Kelly and I with our favorite dish….Paella

A page from my personal journal dated  Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Here it is Wednesday already.
We had two intense cooking classes today and spent the entire day here at lovely Casa Ombuto.
We are also really getting to know and love our chef Laura Giusti.  Laura is a wonderfully knowledgable and professional chef. She has a special way of explaining each step by pronouncing each word slowly and sloftly and with much thought as she is not confident in her mastery of English.  Her Italian accent is so beautiful and I am trying to use some Italian, as does classmate Tom from Northern Ireland who has studied Italian intensely for three months, which I feel  shows respect to Laura for the effort she puts forth to  learn our language. If any of us use an expression she is unfamiliar with, she will stop us and ask with a little smile, “What you say?”  She is very interested In learning slang so she will have better speaking skills for her next class of Americans. It cannot be easy to teach nine English speaking strangers how to prepare a complex recipe when you are not fluent, so I give her well deserved kudos. She is also a lovely person. The group is really very nice, so Kelly and I feel exceptionally blessed to be here at this time.
Today was a full day of cooking with two sessions, Spanish cuisine in the morning and French in the afternoon.
Our morning lessons were great and will be something I will look forward to preparing when I return.  Laura had gone to the fish market Tuesday while we were off on our excursions to purchase the fresh seafood for Paella.  Elizabeth prepared a wonderful cold gazpacho. Several of us sliced fruit and mixed the ingredients for a wonderful Sangria. We all learned the proper way to clean mussels, squid and prawns.  The cleaning of the mussels is very time consuming and not very pleasant, but, the squid…really worse. But,  I now know how to take a fresh squid, clean and cut it for calamari or paella!  After preparing the seafood we ate lunch at the big table just off the kitchen with beautiful orange place mats and fresh flowers.  Laura asked me what we call the small cloths on the table.  I told her they are place mats.  She said Italy they are called tablecloths Americano. (in Italian the adjective follows the noun). The Italians take great pride in preparing a beautiful table setting at even the simplest meal.
Lunch consisted of cold gazpacho, and fruity sangria and a wonderful Paella with chicken, peas, red peppers, onions, yellow rice, mussels, squid and prawns. Delicious!  Realizing the work that goes into preparing the Paella we.agreed it is a dish of much love. We completed our luncheon meal a Spanish dessert called Crema Catalana, milk, egg yolks sugar, flour, lemon and cinnamon, which is a wonderful custard that is torched like a Creme Brulee. It was wonderful.
Now it was time for a short walk /run up the mountain roads to the plateau. Maybe today my head won’t feel so light from the altitude.
After a one hour break we began our afternoon session.  We prepared the most amazing dish…..Sea Bass baked in a crust of salt.  I was responsible to prepare the crust while the others cleaned the sea bass by removing it’s intestines and the sharp fins. The scales remained intact and the head as well.  The dough for the crust was made of two boxes of sea salt and one of flour and chopped rosemary from the herb garden. The liquid was egg white and cool water.  It was difficult to mix the ingredients, but, I worked the dough until I was able to press it together and then worked or kneaded the dough on the table until it became consistent and soft.  I felt as if I had used a sea salt scrub for exfoliation…my hands were so soft!  Then I rolled the dough out

Salt encrusted sea bass.....

on a parchment paper into a rectangle large enough to fit on a jelly roll pan.  The fish was then placed in the middle  and six rosemary sprigs were placed in it’s cavity, and the dough brought over the top to wrap it completely.  The dough was sealed and it was ready to put into the oven for baking 45 minutes.  When the fish was served at dinner, the dough had been removed and Laura had opened the fish and by hand she cleaned the meat from the bones placing the wonderful white fish on our plates.  It was an impressive dish and very flavorful with rosemary and very moist.  We also prepared French onion soup,mixed provencal vegetables and two ice creams, one with just milk, sugar and cream and one with egg yolks, cream, milk, sugar and a vanilla pod. Of course the later was the best, but both were refreshing on our plate with our chocolate fondant cake.. Mmmmmmmmm good eats.
One important thing I have learned here is that if you have a cold surface such as marble or granite you do not need a bowl to mix your flour, sugar, egg  and liquid such as oil and water to prepare dough for bread or pasta. You simply pour the measured dry ingredients in a pile directly on the counter, take your hand and make a well in the center and place the liquids, crack the eggs and drop them in, add oil, water, whatever your recipe calls for and then mix with a fork all  the liquids. Then you slowly incorporate the dry ingredients.  If you have a container of flour handy, you simply take a small handful and dust it on your surface as you begin to work the dough.  Continue to add  dry or wet until you have the proper consistency.  It is an amazing technique.
Daniella, Laura’ s assistant had a visitor from Vancouver, Brian, join us for dinner.  Brian is 42 and started the company 1-800-got junk.  He had come to Casa Ombuto two years before when he divorced so he could learn to cook. He was happy to return for a visit and was taking Daniella out for drinks after dinner.
The shot glasses once again appeared, but, it seems like everyone is really a bit tired of so much drinking, but we each had a small glass of some spirit from the many bottles that appeared, lingered at the table for awhile and then returned to our rooms for a restful sleep.
Tomorrow will be our free day and Kelly and I along with little Elizabeth will go exploring in our Fiat. Better get to sleep…..the shops are waiting…..bueno notte.

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