Saturday dawned, stark, cold and bleak; our last day at the Awaiting Table Cooking School. The sadness was palpable and despair loomed over us like an enormous fist, ready to crush our souls at any moment. Oh, wait. No, that was the polpettone from the night before, still sitting like a large lump in our tummies.
Okay, it was actually sunny and hot when we met our merry band of schoolmates at our usual Caffe for our last cappuccini together. The main topic of conversation: how would we put any more food and wine into our bodies.
After our injection of caffeine, Silvestro led us to a new destination: the fish market. For lunch, we were making Brodetto di Pesce, or Zuppa di Pesce, it’s fish soup no matter what you call it. We purchased mussels, squid, octopus, tiny tender clams, and three kinds of shrimp-like creatures.
Exiting the fish market, Silvestro unleashed us on the public market, entrusting us to do all the shopping on our own. The previous evening, as the beastly polpettone roasted in the evening, he dictated our shopping list, which I transcribed into my iPhone.
At the produce stand, and all in italian, we purchased tomatoes, green beans, fennel, chicory (gross!), potatoes, cornetti (horn shaped sweet peppers), dried fava beans, eggplant, and yellow peppers.
In Italy, they usually don’t let you touch the produce. The vendor selects for you. However, I think we so overwhelmed the produce guy, he just started handing out plastic bags and letting us fill them with our kilos of veggies.
The dairy and salumi lady was not so forgiving. She made us work for it, asking questions about how we wanted cheeses. Sliced? Whole? Grated? And she corrected my pronunciation of “pancetta”, making me enunciate both “T”s clearly. Still, we did well and made Silvestro proud that some of what he’d taught us this week had stuck.
Back in the kitchen, we cleaned and prepped the fishies
and chopped herbs, garlic, and onions for the zuppa. The giant cast iron dutch oven/cauldron was heated until it was smoking hot, and then the soup making began in earnest.
To be candid, the entire class crowded around the stove table and I missed which things went into the zuppa first, but the entire process took only 20 minutes.
Giuseppe hauled the enormous pot to the table and ladled out bowls of the tantalizing zuppa.
Remember that giant loaf of bread from the first day of class? On Saturday, all that was left was the last foot of the loaf, and we sliced it into chunks for soaking up the broth. Heaven.
Eating zuppa di pesce is dirty work. Empty bowls were spread out around the table for our spent shells and various seafood detritus.
I needed a wet nap by the time lunch was over, but boy was it good! We drank another nice rosato that paired well with our fishy meal. Great thing about being so far south, you don’t feel guilty about drinking rosé in October.
Dessert was peaches soaked in red wine. A nice, simple lunch following the previous evening’s blowout and in preparation for our last supper, still to come.
Silvestro and Giuseppe dismissed us around 3:30, telling us not to return until 7 pm. Anne and I took the short cut back to our apartment, and then made a beeline over to the high-end wine/food store. We cleaned them out of the olive oil Silvestro recommended to us, and also picked up a few more odds and ends.
Anne and I met our friends Barbara and Adrienne at our Caffe della Lupa for aperitivi (I’ve gotten Anne hooked on Aperol spritzes) and to use their fabulous WiFi. The previous night we ran into the barista on the way home from our dinner and he greeted us like old friends. Do you think that means we have been spending way too much time at Caffe Della Lupa?
The class designed our menu based on the dishes we liked best during the week:
- Antipasto: Fava puree with green beans, cooked cornetti peppers and the wretched chicory (Seriously? How much chicory am I expected to endure?)
- Primo: Minchiaireddi (small tube shaped pasta) with pancetta in tomato sauce
- Secondo: Lu Stufato, the Italian version of ratatouille
- Dolce: Crepes with ricotta (allegedly)
As we did everynight, we prepped our dinner together.
It seemed slightly less jovial, maybe because we knew it was our last time cooking together.
However, once we sat down at the candlelit table, and Silvestro opened bottles of all the wines we tried throughout the week, the mood elevated considerably. We toasted each other and our joint culinary adventure (and misadventures). Scott, in particular, got a special shout-out for enduring a week with a group of six, shall we say, formidable women. And, last but not least, we heaped praise and thanks on Silvestro, and his amazing team, Giuseppe, Giorgio and Ana. It was definitely an experience of a lifetime.
Sunday morning Anne and I packed our not-so-little bags, in preparation for our return journey to Rome. It would have been nice to spend an extra day or two in Lecce, or even to take a little side trip to some of the other parts of Puglia. There’s always next time.
Giorgio sent us off with absolutely charming “lunchboxes,” which consisted of a freshly made prosciutto and formaggio panino (sandwich), a little bottle of wine and matching glass, biscotti, The Awaiting Table’s signature rooster plate, and vintage cutlery. We definitely had the most stylish picnic on the Frecciargento (high speed train from Lecce to Rome).
A few more pictures that didn’t make it into the blog.