Memories of an Italian Culinary Extravaganza

potato toss

It was an evening to be remembered. A couple of years ago I was asked by my friend Jeff Silverman and his wife Stefanie to create an Italian evening cooking class and demonstration fundraiser for

Jeff & Stefanie
Jeff & Stefanie Silverman

Wilbur elementary school. As we considered the evening we had to come up with a menu that would work both for a large crowd and offer teaching and demonstration possibilities. Of course there is the entertainment value of the event and that’s where I come in. We began to plan out the menu that would satisfy and satiate all who attended. Jeff & I love meat and of course as he puts it swine.

Rico & Porterhouse
2″ thick prime porterhouse steaks yum!

This love of meat became evident in the final choices for the evenings menu. The highlight being Bistecca a la Fiorentina which is a 2″ to 3″ thick Porterhouse steak marinated in olive oil and herbs then charred on the grill to a perfect medium rare on the inside. But let me not get too far ahead of myself. Jeff let me know that he wanted to have a huge menu without restrictions.  I researched recipes from my travels to Italy and settled on a final menu for the evening of about 11 courses. Prep began at 9:00am the day of the event. Jeff was so kind as to regale us with one of his famous fritatta’s that included pasta and a wide variety of meat products. Elio, Oscar and Angel were my prep crew and cooks. The prep went smoothly as the countdown progressed to our 7:00 PM show time.   The show opened up with toasts to our hosts and guests and making sure that glasses were always filled.

rico Focaccia
Getting Focaccia into Oven

We began with:

Suppli – Risotto Balls filled with mozzarella cheese, breaded and deep-fried

2 types of Crostini – one with wild mushrooms the other with Tuscan kale and prosciutto

Then I demonstrated how to make Focaccia with Arugula and Sun-Dried Tomatoes – I taught them how to make an alfredo sauce from scratch and then had some of the participants put the alfredo sauce on the focaccia and then top it with arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese, throw that in the oven for about 10 minutes and you have a delicious goodness coaxing your taste buds moments later.

cutting tomatoes
Making Arugula & fava bean salad

We then made the Arugula and fava bean salad where the participants learned how to make orange supremes, then cut tomatoes and onions and assemble the salad.

When it comes to roast potatoes the Patate al forno – Roast Potatoes with garlic cloves is the best. The potatoes need to be blanched in water for 2-3 minutes before baking then set aside. With audience participation we had the guys take care of the seasoning and tossing of the potatoes, which was a lot of fun to see who could toss the best and highest.

Of course wine was flowing throughout the evenings festivities and glasses were refilled in a timely manner.

Earlier in the day we had put the Chicken Vin Cotto (sweet wine)  into the oven to cook since it is a bit complicated and we already had enough things going on. It came out wonderfully as one might expect.

potato toss
The Guys get into the act with the potato toss

The potatoes went in the oven and then it was time to blanch the broccoli rabe and get it ready for the 2 styles of the final preparation. One with sausage the other with black olives and garlic. While one person manned the sausage cooking another was in charge of blanching all the broccoli rabe. Another glass was filled and it was time to go out to the grill and cook up some meat.

Rico Teaching
It’s all about the ingredients and the wine

The first thing to go on was the Bisteca a la Fiorentina, followed by the Uccelletti Scappati

– Skirt steak rolled with prosciutto and sage then placed on a skewer with pancetta in-between.  It was a feast for the eyes to see all this fantastic prime beef going on the grill, bearing witness to it was awe inspiring. To finish everything the rack of lamb went on and was the perfect punctuation to the meat portion of the evening.

While that was going on outside, Elio was taking care of prepping the 3 desserts – Cannoli, Roasted Pears with Chocolate and Strawberries in balsamic vinegar. What a trio. We had participants making the pears, cutting the strawberries and filling cannoli’s. At the same time I was teaching the making of Polenta with wild mushrooms, having one participant searing the mushrooms while the other made the polenta.  Last but not least I took care of the Pasta Carbonara as the finale that ended the cooking portion of the evening.

Slicing
Slicing up Rack of Lamb

Once everything was ready and the meat had properly rested we put out the buffet and cut the meat. Part of the fun when cutting large quantities of meat is to feed those around you, who are looking on, tidbits from the meat as a precursor to the meal that is about to come.  Ahh the fun of cooking and feeding people. To watch as everyone lined up to eat the meal that we just prepared warmed my heart.  I had a blast cooking and entertaining the entire group of around 35. It was time for a scotch and a walk about to see how everyone was enjoying their meal. It was fun to see and hear the comments and talk to some of them as they enjoyed everything that we had prepared in a scant 2.5 hours. A good time was had by all. It’s something that I love doing and can do for you and your friends if you’re interested.  It was like having my own TV show.

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