Wednesday, November 28, 2007

We failed Jody Adams.

We had a great day with Jody Adams of Rialto, even though it was the first time in class history we didn't finish, we were all so disappointed. To be fair, it wasn't completely realistic that we would finish in time, after all, each team was doing all of the menus and we got off to a slightly late start because Jody was stuck in traffic. That being said, I still think we did well, tried our best and turned out some delicious food, thanks to Jody's fabulous recipes.

Today's menu called for three different doughs, tart, pasta and erbazzone, so we immediately knew we should start on those first, while we waited for Jody to arrive. Just as we were all finishing up on that, Jody arrived and gave us all a quick run down of the menu, where they came from and why they were on the menu. It was interesting to see someone who, although not Italian themselves, embrace Italian food so wholeheartedly. Sort of like Ana Sortun and her love of Middle Eastern food.

Catherine and I finished making the our dough at the same time so we both moved on to the baby chickens so we could get them marinating in the balsamic vinegar ASAP. Breaking apart the chickens was very fun, as disturbed as that makes me sound. It gave me great practice for taking apart chickens because I was able to do it on a much smaller scale and really see the animal as a whole, something that doesn't happen much with the larger birds.

Once those were in the marinade, I started to work on the cipollini and cook them down with some Cabernet vinegar and sugar so they'd become nicely browned and caramelized. The onions provides a lot of the sweetness, but because they were so large, we decided to throw in some sugar too. The best thing about the cipollini is that because they could be served at room-temperature and could afford to sit aside while we worked on the rest of the food.

For some reason, I just couldn't get the onions to cook through, so I needed to keep adding water so that the onions could simmer while the liquid continued to reduce. I did this at least five times before the onions were even close to done. Unfortunately, the worst part that the final simmer and reduction was that I completely forgot about the onions and unfortunately, the onions reduced to much and the liquid started to burn, giving the onions a slightly bitter flavor. Oh well, they still tasted wonderful, cold or hot, and made a great new dish for anti-pasti.

Even though Jessica was working on the fillings for the pasta, Catherine was working on the stuffing for the erbazzone and I was finishing off the onions, rolling out and baking the pie tart, we still felt like we were very behind on everything. Thankfully, we weren't the only ones, because by time 4:15 rolled around Jody decided that it wasn't going to be possible for all of us to complete all the various dishes. Instead, Jody decided that she would demonstrate each of the dishes so that at least we could all taste it.

Beginning with the onions and fritters, Jody started plating dishes using whatever group had finished it, because, at very least each group had nearly completed one of the dishes. Plating the fritters, cipollini, shaved Parmesan and prosciutto, finishing it with a drizzle of the syrup left over from the onion reduction. The mixture of flavors on this dish were so familiar, so sharp and so explosive, it seemed like it was the first time I'd ever eaten. Not only was there a contrast in temperature, but texture and flavors: sweet onions, salty fritters, creamy cheese, fatty prosciutto.

Even though we all felt defeated because we weren't able to finish the entire menu, tasting the first dish made it all alright. The entire class was so amazed by how good the dish was I think it lifted everyone's mood.

Since we had snacked on the erbazzone as soon as they were finished (so delicious), we moved straight onto the Balsamic chickens with beets. Jody threw the entire bird onto a hot pan and pressed it down in weights so it would cook more evenly. After cooking the bird on both sides, Jody deboned the chicken (only the ribs, not the wings and legs), cut it into pieces and plated it with the roasted beets and some quickly sauteed spinach.

This dish was fantastic. Really simple but full of flavor and spice and color, it felt familiar and comfortable, a real achievement. We all loved the way the balsamic marinade tasted (and it was good to see the appearance of fennel seeds again after our sausage day with Charles so long ago) and thought the mix of the spinach and beets really helped enhanced the deep flavors of the vinegar. I think a lot of us bounced happily back and forth from the first course and the chicken course. It all fit together really nicely, too.

Unfortunately, none of us did get around to making the entire caramel tart that day, so we didn't have the chance to taste it. We were able to taste the caramel filling which had big chunks of nuts and almost entire figs in it. It was very earthy and perfumey, slightly bitter and very organic tasting. I think the large chunks of nuts and huge pieces of fig helped break up the (otherwise) overwhelming amount of caramel. Most interesting, I think, was that we added bay leaves (a lot of them, actually) to the caramel when we were making it. Ever since John V. told us that bay leaves had a rather strong aroma, I'd been reluctant to use much of it at all, and was very surprised to be including it in caramel and using so much of it. When I really thought about the flavors of the caramel, it really hit me just how perfectly the bay leaf melded with the sugary caramel. It took something that was so out of this world sweet and brought in some savory, made it more real and meaty. It was really incredible and very delicious.

Although we didn't finish all the recipes today, I think the class and the food we had left a big impression on us. I'm certain I'll make the balsamic marinated chicken for the rest of my life and I know that a lot of people in class simply fell in love with the cipolini onions today too. I think those onions would make the perfect side dish to a lot of great meals.

Maybe I should make the chicken and onions for dinner...

I think Jody also showed us her way of approaching Italian food: understand the essential ingredients, the whys and hows of the way they are used, and mix it up. It's a great way to approach a lot of things in life.