Monday, February 22, 2010

Cooking class in Denver

On February 13, I had the chance to teach a cooking class in Denver, Colorado. It started with my trip to California and the desire to get together with a former graduate student of mine who lives near Denver. A high school classmate asked me if I would stay at their home for the weekend and I agreed. Another classmate from high school is a follower on this blog so I wrote to him and asked if the three Antioch guys might want to get together in Denver for a mini-reunion. I decided that I would offer to teach a cooking class similar to the ones we do in Italy. So Jim invited two other couples, plus Gary and his wife to get together on Saturday night at Jim’s house outside of Denver. These two guys had lived about 30 miles apart in Colorado and had not met in 47 years, since high school.

Jim and Sharon met me at the airport Friday afternoon and we drove back to their house reminiscing about old school friends. I fixed a simple dinner of tortellini Gorgonzola, some toasted French bread, and some salad. Tortellini Gorgonzola is a simple dish with tortellini (use meat filled ones if possible, but all types work fine), and a sauce made of 8 ounces of cream, 4-6 ounces of Gorgonzola cheese, two tablespoons of butter and lots of ground black pepper. The tortellini are cooked and then added to the sauce and stirred until coated. It is wonderful hot and can be eaten as leftovers the next day. Later in the evening I made some beer bread for crostini the next day, did the slow oven-roasted tomatoes, and the Italian cream cheese dessert which had to harden in the refrigerator overnight.

On Saturday, I checked the shopping list I had asked Jim and Sharon to do and things looked in readiness. I dressed and went out to lunch with Lisa (my graduate student) to a good Thai restaurant and had a nice piece of curried fish. Then it was back to the house to set up the class materials. My pasta machine had been delayed in Frankfurt, but arrived in San Francisco before I left for Denver. So we clamped it to a counter and I began the antipasti setups and the vegetables for the sauce. At 3PM people started arriving and we were ready to go. There was Sharon and Jim (my hosts), Gary and Paulette, Stephanie, Gary, Louise and Jay. They were ready to participate.

The menu was:
Crostini with salmon and crema
Crostini with porcini saute
Crostini with cannelini bean puree and caramelized onions
Bruschetta with olive oil, garlic and salt
Bruschetta with caramelized pears and Gorgonzola
Cucumber slices topped with spiced goat cheese and slow roasted cherry tomatoes
Tagliatelle with vegetable and tomato sauce
Grilled sausages and grapes
Salad with radicchio, orange slices and fennel in orange vinaigrette
Italian cheese dessert

Instruction started with the longest cooking dish, the tomato sauce. Once it was on the stove we made the pasta dough and set it aside to rest while we did the antipasti. Since almost all of the antipasti were bread (crostini and bruschetta) based I did the sliced bead in the oven, brushing the slices with olive oil and some crushed garlic. I grilled the bruschetta alone then rubbed garlic into the bread, liberally applied a good olive oil and sprinkled on some salt. The pieces were cut into three sections and plated. The materials for the crostini were mixed by class members and the assembly took place at the kitchen table. Everyone had fun, but they were starting to stare hungrily at the dishes spread out on the table. I felt that I had to divert their attention for a bit, so I started rolling and cutting the pasta.

I felt the pasta was a bit moist and added a substantial amount of flour to the surface to keep it from sticking. I had a couple of people roll out the sheets and then showed them how to use the cutter head to make the tagliatelle. The pasta was floured and stacked and I started the water on the stove. Then I told them all to start on the antipasti. It was fun to watch them eat the interesting pieces they had made so simply. Hopefully that is the good takeaway lesson they can use in the future. Wine was poured and consumed. I tasted everything to be sure it was OK and then got back to the pasta. I was pretty much done eating dinner and my Eight Bites had been enough.

The sauce had cooked down and the pasta water was boiling so I asked everyone to sit down and dropped the pasta in to cook. It took only a few minutes, though I cooked it a bit longer than they do in Italy. I understand al dente pasta, but I find it too underdone for American tastes. So I cooked the pasta about a minute or so longer. It came out perfectly. I plated the pasta and the sauce in a big heated bowl and added a couple of handfuls of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, The sauce was lightly used as a condiment and did not drown the pasta. I served the pasta and started the sausages.

