Holly Ebel: This class was first class
I've been to my share of cooking classes and demonstrations over the years, but not many can compare to one I experienced a few weeks ago.
I belong to a group of single women from First Presbyterian Church who look for interesting, educational and fun things to do about once a month. Last spring when I met Sheryl Ness to discuss her book "Love in a Tuscan Kitchen," she mentioned her husband, Vincenzo, gave cooking classes in private homes. It didn't take much to convince this group to sign up.
So, on the hottest, steamiest day of the year (July 19, remember?) seven of us gathered in my kitchen to watch, learn and eat. We had chosen a three-course menu: Pecorino Soffiato, Tagliatelle Pasta with Mushroom and Thyme Sauce, and Hot Chocolate Love Cake. Chef got to work almost the minute he walked in the door, washing and peeling 4 pounds of mushrooms (who peels those?) for the main course.
It was then on to making Pecorino Soffiato with a pear wine sauce. We stood around the large island watching as he mixed the ingredients together (eggs, cheese, flour, seasonings), placed the batter in small ramekins, then baked them for several minutes. Turned upside down using his bare hands, not hot pads, they looked delicious on the plate topped with the pear wine sauce. Delicious they were, resembling a soufflé.
We went to the dining room and were served by Sheryl and Vincenzo, It was a great beginning to the event.
Once finished, we were back in the kitchen around the island to watch the making of the mushroom sauce and the pasta, everything from scratch, nothing prepared in advance. We were especially interested in watching how he did pasta, as he is the pasta chef for Terza. The ingredients were flour, eggs and water, all mixed in a Kitchen Aid mixer, then kneaded on a large wooden board into a beautiful pliable dough. Portions were then cut off and fed into a hand-powered pasta machine several times, turning a small dough clump into an impressive long, thin sheet, which was then cut into thin strips.
This was when Vincenzo turned into the king of multi-taskers. The mushroom sauce needed stirring and tending to with additional seasonings and white wine. After each taste, he stirred or added something else until the sauce was up to his standards. The pasta water also needed to boil, and as it got to that point we were all surprised by how much salt he added. Interestingly, as much as he poured in, it didn't affect the taste of the final dish at all. In fact, some of us added additional sprinkles.
The finished pasta was added and folded into the mushroom sauce as well as an impressive amount of butter and a healthy sprinkle of fresh thyme. A cup or two of the pasta water also went in. This was an exceptional pasta dish and one I will hopefully be able to make again. We cleaned our plates.
Last but certainly not least was the "piece de resistance," the famous hot chocolate love cake that brought this couple together. Like a magician, he added the ingredients to a large bowl, mixed it well, then put the batter into small ramekins and into the hot oven. They were ready to take out after only about 8 minutes. Again with bare hands he turned the hot ramekins upside down and served the cakes with a dollop of ice cream and a raspberry sauce. These were over-the-top fabulous and a fitting end to our event.
We had started at 5 p.m. and the last cake crumb was finished by about 9:30. Because we were so absorbed in what we were seeing, watching and eating, the time flew by. Glasses of wine and Prosecco also helped.
If you are looking for something out of the ordinary to do with family or friends, consider doing this. Vincenzo and Ness are a team, she being both the sous chef and main cleaner-upper. For information, call her at 507-250-7151. Or email Chef Vincenzo at Chef.Vincenzo1973@gmail.com. Find out more on Facebook, search for vinchefcooking.
2 cups fresh mushrooms (baby bella), cleaned and sliced into thin strips
8 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup white wine
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
3 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup pasta water (hot, salted from cooking pasta)
More olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
Grated Parmesan cheese
Saute the mushrooms in 4 tablespoons of the olive oil for 8-10 minutes over medium heat until slightly browned. Drain liquid out of mushrooms with a fine mesh strainer. Place mushrooms back into the saute pan with another 4 tablespoons olive oil. Add garlic and continue to saute over medium heat for 2 minutes. The mushrooms should get crispy and caramelized. Add 1/2 cup white wine, thyme, parsley and let wine evaporate. Lower heat and add butter and pasta water. Add pasta directly to the sauce in the pan and stir gently to combine and finish. Best served with tagliatelle pasta. Finish each serving with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh thyme and finely grated Parmesan cheese.