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IMG_2001My at-home cooking classes typically, though not always, involve either friends or old students of some sort. They may have taken cooking classes with me at Mountain High or First Congregational Church downtown or perhaps they were piano students or in one of my choirs. Some just live down the street. I find cooking with people — or sharing a good or different recipe — is a fun part of life. I hope my students usually go home thinking similar thoughts.

below: photo from the Make a Homemade Pizza class

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Teaching is also hard work; it doesn’t happen easily despite my love for it.  Recipes must be developed, written, or chosen and reproduced. Dates must be booked. Students found. (Sometimes these happen in a different order as students may request classes!) The house needs at least a going-over and the kitchen has to be clean unless I’m teaching at a commercial location. No cleaning to do there except afterward, but there’s lot of packing up on both ends.

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Ingredients are shopped for and are collected, all at-the-ready so I don’t have to dig through 3 cabinets to find a can of cannellini beans. The fridge must be in order. Wine is chosen. Dogs and family members go elsewhere or may be invited to the resulting feast if they’re well-behaved…

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The  time arrives and there’s first a meet and greet session.  Coffee and a reading of the recipes/question-answering comes next, along with apron choosing, quick kitchen tour (with a pointing out of the restroom direction), after which a hopefully clear-cut outline of the day or evening appears–sometimes more slowly than others.

I don’t cook during classes. I know how to cook, though I gather new information every time I’m in the kitchen doing anything.  But if I do the cooking in a class, no one goes home sure they can make the dish.  If the students cook, they have proof they’re capable and go home assured of their abilities. There’s always an end product and time to savor it, responding at the table to the food, the wine, the people, and applauding the effort. We’re closer to one another in one way or another. It’s what it’s about.

below: Tracy working on a crostata

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For last week’s class in my home kitchen, we had a short and sweet menu of three courses:

  • ANTIPASTI PLATTER (a photo, below, is self-explanatory)
  • MINESTRA MARITATA (recipe below)
  • APPLE AND PEAR CROSTATAS (photos and recipe links below)

Want to join in the fun? Start here with the soup as the broth takes a couple of hours to cook. Move on to the crostata, where you can take your time. When that’s in the oven, arrange the antipasti platter and open the wine. While you nosh, you can finish the soup and set the table.  Buon appetito!

Want to create a whole Italian Christmas day meal?  I give some ideas for the other courses in photos and links below.

MINESTRA MARITATA

While Americans often think of Italian Wedding Soup as the filling preparation made with tiny meatballs, Minestra Maritata is actually a traditional first course (Primo, as the Italians call it; it could be pasta, too.) soup served at the Christmas day dinner or feast  A clear scratch broth graced by lots of beautiful greens, this light soup often features the broth’s meat chopped and returned and has no heavy seasonings and is hence labeled maritata, or married,  to indicate the tasty marriage of bitter greens and meat. A tiny bit of chopped hot pepper can be used for a little zing.  It’s meant to stimulate the appetite and to give the Secondo (Main Course) meat time to finish cooking after drinks have been served with a little nibble (Antipasto.)

Click here for a review of the Italian meal courses.

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The time needed to make the broth is stipulated by the sort of meat used.  The recipe we used in class from the Culinary Institute of America soup cookbook, THE NEW BOOK OF SOUPS (2009)–a great book if you need a soup bible, indicated pork ribs, prosciutto ends, and pancetta (Italian bacon) added to four quarts of water. Italian sausage was also cooked separately in a skillet, chopped, and added later.  A little medium-soft cheese (we used a sharp provolone) was the last addition. Our broth, at altitude, took about 2 hours. We could have cut the time with smaller pork ribs, I think.  Other recipes note pork cheeks or ears, veal shanks, and so on. A FOOD AND WINE recipe from 1997 (no author noted that I could see) also adds a chicken to the broth.  Click here for that recipe.

Our class broth was strained once the meat was tender, the meat then chopped and reserved. Greens like chicory, bibb lettuce, and broccoli rabe were named to be tossed in at the end for just  a few minutes before eating–we expected to need to chew them. I could not find broccoli rabe in my grocery this time of year, and used some arugula in its place. Any greens, hopefully bitter, would do and the more the merrier. A lesson in moving outside your tossing-spinach-in-the-soup box. It was lovely. Warm, refreshing, with each bite new.  For the picture at top, I added the grace notes of fried pancetta for color and crunch.  Below is the soup as the recipe said to serve it.

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As we were eating this soup as a main course after a hearty antipasti tray and before the sweet, I served both a lighter red and a fuller white wine, which happened to be a big California Chardonnay. The white wine set a bit more happily with the soup, though I adored the red Moltepulciano personally.

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PEAR-ALMOND OR APPLE CROSTATA

For dessert (Dolce), many Italian cooks know how make a crostata — a free form pie– and often use jam for filling, so that’s what we made for the class, though with fresh fruit instead of jam.  Directions for both an apple and a pear-almond crostata are here on the blog.  I often teach this simpler pie because it’s a. not so frightening to novice pie bakers (dough can be made in the food processor or by hand), b. delicious, and c., versatile. Try figs, peaches, cherries…

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MAKE THE WHOLE ITALIAN CHRISTMAS DAY DEAL

You’ll need at least three wines plus a digestivo (an after dinner drink): 1.  Prosecco, 2. an Italian white such as a Pinot Grigio or a Soave, and 3.,  a big Italian red like a rich Chianti Classico or a Barolo if you are flush.

I know you can make this happen! Do the soup and crostatas a day or two ahead, leaving the main course (secondo) for Christmas Day itself. Here are some ideas:

 Serve a small portion of this soup as a first course (Primi), as it’s intended, and then you might like to make for the main course (Secondo) Braciole, stuffed flank steak, as we did a couple of years back, adjusting Tyler Florence’s wonderful recipe to suit our table and the altitude.

b4327-dsc04716For that meal, we had had a small portion of pasta before hand for the first course (Primo) rather than soup as we had the sauce from the meat yelling for its pasta! It’s a more filling option, though you serve very little of it. You choose what sounds best.

 I added a side of lemon green beans, Contorno, just to add something green to the table as we needed it!

61d8c-dsc04725For the Lemon Green Beans:  Cook the beans until nearly tender, drain, drizzle with olive oil and stir in grated lemon rind to taste, kosher salt, black pepper, and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Serve hot, warm, at room temperature, or cold.

While it all sounds like a great deal to eat if you’re all these things, there are three elements to consider:

  1. You eat only once a day for a holiday.
  2. You eat small portions and they are served slowly with lots of talk.  The meal takes a long time. Each course is precious, appreciated, and enjoyed.
  3. The meal is an important part of spending the day together– not something to be gotten through, but rather a focus.

Blessings of peace in your cooking, at your table, and in your life as you

Sing a new song,

Alyce