I placed the grapes in a large saute pan with a bit of olive oil and started to glaze them. Then I set them aside and started grilling the sausages. The pasta course was done with a bit for leftovers.  I plated the sausages on a hot platter and poured the grapes over them. Then I dressed the salad and sent both out to the dining room. I actually then took a few minutes to sit down and talk and also listen to the conversation. Eating should be a communal activity and the conversation was lively, and often political.

As the dinner was winding down, I slowed the pace a bit and held off on the dessert as everyone settled in for a few minutes. I sliced the cheese dessert into 3” squares since it was so rich and served it on chilled plates. Wine was poured continuously and the dessert got good reviews. Everyone helped clear the table and the dishes piled up in the sink. Most went into the dishwasher and the pans were washed by hand. I opened a bottle of vin santo and had a small glass with Jim. Gary doesn’t drink any longer but then the three of us chatted for another 30 minutes. Everyone left to avoid the impending snowstorm (10” by morning). The evening was over and I was on a bit of an adrenaline high. It seems to get like that after cooking a meal for someone. Slowing down and cleaning up was necessary and accomplished.

The following recipes were handed out at the class:

Crostini with salmon and cream cheese with lemon mostarda
Mix 4-8 ounces of cream cheese with 3 tablespoons of chopped chives and a bit of slat and pepper. Set aside. Grill thin slices of French or Italian bread over the grill to brown and crisp. Spread with cream cheese mixture. Dice smoked salmon into 1/4” dice and sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons on top of the cream cheese. Add a small dollop of lemon mostarda to the top and a very thin 1/8 portion of a thin lemon slice.

Lemon Mostarda
Two cups of water
1 1/2 cups of sugar
Rind from 5 lemons, peeled with a vegetable peeler and sliced into fine julienne
Juice from the five lemons
Slice another lemon into eighths and slice crosswise into very thin lemon wedges, remove seeds
Two tablespoons of yellow or black mustard seeds
3-4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (to taste)

Bring water and sugar to a rolling boil and boil for 10 minutes
Add grated lemon peel and juice and return to a boil.
Add small sliced of lemon, and allow to cook at a simmer for 20 minutes
Toast mustard seeds in a dry frying pan until they start to pop
Grind in a mortar or spice mill to a coarse texture
Add to fruit mixture
Taste and add 3-4 tablespoons (or more) vinegar (This is my preferred option)
Simmer for 30 minutes
Ladle into washed canning jars (1/4 pint)
Seal and process for 5 minutes in boiling water bath
Remove from the water bath to a rack
Allow to cool.

Caramelized pear and Gorgonzola crostini
Peel and chop 2 firm pears into ½” dice. Saute over medium heat with a couple of teaspoons of sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice until golden and caramelized. Mix about 3-4 oz of Gorgonzola with a bit of milk or cream to thin it to spreading consistency. Grill thin slices of French or Italian bread over the grill to brown and crisp. Spread Gorgonzola on the bread and top with some caramelized pear. Put on a baking sheet in a slow oven (300 degrees for 5-10 minutes to heat before serving.

Cannelini bean and caramelized onions crostini
Open and drain a can of great northern or cannelini beans and rinse thoroughlty. Place beans in a saucepan with about a ½ can of chicken stock or water and add 3 peeled garlic cloves. Cook the beans for 10-15 minutes until most of the water has evaporated. Puree the mixture with a stick blender or in a food processor. Peel and slice 2 medium onions thinly and saute in a frying pan with 3-4 table spoons of butter, add a table spoon of sugar and 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (or what you have). The onions should saute until golden and soft. Grill thin slices of French or Italian bread over the grill to brown and crisp. We used a bit of fig jam on the bread before putting the beans on. Spread with the bean puree and top with some onions. Sprinkle with a bit of Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.

Bruschetta with garlic, olive oil and salt
Slice French or Italian bread into ½” slices and grill either over coals, on a grill, or in the oven until toasted and golden. Remove bread slices to a rack and rub each slice well with a raw clove of garlic. In a bowl put ½ cup of good quality olive oil and with a brush, brush oil generously onto each slice. Sprinkle with a nice coarse salt and put into a warm oven to keep warm

Mushroom crostini
Saute 8 oz of sliced button mushrooms (or whatever you have available) in 4 Tablespoons of butter or a mixture of butter and olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add ½ cup of chopped parsley and ½ cup of Marsala wine. Cook over medium until nearly dry. Spread mushroom mixture on crostini. The mushrooms can be pureed with a bit of cold butter to make a nice mushroom pate.

