It was one of those rare weekends where no commitments loomed on the horizon. This turned out to be a good thing, since I never would have gotten the opportunity to attend the wonderful “Cooking With Nunzio” class that I attended if my dance card had been full. When my friend Allison called to offer me her spot in the Saturday morning cooking class which she has been raving about, I was there in a New Jersey minute.
Nunzio Patruno’s eponymous Collingswood restaurant (Nunzio’s Ristorante Rustico) has been a fixture on the Collingswood dining scene since it opened several years ago. On certain Saturday mornings during the year, Nunzio shares his enormous Italian cooking talents with eager students during his “Cooking With Nunzio” classes. During the Saturday morning class I attended, we watched Nunzio as he showed us how to make 3 different dishes from Venice in celebration of the pre – Lenten Carnivale festival.
First up were the Potato Gnocchi. Nunzio showed us how to turn simple ingredients consisting of potato, egg yolk, flour and salt into plump little pillows that were just begging for the tomato and mushroom sauce that he made next. A few helpful tips from Nunzio: handle as little as possible, don’t over-flour, and make little grooves in the gnocchi dough with a fork to soak up the sauce later.
Next up were Calamari Con Piselli e Polenta (Calamari with Peas and Polenta). Nunzio gently sautéed sliced calamari with tomato sauce, white wine and sweet fresh peas. By this time, I was on total sensory overload in a good way. The aroma of the sautéing garlic and onion base for the calamari, the beautiful color of the tomatoes and peas, and the beauty of Nunzio’s lilting Italian accent had my rapt attention.
The last dish that Nunzio demonstrated was a traditional Venetian pastry known as Chiacchiere di Carnivale . What was fascinating about this dish is the fact that one of its main ingredients is 3 cups of dry white wine. So save your Pinot Grigio, friends-it will be worth it to use it as a base for this dish.
Recipes are provided during class, and I saw my classmates furiously taking notes as Nunzio shared tricks of the trade and entertaining stories of life and traditions in Italy. While it was easy to observe Nunzio cooking up front, he also had a mirror set up overhead so that you could look down at the cooking process.
The best part was yet to come: tasting time! You didn’t think Nunzio would send you home on an empty stomach, did you? We feasted on light and airy gnocchi in a delicious sauce. The calamari was a welcome surprise. In addition to perfectly cooked calamari, I loved the crisp fresh peas. Believe it or not, it was the first time in my foodie life that I have tasted fresh peas, since I grew up with an active dislike of the mushy frozen variety. The dessert was also amazing, with strips of airy pastry lovingly dusted with powdered sugar and finished with fresh orange zest and raspberry sauce. A little vino sealed the deal.
Nunzio and his lovely wife Maribel were gracious, warm hosts. In addition to providing a fun and delicious class, they also sent us home with each recipe. And because I know that you are saving that newly purchased bottle of Pinot Grigio for cooking rather than imbibing purposes, here is the recipe for Chiacchiere di Carnivale:
2 pounds of flour
1 ½ cups extra virgin olive il
3 cups dry white wine
1 pinch salt
Granulated or powdered sugar for coating
Or honey or wine molasses or fig molasses or raspberry sauce for drizzling
Place wine in pot and bring to a boil. Whle heating wine, put flour in food processor and add olive oil and salt. Add the hot boiling wine to the flour mixture a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. Remove dough and work the flout into a satiny dough with the heel of your hand. Work the dough about 10 minutes until it is smooth and shiny.
Roll dough into thin sheets. Take a pinwheel cutter and cut dough into strips that are 4 to 5 inches long and 2 inches wide.
Fry the dough at a 375 degree temperature using grapeseed oil or vegetable oil until lightly colored and firm. Remove and place on parchment paper. Dust with granulated or powedered sugar or drizzle with homey, molasses or raspberry sauce. Serve with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or ricotta cheese. Garnish with oranhe peel for color if you like.
Nunzio’s Ristorante Rustico is located at 706 Haddon Avenue in Collingswood, NJ. The phone number is 856-858-9840. For information about upcoming cooking classes, visit: www.nunzios.net. There are also numerous recipes posted on the restaurant’s website.
Beth Christian subsisted primarily on cheeseburgers and liverwurst sandwiches during childhood and refused to try most new foods. Her culinary horizons were expanded during her college days in Schenectady, New York, where she learned the joys of trying slow-simmered Italian dishes, Szechuan cuisine, and everything in between. When not engaged in the practice of law in Monmouth County, Beth is busy scouting out interesting restaurants, farmer’s markets and food purveyors near her home in Burlington County. Beth’s primary dining sidekick is her husband John, but she also enjoys having her daughter Meghan, son Michael and her wonderful friends come along for the ride. Email Beth at [email protected]