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An Italian Culinary Extravaganza

Jeff & Stefanie
Jeff & Stefanie Silverman

It was an evening to be remembered.

I was asked by my friend Jeff Silverman and his wife Stefanie to create an Italian evening cooking class and demonstration for a fundraiser for Wilbur Elementary School. As we considered the evening we had to come up with a menu that would work for a large crowd and offer both teaching as well as demonstration possibilities. Of course, there is the entertainment value of the event and that’s where I come in. We met and began to plan out the menu. Using several cookbooks as references along with my own experience to come up with a menu that would satisfy and satiate all who attended. Jeff likes meat and of course, as he puts it swine.

Rico & Porterhouse
2″ thick prime porterhouse steaks yum!

Jeff and my love of meat was something that was evident in the final menu. The highlight being amazing Bisteca a la Fiorentina, which is a 2″ to 3″ thick Porterhouse steak marinated in olive oil and herbs and then charred on the grill to a perfect medium rare on the inside. But let me not get too far ahead of myself. I got the message from Jeff that we were going to have a huge menu without restrictions. On my own, I researched some more recipes and recalled several things from my travels to Italy, and settled on a final menu for the evening.

Prep began at 9:00 am the day of the event. Jeff was so kind as to regale us with one of his famous frittatas which he likes to make with pasta and meat products of many varieties. My prep crew consisted of Elio and Oscar and then Angel came in to relieve Oscar at around 4:00 pm. The prep went smoothly as the day progressed and we got closer and closer to show time. We actually began our cooking at around 7:00 om. The show opened up with toasts to our hosts and guests and making sure that glasses were filled.

rico Focaccia
Getting Focaccia into the Oven

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

Two types of Crostini – one with wild mushrooms and the other with black kale and prosciutto.

Focaccia with Arugula and Sun Dried Tomatoes – This dish I demonstrated. We had the focaccia premade so I taught 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 evening’s 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 two styles of final preparation: one with sausage and 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 of wine 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 certainly a feast for the eyes to see this fantastic prime piece of beef going on the grill and for all to bear witness to its awe-inspiring, mouth-watering glory. Then 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 I needed to get back inside to be sure that Elio was taking proper care of the dessert prep. We planned three decadent 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 the cannolis. At the same time, I was teaching how to make Polenta with wild mushrooms, having one participant searing the mushrooms while the other made the polenta.  And last (but not least) I took care of the Pasta Carbonara as the final punctuation to end the cooking portion of the evening.

Slicing up Rack of Lamb

Once everything was ready, and the meat had properly rested, we were ready to 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, sampling tidbits from the meat as a precursor to the meal that is about to come. 

Ahh the fun of cooking for 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 people). 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!

-Rico Mandel

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Comments (1)

Faith levitt

I’m drooling! Wish I could have been there. Rico, if i come to CA will you pick me up and take me to one of your presentations? I’m a willing assistant who knows a little bit about cooking and a little bit more about presentation. It’s all in the family. Auntie Faith Indianapolis

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