Last night the Senor and I attended a cooking class at our local Central Market. We have talked about taking cooking classes for years but somehow never found the time. How we suddenly found the time during what songs and fairy-tales term "the most wonderful time of the year" but we in the real world know is the most HECTIC time of the year escapes me but we did it and it was a nice break from hectic.
The class was put on by the Central Market cooking school and was an Italian Feast of Seven Fishes. Now, a side note on the "class" - it isn't really a "class" per se but more a presentation put on by chefs as they prepare their dishes and then serve them to the attendees. The presentations are full of great tips but there was no "hands on" participation.
A little background on the Feast. Many Italians and Italian Americans follow the tradition based on La Vigilia di Natale, the vigil of the holy night, and do not eat meat on Christmas Eve, the night of the birth of Christ. Because the day is sacred, no meat is consumed, so the typical dinner includes fish. For Italians and Italian Americans, especially those from the southern regions of Italy, the Christmas Eve dinner includes at least seven fishes but has been known to include up to as many as twenty-one fish dishes. (On a personal note, I was stuffed after seven!)
Why seven fishes? My research shows there are many theories but the most popular explanation is based on the seven sacraments - Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick.
The menu of fish varies and is based upon what is available at the time but usually includes calamari, clams, mussels, cod and shrimp.
Our feast started off with a wonderful Italian-Style Crab Cake. To put an Italian spin on the cake the chef added Parmesan and Ricotta cheeses and coated the cake in Italian-style bread crumbs. The cheeses really added an Italian flare and was a nice touch.
Next the chefs prepared Sauteed Mussels with Leeks, Garlic & Wine, Broiled Salmon with Green Olive Tapenade and Skillet Shrimp Scampi. When it comes to cooking fish I sometimes find it a little intimidating and I was surprised how quick and easy the recipes came together. Each dish was very good but the star of this plate was the mussels. The Senor and I both really enjoyed the mussels and the leeks were a wonderful addition to the recipe. I've always been weary of cooking both mussels and leeks but after seeing them prepared one-on-one I am up for the challenge!
The last course consisted of Pasta with Clam Sauce, Calamari Fritto with Tomato-Caper Sauce and Sole with Vegetables and Artichokes. Each of these dishes were also enjoyable. I especially liked the Tomato-Caper Sauce. I LOVE fried calamari and hoped seeing it prepared would help to overcome my aversion to cooking it but I can already tell you that it didn't! There is just something about the look of raw calamari that I find very unappealing!The only real negative to the evening was the quality of the wine they served. We were poured a glass of white with the appetizer and first course and a glass of red with the last. The white was passable but the red was just bad.
Overall the experience was was fun, the food was good and we learned something new about the Italian culture...and, a little fun, food and culture never hurt anyone.