Sometimes we want more than just a good meal. Sometimes we want to learn about what we’re eating, preferably from the chef. We’re talking edutainment, perhaps. Your own personal cooking show.
Run by Salvatore’s Executive Chef Greg Weinstock, the dinner’s studio audience was about 20 of us — and the curious pedestrians walking by the window along Washington Street. A trial run of its upcoming “Window Demo Dinner Series,” the multi-course meal also featured commentary from Director of Operations of Salvatore’s Restaurants Chuck Barbato.
It wasn’t quite cooking school, but it was close enough. We received their 7-page handout detailing the history and details of various cheeses, meats and other ingredients in our four-course meal. The class was filled with tips on where to shop, how much to pay, and how to present the food. Barbato also discussed his wine choices for each meal, several of which were custom blends from the Wine Connexion in North Andover. We all asked questions and received lots of great tips. At $45 a person for four courses and at least 3 glasses of wine, it was a bargain.
On the menu
For the perfect salumi plate: for his antipasti plate, the chef served us salumi and cheeses, with cornichons and fig moustarda, which was equal parts fig jam and whole grain mustard.
The meats: a few slices each of sopressata, Toscano and its spicy pork sausage cousin, made with hot chili pepper, and speck, a type of prosciutto.
The cheeses: Pecorino Toscano, a full-cream pasteurized sheep’s milk; robiola Bosina, an Italian soft-ripened cheese made from cow, goat and sheep milk; and Gorgonzola Dolce, a veined Italian blue cheese that Barbato called “the best cheese in the world.” It was good, and made infinitely better when the chef had us try it with some chocolate syrup to create what he insisted was a taste like a Reese’s peanut butter cup; for me, it just was delicious, and made me rethink the way I serve cheese.
The chef talked about the origins of each sausage, serving cheese at room temperature, how to wrap the cheese to avoid spoilage, and how else to use the cheese. The chef and Barbato talked about their love of buying these items, in order of preference, from Trader Joe’s, Stop & Shop, Market Basket, and, “if you’re feeling rich, Whole Foods.”
We also received a small cheese pizza, which wasn’t part of the demo. The beverage was an Aperol spritzer, a sweeter version of Campari, with soda water and citrus vodka served premade in a pitcher. Perfect for the Indian Summer night.
The chef made several off-menu specials, starting with handmade pasta with pesto, or “Pasta Fatta a Mano," which was handmade tagliatelle with nut-free pesto, grape tomatoes and parmigiano reggiano. Wine pairing: Fondo Filara Salvatore’s Catarratto white wine.
The pasta was a starter portion, a little sauce with two or three ingredients. “It’s the flour, the taste of the pasta, that is the dish,” Weinstock said.
It was a great demo, because we learned just how easy it is to make pasta, especially without a machine. Proportions were easy: 3 parts flour — and all-purpose flour is fine, the chef insisted — to two parts egg. That’s it. He poured about 9 ounces of Caputo flour into a big bowl, dug out a crater to hold three lightly beaten eggs. He mixed with his fingers to combine, until the dough came together. “No two eggs are exactly the same. if too dry, add a little room temp water, with wet hands. If too much, add flour,” advised the chef. He kneaded it on a floured board with the heel of his hand, then fold-knead-fold until “velvety smooth,” about 5-10 minutes. Form the dough into a disk, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and let rest 20-60 minutes, or refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
With his pre-made dough, he cut it into four equal pieces, rolled each thin, and cut them into ribbons with a knife. The noodles are dropped into boiling water salted enough to “taste like the ocean.” Up to two minutes later, they were done. The pesto used was from Whole Foods, called Sauce of Love. “It’s the best pesto you can buy, and worth every penny,” said Barbuto. “You will eat the whole jar.” The restaurant does have a gluten-free pasta by Bionature, and a nut-free pesto, FYI.
“If making our food causes you to sweat, the joy of eating is so much better,” claimed Barbuto. “It’s homemade pasta without the $400 machine. Cheap flour, organic eggs, and awesome butter. That’s it. People think you’re a genius if you make pasta. It’s so easy.”
Next up: Stuffed Roasted Pork Loin. stuffed with red pepper, provolone, and spinach, with potato and vegetables, paired with Fondo Filara Salvatore’s Frappato.
The chef took out his collection of knives, including his prized Wurstoff reconditioned chef knife and a beloved knife from his grandfather. He said that we really only needed slicing and boning knives, maybe a bread knife, and showed us how to sharpen them, with a wet tristone and mineral oil, held at a 20 percent angle. Fun share: he said he de-stresses by sharpening his knives and folding kitchen towels.
Weinstock took his well-sharpened knife and butterflied a pork loin easily, so that it rolled out into a long strip to be stuffed. If you don’t have a sharp enough knife to do this, it will “beat the meat up," warned Weinstock.
The pork is from a purveyor, but he loves the meat selection from the Revere Stop & Shop on Squire Road.. The loin was seasoned inside and out with kosher salt and cracked pepper, layered with provolone, roasted jarred red peppers, bagged baby spinach, and caramelized onions. He rolled it up, rubbed the outside with a blend of chili powder, smoked paprika, granulated garlic, then hogtied it with butcher’s twine. “This will release oils that turn the skin into crispy deliciousness,” said the chef.
Cook it for 325 degrees on the grill or oven, 30 minutes, until internal temp hits 135, and let it rest. Barbato recommended placing crusty stale bread under the dripping meat while resting, for you to lap up the delish drippings. The chef drizzled it with a quick sauce made from Rachael Ray’s boxed chicken stock, reduced red wine and butter. The flavors were amazing.
A note about salt: Weinstock used kosher salt liberally before putting it in the oven, telling us, “Salt opens the palate to experience other flavors." Out of the oven, a little sea salt for finishing it off, because it’s “super strong," he said.
Simple Italian Desserts included Salvatore's Signature Dessert Pizza — pita bread, sliced and spread with Nutella inside and butter on top, baked and topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar.
Barbuto advised us to keep an eye out for wines from Brazil, because the upcoming Olympics there means an influx of cash, and that means an uptick in wine production. “You’ll be a superstar. Buy a case,” he said. He also recommended Bonny Doone as a perfect pizza wine.
A more advanced demo is in the works, probably at the larger Seaport restaurant, which features a pizza oven and has two kitchens. These dinners include a pre-event reception, full recipes of all dishes presented, and gift bags at the end of the dinner. Seats are limited and are $45 per person (plus tax and gratuity) and are available by calling the restaurant at (617) 542-5555 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
545 Washington Street, Boston