I’ve been in Venice for 10 days by the time I meet Enrica Rocca; long past the point where I can stomach another meal from a restaurant with unappetizing photos of pasta plastered in the window. I’m desperate for something authentic and, as I walk with her through the Rialto markets, I sense I’ve found it. A native Venetian, Enrica is on a first name basis with most (if not all) of the vendors and shopkeepers in the city. The fishmongers at the Pescaria call out to her in greeting, waving her over to show off the morning’s catch. At the Erbaria, the produce vendors are equally eager to sell her their finest – baby artichokes from nearby Sant’ Erasmo (I’d love to take a food tour there), bergamot from the province of Reggio di Calabria, and long curly heads of Treviso from the Veneto region. She adds bright green bunches of parsley, winter squash, cauliflower, and plump porcini to her shopping list before a beaming mustached-man tucks her purchases into her cart.
Pristine local ingredients are essential to Enrica’s cooking. She doesn’t use recipes, doesn’t own a set of measuring cups or spoons, and rarely makes dessert. She relies instead on spontaneity and creativity in the kitchen, and encourages her guests to do the same; to let their senses be their guide. “Stick your finger in the pot and taste it”, she urges. How else will you know if the saffron-scented cauliflower purée needs more salt?
The cooking class takes place inside Enrica’s family palazzo on a side street in the Dorsoduro sestiere; a calle so quiet that when I toss a bowl of shrimp shells out the window, I can hear the gentle splash they make in the dark canal two stories below.
Each of us decides for ourselves how much we want to take part. I pair up with Kristen, a friendly woman from the Midwest who is on shore leave from one of the enormous cruise ships docked at the Venice Cruise Terminal. Together we clean a mountain of slippery squid (not a task for the squeamish), pulling off their heads to remove their innards, then poking our fingers inside to extract the hard quill that serves as a backbone. While we work, Kristen’s husband stations himself next to the refrigerator door, ensuring that no wine glass goes empty. The class is as free-flowing as the Prosecco – more like a stylish, upscale dinner party with an international guest list (including the beautiful wife of a famous Italian jewellery designer) than an instructor-led classroom.
The food we cook turns out to be the best meal I eat during my entire stay in Venice. We start with the antipasti – baby scallops sprinkled with bergamot peel, bread crumbs, ginger and thyme, a satisfyingly crunchy salad made from prized St. Erasmo castraure artichokes, and then bitter-sweet Treviso glazed with honey and balsamic vinegar. Next, the primo, or first course, where I savour the calamari I cleaned earlier, now stuffed with sweet winter squash and sautéed until golden brown, followed by tender monkfish cheeks served on a bed of perfectly seasoned silky cauliflower purée. I’m astonished by the sheer volume of food and wonder how I find room for the main course, the secondi, La Pasta alla Busara, a fiery combination of pasta with scampi, baby tomatoes, garlic, and chilli. We finish our feast with Grey Mullet Mare e Monti (meaning where the sea meets the mountains), a whole mullet roasted atop buttery porcini, and I’m relieved that Enrica doesn’t ‘do’ dessert.
It’s after 11:00 pm when I walk back to the Accademia Vaporetto stop. The water bus runs less often at night and, judging from the ripples on the canal’s surface, I’ve just missed it. As I settle in to wait for the next one, I re-visit the day’s textures and tastes in my mind, wanting to commit each one to memory. I know I’ve experienced the real Venice, a side of the city I would have never found on my own, and I appreciate how Enrica Rocca’s private cooking school earned its reputation as one of the best in the world.
Disclosure: Although I was a guest of Enrica Rocca Cooking School, the opinions expressed here are my own.
12 thoughts on “Enrica Rocca Cooking School”
Laura, I have been looking forward to this post and it was worth the wait. Fabulous description of a unique and authentic experience. I only wish I was there to share it with you. The artichoke salad sounds special. So it is served peeled to the heart, then thinly sliced and tossed with dressing, no cooking at all? I have to try it as soon as I see the babe artis in the market here. Thanks for the lovely post. A pleasure to read.
Thanks Dina. You would have loved every minute of it – the colourful market, stylish palazzo, unfamiliar ingredients, gorgeous wines, interesting classmates and of course, Enrica herself. I wish you could have been there.
The artichoke salad was wonderful, no doubt due to those coveted Castraure artichokes from one of the lagoon islands. (Castraure, by the way, means castrated.) The salad is very fresh-tasting and crisp with the artichokes served raw (not even blanched first). Let me know how you like it.
This cooking school sounds amazing! So you get to cook all day and then you all get to sit down and eat together with wine! What a wonderful experience! This is going on my list for when my husband & I head over to the Mediterranean in a couple of years. Thanks for sharing your experience
Glad you enjoyed the post.
Enrica has half day, full day and wine pairing classes so it depends on which class you register for. On the day I went we visited the market in the morning then stopped into a local baccaro for cicchetti (snacks) and a Spritz. We didn’t meet at the cooking school until later than evening.
It was such a fun way to learn about the seafood-centric food of Venice while meeting some really great people. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 🙂
Great post Laura! Love this new site of yours and am looking forward to hearing more of your stay in Venice. I am heading there myself for a second time, as you know, in June. While I am very comfortable with finding my way around (which includes getting gleefully lost) and the dos/don’ts I am still at a loss for delicious places to eat.
It can be tough finding authenticity.
I wish I had time for the cooking school but luckily all is not lost. I have a wine tour with cicchetti tastings one evening then a food tour of the Rialto with more cicchetti. I have a kitchen so one evening we will have to make this delicious sounding recipe!
I only have one night that isn’t planned for dinner so I will have to do some research to find a budget friendly and yet delicious restaurant.
Thanks Murissa! Paris and Venice in June. Lucky girl. You’ll have plenty of fun and authentic food on the cicchetti tastings.
If you get a chance, stop at this Trattoria for an afternoon snack. The polpettes are deep-fried out-of-this-world-amazing – crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. As fast as they bring out a fresh batch from the kitchen, they are gone! It’s at the end of the alley off the Strada Nuova, straight across from the Ca D’Oro vaporetto stop.
Cà D’Oro alla Vedova
Cannareggio, 3912, 30121 Venezia, Italy
+39 041 528 5324
Great post! I think this is a fantastic way to truly experience the cuisine of a place. If I can ever get over my fear of being (& looking) completely clueless when it comes to cooking, I’d love to try taking a class like this.
Go for it Natasha! It’s so much fun! And you can always blame your inexperience on unfamiliar ingredients and customs. 🙂
By the way, I love your blog. You’re a wonderful writer.
I really enjoyed this post and it sounds like a really great cooking class – very authentic. I like the sounds of the artichoke salad recipe that you posted as well. Thank you so much for linking up with #WeekendWanderlust!
It was such a memorable day, discovering the special characteristics of the local cuisine and culture.
I’m glad I found the #weekendwanderlust link-up. You’re such a talented group of writers and photographers! Thanks very much for stopping by.
I’ve been to Venice several times and would of loved to take a cooking class and experienced some of the local cuisine. Thanks for linking up to #WeekendWanderlust.
Hi Carmen, There is so much to love about Venice, isn’t there? But this cooking class – along with the guided walk through the markets and cichetti bars that I took with Walks of Italy – were the gastronomic highlights for me. Well, except maybe for the gelato 🙂