I've long admired Chef Andrew Carmellini of Locanda Verde. His cookbook, Urban Italian, is a staple in my kitchen, and I'm eager to check out his new restaurant, The Dutch, which is due to open this fall. So I was thrilled to attend a cooking class with Carmellini at the New York Culinary Experience this weekend.
Each of the recipes Carmellini shared evoked the harvest season in Italy. We started with a simple appetizer of whipped sheep's milk ricotta. Apparently Locanda Verde goes through through 200 pounds of the stuff every week. Spread onto toasted bread and topped with a slice of fresh fig, it made for a luscious appetizer. Top the ricotta-dolloped toast with shavings of fresh truffle instead, and it's heavenly.
Then Carmellini coached us through what he called an "adult risotto" enriched with port, red wine, earthy radicchio, and smoked mozzarella. When asked about what wine to pour into the pan, he offered this nugget of wisdom: "If you cook with a high-end wine, you are a fool." He said that a certain temperature, good wine no longer offers anything special to a dish; in fact, when cooking, you're often seeking out more tannin and residual sugar than you might like in a wine you'd drink.
The Locanda Verde chef debunked myths left and right. When asked if we should be adding stock to the risotto ladle by ladle, Carmellini exclaimed: "You don't have to! That's Italian BS!" and said that in the Italian kitchens he's worked in, they always added most of the liquid at once, and sometimes even just threw all the liquid on the toasted rice and put the whole thing in the oven without stirring.
He also recommended skipping the salt when roasting vegetables. "Salt draws the water out," he said, so if you want crispy caramelized edges, it's better to roast them unsalted and season just before serving.
The final dish of the class was strozzapreti pasta sauced with red wine-marinated grapes, sage, and sweet Italian sausage. A little red wine vinegar brightens it up, but what really brings this dish to the next level how it's finished. The nearly done pasta completes its cooking in the sauce, with a little starchy pasta water and a generous nob (or two) of butter. Butter is always the secret ingredient, isn't it?