Another Italian Feast

In Dessert, Italian, Pasta, Potato, Vegetables on December 20, 2011 at 3:31 pm

During our honeymoon trip to Italy, we took this amazing cooking class in Florence at In Tavola cooking school.  The class was split up into smaller groups, and each group had an instructor.  Everyone learned to make the same 4 dishes – the only exception was our group.  Since I was vegetarian, I wouldn’t be able to eat the chicken secondi, and thus was placed with  Chef Ali who taught me to make a vegetarian entree instead.  Combined with 2 French speaking ladies, and 1 unattached lady, our group of 5 lucked out with the huge back kitchen, instead of being cramped with the rest of the cattle…I mean students…at the test kitchen stations.

I took lots of pictures during our class, to serve as visual reminders of what and how we cooked.  We were given the recipes at the end, but let me tell you, I was glad I took those photos.  Let’s just say our chef did things his own way.  Both came in handy 2 Sundays ago when Nick and I tried to recreate the meal for our friends John and Kaila in our apartment.  I’ve found the best way to get people to come to Brooklyn is to offer them food and/or shopping.  This occasion was no exception.

The four courses were an eggplant dish (layered with cheese and a mixture of potato and zucchini), gnocchi served with either tomato sauce or bolognese, chicken with mushroom and zucchini, and tiramisu for dessert.  My vegetarian entree was another eggplant dish, but using different cheeses, and more similar to an eggplant parmesan.  It was actually much better (and less complicated) than the antipasti version, so we opted to serve that instead.  We also chose only the tomato sauce, instead of making both, for this dinner.

Since we didn’t want to be slaving away too much while our guests were there, we got a head start by first preparing the tiramisu cream.  You separate two eggs, mixing the yolks with sugar until the color is a pale yellow and everything looks creamy.  Then you add marscapone cheese (Italian cream cheese) to the egg yolk mixture.  The whites are whipped with a hand mixer until they are firm, then a little bit of sugar is added.  You know the whites are ready when you lift the bowl upside down and nothing falls.  This photo is not edited and depicts an actual upside-down bowl of egg whites.

Then you gently fold in the whites with the yolks, and let it refrigerate for at least an hour.

While that chilled, I prepared the eggplant dish, but let me fast-forward to the finishing assembly of the dessert.

Using chilled coffee, Nick dunked in lady fingers (broken in half), and then placed 1 each into small ramekin dishes.

Then, the fingers are topped with the cream, and the finishing touch is a sifting of cocoa powder on top.  We put the ramekins back in the fridge until they were ready to be eaten.  It was hard to take the pictures while we were both cooking, but I remembered to take a shot as I was eating it later 🙂

Now back to the eggplant dish.  I sliced the eggplant into 1/4″ thick slices.

I brushed the slices on both sides with EVOO, and then using an indoor grill over two burners, I grilled the eggplant on both sides.

While the eggplant grilled, I prepared the tomato sauce, which would be used both for the eggplant and for the gnocchi.  It was very simple:  garlic (sauteed in a lil EVOO), DOP San Marzano tomatoes, basil, salt, and pepper.

It only takes about 10 minutes to get the sauce ready and cooked for the eggplant dish, but we let it continue to simmer until it was ready for gnocchi.  Now came time to prepare the individual antipasti, which we could slip into the oven just before ready to eat.  We layered crocks with the eggplant first.

Then the eggplant was topped with some fresh mozzarella.

On top of the cheese we added some of the sauce, then some breadcrumbs and parmesano reggiano.  This was only one layer of each, whereas in the cooking class it was a double layer of eggplant/sauce/mozzarella.

I forgot to take a picture of it after it was cooked, but here’s one from the version we made in the cooking class.  My homemade version wasn’t as…shiny.

Okay, so that’s 2 dishes down, 2 to go.  We worked next on the chicken, leaving the gnocchi to be prepared with our free labor…I mean guests…later.  In a saute pan, I browned some sliced white mushrooms in EVOO.  The trick we learned in the class is not to mix it around to much to allow for better browning.

While the mushrooms cooked, I cut up some chicken breast (the recipe called for a whole chicken cut into pieces), and dredged in flour.

Then I heated up a large saute pan with both EVOO and butter, and added the chicken.

I flipped the chicken over to brown on the other side.

Then I added the mushrooms, some sliced zucchini (which I had cut up while cutting the eggplant), and a sprig of rosemary.  I mixed it all up and then added about 1/2 cup white wine to deglaze.  I ended up adding another 1/2 cup because it looked a lil dry.

I covered the pan, lowered the heat, and let it hang out while we finished up the gnocchi.  The dish looked like this when it was served.  The flour really helped thicken up the gravy.

Okay, so now on to the most complicated part of the menu.  Potato gnocchi are made with potato, 2 types of flour, corn starch, and egg yolk – according to our class recipe.  We made sure to go to the Italian market to get the Double Zero chef grade flour and also the semolina (pasta) flour.  In a bowl we blended the flours with the corn starch.

The next step was to take baked rusest/idaho potato, cooled and peeled, and mash it with a potato ricer.  We had some technical difficulties and it took a lot of John’s strength to use our cheap ricer.

I was tempted to just use the food processor, but I’ve heard it just makes things really pureed and mushy.  Once all the hard work was done, we did a rough mix in the bowl before putting the batter on the counter.

Then we floured the counter, dropped the dough ball, and Nick began to need the dough until there were no cracks (about 5 minutes).

The big ball was divided into 4 portions, so we could each get one.

Each quarter was cut in half, and each of those halves were used to make a rope’s worth of gnocchi to be cut up.  You have to roll it out with your hands to get it nice and thin, and then use a cutting tool to evenly cut the pieces up.

Each piece is placed on a fork, and using your thumb, you push down and roll the dumpling to imprint the lines.

Once all were made, you just have to add them to boiling water, and cook them until they all float to the top (about 3 minutes).  Then you take them out of the pot with a slotted spoon, add to a platter, and top with sauce.  Mmmmm.

After all that hard work, everyone sat and enjoyed the food and wine (of course).

I topped my gnocchi with some parm.  Amazing.

This came out pretty well for our first try.  It wasn’t as soft as in the class, but that’s probably due to our inexperience.  It actually was softer the next day when I reheated it.   Everything else was just like class, so I was happy to successfully replicate our experience.  For those of you coming to our New Years party, you will be lucky enough to enjoy these dishes!  Just make sure to bring us some wine 🙂

  1. MMM, MMM Looks Good!

  2. […] I usually use whatever cheese I have on hand.  Since I had mozzarella and parmesan leftover from the last night’s meal, I knew I’d use […]

  3. […] the main course, we made the gnocchi and chicken dishes from our cooking class.  This time the gnocchi came out so soft and delicious, it was definitely restaurant quality.  We […]

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