As I sat down at my table beneath a tent behind Zest!, strung with lights, the mandolin lightly playing, I could barely contain my excitement. What I experienced is the type of situation I live for. I was swimming in a pool of unknown faces just waiting to see what the evening had in store for my friend Nikki Weems, who photographed the entire evening, and myself
Chef Antonino Elia and his wife, Elizabeth, stood before us waiting for everyone to get settled in. Sharon Landis, the owner of Zest! in Lititz, and her husband lead everyone to their seats and helped us all get situated. If I heard correctly, I believe the almost 40 people attending this particular cooking class was a record for Zest!. Friday’s menu was an antipasto salad, bruschetta on the grill, grilled lobster and pasta, and grilled amaretto peaches.
Each attendee received a packet with all of the demonstrated recipes, a glass for wine that evening, a pen to write with, and utensils to eat with. I introduced myself to those around me and it was amazing to overhear everyone talking amongst themselves. “I’ve never been to one of these before,” one couple said. Another couple said, “This is going to be the most labor intensive course they’ve done yet,” obviously having experienced several other cooking classes through Zest! before.
The evening was full of wisdom about cooking life, with laughter, jokes, and stories sprinkled throughout from Antonino. As the sun set, the lights strung throughout the tent added to a romantic atmosphere. (Of course the wine helped, too.)
Here are a few pieces of wisdom which I took away from the evening:
- You can make pizza on the grill! Host a “make your own pizza” party right in your backyard. Buy pre-made pizza dough from any local pizza shop.
- There are over 200 types of oregano.
- If your food sticks to the grill, it isn’t yet ready to be turned over.
- Spaghetti sauce should not be used to drown your food. It should in fact be used as a condiment.
- When decided what kind of pasta to use for your spaghetti sauce, gauge by the thickness of the sauce. Thick, meaty sauce should be paired with a heartier pasta. Thinner sauce should be paired with a thinner pasta such as angel hair.
- A happy cook is a good cook. (Antonio said this as he took a few sips from his glass of red wine.)
There was a lot of chatter and noises as Antonino “prepared” the live lobsters right before us. However, as soon as those delicious grilled peaches with crushed amaretto cookie filling and vanilla ice cream made their way out to each of us, the entire crowd fell silent. That’s how you know something is good. Damn good!
Here are the recipes we tried on Friday:
Gran Piatto di Antipasto Italiano
- 1 lb. assorted Italian deli meats
- 1 lb. assorted Italian cheeses
- 1 lb. assorted olives
Neatly assort on large plate for guests as you cook the rest of the meal for them.
Grilled Lobster (serves 8)
- sea salt
- 4 whole lobsters
Fill 6-qt stockpot with 2” water, stir in salt. Cover and bring to boil over high heat. Add 2 lobsters to pot, cover and steam for 2 minutes or until shell is bright red and an antenna can be easily removed. Use tons to tranfer lobsters to cutting board. Add more water to pot if necessary to make 2” high. Add 2 more lobstersa nd repeat process. Fill pot with 5 quarts of water. Bring to boil. Add salt and pasta. Cook pasta according to directions, minus 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, remove pasta from pot and add sauce plus a ladle of pasta water. Cook on high heat for 2 minutes. Serve with Arrabiata Sauce.
- Two 28 oz. cans Italian peeled tomatoes
- 3 chili peppers
- 1 bunch fresh basil
- 1 glass white wine
- 8 garlic cloves
- pinch salt
Place garlic, olive oil, ad chili papers in pan and saute for a few minutes. Add wine and let alcohol evaporate. Break up tomatoes with hands and ad to pan. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add fresh basil.
Baked Peaches with Crushed Amaretti
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- 24 crushed amaretti biscuits
- 8 T honey
- dash Amaretto Disaronno
- 8 halved peaches with stones removed
- demerrara sugar
Preheat grill, melt butter in saucepan but do not let it brown. Mix together crushed biscuits, butter, honey, and dash of amaretto in bowl. Place heaped teaspoon of mixture into each peach half and place on baking tray. Sprinkle with sugar and drizzle more honey and Amaretto. Grill covered for 15 to 30 minutes until golden and serve with vanilla ice cream.
Sign up for an August cooking class at Zest! now: