Susan Van Allen Brings Us Inside Italian Cooking

Susan Van Allen is a frequent visitor to Italy and avid fan of Context Travel. Her love for Italy stems from her maternal grandparents, who emigrated from Southern Italy.  She’s written about Italian travel for over twenty-five media outlets, including National Public Radio, Town & Country, Student Traveler, Tastes of Italia, Chicago Daily Herald, and CNN.com. She also has a following for her monthly Letters From Italy column on the Divine Caroline website. In her book, 100 Places In Italy Every Woman Should Go, one of the places featured is our Italian Cooking with Daniela del Balzo. Susan was generous enough to let us republish the following.

“I felt like I was with my sister,” Margaret Vos tells me about the cooking class she took with Daniela del Balzo. Margaret, who lives in Minnesota, rendezvoused in Rome with her twenty-five-year-old son Jacob. They both love to cook and thought signing up for a one-day class would be a fun way to get to know the Eternal City. Plus they’d have recipes to take home with them. The “clicking like they were sisters” part was a magical surprise.

Daniela is an extraordinarily welcoming woman, who sets up her class as if she was taking her students along with her for her typical Roman day: shopping at the local market and cooking in her apartment. She also speaks perfect English, having spent time in the States going to college and working there in the culinary side of the hotel business.

Her passion for cooking is boundless. She learned the traditional way—from her mother, grandmother, and greatgrandmother, during her childhood in Naples. Then, after a successful twenty year career working for Alitalia, she decided to go back to school to focus on her love for cooking. She studied at Italy’s renowned Gambero Rosso Cooking School, the French Culinary Arts School & Le Cordon Bleu, and the International Cooking School of Naples. Now she teaches and runs a catering and personal chef business. She’s fifty-something, married to a Roman, has two teen-aged boys, and a mother-in-law who lives two floors above her. Combining all those work and life experiences, Daniela’s created a class where she teaches Roman classics with professional flair, always adding a Neapolitan touch from her ancestors.

The class begins where every cook in the neighborhood starts their day: the Testaccio Market. Even though Testaccio is not far from the historic center, it’s under the tourist radar, and the market is an authentic, bustling scene. “Everywhere we stopped with Daniela it was so personal,” Margaret said. “It made me think how I rush into the supermarket, buy vegetables, and don’t say a word to anyone who works there.”

They met Daniela’s butcher, who specially prepared veal into paper thin slices and “her” artichoke sellers from Australia, who Daniela knows to be expert at cleaning and cutting the vegetables so they’re just right to stuff and make artichokes alla romana.

Loaded down with bags, they headed up the Aventine hill to Daniela’s apartment and tied on their aprons to continue class in her modern, renovated kitchen. “She was so gracious,” Margaret said. “She showed us her whole big apartment, the antiques that had been in her husband’s home for generations. Plus as we cooked we got into conversations just like I’d have with a girlfriend back in Minnesota.” They covered the nitty gritty about balancing work and home, and raising kids. Daniela even recommended a Roman spa to Margaret, the Aquamadre, that turned out to be a great experience.

It was relaxed hours of chopping, picking herbs from Daniela’s garden, and hovering by her side at the stove as she taught them how to make Roman specialties like bucatini all’amatraciana and involtini alla romana. In the latter dish, since it was autumn, Daniela got inventive and filled the veal rolls with pureed pumpkin, along with parmigiano, and slices of lightly smoked pancetta. For dessert, they cooked up a Neapolitan sweet that Daniela had learned from her grandmother, using fresh ricotta and chocolate.

Lunch in the garden, surrounded by pots of lemon trees, rosemary bushes, and herb plants, had Margaret and Jacob feeling far away from the city. And as they enjoyed each course, served with Lazio wines, it certainly didn’t feel like school. It was a perfect experience of a classic Roman day.”

For more info regarding 100 Places In Italy Every Woman Should Go see www.susanvanallen.com

View our calendar for scheduled Italian Cooking lessons with Daniela, which are also available on private request.

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