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Italian cooking class in Willmar, Minn., shows how to savor fresh ingredients, homemade food

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WILLMAR — There’s the recipe for fresh homemade pasta and then there are the unwritten secrets to getting it right.

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Don’t mix the egg with the flour too vigorously — go gently and take your time, Piergiorgio Rosetti tells the novice pasta-makers gathered on a recent evening in the First Presbyterian Church kitchen.

How do you know when the dough is ready? It should be the consistency of bread dough, “not too hard but not too sticky,” he explains.

Rosetti, a native of Italy, grew up on the fresh pasta his mother made in her kitchen several times a week. Most of the 12 people in his cooking class grew up with pasta from a box.

By the time the class was over, Amanda Raetzman was inspired to reach less often for the box.

“It’s when you make things that you realize what’s in them,” she said. “This has been incredibly affordable. It’s good quality ingredients — and you get to eat it afterwards.”

For three nights this past month, Rosetti led a course in Italian cooking sponsored by the Willmar Community-Owned Grocery.

Participants sampled their way up the Italian coast, starting with a saffron-infused menu from Sicily and ending with some of the traditional foods of northern Italy.

The idea was to encourage people to think about the food they buy and how they prepare and eat it, said Kristin Anderson-Rosetti, outreach coordinator for the Willmar Community-Owned Grocery.

“It’s about the process of cooking and appreciating it — just getting together, hands-on experience, using real ingredients,” said Anderson-Rosetti, who along with her husband helped organize and lead the series of classes.

Make that local ingredients as well. The eggs used in the homemade pasta came from a small producer near Hutchinson. And although the menus were authentically Italian, most of the ingredients can be found here in Minnesota, Anderson-Rosetti said.

The full-service community-owned grocery will emphasize fresh and local products when it opens its doors. Nearly 400 people have already joined the food cooperative, and selection of a site is under way.

The effort to open a local food cooperative is part of a rising tide of interest in smaller-scale, local and sustainable ways of producing food.

Through a grant from the West Central Partnership, the Willmar Design Center recently began working on the development of a food distribution system linking a small but growing number of local producers, vendors and consumers across the region. The long-range vision calls for the Willmar Community-Owned Grocery to play a key role in this system.

Anderson-Rosetti is currently focused on community education and recruiting members for the food cooperative.

There are often barriers to using fresh local food, she said. One of her goals is to help consumers become more comfortable with buying and preparing whole foods. “That’s a big part of what we’re trying to do,” she said.

Nick and Jacinda Davis are members of the Willmar Community-Owned Grocery. They signed up to take the Italian cooking classes together.

“We both like cooking a lot,” Nick said. “It sounded fun.”

The Davises aren’t afraid of complicated or time-consuming recipes. Nick often puts together an evening meal that can take up to three hours to prepare, and he has tried his hand at making homemade pasta.

But learning the techniques firsthand from an instructor was different, he said. “Reading a book isn’t the same.”

It was better than watching a cooking show on TV, Raetzman agreed. “Just to be able to do something hands-on is fantastic.”

Besides pasta-making, Rosetti showed the class how to make classic pasta fagioli, a thick soup containing beans, garlic, onion, carrots, celery and sage, with fresh pasta added at the last minute.

The evening ended with fresh homemade ice cream prepared by Chuck Roelofs, a board member of the Willmar Community-Owned Grocery, and his wife, Sandy, owners of C & S Gardens and Catering.

Anderson-Rosetti said she hopes to offer more cooking classes, both through the Willmar Community-Owned Grocery and the Becker Market, to continue sparking enthusiasm for this approach to food.

“The idea of cooking together and then eating together — it appeals to people,” she sai

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Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

(320) 235-1150
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