My children have an uncanny knack for coming up with the perfect gifts for me. For my birthday this year, my son and daughter-in-law surprised me with a day-long cooking class, and I was delighted.
In what seems like another lifetime ago, I was intensely into cooking. In fact, I had a catering business of my own for several years and when the business grew I added a partner, my friend Alyse. We named our company Fête Accomplie.
We catered both residential and corporate parties, almost always on the weekend, and since we were moms with young kids this worked out well. We got to spend the weekdays with our family, and our husbands took over on the weekends when we had catering jobs.
It was tons of fun. But eventually the physical demands became too great and we sadly agreed to disband the business and went on to less backbreaking careers. I sometimes still miss the catering days, but my back thanks me for moving on.
Now, with the kids grown and out of the house, I don’t cook nearly as much. Consequently, my skills have gotten rusty.
Cooking is still a passion of mine.
So I was excited at the prospect of learning some new techniques and recipes at Walnut Hill College’s Restaurant School cooking class.
The class was just six students — a perfect size, I think — and we were set up in working spaces in the industrial kitchen similar to what you would imagine being in most large restaurants. Chef started out by giving us an overview of Italian regional cuisine.
Then each of us was given a recipe to prepare, under Chef’s tutelage. At the end of the day we dined on an incredible Italian buffet in the school’s cafe that really makes you feel like you’re not in Kansas anymore.
I chose a recipe with lentils because I know my son and daughter-in-law like them. Cotechino is a pork sausage made in the Modena region of Italy. If it is unavailable, you can substitute a garlic sausage in this recipe.
Cotechino with Lentils and Balsamic
3 T. olive oil
2 oz. pancetta, brunoise (in small dice)
2 T. shallot, diced
1/2 c. onions, medium dice
1/4 c. celery, medium dice
1/4 c. carrots, medium dice
1 clove garlic, minced
2 c. lentils, rinsed (any color will do but the red looked really pretty)
1 c. red wine
2 c. brown stock (if you don’t have it, use unsalted beef broth)
1 lb. cotechino or garlic sausage
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar, lightly reduced
Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan. Render the pancetta over medium-low heat until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the shallots and saute for one minute.
Add the lentils and combine thoroughly.
Add the red wine and cook down til almost dry. Add the brown stock and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook lentils til firm and about halfway cooked. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Put lentil mix in a casserole dish and top with sliced cotechino (or crumbled garlic sausage, if that is what you are using).
Cover pan and put in a preheated 350 degree oven. Cook approximately 15-20 minutes.
While that is cooking, reduce balsamic vinegar by half in a small saucepan with a pinch of sugar.
When the casserole is done, sprinkle with the reduced balsamic and serve.