Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Lesson in Love, Milano Style

(Hi, I'm back. Don't know what happened to me, but I apologize for the lapse. Things get hectic. Anyway.)

Last month I was kindly invited to attend a class on Milanese cooking at the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. Never one to turn down an offer to play with Italian food, I gleefully accepted. What a delight: four hours in a kitchen-classroom with a learned and charming Italian chef-instructor ("I've never eaten spaghetti and meatballs, and I never will."), quality ingredients, and a delicious end product, in generous proportions, that I took home as a souvenir. And it wasn't until I got home, happily weighed down with a giant osso buco atop polenta, a hefty serving of ridiculously delicious risotto a la milanese, and a container full of priceless braising liquid, that I realized what I had really experienced: a practical lesson on an old adage. These few hours left no doubt; food really is love.

In every aspect of the class, I felt I was being cared for. The fresh scones that another chef had baked just for our class, the patient discussion of each dish, peppered with Chef Rossi's own tips and secrets, ones you'd never find in a cookbook ("Perfection is irrelevant. The 'skew' of an imperfect wine is what makes it approachable"), and an extensive packet including the day's recipes, an explanation of ingredients and methods, and a brief history of Milanese cuisine, were all bits of a sweet culinary indulgence.

I mean, these are ingredients that make you feel loved: oxtail broth, which would take over a day to make at home, provided to braise our osso buco; opulent threads of saffron portioned with a generous hand; gremolata hand-chopped for us by our chef-instructor; that delicate square of gold leaf imported from Italy crowning the risotto; grana padano grated from a wedge of cheese that nearly was bigger than a breadbox (that's right kids, we're in Milan. Move over parmigiano-reggiano. Grana padano is the local cheese here.). And everything made obviously delicious with heavy gobs of Plugra butter.

And the end result, seriously, wow. Everything smelled amazing, flavors ran deep, and textures were opulently rich. You don't want to let one bit of that brown 'gravy' surrounding the saffrony grains to go to waste (And finally getting a definitive risotto how-to, after so many untutored home attempts, is a revelation). And then you taste a bit of the braising liquid and it's equally rich and decadent but in a completely different way. And to think that I created those delicious flavors myself! Pretty impressive.

CSCA has a couple more of these Consumer Education classes coming up in June: "Strawberry Fields", and "Burgers with a Twist". Admittedly, they're a little spendy. But can you really put a price on love?


  1. I'm very jealous :) Did you use white wine in your osso buco or red (or none)?

    And to paraphrase David Cross, nothing like tasteless, odorless gold to up the luxury factor!

  2. we did use wine, and had both red and white at our disposal (as chef rossi said, either one is fine, but the end result will be different with each one). i went with white (i think it was a riesling?), simply because i figured red is what one would immediately assume, and i wanted to try the other option. hard to say if it made a difference in the end -- there were so many flavors working together that it just yummily blended into the crowd.

    and yes, as we already knew, david cross is a wise, wise man. the gold leaf was totally frivolous, but it just added to the day's theme of loving culinary indulgence.