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In Towson, two Italian women indulge their culinary passion

Italians Giulia Sereni and Sara Burro are kindred spirits, especially when it comes to cooking.

Sereni, 29, came to Baltimore from Milan in 2013 for her husband Andrea Banzatti's job as an astronomy researcher for the Space Telescope Science Institute on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University. She is a stay-at-home mother of two young children. The family lives in Towson.

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Burro, 30, came last June to Baltimore, where her husband, Dr. Andrea Fava, is an immunology researcher and resident at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. They live in Canton, where Burro is a home-based organizer of business events.

The two women were introduced by the former owners of Sereni's house on Fairway Drive and they quickly bonded over their similarities — both from northern Italy, about the same age and with husbands who work for Hopkins and have the same first name.

"We were chatting and we discussed our passions," Burro said.

"We found out we loved to cook," Sereni said.

Now, Burro and Sereni are putting their friendship and culinary skills to good use. They started Flour Rhapsody last September, teaching cooking classes out of Sereni's house and catering small parties, mostly for friends.

"We cook a little bit of everything," from risotto to pastries, Sereni said, although they focus less on meat and fish. "It's less our tradition" in northern Italy than it is in the U.S., she said.

"We thought we could share our passion with people and teach how to make really healthy, homemade food," Burro said. "We found out we really like to teach and spend time together. We said, 'Wow, we could do something.'"

At Burro's suggestion, Flour Rhapsody is based online at www.flourrhapsody.com, a website created by WordPress.

"I have a good relationship with WordPress, my lover," Burro quipped.

After brainstorming possible business names, they found their inspiration when Sereni's husband came home one day, saw lots of flour in the kitchen and said, "Why don't you call it Flour Rhapsody?"

"It's dynamic," Burro said.

"We use a lot of flour," Sereni added.

The website is mostly a series of blogs, in which the women extol the virtues of recipes ranging from Burro's braised beef ravioli and pumpkin soups (with or without bacon) to Sereni's lemon curd pie, polenta concia with Fontina cheese, eggs and butter — an Italian Alps recipe that she made while snowed in during the recent blizzard — and meatballs tossed with peas and served with thin, crispy Italian bread sticks called grissini. They also give shout-outs to other people's recipes, such as La Cucina Italiana's turkey breasts with almonds and orange sauce, served with spinach.

They offer cooking classes on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for 2 hours and 30 minutes each, to groups of three to four people, at $60 per person. Students can choose from six entrees and desserts online, including lasagna, risotto, eggplant parmigiana, strudel, biscotti and tiramisu.

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On the website, Sereni and Burro promise to teach everything from "the true nature of meatballs" to winter recipes that will "heat up also your heart."

They schedule their classes when their husbands are working. "The house is not so big, so it's better if they're working and the kids are sleeping," Sereni said while her children, Beatrice, 1, and Tammaso, 3, slept in their bedroom.

Business has been good so far, although the main goals are having fun, meeting Americans and people from other cultures, and teaching people about Italy and good food. For Burro, "It's a tradition. If you like cooking, you want to learn new recipes."

The biggest uncertainty for both women is that they moved here for their husband's jobs and don't know where they might be in the next few years. Both say they think they can start up similar businesses on their own if they end up moving.

"Right now, we are here," said Sereni, who has a Rosie the Riveter poster in her kitchen that says, "We can do it."

And if they stay, they would like to expand the business, perhaps by opening a small trattoria-type restaurant or a pastry shop.

But, says Sereni, "So far, it's good like this."

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