A Food Resolution

Chef Raymond Gillespie of Salumeria Italiana leads a cooking class at the Boston Center for Adult Education.

Editor’s note: Recently Chef Raymond Gillespie brought Salumeria Italiana (151 Richmond Street) to a cooking class at Boston Center for Adult Education. In a lively, interactive, hands-on class, Chef Raymond and the students made Polenta with Cacciatore Sauce, Asparagus Risotto, Orecchiete with Roast Cauliflower and Sundried Tomatoes, and Asparagus Risotto Cakes drizzled with Truffle Sauce and Rubio. As a bonus, he whipped up a White Pizza with Taleggio, Crimini Mushrooms and Black Truffle Oil. Some fine Italian chocolate — Perugina Dark Chocolate — finished the evening.

The students got lots of tips, ways to make cooking easier and more fun, and insight into how to select ingredients — from the right olive oils for cooking, drizzling, and salad vinaigrette, or the textural differences between quick and slow-cooking polenta.  They went away with recipes, and declared that the class had been molto fun.

A new year is always a time of new beginnings and resolutions. Many annual vows have to do with eating better. If we combine that thought with the common desire to spend more time with family and friends, you have the perfect excuse to make 2012 the year when you have more meals at home with people you enjoy.

Relax, You Can Do This

If you were not fortunate enough to learn to cook at the side of an older family member, this could be the year when you make that happen. Is there a good cook who knows how to prepare the food of your heritage? Spend some time with that person, assisting as they cook, and writing down the recipes.

If you have a friend who is a fabulous cook, don’t be afraid to invite them to your home because you can’t cook at their level. Ask them to come over and help you learn how to make a meal you can both enjoy. Cooking is not a competitive sport, despite what you see on the cable channels. At its best, it’s a team sport where everyone wins a great meal.

Or, You can Teach It

If you’re the one who is a good shopper and cook, ask for help with your next dinner party. You’ll be less stressed with less to do, and you may weld a stronger link with a friend or family member.

Cooking and eating together can be a relaxed and happy time when you share the work and then sit down to great conversation over the fruits of your labor. In France or Italy, it’s common for the dinner conversation to be about food, what they’re eating at that moment, and what they’ll eat next.

Learning by Doing

In a kitchen, each person can find some tasks they can do. Gradually they’ll work their way up to “good cook” as they master one level after another. This is the traditional way one generation taught the next one to feed itself.

Today, we have more resources to learn how to buy and prepare low-cost, healthy food. A few cooking shows, especially on PBS, teach basic skills and do a good job of showing you how to prepare food. There are videos and smartphone apps from highly-reliable teachers like Jamie Oliver and Sara Moulton. And, the library is well-stocked with books by deans of culinary education like Jacques Pépin and Julia Child.

You can also take a class like one offered by the Boston Center for Adult Education. On January 11th, they’ll begin a four-session series of Basic Cooking Part 1. Chef Lars Liebisch will teach you what your mother didn’t, from good knife technique to how to store food properly. In describing the course, one student said, “…Funny, concise, simple. I had fun and came away with more confidence!”

You don’t need a big kitchen, matched sets of knives and pans, or a dozen appliances to prepare a memorable meal. What you need is a desire to make good food, fun people to help you, and great companionship around the table. Make that a goal for 2012 and this time next year you’ll look back on those meals and smile over the warm memories.

My next Fresh & Local column will be about keeping things simple in the kitchen.

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