Several weeks prior to the 2018 Week of Italian Cuisine (November 12-17), San Francisco's fine dining establishment Perbacco, offered special guests...
Rosetta Constantino has something to celebrate. In just two short months, she will be marking the 10-year anniversary of her Calabrese-inspired cooking classes, Cooking with Rosetta.
Prior to our formal interview, I was invited to attend one of Rosetta’s classes on a Friday night in mid-June. I made the trek to the warehouse district in Emeryville, circling the block a few times until I located a nondescript business front that houses an impressive test kitchen secreted within—Paulding & Co. Kitchen. Inside I find a group of about 25 attendees, all seated in folding chairs, ready to embark on an evening with an exciting topic: A Night in a Neapolitan Pizzeria.
Though the theme belies Rosetta’s Verbicaro roots and the primary focus of her menus, the popularity of this chewy, crisp, papery thin pizza, topped with fresh and surprising ingredients (and thus the impetus for the class), is evident in the number of gourmet pizzerias that have popped up all over the Bay Area in recent years.
The participants are an interesting mix. Perhaps most intriguing is an 18-year old young man and recent high school graduate, whose love of cooking led his parents to buy him a few of Rosetta’s classes as a graduation present. A family of three, also with an 18-year-old son, quickly solicit me to be the fourth in their party as the class divides into stations that include rolling out dough, par-baking crust, and carefully arranging toppings like goat cheese and anchovy-stuffed squash blossoms on top of parsley and garlic-infused olive oil for a pizza bianca. The results are as delicious in reality as they are mouth-watering to read about.
Rosetta flits about the stations, giving firm instructions about the weight and disbursement of the toppings, seasoning the fresh tomatoes she’s brought in from her own garden, and timing the layout of the dough on the wooden peels—if they sit too long before baking they’ll stick to the board and you won’t be able to slide them into the oven.
After what seems like an eternity—making all these pizzas has the crowd starving to taste them—we sit at round tables to dig in and talk. Everyone seems to have taken on the identity of a raucous Italian family at this point, sharing how they’ve come to know Rosetta and her family (her mother and son serve as chef’s assistants), the staple techniques they’ve picked up in her classes, and sampling each other’s wine.
The mother of the family that has taken me under their wing explains that she’s been to the pizza class three times over the years and never grows tired of it. Her husband and son are attending with her this time for her birthday.
You might think these classes and Rosetta’s mission to share Calabrese cooking are the result of a great passion for food, which is of course partially true, but that isn’t actually how she got started. Once on a high-rise climb to corporate success as a chemical engineer for DuPont, Rosetta first gave up her everyday commute to Silicon Valley simply to be with her children. (DuPont was insistent on not giving Rosetta talents up though, allowing her to work from home full-time for several years before she scaled back on hours and eventually left the company for good.)
As you might imagine, long before Rosetta began formally teaching classes at Paulding & Co., she was a popular resource for recipes among friends and family, and a seat at her dinner table was a sure bet for an exquisite, garden-fresh meal. However, Rosetta soon realized that the meals she prepared for others, including her own children, were Tuscan—the end-all-be-all of Italian food aficionados at that time.
Driven by a desire to share the recipes she grew up with in Calabria, where her family were farmers living wholly off the land, Rosetta began seeking external resources like well-known Bay Area chef and author Linda Carucci to learn how she could begin conducting cooking classes.
As Rosetta humbly says, “Things fell into place.” Although she was doubtful in the beginning that anyone would respond to the style of food and region of Italy she wanted to focus on, she was thankfully very wrong. An article written by Janet Fletcher in the San Francisco Chronicle in October 2004, Calabria From Scratch, listed Rosetta’s first two classes. Naively, Rosetta was asked to provide her phone number, which led to shock when the newly minted educator began receiving hundreds of calls from across the country. It wasn’t long before her class schedule was fully booked.
Over the past decade, Rosetta’s creations have led to two successful books, My Calabria, Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South (co-written with Fletcher) and Southern Italian Desserts. Both books include cultural context and travel guide-style advice that stems from Rosetta’s own journeys to catalog recipes that were previously undocumented. Devotees to Rosetta’s cooking can now even travel with her through Southern Italy for a dreamlike, firsthand experience of her native region.
As she gears up for an official anniversary celebration this October, Rosetta plans to recreate her very first menu from 10 years ago—a sure bet for a fast sell-out (the date and fall schedules have yet to be released). For more information on Rosetta’s cookbooks and class schedule, visit www.cookingwithrosetta. com.