Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Pastabilities

Tuesday was pasta day. Supposedly we were also making pizza but as the day progressed that fell through. As I have mentioned before, I really am not a fan of pasta. But you have to be able to cook things that other people like. Good! I was also working with two very green cooks who are eager to learn and the best way to learn is to teach. Great!

For whatever reason nearly half the class wasn't there. I just do not get the attendance issues with these people. Sushi #1 and Sushi #2 were both there so no problem for me. I've actually made pasta before many many moons ago. We actually own one of those pasta makers, looks like a toaster kind of. A gift from a previous life I think, used maybe twice. But the point is, I have done it.

I did have to slow the guys down. Let's prep everything first. By the way, Sushi #1 is the quiet one, Sushi #2 is the more outspoken one, who I think I relate to better. Our task was to create three to four servings which I knew meant about a pound of pasta. The recipe made four pounds so the math was easy. I also knew that a pound of pasta was easily made in a stand mixer which I grabbed from the cage. RK came over. Where'd you get that man? In the cage next to the other eight, you know the cage you're standing in front of? WTF?

I apologised up front if it felt like I was bossing the guys around but I felt they would get more out of it if they did most of the work and I kind of supervised. Neither had used a mixer before so I showed them how to set it up. We had a good looking dough going soon enough but like the day before, we needed to add a little more flour. We had our dough wrapped and resting well before any other group was even close to starting on their dough.

On to the sauce. I knew from my first class that tomatoes concasse meant canned tomatoes. So I grabbed a can of those while the guys sliced up onions, garlic and herbs. I let them use my knives which I had just sharpened rather than fight with dull class knives. Sushi #2 really likes my LamsonSharp chef's knife.

We got the oil hot in the pan. I explained to Sushi #2 how you look for a sheen in the oil to know when it was hot enough. I told him that we were looking for the onions to be soft and turn translucent, slightly brown but not crisp. Then I apologized for telling him something he probably already knew but he assured me I was not out of line. Then we threw the garlic in and I told him that the reason the garlic goes in late and we only saute for a minute is because we don't want the garlic to burn. If the garlic burns it will be bitter.

Again I had an idea of what I was doing because I had made a tomato based sauce in my first class. I showed the Sushi boys how to use their hands to squeeze the tomatoes out into the pan. I was also emphatic that we cook tomatoes in a stainless steel sauce pan explaining how the acid in tomatoes with react with aluminum. I could see the guys taking mental notes.

At this point our sauce is simmering and our dough is resting and our chicken is prepped. We're ahead of schedule and it's time to work on the pizzas for the Hero's luncheon. The guys prepped some veggies and Chef had me shred cheese in the Robot Coupe, a fancy industrial food processor. I thought we were all going to make pizza but I guess Chef got caught up in his element and he began cranking out about a half dozen or so pizzas by himself.

So it was time to get back to our pasta. I got the old fashion hand crank pasta roller out. I've never used one of these but I used to roll copper plate in college so how much different could it be? We started with some verbal instructions from Chef but things just weren't looking right. The dough was sticky and tearing. Chef came over and said we needed some flour on the table and showed us how to roll it down by degrees. Now it was looking like pasta, what a difference a little flour makes. We ran it through the cutter and we were making some beautiful noodles. We laid it out on the table and covered it with plastic wrap.

Finally it was time to cook the noodles and plate. I explained to the guys that for pasta we can use an aluminum pot since it brings the water to boil faster. Our recipe called for boiling the pasta in chicken stock to give it more flavor. We had a quart already. I told the guys that we needed a gallon of water per pound of pasta. So four quarts to a gallon..."wait, there's a conversion table in the book, I can look it up," says Sushi #2. No, I'm telling you, there are four quarts per gallon. I'm the only one in my class that knows units. And to think I prefer metric! So what we are going to do is do two quarts of stock and two quarts of water. I sent Sushi #2 to get more stock but he didn't seem to understand how to get it from the frozen container. So I had him chip it out with my knife and scoop it into a quart container and nuke it while I got the water. My final tip was that we always salt the water, a tablespoon or two per gallon of water. I overheard one of the guys say to the other, "man this is why we need to work with him. We've learned so much."

I let the guys check the noodles for doneness. They had never done it before but they did know how done they wanted their noodles to be. Good. So final part. We tossed the chicken in the sauce. Next drained the noodles into a pot, then tossed the noodles in butter to coat and then a spritz of lime juice. Then poured in the sauce and tossed. Finally I explained that the reason we saved the pasta water was because if we needed to thin the sauce up and want it to have some pastiness to it to stick to the noodles we could add a little of the pasta water. Since the starch from the noodles leeches out in the water it will help bring the sauce together. We added about a quarter cup.

All of the dishes were OK. The best dish was actually the salad that chef made with an awesome dressing. Ours was OK but Sushi Boys were blown away by it. Mission Accomplished.

Not sure what we are doing on Monday. Tuesday we have a field trip!!

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