Thursday, April 4, 2013

SPQR Cook the Book Class with San Francisco Cooking School

Bright orange awnings welcome as you enter the pristine work space of the San Francisco Cooking Schools showcase Kitchen. Windows encompass the front walls right on the busy corner of Van Ness & Turk just steps away from the iconic Civic Center building giving the passerby the opportunity to perchance see some culinary marvels at work. Tonight's class will be learning recipes from the city's own SPQR restaurant's cook book. A gorgeous tome filled with not only appealing recipes but also information on regional wines and illumination on the areas that inspired the dishes, which may also inspire you to hop on the first plane you can catch to Italy!
As the class trickles in to the space we are greeted enthusiastically by the staff and welcomed to take a seat at one of two long tables set with dinner ware, an apron embroidered with the school's emblem, and our recipes which we are encouraged to peruse. Tonight's class will be preparing:

Scallop Crudo with Sunchokes
Chilled Asparagus Soup with Lemon Yogurt
Spring Vignarola Salad
Fontina & Mushroom Tortellini
Pork Milanese
Chocolate Torta with Vanilla Mascarpone

Leading the charge tonight is Amanda Haas who was the recipe tester as the book was in production and knows hands on how to make these formidable delicacies approachable to our mostly untrained crowd. We are an eager and eclectic bunch excited to get to work! I have already eyed the Asparagus soup and quickly shoot up my hand to volunteer when it comes up for selection. It's a popular choice but I luck out and get to work on it. The most hands are needed for the tortellini which will have pasta made from scratch along with filling. Once the recipes are all assigned we get to work! 
After reading over the recipe with my accomplished partner she is pulled away to assist on the dessert where her expertise will come in handy. This leaves me on my own but I'm excited to tackle this recipe. After assessing all the ingredients that have been laid out for me and finding anything else I need I get to work! As I'm chopping Asparagus, Yellow Onion, Leek, & Spring Garlic to be sauteed I glance around the room at everyone else hard at work. The station next to mine is preparing the Scallop crudo and Amanda is demonstrating how to use a small kitchen torch to get a lovely caramelized sear on the outside of the chilled seasoned scollops to get an additional layer of flavor.
On my other side the pasta station is hard at work. Having made pasta before I can empathize with the delicate balance they are working to attain. The recipe in the book calls for very little moisture in the form of egg or water and they are working to get the dough to come together just right.

The first steps in my recipe include blanching the Asparagus Tips (as an edible garnish for the end product) and the spinach & parsley that will add depth to the soup. Our culinary assistant Lauren, who is nearing graduation from the school's professional program, gets me set up at the large range at the back with a boiling pot of well salted water and I haul over my prep and ice bath.
The stove top is beginning to get crowded as everyone is hard at work, one team toasting seasonings another preparing a simple syrup. We all graciously move around one another trying not to get in anyone's way as we concentrate hard on our tasks at hand. At moments people comment how we feel a little like we are on a competition show! But obviously the stakes are null other than all enjoying a fabulous meal.

After I have my blanched elements finished I move on to saute my aromatics (onion, leek, & spring garlic) and the chopped stalks of the asparagus.
While all those ingredients are softening over a medium low heat I get to take a peek at a new preparation for pickling. A scientific wonder when you vacuum seal your cabbage et all in a bag with your pickling liquid (sugar, water, wine, vinegar, salt, & spices) rather than taking hours (or overnight as preferred) the vegetable slaw pickles almost instantly!

My onions, leeks, spring garlic, & asparagus have softened so I turn off the heat and add in the heavy cream and my blanch spinach & parsley. A few good stirs and we are ready to blend the soup! Lauren to the rescue again as she sets me up to blend my soup and gives me an effective method to strain it so that it is silky smooth.

All set up in an ice bath the soup is chilling and it's on to the Lemon yogurt topping! This is my first time working with gelatin and I'm amazed by how easy it was. After letting it soak for a few minutes in ice water it is malleable but not sticky (like I anticipated) you can squeeze the excess water out with your hands and then it seamlessly dissolves into the warmed cream. Once this is room temperature it is whisked into the yogurt & lemon juice mixture and in our case poured into a canister that imparts Co2 into the mix and dispenses it like whipped cream. At a perfect stopping point, I'm able to grab a glass of wine and enjoy the Scallop Crudo appetizer that has just finished plating!
The Scallops are sliced thin and they're tender and fresh, all the many components of the dish adding excitement to each bite. The firm and starchy Sunchoke gives the scallop a back bone, the agrodulce sweet & tangy, the almonds toasty and crunchy.

