Explore the Pastabilities

Published 3:35 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Add a little Mediterranean flavor to your life this summer.

Learn how to prepare such authentic Italian dishes as garbanzo bean soup, pasta carbonara, antipasto salad, penne pasta with chicken and sun-dried tomatoes or a delicious cannoli pastry dessert.

Beginning on May 19, “Authentic Italian Cuisine 101” will be taught by the self-proclaimed “Prince of Pasta,” Jim Gisondi, through the Bainbridge College Office of Continuing Education.

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Gisondi, a relative newcomer to the community, has many years of experience in cooking and teaching. He began making homemade pasta as soon as he could see over the table, picking up his culinary skills from the world’s best teachers—his mother, grandmother and the other women in the area. He considers himself truly neighborhood educated.

Originally from the up-state New York town of Gloversville, not far from Schenectady, Gisondi grew up in a close-knit community populated largely by Italian immigrants, where the old world traditions and family recipes were treasured, shared and handed down from generation to generation.

Before long, young Gisondi became the family’s chief cook. Since his mother worked as a nurse, he began preparing the daily meals for the family of five. To this day he is the family cook for his wife, Linda, and enjoys preparing delicious food for their friends, new and old.

“This is not frou-frou food, but down-to-earth Italian food, much of it made from leftovers,” explained Gisondi. “The dinner meals were often made from pancetta or bacon left over from breakfast. Nothing ever went to waste, and to this day I hardly waste anything.”

The “Prince of Pasta” is not an idle title.

For five years Gisondi owned and operated a successful Italian restaurant in Bellville, Ill., near St. Louis, where many of the menu dishes were named after his friends, sporting such fine Italian names as Piazza, Mazzone, Clemente, DiCaterino and Generosa.

He began teaching cooking classes, first at the Bellville Area College, then continued to do so for 20 years at the Green County Career Center in Xenia after moving to Ohio in 1986.

Gisondi is excited about sharing his love of cooking here in Georgia, where there is an abundance of year-round fresh produce and good seafood. He claims to make a wonderful summer spaghetti with seafood. He is also nurturing 14 tomatoes planted in his back yard with the intent of making and freezing lots of sauce.

Students will collectively choose the menu to be prepared in class, and given hands-on instruction, with limited participation in the food preparation. Then, as the saying goes, “the proof is in the pasta,” when the results will be consumed by the class.

Gisondi said student favorites through the years have include pizzas and calzones, but the most popular dish is fettuccini carbonara. Gisondi’s personal favorite is eggplant parmagiano, which he eats hot, cold or left-over in a sandwich.

His mother’s favorite was braccioli, a dish made of pounded round steak, covered with a mixture of raisins and parmesan cheese or prosciutto ham and cheese, then rolled like a jelly roll prior to baking slowly for hours.

Wife Linda said she enjoys anything her husband cooks as long as it does not contain seafood. Her personal favorite is manicotti.

“If I’m ever pronounced near death, make that my last meal,” she adds.

Gisondi said students should not fear they have to have a professionally equipped kitchen to duplicate these recipes.

“Just give me a knife, a cutting board, a fry pan, a large pot and a large platter. I can cook anywhere,” he said.

This writer can attest to the truth of that statement. The first time we met the Gisondis they were visiting Bainbridge with the intent of moving here. They came to our humble home kitchen and prepared a delicious dinner for us.

The retired Gisondis now happily make their home in Bainbridge, along with two brown puppies, appropriately named Ginger and Spice, which they recently adopted from the Bainbridge/Decatur animal shelter.

Classes will begin on Tuesday, May 19, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. and meet each Tuesday through July 7. Thanks to the generosity of the Rev. James Clendinen and St. Johns Episcopal Church, the classes will be held in the church fellowship kitchen.

Contact Continuing Education at Bainbridge College, (229) 248-2516 to register. Class size is limited to 12.

Each student will receive a copy of the special Gisondi Italian cookbook. Not only does it contain the treasured family recipes, but it is generously peppered with amusing comments and cooking tips from “The Prince” himself.

Gisondi promises the classes will be fun, saying, “I’ve had people take it again just for the fun of it.”