Monday, October 26, 2009
Reflections of Maremma Workshop at the James Beard House
Each year, the Apicius School of Hospitality makes a pilgramage from their home in Florence, Italy to the James Beard House. The chefs maximize the the use of their frequent flyer miles by both cooking a dinner and running a workshop.The workshop usually features some of the recipes from the dinner. During this trip, the cuisine of Tuscany's wild Maremma region was the star.
The kitchen of the Beard House was abuzz with activity as we made our way in for the class. There were so many chefs crammed into the kitchen, it looked like the 6 train going to a Yankees game. We found a spot along the counter, eager for the lesson to begin. A introduction to the school and the chefs served as the preamble to a discussion of the dishes to be prepared. Groups were formed, sleeves rolled up and the cooking began.
Well, at least a little participation in the cooking began. Most of the cooking classes at the James Beard House are demos classes do to the relatively small size of the kitchen. It's called the James Beard House because well, it really was James Beard's house. So picture a professional kitchen shoehorned into your house and you pretty much get the picture. The Apicius people do always have a hands on portion to their workshops, but we never get to prepare the dish from start to finish.
The first dish was Terrina di Melanzane e Pomodoro, a tomato and eggplant terrine. This dish was a standout taste wise and presentation wise. The goal was to make it look like a piece of tuna on the plate, which it did. This was like a Halloween costume for food. The eggplant looked a lot like fish skin and the tomato was a near dead ringer for raw tuna. A taste catapulted it beyond something nice to look at to a bonifed taste sensation. It just burst with an explosion of tomato flavor set off with a spicy spark of eggplant.
Following that, we got our hands dirty making Tortelli Maremmani di Ricotta di Pecora ed Erbette di Campo sul Sugo di Carne e Salsiccia, sheep milk ricotta with a beef and sausage ragu. We channeled our inner Mario Batali's making pasta dough with the well method. The wall of the flour well was gently broken down, incorporating into the egg mixture forming a rough dough. This proto pasta dough needed to be kneaded until it was no longer sticky to the touch. We allowed the dough to rest while one of the chefs demoed how to make the filling.
Fresh from its nap, the dough was sent through a pasta maker, making a thin sheet. This poor, unsuspecting dough was the guinea pig for our inexper tortelli making. Let's just say that whatever gene Italian grandmothers have for pasta making, was completely absent from our group. It did give us a new found respect for the pasta makers out there. That reverance caused everyone to lick their plates clean when this course was served.
As a special treat, the chefs brought along some wild boar strip loin. This was just browned on all sides in a pan and finished in an oven. I would like to know what kind of life this wild boar had. It was melt in the mouth tender. I guess the forest this boar was from featured massages at the very least.
The event was capped off with a Crostata di Ricotta served with a pistachio creme. A lovely desert wine, not available in the US, was served with this course. The chefs and sommeliers smuggled it in, hidden in their luggage. Contraband wine always tastes sweeter, so good thing this was a desert wine.
It ended up being a glorius fall day in a different kind of way. It was a blast trying to make tortelli and relsihing in a really great meal. I guess it was better than jumping into a pile of leaves after all.