This week’s focus was on Italian cooking. North America has a skewed idea of what every culture’s food is supposed to be, mainly that our version turns out to be a lot bigger, made with nasty crap ingredients, and somehow processed into a to-go format. Eugh! What I love about Italian cooking, other than the flavours and fresh ingredients, is the amount of time, care and work put into crafting a delicious and happy meal. Soup? Pasta? Bread? Yes! And make it from scratch!
What often comes to mind when people think of Italian food is some kind of tomato sauce with pasta, but there is so much more than that. Other than the food, of course, I particularly enjoyed Chef Tony’s lecture about the different regions and history of the country, what the people are like in certain areas, where to find the best of a certain dish, and more.
I hope to travel there one day and manage to blend in to get some food, instead of being shunned like a tourist. Italian is one of those languages, like French, that just roll off the tongue and are so enjoyably beautiful to hear. Whether we’re talking about Paris or Milan, the clothes, the people, the food, I want to visit and fall in love with everything! Sigh!
My favourites: If doctors put me in front of an X-ray machine, they would have found a big smiley face on my heart.
Roasted garlic and tomato soup with teeny blobs of goat cheese and chunks of dried bread. Genius way of making sure that the bread doesn't get soggy too fast and not having to run out and buy crackers! The little melted bits of cheese were creamy and beautiful with this.
Handmade pasta is very hard to shape when your dough dries out. Ergh! If the phone rings or your teacher calls everyone over to see something, cover it with a damp towel so it's safe when you come back! The pliable bits worked out okay.
After a few that were less than perfect, this one turned out great. The teacher joked that it was a ten out of ten, so a few of us took photos to remember exactly how it should look. Technology makes learning so much easier!
That wiggly finger-pressed pasta in tomato sauce, and orecchiette in a cream sauce.
Rosemary and sundried tomato foccacia. Most loaves that I've seen are pillowy and tall, but these were an inch thick.
Crispy prosciutto, mixed herb, and shaved fennel salad. Ours turned into a bacon salad because we ran out of herbs!
Fluffy, rich tiramisu.
It should be noted at this point that tiramisu translates into pick me up in English, but after something that rich, I needed to take a nap! In Italy, we’ve been told, people eat just until they’re happy. It’s wise to save a bit of room for a little something, in case somebody ambushes you with food!
Genius invention: Passa tutto. This thing will mush up your tomatoes to de-seed them! Juice comes out one side, and purée out the other. Hopefully I can find one in the future because my dad gets ill if there are seeds in his food, and I make a lot of tomato sauce!
Chef Tony shows us how to use a pasta maker and cut sheets into noodles.
Papardelle Bolognese. How can I describe this? Imagine eating silk that melted like buttery snowflakes on your tongue, and was coated in a rich, meaty tomato sauce. Ahhhh!
A pasta extruding machine and brass dies. It heats up semolina and pushes it out through the dies while heating it up. This is what creates the pasta you see in stores, like spaghetti, rotini, linguine, capellini...
Spaghetti aglio e olio, on the day where we talked about dried, extruded pasta and what qualities to look for. This was good, but I prefer rolled out (laminated) pasta. Oh mama!
Stuffing pasta with a leek and lobster filling. Almost like won tons, which I am pretty handy with.
Lobster tortelloni with sauteed grape tomatoes. One of them was dry and started cracking when I folded it so patchwork had to be done. You can barely even tell here, which is nice because we've noticed that pasta is pretty unforgiving.
The stuffing inside. I did end up eating everything. Hunger tends to do that, and the pasta was too amazing to turn down.
Torta rustica: A rustic, upside-down pie, that your partner might decide to turn into an awesome sunshine pastry.
Beautiful layers of purple kale, chard, seared pear, pine nuts, and cheese. Mmmmmm!
Prosciutto, roasted portobello, mozzarella and blue cheese pizza with basil. My pizza was folded over because it was a bit too long for the back of the pan. Especially because I laid it down sideways. Oops! At least it was delicious. We enjoyed them outside in the sunshine, where I devoured the whole thing because we hadn't eaten yet. I was ravenous!
Potato gnocchi that was rolled on the board. My partner's on the left, and mine on the right. Both are cute!
Pork roast braised in milk and cream, with spinach-ricotta-pancetta gnocchi in a butter sauce.
I can eat a LOT of food, but scraped most of the sauce off of everything. It was too rich! This dish should come with defibrillator tableside service.
Lemon soufflé. These ones puffed up nicely!