Cucumber antipasti with goat cheese and slow roasted tomatoes
Peel and slice two good cucumbers into 1” slices. Mix fresh goat cheese with a bit of salt and pepper and top each slice with a small spoonful of goat cheese. Top cheese with a half slow roasted tomato.

Slow roasted tomatoes
Wash and then slice a basket of cherry tomatoes into halves. Place in a bowl and add ½ cup olive oil and 1 tablespoon or dried basil and oregano, some salt and pepper and a spoonful of sugar if the tomatoes are not that ripe. Turn the tomatoes out onto a large cookie sheet and turn each one over so the cut side is up. Place in a 300 degree oven for 45 minutes, then turn off the oven and allow the tomatoes to dry (overnight is fine). Place in a plastic container and keep in the refrigerator until needed.

Tagliatelle with tomato and vegetable sauce
Make fresh pasta, or purchase fresh or dry pasta (tagliatelle or fettuccini)

Basic Tomato and Vegetable Sauce
Serves 12
Cooking time: 1 ½ hours
It is preferable to use a combination of fresh and canned tomatoes. But local conditions may dictate what you use.
¼ cup olive oil
2 stalks celery
1 white or yellow onion
6 unpeeled carrots
Handful flat-leafed Italian parsley
2 cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (peperoncini), optional
A few leaves of fresh basil
2 pounds fresh cherry tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt
1 quart tomato puree (called passata di pomodori—look for the Pomi brand in the U.S.)
2 cups water (or more)
1 cup dry white wine (or more)
1 cup grated pecorino Romano cheese, to be added at the end.

Pour enough olive oil into a heavy frying pan (11 inches diameter, 2 inches tall) to cover its bottom, and place it over medium heat.

After washing the vegetables, chop the celery and onion coarsely, mince the parsley and garlic together, and grate the carrots on the largest holes of the grater. Add to hot oil, stir, and cover pot.

After the vegetables have softened, add the pepper flakes, basil and the de-stemmed, washed cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle with the salt and cover.

After 20 minutes, add the tomato puree and stir. Continue to cook, covered, for 15 minutes more, stirring regularly with a flat-bottomed wooden spatula to assure that the sauce is not sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Remove cover and add wine and water as needed, continuing to cook uncovered on low heat for another thirty minutes, stirring regularly.

When the sauce is thick and creamy, remove it from the fire and set aside, covered, to keep it warm. Add to the pasta or polenta, then top with grated cheese and serve.

Italian sausages and grilled grapes
Purchase the number of sausages you will need and either grill them over coals or in a grill pan on the stove. Remove the grapes from the stems and in a saute pan, saute them with a bit of good olive oil until they start to get slightly colored and may start to pop. Place the grilled sausage in a serving dish and pour grapes over all.

Salad with sliced oranges, fennel, radicchio, and lettuce
Make a salad with torn lettuce and radicchio. Peel and slice three oranges thinly and set aside. Slice the fennel very thinly through the root so the slices stay together. Add the sliced oranges just before serving. Make vinaigrette from the juice of one orange, olive oil, salt and pepper and if you wish a small amount of mild vinegar. Pour over salad and toss.

Italian cheesecake
This is a creamy cheesy dessert that requires no cooking. Adjust the amount of cheese to serve the number of people you need.

Place 8 to 16 oz of mascarpone and 8 to 16 ounces of cream cheese in a mixing bowl. Begin to mix. Add 1/2 to ¾ cup of sugar, a teaspoon of grated lemon peel, two ounces of your favorite liquor (Grand Marnier, brandy, chocolate liquor, coffee liquor). Mix everything thoroughly. In a second bowl put ½ to 1 pint of whipping cream, a ½ cup of sugar (or less) and a teaspoon of vanilla. Mix to stiff peaks. Add ½ of the cream to the cheese mixture, and continue beating. Remove the mixer, and fold in the remaining cream. In a large baking dish, place 1-2 cups of crushed biscotti in the bottom, pour over the cream mixture and sprinkle top with chopped bittersweet chocolate. Place in the refrigerator at least overnight covered with plastic wrap. Serve cold.

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