A great cooking class, so much delicious food
Yesterday, I took one another cooking class - one of my birthday presents. We made so much DELICIOUS food, and it was definitely a menu I will be making again. On the menu:
- Pumpkin Lasagna
- Pasta e Fagioli (bean and noodle soup)
- Marinara Sauce
- Gluten-Free Bitter Chocolate Tart
The kitchen was buzzing, because several things were going on at once. I will try to separate the different recipes, but to set the scene, there were 13 of us working in a rather small kitchen on all sorts of different things. The pumpkin lasagna had several different parts, starting with the pumpkin layer. Huge chunks of orange squash were grated and put in a large pot with some salt. Its very watery, so it needs about half an hour to cook. ANybody who has tried to make pumpkin pie from scratch knows that you need extreme patience while it boils down.
On another burner, we started a bechamel sauce, or a traditional French cream sauce. It begins with equal parts flour and butter - a rue - cooked to golden over medium-low heat. The cream sauce is seasoned with salt and white pepper, and some nutmeg. The lasagna was layered with pasta, pumpkin, bechamel, and parmesan cheese - its important that the pasta, if you are purchasing it, is a good quality and is very thin. We didn't cook it, but the liquid from the two types of sauces cooks the pasta in the oven and makes the noodles flavorful.
We baked it until it was bubbly and the noodles were cooked through - about 25 minutes. It was like a big plate of fall, a flavor I have missed since I've been in Italy.
The Pasta e Fagioli we made was in the traditional Tuscan way, but this soup is made in different styles all over Italy. The basics are cannelloni beans and some sort of pasta. I have had it when its a good chicken stock with the beans and pasta cooked in it, but the Tuscan style is a blended soup. We started with the white beans and their cooking liquid. It takes time to make this with dried beans, but it turns out way better than when you use canned beans. They are just too smushy and their starch content is all off... Anyway, the pot of beans and cooking liquid is then blended with canned whole tomatoes - for some flavor, but largely for the nice pink color that it creates. We cooked short pasta in this soupy mix, but to be honest, I don't even need the pasta in this style, its just so darn scrumptious as is!
In Italy, one of the basic cooking methods is infusing olive oil, and this case was no different. We put a bunch of olive oil in the bottom of a pan with several whole garlic cloves and several twigs of rosemary over low heat (its important that you don't turn the heat too high because the garlic will burn and turn bitter. Nobody likes bitter garlic sauce). Once the tomatoes and beans have been pureed with a stick blender, we mixed in the flavorful oil. It is served with parmesan cheese and new olive oil over the top. Today is grey, and I have to say that I don't mind it. Such a good meal for a cold night... not that Italy is cold.
The tomato sauce was simple. I have become a fan of how Michelle makes her sauce, which also includes hot pepper flakes in this oil, so it become a bit spicier - perfecto! When you can smell the garlic, you dump a bunch of canned whole tomatoes into a pan, with the tomatoes chopped roughly. Then it just cooks until its thickened up. Then, you salt it and maybe add pepper if it needs it. Over winter break, my plan is to make a bunch of this delicious sauce and can it in glass ball jars. If you want some, just let me know!
The tomato sauce is not the star of the dinner, but its a crucial player to the meatballs. As some of you may know, meatballs have become the bane of my existence in the kitchen. My otherwise extraordinarily happy and patient boyfriend has this tick when he eats a meatball that he doesn't approve of... he sucks his teeth. He tries not to, but I can tell immediately the difference between a sub-par meatball and a perfect one (and on the other end, the ones his grandmother makes). I made ONE good meatball, ONE time, and since then they have been varying degrees of not that good, and I was determined to figure out their mystery. We started with ground beef, and added parmesan cheese and parsely, chopped bits of mortadella (next time I will swap it for bacon), bread that had been soaked in hot milk and then squeezed dry, eggs, salt and pepper. Then we mixed!
We rolled them into little balls, a bit bigger than golf balls, and rolled the balls in flour (next time, I will season this too).
We fried the meatballs in oil, until they were a dark golden brown all over.
Then, we put them in a baking pan, and poured our homemade sauce over the top, and baked the meatballs until the sauce bubbled. The texture was right, but I think the flavor could use just a little work... I think I would add some lemon zest, or something spicy, or basil...I DON'T KNOW! I still haven't figured out the meatball just yet, but I am one step closer!
For dessert, we had one of the best chocolate cakes of my entire life - and its totally safe for celiac! Its made from sugar and butter and melted good quality chocolate and eggs - WONDERFUL! First, the eggs were separated and the yolks and the butter were beat in with the melted dark chocolate, and the sugar was beat with the egg whites until they were fluffy. The two bowls were folded together, and half of the batter was baked to a delicious chocolate tart, and the second half was spread on top after it was done baking as a mousse frosting. If you are squeamish about eating uncooked eggs, you could easily bake the entire batter, and cover it with a dark chocolate ganache - just as gluten-free, and equally delicious!