Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An Evening with Giuliano and Lael Hazan

Imagine my delight when I discovered that Giuliano Hazan, renowned Chef and award-winning cookbook author, held small hands-on cooking classes at his home in Sarasota. I have been a longtime fan of his mother, Marcella Hazan, one of the foremost authorities on Italian cuisine and author of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, one of my most treasured cookbooks. As the first person to arrive for the evening's cooking class, I was able to spend some quality time chatting with Giuliano and his gregarious wife Lael, an accomplished food writer and Giuliano's unofficial sous chef for the evening. Both Giuliano and Lael were warm and charming hosts, offering amusing anecdotes, helpful hints and stellar recipes to our small group, as we helped in the preparation of a four course Italian meal: Risotto with Asparagus and Shrimp, followed by Aromatic Salmon in a Pouch with Marinated Green Beans, and as the dolce, a delicious homemade Strawberry Gelato.

With each of us assigned a personal cooking station, we began our preparations for the Strawberry Gelato, using pink, plump, delicious berries that the Hazan family picked on a recent berry picking outing to Hunsader Farms in Manatee County. Combined with sugar, lemon juice and whipping cream, the heavenly concoction was whisked to rubine perfection, then poured into Giuliano's state-of-the-art ice cream maker. Hungry from all of our "hard work", Giuliano and Lael served a timely Aperitivo — a handsome platter of rolled Italian Speck, a perfectly ripe and wonderfully smelly Taleggio, and a generous wodge of Gorgonzola with a bowl of truffle honey on the side, for good measure.

Lael served a loaf of warm bread fresh from the oven for us all to enjoy with the cheese and speck, which was a very thoughtful touch and a prudent measure, given that we were going to be having a libation or two, and handling knives shortly thereafter. She's a Mom. She knows these things.

Giuliano kindly opened two lovely bottles of Nino Franco's Prosecco "Rustico", and poured glasses for everyone, while we all paused for a moment to enjoy the aperitivo, and chat with all the other guests who had gathered for the cooking class. Fortified with our glass of bubbly, and the wonderful cheeses, we donned our aprons and started to prepare the Risotto.

Using an amazing little ceramic vegetable peeler, we each trimmed and shaved the asparagus for the risotto, which Guiliano put on to boil for about 8 minutes, until he did "The Wiggle Test". Taking a spear out of the salted boiling water, he gave the little guy a shake — if it wiggles, it's done. Giuliano saved the asparagus water, and used the liquid as brodo for cooking the risotto, adding great flavour and a handsome verdant hue to the final dish.

We then peeled the shrimp, chopped them into quarters and then set them aside until the risotto was almost ready to be served — they're added at the last minute to ensure they're cooked to perfection. Lael and Guiliano served each of our four courses on their own set of gorgeous Italian ceramicware from Faenza in Emilia Romagnia. Not only was the risotto delicious, like a taste of springtime, it looked beautiful in their exquisite Italian dishes.

With the meal, Giuliano served Elio Grasso Dolcetto d'Alba. “Dolcetto” means “little sweet one,” but there’s nothing sweet about the wine made with this varietal. Instead, Dolcetto refers here to the tiny, early-ripening grapes that grow on the slopes of the vineyards of Piedmont. The wine’s complex flavors accentuated the flavours in the risotto and danced beautifully with the asparagus and poached shrimp.

The Secondi, or main course, was fresh Salmon that had been butterflied and stuffed with an aromatic mixture of garlic, olive oil, salt, fresh parsley and oregano, then topped with diced tomatoes and wrapped in a foil tent. Cooked for about 20 minutes at 425°F, the Salmon was served with Marinated Green Beans, that we had prepared earlier. The subtle flavour of the salmon married well with the beans that had been left to marinate in a mixture of Cerignola olives, capers, garlic, olive oil, fresh basil and oregano.

Taking our places in the Hazan's lovely dining room, we all sat down and enjoyed the fruits of our labour, or rather Giuliano and Lael's, as we all dined together on the delicate Risotto, aromatic Salmon with marinated Green Beans, followed by the outstanding homemade Strawberry Gelato. 

Bursting with fresh berry goodness, everyone in the class was smitten with the gelato. I have resisted buying an ice cream maker — until now. If only I could figure out a way to package up Giuliano and Lael and take them home too. Well, I did, sort of...


Strawberry Gelato
Courtesy of Giuliano Hazan © 2011
Makes about 1 quart

¾ pound fresh strawberries
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup water
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream

Remove the stems and leaves from the berries and rinse in cold water. Place the berries and the sugar in a food processor and process until liquified.  Add the water and run the processor until all the ingredients are mixed together well.

Whip the cream with a whisk until it begins to thicken and becomes the consistency of buttermilk.  Put the cream and the liquefied strawberries in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturer’s directions.

Aromatic Salmon in a Pouch
From “How to Cook Italian” by Giuliano Hazan
Serves 4 

3/4 pound fresh ripe tomato (about 1 cup diced without seeds)
3 tbsp flat leaf Italian parsley
2 tsp finely chopped garlic
2 tsp fresh oregano
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds skinless salmon fillet
extra wide heavy duty aluminum foil
2 tbsp dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Peel the tomatoes, remove the seeds and cut into 1/2” dice.

Finely chop the parsley and garlic.  Coarsely chop the oregano and mix with the garlic, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, and the olive oil.  Season the mixture with salt and pepper.

Butterfly the salmon fillet by slicing horizontally along its thicker side so that the fillet opens like a book.  Spread the mixture from the previous step on the inside and outside of the salmon fillet.

Tear a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to wrap around the fish completely.  When you seal the foil later there should be enough room around the fish for the steam to circulate while it cooks.  Place the fish in the center and add the white wine. Spread the diced tomato over the fish and sprinkle the remaining parsley on top. Season with salt and pepper and seal the foil making sure not to leave any openings. Place the pouch on a cookie sheet and put it in the preheated oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, depending on how thick the fish is. If you are unsure whether the fish is cooked or not, it’s perfectly okay to partially open the pouch and check with a fork to see if it flakes. When it is done, gently open the foil taking care not to spill the juices. Lift it out of the baking pan and slide the contents into a serving dish. Serve at once.

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