One of our classmates had a presentation about cheese and a local cheese maker brought in some gorgeous pieces.
Have to have fruit, bread and wine to go with it!
Restaurant Day: Italy! Again, we race making dishes to spec.
Vanilla panna cotta with mixed berry coulis. Almost everybody had trouble with theirs not coming out of the mold, sliding over, ripping at the bottom, or dropping into the sauce. I had trouble getting it out of the mold, managed to get it on the plate looking nice, then my partner pointed out that the freaking plate had a chip in it, so it had to be moved to a new one! The edges started ripping as it moved and it was melting by the second, leaching cream into the coulis, so I poured more sauce around the edges. Future tips: Add more more gelatin than the recipe to keep it nice and solid, get rid of any plates with chips, and always have extra sauce!
Crab lasagna Bolognese.
Veal scaloppini with pan-fried gnocchi and sautéed carrots.
Chard and prosciutto-wrapped bocconcini with blueberry vinaigrette and a chard stem with mixed herb salad.
Italian menu development! Canapes made by our stove: Pesto bruschetta, grilled zucchini mushroom cups, purple kale and sun dried tomato crepes, and pistachio praline with cheese.
My grilled zucchini rosettes in grilled mushroom caps with sun dried tomato, basil, and lemon fromage frais.
For our stuffed pasta dish, my partner had this awesome idea to make basil polka dot ravioli! She even picked up a teeny melon baller to make little zucchini balls. This was so clever and funny. The filling was roasted butternut squash and blue cheese. It tasted delicious, and she joked that they looked like brains. I will make a note to remember this as zombie pasta.
For our main, we had to cut up a chicken and cook it 2 ways, using a moist cooking method for the leg.thich and a dry heat cooking method for the breast. This is pan seared hazelnut powder-crusted chicken breast, white wine and chicken stock-braised leg, and sautéed purple kale, leek, and prosciutto.
Purple kale carnage. I also stuffed some (sautéed with onions) between layers of mozzarella, in the polenta.
My partner this week is pretty keen and asked me if I remembered what Chef Tony said had to be at a traditional Italian table.
“Bread, olive oil, and…?”
“People arguing?” I answered.
With our main she brought toasted rosemary bread, a teeny pitcher of olive oil, and a bottle of Blue Mountain 2008 Pinot Gris.
At some point during the week, Chef Christophe showed us how to make ricotta, which is something that I had seen in online videos before school. It’s super easy to do, and the same method can be used to make paneer and flavoured cheeses, which is something that I plan to try. So far I’m very interested in making cheeses and sausages/charcuterie products, preserving foods, and working with vegetarian or allergy-sensitive foods/clients. There’s lots of information available out there, but these still seem to be specialized niche markets. I’m looking forward to doing homework!
Our instructors always put a great deal of thought into our curriculum, but Italy week was evidently near and dear to Chef Tony’s heart. His pride and love for his culture made it very fun to learn about, and I’m now hunting for a pasta machine and gnocchi board to practice with and enjoy at home.
Chef Barb Finley of Project CHEF (whom I wrote about in the first Culinary Bootcamp post) visited our class and I was so excited to finally meet her, and can’t wait to volunteer with the team when school is over. It has nothing to do with the fact that we have the same hair and glasses!
I taught my brother how to make a cream of chicken soup, with a ton of vegetables that he wanted to use. He wanted short instructions written down. There were about 10 steps, and he said, “this is too complicated! It’s just a cream soup!”
My reply was that the simplest dishes are the ones that get screwed up the most. Like Italian food!
This week I had a partner who has a strong personality, not unlike myself, but she also had a lot of restaurant experience, so I took a backseat. She was a super focused goal-setter and knew how to hustle like mad, which is amazing. I know it’s not a competition, but it was hard for me to keep up with her pace and feel like I was contributing enough (which made me a little nervous, which is unusual, and when I get nervous, I make mistakes, which is what happened at one of my work observations. Uh-oh.). It’s hard when you have a partner who drags their heels in or slows you down, even if they’re not trying to. This was fucking around with my confidence level, which is dangerous. I talked to her about it, and let her know how much I appreciated having her expertise around. In a few years I’ll be where she is, but she said something very important that should be remembered.
“Never think that you’re not good.”
It’s true. When you believe that you’re capable of doing a good job, you have infinitely better odds of pulling it off. So to anybody who is having a rough go in class, or is about to start class soon, close your eyes for a minute, think about what it takes to kick some ass, and then go make it happen. Mistakes are going to happen at some point, so figure out how to learn from them! Git’er done!