I wrote a feature awhile back on Art in the Loft's new Culinary Arts Center, and in the course of interviewing the chef lined up to teach the first cooking class there, I said almost instantaneously, "Sign me up."
Tom Marsico specializes in my favorite kind of cuisine Italian. Not only that, but he's of Italian descent and weaves in stories from his youth, along with an in depth knowledge of his subject matter. Mainly though, I've got a thing for all things Italian, and since being fortunate enough to visit the country last summer and sample the real deal, I've become even more intrigued.
Wednesday night after work, I rounded up my favorite chef knife and headed off to the class in the Loft's snazzy new kitchen facility. I joined eight others just as enamoured with Italian food as myself. We learned a few chopping techniques (they always make it look so easy on Food Network programs) before Marsico had us split into teams of three and whip up a variety of different dishes.
The ingredients tying them all together were fresh vegetables from the Alpena Farmer's Market and mozzarella cheese, created from scratch as part of the class. I was assigned an apricot-walnut crostini, one of three different crostinis we made together. The other two were topped with a sweet onion relish and fresh pear slices. Delizioso!
Fellow class participants also created a platter of roasted eggplant and other fresh veggies, including heirloom tomatoes, topped with the homemade mozzarella cheese, plump olives, fresh basil and a few other herbs, as well as pizza. We learned a little history on the subject of pizza, which according to Marsico originated in Naples, Italy as a nod to Queen Margherita and mimicked the colors of Italy's national flag with fresh tomatoes for the red, fresh basil for the green and fresh mozzarella for the white. We Amercians, somewhere along the way, are the ones who put a new spin on the dish and added tomato sauce, Marsico said.
The evening of instruction also included a yummy dessert: a quick cannoli that featured the mozzarella sweetened with powdered sugar and chocolate chips, then spooned into small waffle cones. It turns out the mini-chocolate chips were supposed to top off the sweet confection, not get mixed into it, but we students got a little ahead of ourselves. It didn't rattle Marsico in the least.
Once all of the bounteous food was completed, something needed to be done with it, so we all gathered around a table and indulged in a true feast supplemented with red and white wine. The class was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., but at 9 p.m., we were just breaking up reminiscent of the long, leisurely meals traditionally enjoyed by the Italians.
In my opinion, the Culinary Arts Center's series of cooking classes couldn't have gotten off to a better start. I encourage anyone interested in learning how to make and try some new foods to check out the varied schedule of upcoming classes available at Art in the Loft's website, www.artintheloft.org, or call 356-4877.
I know this first class won't be my last. Marsico plans to teach an Artisan Pizza class on a date yet to be determined, and practically everyone in Wednesday night's class, myself included, pretty much said in unison, "Sign us up!"