Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Talking Pasta with La Cucina's Anna Florio

To look at Anna Florio, Owner of  La Cucina at the Market, you don't immediately think "food".  She is strikingly lovely, has charisma to spare,  a warmth that makes you feel you've been friends forever,  she's always impeccably dressed, and she's slender.   But you would quickly be reminded not to judge a book by its cover, for Anna is a serious Chef.  Her cooking school and demonstration kitchen in Reading Terminal Market just celebrated its 4th anniversary.

Having grown up with deep Italian culinary traditions, which included spending summers at her Grandparents' home in Campania, Italy, Anna is passionate about Italian food.  Our conversation naturally turned to pasta.

"I remember learning to make pasta dough with my grandmother, and even though it sounds silly, part of the key to great pasta is to put some love into it.  Make it by hand.  Feel the dough.  I use a blend of  unbleached white flour and semolina flour."

When asked about dry vs. fresh pasta, Anna's offers some interesting observations:  "Sometimes dry is better.  You can't really make fresh pasta al dente--that firm 'to the teeth' texture that epitomizes perfectly cooked pasta.  Sure, fresh is wonderful in a dish like pappardalle bolognese, where you want that rich, chewy noodle, or pesto, or for a filled pasta like ravioli.  But one of my favorite pasta dishes is penne with marinara sauce--made with dry, boxed penne cooked just al dente."

We also had to ask about the strict Italian edict banning Parmesan cheese on seafood pasta.  (I confess to dousing my linguine and clams with generous scoops of grated cheese.)  Anna disproves--but in the nicest possible way.  "Seafood and dairy just don't mix for traditionalists.  One thing to consider is the innate saltiness of seafood, and when you add a salty Parmesan it is overkill.  I also don't feel that the saltiness of the fish mixes will with the dairy of the cheese--salt and milk simply don't go together."

To see Anna in action, try one of her upcoming classes:  Brunch Italiano, Fish without Fear, or my personal favorite:  Handmade Pasta for Two.

Watch for upcoming posts featuring pasta ideas--not to mention Anna's big reveal on the fatal mistake that most Americans make when cooking Marinara.  Stay tuned!

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