Well, you can salute Chef Guy Verdi with a soup ladle for the “souper” second session of the creative Cooking Class he’s presenting every other Wednesday at Verdi’s Bistro located at 515 S. Collier Blvd. I was a tad tardy getting there at 10:30 a.m. because delivery trucks were blocking the service road so I missed the part where Chef Guy showed the class what a butternut squash split in half looks like after it’s been rubbed with oil, and roasted. If you’re wondering — two tan blobs covered with shiny wrinkled skin.
Not to worry, I had enough common sense to take a photo, so I can jump forward to the part where Chef Guy, presiding at the cooking station, has already skinned the squash, put it into a kettle and cooked it with the addition of half and half, and a few spices. Moving on to the next step, he put the squash mixture into a very professional, very large and shiny metal blender container. “If you don’t have a big blender, use a little blender,” Chef Guy explained ingeniously, and turned the lumpy squash into a velvety puree that subsequently became the butternut squash soup served to all the cooking class participants.
After a few sips, Gwen Molenaar was the first to inquire, “Could low calorie milk could be substituted for the cream called for in the recipe handout?”
Chef Guy replied, “Use whatever you want, but skim milk won’t give you the rich and creamy texture you’d get using half and half — if you let it rest for a day in the refrigerator, tomorrow it will be thicker. Another nice thing, you can use it for a sauce.”
“Do we use it the next day when it’s thicker?” Molenaar asked.
Chef Guy replied the butternut squash soup mixture could be used any day but if thinned down it could also make a nice sauce on ravioli and proceeded back to his cooking station to begin the next recipe in our “From the Kitchen of Guy Verdi…” handout.
“What we’re doing is ricotta and butternut squash gnocchi” he announced, adding that instead of potato he would be using a nice, dry ricotta along with the mashed roasted squash, egg and spice, noting there was the proper amount of flour in the large, metal mixing bowl and indicated he was adding a pinch of salt. “What kind of salt?” a female voice asked.
“Kosher salt! Take off your rings and dig in,” said Chef Guy and proceeded to demonstrate digging in, squeezing the mixture with his fingers and working it until he achieved a rough mass and carried the bowl around to the tables for show and tell.
“Don’t panic, there’s enough moisture in here,” he said, coaxing the straggly mixture into a large ball of dough while commenting that it was better to knead the pasta on a cold surface. The kneading action creates heat, he explained, adding that pasta dough should rest in the refrigerator to create a smoother texture and make the dough easier to handle.
“Once you start doing these things, you’ll be confident enough to start playing with your flour content,” he assured everyone.
“Now comes the fun part,” Chef Guy crowed, producing a large ball of ricotta and butternut squash gnocchi dough that had been refrigerated overnight. He took the dough over to the tables, walking along and tearing off a piece of dough for each participant.
Fun? I don’t think so when the well- manicured among us shrieked “The dough is getting under my fingernails!” after Chef Guy instructed every participant to take a bit of dough using two fingers to flatten it and pull it toward them then push it forward so it curls up into a loose cylinder. All the while, Chef Guy intoned in mock horror, “Oh my God, here’s another nails too long!”
Not to worry, Lisa Verdi jumped to the rescue and produced a dinner fork while she calmly demonstrated how to roll a little piece of dough on the back of the fork’s tines to create an adorable, perfectly ridged gnocchi!
“Humph! Men just don’t get it,” Lisa said, directing a disdainful look towards the cooking station.
More hints and instructions followed when Chef Guy explained how versatile gnocchi can be.
I’d love to tell you more but my mouth’s too full of gnocchi. Anyhoo, isn’t this why class participants pay good money to hear Chef Guy’s secrets first hand?
Now it’s my turn to say “Oh my God, I’ve got the start of a novel here!” So it’s probably time to wrap it up because I’ve given you more than a taste (pun intended) of how much fun Chef Guy’s cooking classes can be. Did I mention we were also treated to more recipes and a demonstration on how to prepare a tasty pork Marsala, and the explosion of flavors Chef Guy created when he combined it all? Oh, well – see ‘ya Feb. 18 at my third cooking class!