Franco Ranieri begins his Saturday morning class at the Rev. Oreste Pandola Adult Learning Center with a warm welcome.
Then he gets down to the business at hand.
“Today, we’re going to make some sausage,” he says.
The Italian sausage making class of about 10 students meets in the lower level of the learning center, in the former St. Leo’s School on Stiles St. in Little Italy.
Ranieri has been teaching sausage making at the Pandola Center for a few years now. He stresses the importance of technique and also that sausage making, like all cooking, is an individualized process.
“Here is the recipe I used today, but you’ll make sausage to suit your own tastes,” he says.
The students each take turns spreading Ranieri’s spice blends (one for hot sausage, one for sweet) into the bins of sausage meat he has brought to class.
While the sausage-making class is underway with the grownup cooks, Becky Woodward teaches a Pandola cooking class for children in the rear of the room in St. Leo’s large kitchen.
Woodward, who studied at the Baltimore International College, a cooking school, teaches Pandola’s Kitchen Kidz, a three-session cooking course for kids ages 5 and up.
“Today’s kids’ lesson is pizza making,” says Woodward, who lives in Little Italy.
A small group of students gather around Woodward as she teaches them how to make their own dough and roll and shape it on the kitchen’s work table.
“The children enjoy learning how to cook,” says Woodward, who also teaches drama at St. Casmir School in Canton. “Each semester, I try to teach them how to prepare a breakfast, a lunch, and a dinner. We make a cookbook for each class as a memento, so the children can practice at home.”
While Pandola’s child and adult cooking students are downstairs, other students are taking Italian classes upstairs.
“We have six classrooms,” says sausage-maker Franco Ranieri’s mother, Rosalie Ranieri, who directs the school.
The Pandola Center was founded in 1996 by the late Rev. Oreste Pandola, a former pastor of St. Leo’s Church.
“We have a great space,” Rosalie Ranieri says of the school building, which was built by Italian immigrants and also includes a library.
Pandola features a diverse range of classes each spring and fall, including Italian language courses, cultural classes, book clubs, and Italian cooking classes. It also offers courses at satellite campuses in Towson, Annapolis, and Bel Air.
Not all of Pandola’s classes are Italian-focused—Pandola recently offered classes in CPR and AED, oil painting, and the history of beer—but the majority are.
“Our mission is to serve the needs of the community, with a focus on Italian heritage and culture,” says Ranieri, who adds that Pandola enrolls about 200 students per semester from all over Baltimore and surrounding counties and even from out of town.
“We attract students from all over. Our most popular classes have to do with food and language,” Ranieri says.
Pandola regularly offers courses in wine making, mozzarella cheese making and pasta making.
“We have an excellent retention rate. The students come back and take more classes,” she says.
Part of the appeal is the affordability of the classes, some of which cost as little as $15.
This semester, Pandola even offered a class in how to acquire dual Italian citizenship, free of charge.
Pandola’s mission, says Ranieri, is about serving the community, teaching people what they’d like to learn at a price they can afford, and helping people reconnect with their Italian heritage.
“A woman recently called about a class Pandola offers in Italian card games—scopa, briscola, and solitario. She remembered the games her grandmother played and she wanted to learn them as well,” says Ranieri. “She wanted to connect to her roots, and we want to help pass on those traditions.”
It’s not too late to take a course at the Pandola Center. Several cooking classes begin in November, including how to make ravioli, gnocchi, and sauces, and how to make Italian cookies. Visit http://www.pandola.baltimore.md.us/ for details.
by Danielle Sweeney