After this quick respite I'm ready to get my dish plated up! Into cappuccino cups with straight sides I ladle my now chilled soup, the yogurt has set up wonderfully (with an extra dose of Co2) and I get to squirt each with a beautiful little dollop, I place one perfectly blanched aspargus tip and a small spoon full of bright orange fish roe on top of each and voila!
I'm so proud of my work as I can tell are all of my classmates. We all worked hard to create this beautiful meal together and the camaraderie is evident in the room. Everyone presents their dishes so we can all dig in!
The excitement isn't over just yet however, as we are finishing eating Matt Accarrino, Executive Chef of SPQR and author of the recipes we have cooked, has stopped by to say hi! Amanda introduces him and they talk about working on the book together and Matt gives us a sneak peak into his exacting work ethic. A scientist and an artist Matt talks about constantly looking for ways to "change the paradigm" in the kitchen. He walks us through pasta making describing how the level of force that the machine you are using (or your hands if you are needing and rolling) directly effects the need for moisture in your dough. With the strength of industrial machines practically no moisture is needed, with your standard kitchen aid a little more. He also gives us a lesson in the many thickening and binding ingredients out there that the regular home chef may never realize exist but can transform your kitchen. Gracious and genuine it is a pleasure spending this time learning from him and listening to him talk about the craft which he is so passionate about.
The class with Matt
Overall none of us could have asked for more from this evening. The chance to work in this beautiful space with such an amiable and eager to teach staff and enjoying a beautiful meal prepared with love by new friends. What more could you ask for! I am already looking forward to my next chance to take a class at the San Francisco Cooking School!
Matt took the time to sign each of our books after class

Chilled Asparagus Soup with Meyer Lemon Yogurt

From SPQR Modern Italian Food and Wine: Matthew Accarrino

Serves 4-6

Asparagus Soup

1 pound, 12 ounces asparagus
kosher salt
4 cups Spinach or nettles
2 cups Italian Parsley
extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 leek, white and light green part only, sliced thinly crosswise
2 stalks spring garlic, minced
3 cups heavy cream
black pepper

Meyer Lemon Yogurt

1 sheet gelatin
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole-milk plain yogurt
1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt

extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon for zesting
kosher salt
1 oz fish roe of your choice

To Make the soup:
Prepare an ice bath. Trim the tips and ends off the asparagus stalks, discarding the ends and reserving the tips. Slice the remaining stalks into 1/2 inch thick disks. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the asparagus tips (not the stalks) until al dente 1 to 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the tips and plunge into the ice bath. Chill completely. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

In the same pot, blanch the spinach and parsley until soft, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the greens and plunge into the ice bath lined with a mesh strainer. When cold, remove them from the ice bath and squeeze out the excess water.

Heat a film of oil in a wide pot over medium-low heat. Gently sweat onion, leek, & spring garlic, taking care not to caramelize them, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in asparagus stalks and cook until softened. Turn off heat and pour in the cream and add the blanched greens. Season with salt and pepper. In a blender, puree the soup until smooth. Be patient- it will take a few minutes. With a rubber spatula, push the puree through a fine mesh strainer, extracting as much liquid as possible. Chill the strained soup over an ice bath. (If the soup seems thick, add a couple of tablespoons water or cream.) Once cold, taste the soup and season with salt if needed. You should have about 6 cups. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To Make the yogurt:
Soak gelatin sheet in ice water for about 2 minutes or until softened. In a small pot, bring the cream to a simmer and remove from heat. Squeeze out any excess water from the gelatin and dissolve in the cream. Let cool to room temperature. In a bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Whisk in the cream and refrigerate until ready to serve. If using a canister, pour in the yogurt and charge the canister; shake well and refrigerate.

Pour the soup into 4 to 6 chilled bowls. In a bowl, dress the asparagus tips with olive oil and grated lemon zest. Season with a pinch of salt and toss until evenly coated. Place a small pile of dressed asparagus into the center of the bowls. Float a dollop of yogurt on top, then garnish with a spoonful of roe.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did. I can't wait to make it again! For all the recipes we made along with MANY MANY other wonderful thing buy the SPQR cookbook HERE!

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