Yes, I’m back in cooking school. It was a bit of a toss-up as to whether or not I wanted to take the Level Two classes at The New School of Cooking here in Los Angeles. After stressing heavily over the testing weeks of Level One’s classes, I was hesitant. However, after I found out that there IS no testing on this level, I decided to go for it…..and happily, my friend Cathy, who went through level one with me, is taking it, too.
This time around, the classes last for only three months, as opposed to six. Plus, our new teacher, Carol, has a totally different vibe than May. Don’t get me wrong, I loved May, but Carol is all about being an intuitive cook-just my style. She’s going to let us have our heads-to a certain extent. We’ll still get recipes, but we can get creative. Isn’t that what great cooking is all about?!
The concept for this level is world cuisine. Each week we’ll concentrate on a different country. We’ll learn about the culture, regions and their specialties and then get to cook various examples of them. This week’s country-ITALY!
Who doesn’t love Italian food?
Carol gave us a map of the country separated into regions. She started with Piedmont and Lombardy and worked her way down to Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany and Umbria and ended at Calabria and Sicily. Each of these areas is known for specific produce dictated by their climate and soil.
Piedmont and Lombardy (Milan’s region) and the other northern regions are known for their cheeses. This area has fertile soil because of the Alps and the deep lakes made from the run-off. It’s perfect grazing for cows, so their cheeses are creamy and delicious. Carol gave us a tasting of 6 different kinds of cheeses from the area: Cheese with juniper berries and gorgonzola from Piedmont, fontina and tallegio from Lombardy and a pecorino Tuscano and ragusano.
Arborio rice is grown in the Po Valley, so it would make sense that this area is known for its risotto dishes, Osso Buco and crème dishes.
Liguria, just below Piedmont is considered the Italian Riviera. Genoa is in this region. The soil is rocky and not as fertile. It’s perfect for herbs, garlic and olive oil. Gee-what can these make?! You got it–Pesto! And, of course, since Genoa is a port city, they’re also known for their fish. As a matter of fact, they eat so much fish in this area, they use anchovies instead of salt.
Trentino, next to Lombardy, has more Germanic influences in its food. There are more smoked pork products and dumpling noodles. Fun fact-Jagermeister is made in Trentino. Who knew?
Venice, on the other coast, in Veneto, was where all the spice trade was done, so that area is known for its Middle Eastern influences. They use a lot of turmeric and cumin in their dishes. There are more sweet/spicy combos here. (and flooded streets!)
Emilia-Romagna, where Modena, Parma and Bologna are, has more cooking schools than anywhere else in the country. Modena, as I’m sure you know, is where balsamic vinegar is made. Parma is not only famous for their ham, but it’s where parmesan cheese is made. Since Reggio is next to Parma, both areas are allowed to make this cheese. Hence the name “Parmesan-Reggiano.” Makes sense now, doesn’t it? The area is known for their rich sauces like Bolognese. They also like their egg pasta, which uses a softer flour.
When one hits Tuscany, things change. This area is the beginning of the “poverty line.” It’s because they don’t get a lot of water in the southern area of the country. Tuscany has tons of olive trees, so they make olive oil. And more olive oil.
Go south to Lazio, where Rome is, and you’ll find sheep’s milk cheeses-pecorino and ricotta. They tend to keep to the typical Mediterranean diet of eggplant, peppers, citrus, almonds, garlic and of course, tomatoes. Their pasta is hardier and dried.
Naples, in the region of Campania, is another port city. It’s where most Italian-Americans came from. Their food is the food of most of the “Italian” restaurants in this country. Meatballs are from Naples! There’s great fresh mozzarella from here, as well.
Apulia is the heel of the boot. It’s known for its canned San Marzano tomatoes. These are used for pizza and sauces. If you haven’t tried them, you must. You’ll be amazed at the taste difference! This region also has a Middle Eastern influence. They eat bulgur wheat, garbanzo beans and Orecchiette (ear shaped) pasta.
Last but not least, we come to Sicily. This large island has been invaded by most of the known universe (according to my Sicilian boyfriend, Bobby), and has some amazing food influences. Along with the Middle Eastern influence, they love their pine nuts, raisins and making sweet and sour combos. The waters around the island provide heavier, meaty fishes that provide much of their protein.
Carol gave each of us a recipe from a different region. I made Costolette Di Porco con Porcini (Porcini Pork Chops) from the Emilia Romagna region. One interesting point; Carol had me brine the pork chops beforehand for about 20 minutes. Evidently, American pork is much leaner than European pork, so brining it helps keep it moist. It worked. They were fabulous!! Make them and see for yourself…
Oh! Cathy made a fabulous chicken dish. Check out HER recipe on HERE.
- ½ oz dried porcini mushrooms
- 2/3 C hot water
- 3 tbsps Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Four 1” thick pork loin chops
- Salt and fresh pepper
- ¼ onion, minced
- 1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced lengthwise
- ¼ C dry white wine
- 1/3 C chicken stock
- ½ tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Reconstitute the mushrooms in hot water for 20-30 minutes until softened. Remove them from the soaking liquid and set aside. Strain the liquid through a fine sieve lined with a paper towel and reserve 3 tbsps for the pan sauce.
- Heat the olive oil in a 12” sauté pan over medium high heat. Take 3-4 minutes to quickly brown the pork chops on both sides, sprinkling them with salt and pepper as you turn them.
- When the chops are golden brown, lower heat to medium low and cook 8-12 minutes, turn once. Check for doneness at 8 minutes. Be careful not to overcook them, or they will dry out. Once they are done, remove to a serving platter.
- Spoon off all but about 2 tbsps fat from the pan. Turn the heat to medium high and add the onions and sauté 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic. Stir and sauté one minute. Add the reserved mushroom liquid and boil it down to nothing in about 2 minutes. Then turn the heat to high, stir in the wine and deglaze the pan. When it has cooked off, stir in the stock and simmer 1 minute. Stir in the lemon juice and cook a few seconds. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the butter and spoon the sauce over the chops. Serve.
2 thoughts on “School Daze Part Deux-Level 2 of Pro Chef Classes”
this is awesome! thanks for sharing – it’s REALLY fun and interesting read! 🙂 i miss you guys!
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