We are constantly on the prowl for cool products, promotions, and events! Special thanks to Carrie for checking out this complementary cooking class at Central Market.
When I recently walked into Central Market’s Cooking School, I knew I was in for a treat. As soon as I opened the door, I was greeted by a rich, meaty smell that affirmed that this was going to be a great class. Chef Gina Stipo not only shared her delicious recipes, but entertained with stories of Italy and even debunked some Italian food myths. Before I launch into the food, here is the truth about some of those American assumptions about Italian cuisine…
- You know those little plates of olive oil in which to dip your bread at an Italian restaurant? Do not give credit to Italy…give it to Macaroni Grill.
- Spaghetti and meatballs would not be served as one dish in Italy. Pasta is often served as a first course while meatballs would be served as the second (meat) course.
- True balsamic vinegar has only one ingredient, a reduction of grape juice, is aged for a minimum of 12 years in a series of increasingly smaller casks made of various materials, and only comes from Modena or Reggio Emilia.
- Italian cuisine is not the homogeneous assortment of pastas that we often see in Italian restaurants in the U.S. Due to the abundance of cows in the northern region of Italy, many dishes contain sauces made with cream, butter, and cow’s milk cheeses, such as Fontina and Parmesan. Southern Italian cooking uses a lot of tomatoes, as Spain ruled much of this area.
Now onto the goods…
The evening started with an antipasto of Calamari con Sugo Arrabiata (Squid with Spicy Tomato Sauce). Unlike the usual preparation of frying squid, this recipe calls for the squid (or as used this particular evening, octopus) to be quickly sautéed and added to a quickly prepared tomato sauce flavored with garlic, peppers, white wine and parsley. The dish was so easy to prepare and was simply delicious. To my surprise, the octopus was firm, but tender and flavorful.
Our next course of Zuppa di Castagne (Chestnut Soup) was my favorite of the evening. In fact, I was so excited to dive in, that I forgot to snap a picture! You’ll just have to take my word for it and whip up a batch of this one yourself (see recipe below). The jarred chestnuts make preparation so easy and add a sweet note to the rich and creamy soup. This was served topped with homemade croutons that retained just the right amount of crunch. I, along with my classmates, was soon scraping my spoon against the bottom of the bowl, hoping for one more bite. What a great treat on a cold evening!
Remember that meaty smell that hit me as I walked into the class? Hello Porchetta e Patate Arroste (Tuscan Roasted Pork & Potatoes). Vegetarians, skip this paragraph…it will hurt. Pork lovers, try not to drool on your keyboard. For this dish of porky deliciousness, Chef Stipo took a pork loin, rubbed it with a paste of rosemary, sage, garlic, fennel and salt, and wrapped it with a piece of pancetta. That’s right…pork wrapped in pork. Wow. I will admit, probably to the dismay of many, that I left much of the pork belly on my plate, but the flavor that that fat gave to the pork loin was amazing. The potatoes had good flavor; however, the need to cook them ahead (in order to serve them to the class) resulted in potatoes that were more hard than crispy. It was clear, however, when that eating these babies right out of the oven it would be hard to stop at one helping.
Finally, our meal was finished with Panzerotti (Fried Chestnut Pastries). These pizza dough pastries were filled with a mixture of chestnut meat, dark cocoa, sugar, cloves, cinnamon, orange zest and liquor (in this case, amaretto). After filling, pastries were fried and rolled in sugar. The filling was AMAZING. The texture was truffle-like with strong flavors of bright citrus and nutty amaretto. I could have eaten this stuff by the spoonful. These treats were best right out of the hot oil, when the chewy pizza dough was still tender.
For more yummy recipes and culinary adventures, visit Chef Stipo’s website and blog.
Happy True Italian Cooking!
Zuppa di Castagna (Chestnut Soup)
Recipe courtesy of Gina Stipo
4 oz pancetta, diced
1 small onion, chopped
1 leek, chopped
¼ bulb fresh fennel, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 sprig rosemary, chopped
4 cups chestnuts, or two cups meat, chopped
Salt (unrefined sea salt is Chef Stipo’s preference)
2 bay leaves
½ – 1 cup cream
If using fresh chestnuts: Boil the chestnuts in enough water to cover for 20 minutes. Peel the chestnuts, taking them from the pot of water one at a time. If they are at all difficult to peel, put them back in the water or reheat the water. Chestnuts peel easiest when very hot.
If using dried chestnuts: Place them in boiling water, turn the fire off and leave them to soak until softened.
OR use jarred chestnuts (as was demonstrated during this class). Make sure that chestnuts do not have added sugar.
Sauté the pancetta in a soup pot and remove to the side when lightly browned. Add butter and olive oil to the pan and sauté the onion, leek, garlic, fennel until soft and translucent. Add the rosemary, then the pancetta and boiled chestnuts. Stir to coat with the oil. Add enough water to the pan to cover, add bay leaves, salt to taste, and simmer for 30 minutes. Just before serving add the cream. Serve with croutons.