June 8, 2012

A New Source of Scrumptious, Simple Recipes

Crazy delicious pasta e  fagioli,
courtesy of Chef Silvio Suppa.
Wish you knew how to cook up a fantastic marinara sauce? Think making fresh pasta from scratch is absolutely out of your league? Longing for amazing recipes that require only simple ingredients?

As I've learned in recent weeks, some of the dishes I'd always assumed could never be part of my repertoire are, in fact, deceivingly simple. Where did I learn this? Cooking classes.

No, I'm not talking about stressful, pricey lessons that for last weeks on end. No, you don't have to spend extra cash on kitchen supplies. And no, you certainly need not possess Iron Chef-like skills.

I'm talking a single two-hour weeknight outing that will prove to be fun, delicious, and educational - not to mention it's a lovely way to acquire some unbelievable new recipes while coming upon the revelation that cooking up some really great food is shockingly doable.

Today's Stefcations Highlights:

My mom and I recently signed up for two different classes - a cooking demo at the Viking Center in Wallingford, Conn., and a hands-on class at Martino's Italian Market in Bristol, Conn. They were both great fun. Whether you want to spend a relaxing night out with a fellow foodie or are strictly on a mission to eat some damn good food, I guarantee that one of these will fit the bill. 

There is no longer any reason to fear
making fresh ricotta gnocchi.
Hands-On Classes
If you don't mind getting your hands a little dirty, doughy, and in on the action, then I highly recommend the hands-on lessons at Martino's, which offers classes periodically, each focused on a particular theme - from Italian food to chicken dishes to canning and making jams.

The night we attended, Mom and I learned how to make marinara sauce, pomodoro sauce, and vodka sauce, as well as fontina cheese-stuffed meatballs and fresh ricotta gnocchi. Yum!

The instructor, Chef Brenda, was fantastic - laidback, informative, and pleasant, doling out useful words of kitchen wisdom beyond the basics of how to make each dish.

Plus, they supplied each of us wanna-be chefs not only with delicious red wine during and after the lesson, but also our own gnocchi board to take home! Score.

Our own freshly made ricotta gnocchi,
fontina cheese-stuffed meatballs, and pomodoro sauce.
To top it all off, we got to sit down together afterward and enjoy all of our amazing creations. You couldn't ask for a more enjoyable and refreshing Thursday night.

Cooking Demos
Perhaps you would prefer to sit back with your glass of wine and simply observe from the other side of the counter? No judgment. You'll still get to chow down on a delicious, multi-course dinner, after all. If that sounds more your style, a cooking demo would suit you. 

The Viking Center in Wallingford, Conn., offers a variety of classes throughout the year - both cooking demos and hands-on classes. (P.S. While there, you can also ogle the Viking designer double wall ovens and other such impressive kitchen appliances in their showroom.)

Sylvio Suppa, chef and owner of Cafe Allegre in Madison, Conn., led the demo we attended. He regaled us with stories of his childhood, spent cooking alongside his grandmother back in Italy, while whipping up a selection of Italian dishes featured in his latest cookbook:

A beautiful stewed artichoke.
Melts in your mouth.
  • Pasta fagioli (Bacon is what makes this soup. OMG.)
  • Panzanella (A simple bread salad made with day-old bread, red onions, oregano, basil, olive oil, and tomatoes, simply tossed by hand)
  • Stewed artichokes (A good tip from Chef Silvio: Use gloves when handling artichokes; raw artichokes are very bitter, and the bitterness will transfer to any other foods with which your hands come into contact.)
  • Braciole with cavatelli (Braciole = Beef, pounded until thin, wrapped around a filling of parmesan, garlic, and other goodness, and simmered for several hours.)

Better yet, we got reap the rewards. By the time the last course was served, I had to request a doggie bag. I couldn't eat one more bite - but there was zero chance I was letting that braciole go to waste.

Chef Silvio's
beautiful panzanella (bread salad).
As Silvio explained, traditional peasant
dishes like this are served nowadays
in the finest restaurants. 
So if you like to cook and like to eat, this kind of night out is a win-win - also a great gift for anyone that appreciates a good meal.

If you know of any cooking classes or demos in Connecticut, please leave a comment and give me the detes! I need to sign up, pronto.

And, P.S., courtesy of the very kind Martino's Italian Market, I've added a recipe for their marinara sauce! Enjoy!!

Martino's Marinara Sauce

1. Pour a No. 10 can of San Marzano whole tomatoes (These are the really big-daddy-size cans that you'll find at Costco) into a large bowl and hand-crush. 

2. Heat a 6-count of olive oil in a large stock pot. Add 1 large, finely chopped onion and saute until it begins to soften. Add 4 smashed garlic cloves and saute for about a minute. Do not let the garlic take on any color. 
Chef Silvio does his magic.

3. Add the tomatoes, along with their liquid, into the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add 4 bay leaves, 3 T. of sugar, and salt and pepper. Cook for about an hour, uncovered. The sauce will reduce and thicken.

4. Adjust the seasoning as needed. Remove sauce from heat and stir in a 1/4 cup each of fresh, chopped basil and parsley. 

Per Brenda, this makes about enough sauce to cover 3 pounds worth of pasta. You can freeze it, too, for later use. Enjoy!!


  1. Yesss!!! Omg I want some!

  2. We should go to Cafe Allegre, Chef Silvio's realm! Love his pasta fagioli!

  3. Seriously, the pasta fagioli is amazing. I have the recipe!

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