This past Saturday, Mike was finally allowed in the kitchen. No not my kitchen, silly! Baby steps, sheesh.
What happened was this: we were very generously enrolled (thank you thank you thank you to the Monosky family!) in an Italian Date Night cooking class at our local Sur La Table! I swiped on some lipstick (ah yes, the great lengths I go to on “date night”) and we pre-gamed with a couple of cocktails before heading out the door.
Upon arrival, we were kindly ushered to a little kitchen tucked away in the back of the store. Class assistants greeted us with a little cup of warm soup and they passed around frothy cappuccinos. Not wanting to kill our buzz (obviously), we forewent the coffee and instead tied on our aprons and introduced ourselves to a few of the couples around us. There were about twelve people in the class, ages ranging from 20’s to 60’s, all excitedly inspecting the mandolins and knives, toying nervously with their apron strings.
I might have zoned out for a minute then, drooling over the menu for the night: crostini with caramelized shallots, balsamic fig jam, and gorgonzola – creamy chianti risotto with lemon scented arugula and shaved pecorino romano – grilled steaks with marsala and shallot pan sauce – and finally, tiramisu with orange zest and dark chocolate curls!
Our instructor introduced herself, made a few jokes, and we dove right in to the first recipe. Desert first right!? Well, kind of. This tiramisu recipe was insanely simple, but we needed to assemble our little ramekins of deliciousness so that they could sit in the fridge throughout the night in order to get even more delicious. So, we took some lady fingers and placed them in the bottom of the dish, poured a spot of strong coffee over, then the mascarpone (with sugar, marsala wine, orange juice), and topped it off with a sprinkle of orange zest and cute little chocolate curls. Off they went to sit and get happy!
Shallots ended up being quite the star ingredient throughout the night, sending us into fits of stinging tears and weeping into our sleeves. But we sucked it up and chopped on, learning some simple (but effective) knife skills. Teaming up in fours, we took to the burners and began caramelizing the shallots while our instructor talked to us about how to reduce figs into a jam. We surrendered our beautiful little pan of shallots over to an assistant (who, in the interest of time, assembled the crostini for us) and took a fifteen minute break.
Mike and I caught word of ice cold beers nearby, so we followed a couple of classmates and behold! Frosty pints! Chug chug chug, and then we trotted back to class…
Shallots – again! While I diced a particularly large shallot, our teammates dismantled a few sprigs of fresh thyme, and Mike expertly (with much concentration) chopped up some parsley. Back to the burners we went, sautéing the shallots with a knob of butter, oil, fresh thyme, marsala wine, and beef broth. Once that reduced down a bit, we added a splash of cream and reduced just a bit more. Oh my GOD did this smell good! The kitchen then got even more heavenly scented because that was the point when we started grilling the steaks. This was Mike’s favorite part of the night (besides eating) – he was enthralled by seemingly simple prep techniques such as letting your protein fully come to room temperature and patting it dry before grilling or baking. This ensures the meat will cook evenly and remain as juicy as possible. Also, “DON’T MESS WITH IT!” (i.e. don’t press it, flip it too often, and generally fuss about). Toss it on the grill, let it do its business, and flip it as minimally as possible.
Once our steaks were seared to perfection we set them aside to rest and began assembly of the very last dish: risotto. The soffrito began (gee, can you guess?) with shallots, which were browned golden with a bit of butter and oil. The rice was then added, toasting just a wee bit, before we deglazed with a splash of chianti. Stir stir stir, then a ladle of broth. Stir stir stir, the rice sucked it all up, plumping. Another ladle of broth. So on and so forth, we took turns stirring and tending. Mike was assigned the task of tossing a mound of arugula with lemon-juice-and-olive-oil vinaigrette, which was spread on a big ol’ platter. Once the risotto was perrrrrfectly al dente, we scooped it onto the bed of greens and topped it with delicate shavings of parmesan. Mmmmm melty cheesey buttery starchy goodness!
Finally, we all stepped back and admired the feast we created – the cute little crostini, the steaks perfectly cooked and topped with a drool-inducing pan sauce, creamy risotto with fresh arugula, and wee little cups of tiramisu. Clutching our plates and salivating, we finally sat down to a big family style dinner. The room fell silent for quite some time (mouths stuffed). I have to say, my absolute favorite was the marsala pan sauce for the steaks – I am not the type to think my steak needs any sort of dressing, but this was too good not to make again. Mike particularly enjoyed the crostini, and plans to us his newly acquired skills to whip up a batch immediately. All in all, date night was a huge success, and such a treat!
Below are a couple of my favorite recipes from the class. Grab you lover, a bottle of wine, and enjoy…
Crostini with Caramelized Shallots, Balsamic-Fig Jam, and Gorgonzola Crumbles
1 tbsp. canola oil, 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
5 large shallots
2-3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper
1 cup (about 6 oz.) dried black mission figs, stems removed, cut into halves or squares
dash of fresh lemon juice
1 cup water, plus more as needed
2-3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
a pinch of kosher salt
1 large baguette, cut into thin slices
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, for garnish
Heat up a big skillet and melt the canola oil and butter. Add shallots, balsamic, vinegar, salt and pepper. Sauté shallots until they’re deeply golden brown, about 15 minutes. Set aside, allowing them to cool to room temperature.
For the fig jam, place the figs, lemon juice, water, vinegar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until figs are tender when pierced with a knife and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool until it’s room temperature. Place fig mixture in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth, adding splashes of water if needed.
Toast your little baguette slices with a drizzle of olive oil, then spread on fig jam followed by the caramelized shallots and crumbles of gorgonzola. Sprinkle with a garnish of fresh thyme and serve to hungry guests (or…ahem…yourself).
Shallot Marsala Sauce (for Steak or Chicken)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 – 2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup marsala wine
1 cup rich beef stock
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme, removed from stem and roughly chopped
kosher salt, fresh ground pepper
3 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Melt butter and olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until softened, then add wine, stock, and thyme and continue cooking until reduced by half (about 8-10 minutes). Season with a pinch of salt and pepper, then stir in additional butter or a splash of cream to thicken. Keep sauce warm over low heat until ready to serve.
Have any of you lovelies ever been to a cooking class?