Thursday, May 10, 2007

Monteverdi Would Have Drooled

Last night, J & I took her parents to a class at the Institute of Culinary Education for their 30th anniversary--"Dining with Platina, Michaelangelo, and Leonardo: Italian Renaissance Cooking," ably and fascinatingly taught by Cathy Kaufman, the food historian for ICE. (I got the impression she does other things as well, but I'm not sure what.)

The evening began with a brief lecture from Chef Cathy about eating in the Renaissance--humoural medicine, how class distinctions play out in eating habits, the history of the first Italian cookbooks, etc. Some of the class seemed to be nodding off during her talk, but Jenny & I, nerds that we are, were listening attentively.

Next, she passed around some of the more obscure ingredients we'd be using: verjuice and malaguetta pepper, which figured strongly in one of the dishes J & I made--but more on that in a minute.

At this stage, we started to realize that at the table with us were several people with a great sense of humor and adventure, some shell-shocked and shy folks, and a couple of right duds. By the luck of the draw, we ended up at a cooking table with the dud couple, who were extremely snarky. Oh, well--we wound up just ignoring them anyway, which was easy enough, especially since we outnumbered them 2 to 1.

Our table's job was to complete six items: Marzipan Torta, Fava Beans, Roasted Game Hens with Sweet and Sour Orange Sauce, Cuttlefish in Black Sauce, Tomacelli (herbed calves' liver), and Frozen Wine. Jenny & I began on the wine (a granita sort of thing), and her parents set to the game hens, while the Snarks started measuring for the torta. Seeing what was next on the list (the calves' liver), I asked the Snarks (kindly, I thought) if they would mind switching off with me, so that I would do the rest of the torta so as not to be elbow-deep in things I'm allergic to. They agreed, however begrudingly, and so making the pizzelle (?) wafers on which the marzipan sits occupied me for the next while.

I won't go through a whole play-by-play here, but will cut to the meal's highlights. Of course I couldn't eat everything, but of what I ate, the standouts were the Salad of Mixed Lettuces and Herbs, the Bolognese Torte (mainly chard and cheese, with a sweetish crust), fish (not sure what) with Lombard Sauce, and the Frozen Wine. Sweet Rice Fritters were probably lovely when they were hot, but by the time we ate them they were cold and stodgy--ditto the game hens. My torta was likewise adversely affected by the delay in eating--what should have been crispy was densely chewy, although still very tasty with the marzipan itself, and the rose water I put in it. I am inspired to tweak that recipe for home use, for something that will be able to bear a delay in eating.

Of these, the standouts were the salad and the fish, and later I'll post the recipes to these. But now I'm hungry....


Sophie said...

Ooooh, what fun!

I'm completely jealous.

An Briosca Mor said...

Wow, sounds like a fun class. Somewhat different in format from the classes I take at L'Academie de Cuisine. At L'Academie, any class with a menu this broad and adventurous would probably be a demo class rather than a participation class. In the demo classes, the chef and assistants cook everything and the students eat. In the participation classes, students work in pairs (or sometimes in threes or even alone if the total class number is not even) and every pair cooks all the dishes and then eats what they cook (and maybe some other stuff that the chef cooks). But it sounds like in your class the various tables of six all had different cooking assignments and then at the end everyone ate some of everything, like a giant buffet. Did I get that right? That kind of arrangement could work, if most of the class has a clue, but could also be a dining disaster if most of the class is clueless. At least at L'Academie, if you end up eating bad food it's because you and your partner screwed it up yourselves. I've been lucky in the classes I've taken - if I've had bad partners they've always been the wimpy kind that I can just over-rule and take over the operation myself. But when I've been assisting at classes, boy have I seen some sorry pairings - usually husband and wife teams that are taking the class together. Boy am I glad I'm not eating in their house!

T said...

Yes, that's how it worked. We were mostly lucky, and several of the people seemed to have taken classes there before, or be serious foodies. It helped that most of the dishes were fairly easy, and I think the ringers helped keep certain things good, like making sure the fish was done perfectly.

Having said that, there were a couple of very dubious-looking meat dishes that I couldn't eat, and those may have wound up in the wrong hands. The couple doing the duck (which, alas, also included ham, so I couldn't eat it!) were very nervous about it being done enough, and the idea of a thermometer seemed completely foreign to them....

Working in pairs, though, would probably be better for me: in this class, there were at least four dishes I *could* have eaten but for minute amounts of prosciutto/ham/salt pork. I'm sure their flavor was wonderful, but the dishes would have survived without them.

Oh, well--no complaints at all!