I've just come home from an "Italian cooking class" that offered some pretty good ideas and some excellent food. The class, which was really an extended demonstration, was titled Italian Weeknight Suppers and aimed at those of us who love shortcuts. Which I definitely do!
At only two hours long, I knew it wasn't going to be the sort of hands-on, make-it-from scratch class that I'm more familiar with. But I liked the idea of learning some good shortcuts in making meals and entertaining. I rarely have a lot of time to spend on cooking during the week and because I live alone, I end up eating a lot of large salads and soup for dinner at around 8 p.m., after I get home from the gym.
I figured that for $50, I could surely pick up some helpful ideas that wouldn't involve orange-coloured powered cheese. My friend Michelle, who is a much more keen cook than me, was also interested. So we signed up.
The lecture was offered by staff from La Bottega Nicastro, a very good Italian supermercato here in Ottawa. Actually, the family owns two Italian food stores in the city, and relatives own a couple of others (altho they're not quite so good.) The team demonstrated how to make an Italian weeknight meal on the fly, using "top-notch, preserved ingredients Italians have relied on for centuries." That latter claim may or may not be true. I'd have to ask an Italian on the Slow Travel message board about that last point. But I don't think they would scoff at building dishes around such preserved staples as sun-dried tomatoes, tapenades, roasted artichokes in olive oil and various pestos made from herbs and nuts. In fact, I had a dinner party a few weeks ago based mainly on a great pistachio pesto that I bought in Rome in January.
We watched the boys quickly put together some very good antipasti platters with cold cuts, marinated eggplant (from a jar), roasted artichokes (also from a jar) chunks of cheese; followed by several kinds of great crostini, using different types of jarred pestos and tapenades. Very quick and easy.
We then had a very good spaghetti, watching as the chef made a quick and very tasty tomato sauce from tinned tomatoes simmered to softness, with capers, anchovies (patted dry to make the sauce less "fishy") and, of course, garlic and olives fried in olive oil.
These ideas for quick meals were certainly much more appealing than the shortcuts usually offered in North American supermarkets. When I was growing up, Hamburger Helper was a big deal (ground beef plus a whole lot of strange chemicals of dubious nutritional value mixed up in a big fry pan.) And who can forget Kraft Dinner? Still a fav with university students everywhere looking for a fast, cheap way to fill their stomachs.
Alas, too often shortcuts can mean short-changing oneself in terms of nutrition. That said, frozen vegetables are a staple for this single gal -- I know that in winter in particular, they pack more nutrition than a lot of fresh veggies. And frozen vegetables don't go bad, so they're perfect for a meal for one.
Tuesday's course was arranged through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, a Crown agency that is responsible for the sale of most alcohol products in Ontario. Unlike many countries, Canada generally doesn't allow stores of most kinds to sell alcohol. There are some independent wine and beer stores in Ontario, and Alberta has privatized its liquor sales. But it's certainly not as open as, say, Italy, where you can buy limoncello, a bottle of wine or some beer along with your paper towels, produce and dairy products all at the same time. Here in Ontario, some grocery store chains are allowed to include a small wine store on the premises, but these are confined to selling Ontario wines.
LCBO is pretty aggressive about moving its products and to that end, it has branched out from simply selling liquor to offering wine-tasting classes, martini-mixing courses (which we recently read about on Jerry's blog: Jerry's Thoughts, Musings and Rants!) and more recently, cooking classes -- which naturally involve information about what alcohol to pair with what dish.