Naperville duo will come to your house and teach you how to make Italian dinner from scratch

  • Hometown residents Eileen and Mike Karner work alongside daughter Katie Merling of Naperville to flatten their dough in pasta machines at Merling's Naperville home.

    Hometown residents Eileen and Mike Karner work alongside daughter Katie Merling of Naperville to flatten their dough in pasta machines at Merling's Naperville home. Courtesy of Kathryn Grondin

 
By Kathryn Grondin
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted3/10/2020 6:00 AM

Suburban residents can experience a taste of Italy without leaving the comforts of home, thanks to the new Naperville-based Al Dente.

Al Dente offers not only a taste of fresh Italian fare but also allows customers to get their fingers dirty -- or not so dirty if you're careful -- learning to make homemade fresh pasta, along with authentic homemade sauce. But it also serves up a festive experience with the added flavor of some Italian family lore shared in authentic lyrical accents sprinkled with some words in Italian.

 

The experience is created by Italian-born friends Valentina Vergottini and Monica Ratti, who grew up near Milan, Italy, but met only recently through mutual friends when visiting Naperville. Their husbands work together and as their friendship grew, the two women decided to team up and create a business.

"We started Al Dente to show you how easy it is to make Italian food," Ratti said. "We want to share our tradition, our culture ... to share a little bit of Italy."

The cooking workshop culminates with dinner. While customers (now friends or even honorary family) feast on their creation, Team Al Dente cleans up the kitchen.

Throughout the workshop, the women keep an eye on their students, encouraging and helping when needed.

"My grandmother says kneading dough is like a dance," Vergottini said. "It's a workout."

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The women cater to their clients, alternating between banter and demonstrations, as well answering cooking questions and jumping in to help as needed.

When peppered with questions, they answered with ease and even shared some family anecdotes throughout the workshop. For example, water should be at a rolling boil when you add the fresh pasta noodles, never just simmering.

"Every time you put noodles in the water when it's not boiling, someone in Italy is crying," Ratti says, sharing an old family adage from Nonna.

Clients say the experience is more organic and natural than a typical cooking workshop -- more like having close friends or family over to your home share an experience.

Naperville resident Katie Merling and 2-year-old daughter, Charlotte, show off their fettuccine noodles during a home cooking class sponsored by Al Dente.
Naperville resident Katie Merling and 2-year-old daughter, Charlotte, show off their fettuccine noodles during a home cooking class sponsored by Al Dente. - Courtesy of Kathryn Grondin
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's fun with your family. When they speak Italian, it just adds authenticity to the experience," said Naperville resident Kevin Merling, who co-hosted a family Valentine's Day dinner with his wife, Katie, for her parents.

"This is so amazing," Katie said.

"I love when they talk in Italian," her father, Mike Karner of Hometown, said. "I feel like I'm in Italy."

Al Dente offers both public and private two-hour workshops for adults as well as sessions for Scouts and other kids with an accompanying adult.

The Merlings' two children, 2-year-old Charlotte and 4-year-old Jack, tried their hands at all the stages of prep. Al Dente brought along some previously prepared dough just in case the kids' dough didn't turn out -- but the budding chefs demonstrated they had some natural ability. Their pasta went into the pot with the adults' noodles.

"They're great with the kids, so it's not stressful," Katie Merling said. "They're having the best time, my little nuggets."

Al Dente's menu offers a choice between pasta noodles with varying difficulty, including gnocchi, fettuccine and garganelli, as well as a choice of sauce like fresh tomato, basil pesto or Cacio e Pepe and more.

The women bring the fresh fixings for the pasta and sauce, as well as the needed equipment. They prep the area and clean up afterward.

"If you want to spend some quality time with your family and make unforgettable memories, call us," Vergottini said. "It's an experience."

For details or to book a session, email aldente.pastaworkshop@gmail.com, visit aldentepastaworkshop.com, or call (630) 636-1025.

Al Dente also offers periodic public workshops, including one Friday, March 20, in Carol Stream. You can find them on Facebook and Instagram under the name Al Dente pasta artists.

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