By Emma Paulini – 11th Grade, Fox Chapel Area High School
From Asian markets in the Strip District to German food in Deutschtown, Pittsburgh is a cultural hub where people from all over the world visit, work, and live. Young people are also able to experience a little bit of Italy at Mondo Italiano Centro di Cultura Italiana. On August 17, campers attended a half day Italian cooking class in Edgewood to create mozzarella and mozzarella based dishes together. Throughout the summer and during the school year, Mondo Italiano runs half day cooking demonstrations, 10-week long courses, language classes, and more, in which children and adults cook, sing, play, and learn in Italian.
In 2003, Italian native Viviana Altieri founded Mondo Italiano, meaning “Italian World,” to create a welcoming place for Pittsburgh’s Italian community and anyone interested in Italian culture to gather, learn, and embrace the culture together. In addition, the organization runs group excursions to Italian exhibitions and festivals and even trips to Italy. They also provide translation and interpretation services in over 20 languages.
While waiting for everyone to arrive, campers decorated chef hats and crafted necklaces out of penne pasta and beads. The group then headed outside to a little garden containing tomato and basil plants and picked basil leaves for use later in the class. Back inside the well-stocked and equipped kitchen, the kids sampled Italian wafer cookies as Viviana explained the plan for the day. The menu consisted of homemade mozzarella, pizza-like antipasti, and suppli al telefono. Suppli al telefono is a Roman finger food combining the words meaning “surprise” and “telephone.” A rice and tomato sauce mixture is filled with mozzarella, coated in breadcrumbs, and fried in oil. The result contains a melty, cheesy “surprise” that stretches and twirls from the center much like a telephone cord!
After washing their hands and situating themselves at cutting boards, the young chefs mixed homemade tomato sauce with rice and eggs for the suppli while prepping for mozzarella making. Viviana explained two ways mozzarella cheese can be made. One method uses milk and rennet and a lot of chemistry to come out just right. In this class, the campers learned a second method using cheese curd. The kids chopped blocks of curd while Viviana taught them more of the process: pour boiling salted water over the curd and stir until the curd breaks down. Next, drain the curd and stir the pieces into clumps. Then, knead and fold the clumps to attain an elastic mozzarella texture. Mozzarella means “to choke”, and campers were shown how to squeeze the mixture through their fists and pinch it off, resulting in a delicious ball of mozzarella cheese.
Some kids were experienced chefs, while others were new to cooking. Campers helped each other when they mastered a new skill. One camper, Diaz, talked about her enjoyment in cooking Italian food: “I did the pasta and pizza class before, which was also really fun.”
Mondo Italiano’s cooking classes are capped at eight participants for safety and so that each camper can fully participate in all aspects of the cooking process. “It’s important to me that kids nowadays have the chance to explore,” Viviana said, and the hands-on experience of creating food themselves really allows that.
Lydia, another returning camper, explained that languages and people from around the world interest her. She’s excited to participate in Mondo Italiano classes because she appreciates learning about cultures from far and wide.
Once the cheese curds formed into mozzarella and the suppli was spooned piping hot out of the pan, everyone sampled their creations, munching and smiling over the mouthwatering treats they had prepared. “Buon appetito!” filled the air as campers tasted together, a warm community of budding chefs sharing a love of the Italian culture. Mondo Italiano’s community and learning environment allow kids to explore a special taste of the international flavor Pittsburgh offers.
Emma Paulini is a junior at Fox Chapel Area High School. She is on the Senior Staff of her school’s literary arts magazine, is published in the Ralph Munn Creative Writing Anthology, and has received Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Emma also enjoys dancing, cooking, and exploring the world.