Polish Your Cooking Skills at Professor Chef Classes

Chef Phillip Griffin and instructor Malinda Coletta will teach you to make the most delicious, restaurant-worthy meals at home.

Even if you think you know how to cook, every home chef could benefit from brushing up on knife skills, time-saving shortcuts and food waste prevention. I consider myself a pretty good everyday cook, but certain habits that I learned from my mom have stuck with me, and they aren’t necessarily the correct or most efficient ways to prepare a meal. With this confession in mind, I signed up for Professor Chef’s Dinner in Tuscany Class, a great date night for me and my husband to improve our cooking, master some new recipes and spend time together over a three-course meal we helped to make.

Making sweet potato ricotta gnocchi at Professor Chef cooking classes.

We arrive at the North Providence Red Dutch Colonial home of Johnson and Wales-trained chef, Phillip Griffin, and instructor, Malinda Coletta, and enter the side door to the kitchen. Four other class participants are seated around the kitchen island, including another couple and a mother and son pair. The couple received the cooking lesson as a gift from their daughter, while the son gave the cooking lesson as a gift to his mom so they could spend time together doing a fun activity. All six of us tie on black Professor Chef aprons, and each of us has a place setting to practice our knife skills. Griffin and Coletta generously pour some of their homemade wines into each guest’s glass.

We start off by learning how to properly chop onions and carrots that will be roasted alongside Cornish hens stuffed with pancetta. I learn it’s easier to chop an onion by cutting it into quarters and slicing against the flow of the rings. Instead of throwing out the peels from carrots and outermost layers of the onions, we’re encouraged to store the scraps in a plastic bag in the freezer and make vegetable stock out of them.

While making the main course, class members pitch in during certain tasks, rather than preparing the entire meal themselves. We prepare the Cornish hens by learning how to spatchcock the birds by removing the backbones, which allows them to lie flat in a pan. This promotes faster cooking and ensures the meat stays moist. The poultry is marinated in a generous amount of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh sage and rosemary. It’s best if you can marinate for three hours or more, but in the interest of saving time, we let it sit for twenty minutes, then stuff the birds with pancetta, garlic, rosemary and sage. We surround the butchered birds with the carrots, onions and more chopped garlic, pour the marinade over it and let it roast in the oven for forty-five minutes.

Next, we prepare sweet potato gnocchi by making homemade ricotta out of whole milk and cider vinegar. It is unbelievably easy to do it, although we use a lot of milk. We simply bring a half-gallon of whole milk up to 180 degrees on a stove burner, then add two ounces of cider vinegar and stir. The curds come together immediately and we strain out the final product.

The ricotta is combined with two pounds of cooked sweet potatoes, brown sugar, salt, nutmeg and flour to form a dough. We roll the dough into a long log that is about two inches in diameter and cut it into bitesize pieces. We use a little wooden pasta board to create the ribs on the gnocchi but you can also use the tines of a fork to create the same impressions, which allow sauce to stick better to the sides of the pasta. This gnocchi is served with a brown butter and sage sauce. We also make escarole with pine nuts to serve on the side. It takes just a few minutes to toast pine nuts in a dry pan, then slice the escarole in ribbons to be sauteed in olive oil and red pepper flakes. We finish it with grated parmesan, sea salt and the toasted pine nuts.

We can’t forget about dessert, and tonight, it’s Tuscan apple-nut tort made with Granny Smith and McIntosh apples, apple schnapps and a scratchmade cake mix. It’s more like a fluffy apple cake with caramelized apple slices and pine nuts for a bit of crunch. What makes this cake special is that Coletta beats the egg whites until stiff peaks form and folds them into the cake batter to make the fluffiest cake you’ve ever tasted. It’s one extra step that makes all the difference in capping off a wonderful evening of sharing a meal amongst strangers who become fast friends, at least for tonight.

Professor Chef conducts group classes and private classes. Upcoming classes include Dinner in Tuscany, French Bistro Night, Homemade Pasta, Gnocchi and Sauces, Rocky Point Shore Dinner, Amazing Asian, Surf and Turf and more. Check out the calendar of events at professorchef.com/classes.

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