Pasta Reimagined Around the Globe
Imagine you signed up for the World Pasta Day Food Conversation and you cross your fingers and pray to the glorious carb gods for a spot in the first in person Food Conversation in 2 years. All of a sudden you open your inbox scrolling through the flood of emails you get on the daily and bam your eyes widen as you read “congratulations you have been selected to participate in the first Food Conversations of the semester!” After a few days of your tastebuds anxiously preparing to be blown away, the day arrived.
Monday, October 25 we welcomed chefs Amy Riolo, Fabrizio Facchini, JR Donesa, Nonna Franca, and Mehenni Zebentout to not only share their delicious recipes for our enjoyment, but teach us about the mastery of noodles from across the globe.
Upon arrival, I received a passport and a white apron (the color is important so stay tuned). From there it was off to pasta heaven. Having the major sweet tooth that I have, my eyes immediately went to the dessert pasta station. Yes, that’s right, dessert pasta, what gets better than that? This dish hailed from Israel and is known as kugel, a baked sweet pudding made from Jewish egg noodles which was paired with a wonderful biscotti. Next up, my passport got stamped in Morocco where I enjoyed the most flavorful couscous which comes from North Africa and consists of steamed balls of semolina flour served with meats and vegetables. I was just warming up at this point and went on to enjoy the classic Filipino cuisine known as pancit. This is a rice noodle dish that is usually cooked in soy sauce along with other meats or fish and fresh vegetables. To finish off the pasta tour from around the world, the last stop was the hallmark of Italian cuisine, pasta served with Sugo della Domenica and gnocchi in the freshest tomato sauce. Easily the best (and only) 5 course meal I’ve ever had.
While everyone finished up enjoying every last bite, chef Amy Riolo moderated a panel with chiefs Fabrizio, JR, and Mehenni where they spoke to the cultural ties and inspirations for their dishes. A common thread amongst them all was how much their cooking was used to connect to their loved ones. Whether that was through watching their moms in the kitchen when they were young or using their food as a vehicle to link them to their community and culture to never lose touch with their roots, pasta stood for a lot more than just a delicious dish that we enjoy. In fact, it’s not just a food, it’s quite literally an art form. Dough making has historically been considered an art form and we were able to experience this firsthand through chef Nonna Franca who taught us how to hand roll gnocchi and even let us practice with her!
Believe it or not, the night didn’t end here. Remember those aprons I mentioned earlier? Yeah, now it was their time to shine. We got broken up into groups based on the color of our aprons for group sessions with the chefs themselves who taught us how to make their respective dishes! White aprons were assigned to Chef Mehenni’s couscous station where we learned the ins and outs of the intricate cooking process. This was very much a hands-on session where we took turns assisting Chef Mehenni through every step of the process to get our end result of the hearty couscous. He played us his couscous song which we all danced around to together and told us stories of how he began his journey in the food industry and his evolution as a chef. His personable and kind nature created the familial atmosphere that is so valued when making these pasta dishes.
And just like that, the night wrapped up. We left with a stomach full of delicious pasta variations and a mind full of new considerations of what pasta really is. Bring on the next Food Conversation please!
Written by Jasmine Lorenzo, ‘23