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The 6th annual New York Culinary Experience: The takeaway

Dean Cesare Casella
Dean Cesare Casella
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York Culinary Experience

As previously noted in this space, the stars came out last Saturday and Sunday on Broadway in SoHo. No, that’s not to suggest that nighttime visibility in New York City was better than normal. The stars I’m referring to are luminaries from the world of cooking, and a couple dozen of them descended on the International Culinary Center to share their wealth of knowledge with home cooks and chef wannabes from as far off as California.

I audited the class of ICI Dean of Italian Cuisine Cesare Casella, who provided instructions in the style of cooking of his native Lucca. The class prepared and ate the two recipes that follow. Those who couldn’t stand the heat didn’t get out of the kitchen, namely because they were plied with liquid refreshment: The attentive staff made periodic trips to the various work stations, refilling students’ glasses of Prosecco.

But you came to cook, not to kibbitz. So without futher ado, the recipes:

RISOTTO WITH PESTO

Serves 6

Ingredients:

For the pesto (makes about 1½ cups)

  • ¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted on a sheet pan in the oven at 350 degrees F
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 6 cups firmly packed basil leaves
  • ¼ cup grated Parmigianino-Reggiano
  • 3 Tbsp grated Pecorino-Romano
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt

For the risotto

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup finely diced white onion
  • 1¼ cups Carnaroli rice
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • 6-1/3 cups simmering, seasoned chicken stock
  • Coarse salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup grated Parmigianino-Reggiano
  • 2-3 Tbsp pesto

Procedure:

For the pesto

  1. Finely chop the pine nuts and garlic together.
  2. Place mixture in a small bowl.
  3. Chop the basil finely by hand and add it to the mixture
  4. Stir in the cheeses and oil, and season to taste with salt

For the risotto

  1. Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a saucepan; adjust the heat so that the stock remains at a bare simmer.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a pan until hot. Add the onion and cook until softened but not colored, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the rice, season to taste with salt, and cook, stirring, until the rice smells toasted and is hot to the touch. (Neither rice nor onion should take on any color.)
  4. Add the wine and cook until evaporated.
  5. Ladle in enough simmering stock just to cover the rice and simmer at a lively pace, stirring constantly, until the stock evaporates to the point that when you pull the spoon through the rice, the stock no longer pools in the gap.
  6. Add more stock just to cover the rice, ladling the stock around the sides of the pan to wash any starch back into the risotto. Continue cooking, stirring until the stock has evaporated to the same degree.
  7. Add more stock and continue the process until the rice is tender but still resistant at the core (14 to 17 minutes).
  8. Add another ladleful of stock and mix in the pesto. The mixture should be creamy, but not soupy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. Remove from the heat, add the grated cheese and stir vigorously (mantecare) to emulsify. Serveimmediately

BRANZINO BRAISED WITH TOMATO AND OREGONO

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup olive, canola, or grapeseed oil, plus extra-virgin olive oil for serving
  • 2 branzino filets, about 5-6 ounces each, skin on
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ lemon
  • 3 ounces red onion, sliced 1/8 inch thick
  • 2 Tbsp coarsely chopped garlic
  • 4 leaves fresh basil
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • I½ lbs fresh tomatoes, peeled and cut into 3/8 inch dice (3-1/3 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • ¼ cup pitted black olives
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons capers, preferably salt-packed, soaked, rinsed, and drained
  • ½ cup fish stock

Procedure:

  1. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the fish on both sides with salt and pepper.
  2. Add to the pan, and sauté on both sides to brown. Squeeze the lemon over the fish.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and place the fish on a plate; set aside.
  4. Add the onion and garlic to the pan. Place the pan over medium heat. Add the basil and red pepper and sauté until the vegetables begin to caramelize, 5 to 7 minutes.
  5. Add the tomato, chopped basil and parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook 3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  6. Add the olives, oregano and capers and cook 2 minutes.
  7. Add the fish stock and taste for seasoning. Bring to a simmer and cook to reduce by about half. Return the branzino to the pan and simmer untilthe fish is cooked through but still translucent in the center, 3 to 4 minutes.
  8. Place the fish on plates. Taste the sauce for seasoning and spoon over the fish. Serve drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.