wine and digestifs) that I could not possibly recount it all even if I could remember it all, but let me give one illuminating example of the cuisine and practices of this place:
So you take a basket full of egg plants, some tomatoes, some oil and some cheese. Got that much? Where do you think we’re going with this? This is Italy, after all, so maybe you think we’re headed for lasagna? Or maybe eggplant parmesan? Is that what you think? Yeah? Well… you blew it. Big time. No, all of a sudden these ladies had us making Italian sushi. That’s right: you cut the eggplant into fine strips, roll small bits of cheese and various vegetable filler into them as you make that “sushi roll” shape and then you flash fry the things into pure deliciousness. Now, mind you, my arterial walls harden at the mere thought of them, but most of the food was both delicious and fresh and healthy, and hey, you get mozzarella-eggplant-tomato sushi on a plate, you eat it.
The experience of cooking under people with so much, well, experience was wonderful. The food itself was world-class, truly what people wish they meant when they refer to their familial “home cooking.” And the view? Hundreds of terraced yards down to the cobalt blue sea, the sky as azure a postcard and the fresh as can be, perfumed by saltwater breezes? Yeah, check this place out. That’s kind of what I’m getting at.