I wish you could see me every Thursday during cooking class.
It’s where I’m seated among a group of ten, watching with rapt attention as our professor Pelusa Molina shows us yet another kitchen trick.
You’ll see me perched at the edge of my seat, eyes glued to the display table, where all the mise en place (cooking ingredients) have been carefully measured out and sit in clean bowls and plates. Here in cooking class, amidst wafting aromas of baking cakes and the smell of freshly chopped garlic and onions sizzling in the pan, is where my inspiration for cooking was first born.
This is the place where I feel that my interest in cooking is constantly re-generated, and when I enter the class at 7pm, even if I’m tired and drained out from a long day at the office, I feel my heart start beating just a little faster.
My eyes take a brief glance at the menu we’ll be cooking tonight; and usually there’s something I’ve never cooked or even tried eating before. It’s knowing that each class brings with it new takeaways and insights and another tip that Pelusa will throw at us (one among thousands that she’s picked over her decades of cooking and teaching others how to cook), that makes me feel excited.
She lets us in on tips such as how the easiest way of peeling ginger is with a small teaspoon; how placing fresh herbs in a small cup of water in the refrigerator can keep them fresh to use for up to two weeks, like flowers would; or simply how soaking raw almonds in hot water for a few minutes will make their skins slip right off. Best tip so far in my opinion, was that the easiest way to get rid of the smell of garlic on your hands is to rub your hands against a stainless steel bowl or spoon under running cold water – how cool is that, right??
Whether I’m among the three people who have volunteered to cook at the class, or whether I’m sitting down wide-eyed watching the rest work their magic in the kitchen – chopping endless stalks of spring onions and rapidly dicing tomatoes – I’m contented.
For someone like myself, who still has plenty to learn in the kitchen, being at a live cooking class is incredibly fascinating. It’s like watching chef Emeril Green on high-definition TV, but even better, because you get to smell the delicious flavors being cooked and best of all, you get to taste the food at the end – our little degustation menu.
I really wish you could be there with me during cooking class. The feeling of surprise and constant learning is amazing.
Among my best experiences in cooking class was the first time I watched Pelusa make a tart shell from scratch.
I might have briefly mentioned it once when I made Quiche Lorraine some time back, but I enjoyed watching the entire process so much that I can’t help but tell you about it again.
With quick expert movements, she mixes flour, butter, egg yolks, salt and water together until it forms a dough. Without having to knead too much, she presses the dough into the shape of a small disc, covers it with plastic wrap and lets it chill in the refrigerator for a half hour or so.
The part I love most comes next – when the dough has rested sufficiently and is ready to be rolled thinly into a tart shell.
While it’s not exactly difficult, it’s an action that requires a bit of strength and patience, and like Pelusa says, you have to do it “con ganas” – which means with desire in Spanish.
Before she moves onto roll the dough, she grabs a handful of flour, and generously sprinkles it over the surface to be used, until the table starts to look like the morning after the first snowfall. Placing the chilled disc of dough on the floured surface, she then rubs the wooden rolling pin with more flour, and then lightly pats the dough with the pin, which is meant to “relax” the dough. Once that’s done, she rolls the dough vertically and horizontally until a larger circle has been formed. Only then does she really roll the dough outwards in 360 degrees, lifting up the dough occasionally with a large, flat metal instrument to prevent it from sticking to the surface.
Eventually, when the dough has been rolled to a circle slightly larger than the bottom of the tart mold, she places the dough over the rolling pin, and transfers it to the greased tart mold, all in a matter of seconds. The dough she’s using is pretty hardy, and doesn’t break like other kinds that I’ve used before, so I strongly recommend it. Once the tart shell is properly fitted into the mold, she pokes holes into the shell with a fork, pre-cooks it in the oven for ten minutes, and then proceeds to pile in the filling, whichever is required.
Because I loved watching the process so much, I try to practice making my own tart shells at home, every once in a while.
This time, I made a squash and carrot quiche, birthed out of a desire to eat something hearty and tasty yet light at the very same time.
A little food note: A quiche is essentially a French-style tart whose filling includes the use of both cream and eggs. And while the most famous type of quiche is probably the Quiche Lorraine, you can create a large variety of different quiches simply by swapping the other ingredients in the filling, as long as the cream and eggs remain.
Imagine sauteed shredded orange carrots and diced green squash, intertwined together in a mixture of beaten eggs and a bit of cream, and brought to life with a shake of salt and pepper. Imagine this deliciously nutritious mixture packed tightly above slices of cheese into a pre-cooked tart shell, and then sent back into the oven to be baked and finished.
When you can see that the egg mixture has cooked and coagulated, you’ll know it’s time to take out the quiche.
Rich, fresh aromas of the ingredients tempt you even before you cut a slice.
The crust of this quiche will leave you wanting more and more and more – the slight taste of butter and its homemade texture will wow you in a way store-bought shells can never do. And then, of course, the filling leaves you full and well-satisfied.
SQUASH & CARROT QUICHE (Serves 4)
Inspired by Pelusa Molina
For the tart shell:
1) 200g of all-purpose flour
2) 100g of butter, cubed
3) 100g of water
4) 1 egg yolk
5) A pinch of salt
For the filling:
6) 2 small green squashes, diced
7) 2 carrots, peeled and shredded
8) 3 yolks
9) 1 egg
10) 200g of cream
11) 150g of gruyere cheese (in small strips)
12) Salt & pepper to taste
1) Mix flour, salt and butter together, adding the yolk and a bit of water at a time to incorporate the ingredients until you get a dough that’s neither too dry nor sticky (if too sticky, add a little bit of flour; if too dry, add a bit more water)
2) Without kneading too much, form the dough into a small disc, cover with plastic wrap, and let it chill for about 30 minutes in the refridgerator
3) Meanwhile, dice the squash, and peel and shred the carrots (either with a manual shredder, or in the food processor, which is faster)
4) Sauté the diced squash and shredded carrots with a bit of oil in a pan over medium heat, just for 3-4 minutes
5) Pre-heat oven to 180 deg cel
6) After dough has chilled, remove from refrigerator. Sprinkle flour generously over a flat, cool surface, and place dough on top.
7) Use a floured wooden rolling pin to pat down the dough, the roll it vertically & horizontally to expand the circle, before rolling it outwards in 360 degrees until it is large enough to cover both the base and height of the tart mould
8) Grease the tart mold with either butter or cooking oil
9) Gently place the rolled dough over the tart mold, making sure to fit it well, and then use a fork to poke holes in it (so the dough doesn’t inflate when it bakes)
10) Pre-cook tart shell slightly in the oven for 10 minutes
11) While dough is pre-cooking, mix sauteed carrots and squash together with the egg, yolks, cream, salt & pepper
12) Once tart-shell has been pre-cooked, arranged slices of cheese to cover the bottom of the shell
13) Pour filling over the cheese, and press it down to pack it tight
14) Bake quiche in oven for about 30 to 40 minutes until filling has coagulated and the tart shell is golden brown
15) Allow tart to cool for at least 10 – 15 minutes before serving with a side of salad