Friday, September 16, 2011

Day 7: Cooking Double Time

Cookin' All Day:
Our morning began at Il Ritrovo for our last cooking class with Salvatore. Pictured above is my mom, Francesco, Mary Lou, Salvatore, and me. Because it was just going to be my mom and me for the class we cooked almost twice as much food and had twice as much fun!

We started by learning the secret to the creamy buttery white sauce, bechamel, which is slow and low heat. While bechamel is traditionally French, it is a great base for lots of different italian dishes, including white lasagna -- which we made!

Bechamel can be very finicky, but first we started by making a rue (whisking flour into melted butter) and then added scalded milk (milk heated to almost boiling) slowly. Ideally, the milk mixes right into the rue while it thickens, but if not careful with the heat, you can get a nasty lumpy sauce. Thankfully, Salvatore was there to tell us "it's no problem, just watch it".

After making the bechamel, we began assembling our lasagna. We made both a "red" and "white" lasagna. The light we made using already cooked lasagna noodles, blanched asparagus, and ground pork sausage, that had been sauteed and mixed with a little bechamel. The dark lasagna was a traditional lasagna made with a pre-made bolognese Salvatore keeps on hand and layers of mozzarella.

Lasagna pre-oven time
We had mentioned to Salvatore that we have always had trouble with making perfect gnocchi in the past and would love to learn how to make these perfect heavenly pillows right. We took boiled potatoes and squeezed them through this tool (a potato ricer my mom is holding below) that separates the potato into smaller strands, almost resembling hashbrowns. We then took the stringy potatoes and added an egg and some flour to make a dough. Once the dough was formed, we rolled it out into long pole-like shapes, and then cutting them into small inch slices. Salvatore then told us to make a thumb print-like impression into each piece, which he did at lightning speed and we followed as quick as we could. The gnocchi, as Salvatore informed us, cook very quickly in a pasta-prepared water (oil and lots of salt) and are ready when the rise to the surface. Any over-cooking and the gnocchi will be tough and gooey... gross!

After we stuck the gnocchi aside, Salvatore showed us some hodgepodge type dishes that he usually throws together for his staff before lunch service starts. Using some died salami and some left over smashed potatoes, we put together a baked potato casserole type dish. We mixed some spices along with the aforementioned ingredients, topped the dish with bread crumbs and scored it with a fork. Adding a little butter always helps too!

We also used some of the leftover asparagus, sausage, and bechamel to make a sort of savory Italian pie!

Salvatore also showed us how to make a quick eggplant parmesan napoleon. We layered some eggplant we had lightly floured and fried into a mini baking dish with parmesan, mozzarella, and a basic tomato sauce to be baked.

After we cooked our little hearts out we posed together for the picture shown at the beginning of the post. I have such a respect for all chefs out there, but especially to the Il Ritrovo family for their hard work and dedication to their craft. They are truly amazing people, friends, and teachers. I learned so much from them, not only about food and cooking, but also about living. My time with them will always be a memory I hold dear to my heart.... and to my stomach!

Red & White Lasagna

Gnocchi w/ Marinara and Mozzarella

Eggplant Parmesan Napoleon

Baked Mashed Potatoes with Salami

After lunch, we headed back down into Positano for our second cooking class. We met with Giuseppe (the guide from Amalfi and Ravello) outside the restaurant. It was a little cafe set down beneath the road and into the cliffside. Unfortunately we never got the name of the place because the signage was a little confusing, but the chef, Rafaello, was extremely knowledgeable and while reserved, he was sweet and personable. Upon arriving we got a little sampling of some of the dessert pastries typically served there and of course some espresso. 

Once Chef Rafaello was ready for us, we headed back into the kitchen and got started on some fresh strawberry sorbetto. Considering that the strawberries were so ripe you can smell them from a mile away, this got me incredibly excited! Sorbetto, to my surprise, is actually incredibly easy to make. All it takes is some fresh ripe fruit, simple syrup (sugar and water), and an ice cream machine. We took the strawberries and threw them into the blender. We then took sifted out as much of the big chunks and seeds as possible to make sure the texture of the sorbetto would be smooth and sweet. Finally we combined the syrup and strawberry mixture and tossed it in the machine. About an hour or so later...

Rafaello retrieving our sorbetto

The unbelievably delicious final product

Continuing with the strawberry theme, we made a traditional custard tart that we covered with fresh whipped cream, strawberries, and an apricot glaze that we made from melting jam with a little hot water.

Mom and the tart!

Usually the strawberries are arranged in a much more artistic manner, but we preferred more of a collage.

Rafaello then showed us how to make a quick almond caramel brittle. We started with typical caramel ingredients: sugar, a little bit of water, and butter. Being extremely careful not to burn the caramel we added the tasty almonds and then spread the mixture out on a "silpat" to dry. 

We also learned to make a lemon tiramisu using a basic vanilla cake soaked in lemoncello, a lemon cream custard, and of course, fresh whipped cream. We were covered in lemoncello and whipped cream, so I wasn't able to take pictures, but we prepared the tiramisu inside of a paisley shaped mold so that it would come out clean and perfect, like you see in most pastry shops. 

Though our time with Rafaello seemed quick, it was informative, very fun, and sweet. One of the key things that Rafaello showed us was sterilization. Before baking anything he constantly sterilized his pans, dishes, and utensils. The cool part though was that he used a raspberry liqueur to do this, which although didn't taint any of our dishes, it gave a nice zing to anything we cooked and smelled wonderful. 

We sort of had to rush out to meet some friends for dinner and weren't able to try many of the dishes we helped to make other than the sorbetto, but I am pretty confident they would have been amazing! For dinner we headed back to Trattoria Tagliata (where we had lunch before), and this time we had the full experience. Pepe came to greet us as did his beautiful sister. We were served the usual antipasti, but also got to sample some incredible house pastas, an array of grilled meats, and a tasty assortment of desserts. 

The view from Tagliata

I probably stretched my stomach to the size of a full-term pregnant lady that day, but it was far too worth it to care. All the cooking and all the eating sent me into a well-deserved coma. Resting up was key, Pompeii the next day!