These past few years my Aunt and Uncle have started a new kind of tradition.
Rather than giving material goods they began giving gifts for activities that we could do together as a family. The first year they handed gift bags to each of us containing a clue as to what that activity would be. The tiny folded sheets tucked inside revealed that in the summer we would all attend a Goldeyes game together. It was great! As it always is when my Dad’s side gets together, it doesn’t happen very often aside from holidays so for them to bring us together and host a day out was really special.
Last year, being the fine foodies they are, we were hosted to one of De Luca’s famous cooking classes. For those that don’t know, De Luca’s is an Italian restaurant, and specialty grocer in Winnipeg. They also provide catering, and host events, such as the cooking classes, in their on site cooking studio.
The class consists of a wine tasting, a five course meal and a demonstration of all the courses; an appetizer, a pasta dish, an entree, a side and dessert. Along with the demonstration all the guests are given a copy of the recipes for the meal complete with ingredients (all conveniently available upstairs in the grocery mart) and full instructions.
An evening of amazing Italian food, copious amounts of wine and great company. What more could you ask for?! It was raved about for months and at every family gathering since.
So this year when we opened our envelopes at Christmas to reveal that we were going to attend another cooking class, we were more than thrilled! The date was set and we waited in anticipation for our night out, which finally came last Thursday evening.
Upon entering the studio we were given our pamphlets revealing what the evenings gastronomical delights would be. We tasted some wines, had a bite of cheese and made our way to our seats to investigate the menu.
While I trusted in full that anything our instructor Chef Anna was preparing for us would be completely fantastic, I was slightly wary about the first course, an appetizer of Eggplant Meatballs. My past experiences with eggplant were unfavourable, but further inspection of the recipe and a few sips of wine my worries were eased.
A blend of Fontina, Pecorino and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses. A touch of nutmeg, The drizzle of balsamic glaze. They all come together perfectly, turning my once most hated vegetable foe into an acquaintance I’d love to get to know better!
Instead of of dry bread crumbs being used as a binder like in traditional “meat” balls, day old bread was used that had been soaked and drained of excess moisture. This was done in order to hold well and create a consistent texture, making the inside soft but with substance. They were also given a coating of dry breadcrumbs for crispness just before they hit the frying pan.
Muffled mouth fulls of approval were shared across the room between more sips of wine, and once we finished we patiently awaited our second course.
Gnocchi with Pancetta Cherry Tomato Sauce.
These tiny potato dumplings can cause powerful, overwhelming feelings of elation and joy to anyone who has ever had the pleasure of consuming them. To top them with a sauce of cherry tomatoes AND pancetta was pure bliss.
I was surprised to learn that canned cherry tomatoes even existed, never mind that we were using them. They were incorporated through a food mill along with regular canned tomatoes to give both a dimension of flavour, and a fine textured sauce.
It was fantastic. Each bite embodied the fluffy chewy texture of the gnocchi with a burst of salty pancetta, tangy cherry tomatoes, garlic, basil, white wine and parmigiano. A beautiful marriage of flavours.
As tempted as I was to oblige in the seconds we were offered, we still had our main course in front of us.
Chicken stuffed with Capicoli & Caciocavallo and a side of Potato and Cauliflower au Gratin
Last year’s class included a stuffed chicken breast as well, so now after viewing a second demonstration I’m fairly confident it’s a skill that I’m now a master black belt in. The meat is first butterflied and then pounded flat to achieve a consistent width throughout. This helps not only in sealing the filling but also to ensure that its cooked evenly.
The Caciocavallo cheese, Hot Capicolli, some parm and a whole clove of garlic are pulsed in a food processor, and along with some fresh parsley, are used for the filling. Once assembled and sealed, these artfully procured little bundles were given a quick pat of flour and transferred to a hot frying pan.
With the addition of sage, some more garlic, a little chicken stock, and white wine in the pan while cooking, a simply acquired, but so, so deliciously complex and flavourful sauce was created.
It’s smooth, slightly tangy flavour melded so well with the chicken and spilled over as you cut in to expose the bold flavours awaiting inside. While our side dish of Potato and Cauliflower au Gratin was totally able to stand on its own, it quickly became a portal for the magnificent gravy of garlic and wine.
We had a good amount of time to mingle, converse and have more ‘samples’ of wine.
The direct result of our ambitious sampling was:
1. An unnecessary amount of selfies.
2. Inability to take a photo of dessert.
I can guarantee though, a Chocolate Nutella Lava Cake can speak for itself.
Afterwards we were welcomed to explore the grocery shelves upstairs and purchase all the necessary items to create these fine dishes for ourselves at home, which I look forward to attempt in the near future.
Mostly though, I’m looking forward to more culinary ventures with the family.