Pietro Scapinelli
 We set out Friday morning to meet Pietro Scapinelli, director of La Congrega dei Liffi, the cooking school we would be visiting later in the evening.  He wanted to show us the fresh Mediterranean seafood he would be selecting for our dinner.
Chef Scapinelli has written an important book about how to prepare seafood and is very well known in the area.
We met at a local food market, Le Querce, early in the morning. We were greeted and shown to a little eating area within the store where a breakfast buffet was awaiting us.  You’ll never guess what we were served for breakfast!  I told you we were served cheese and some type of proscuitto or ham every day, even for breakfast and so it was no surprise to see the block of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, platters of proscuitto, Parma ham, and erbazonne.
We were all still full from our dinner the night before that ended at midnight, so very little breakfast was eaten.  Some of our group members looked a little queasy when we were viewing the vast quantities of fresh seafood, some of it, such as the big piles of octopus, fish that looked more like eels than fish, and squid, was not a sight we see in land locked Texas.  Chef  Scapinelli explained that it was very important to develop a relationship with someone you could trust at the fish market.  His choices for our dinner would be based on the recommendations of  his market contact, not a pre planned menu.  He told us the seafood from the Meditteranean sea has a different flavor from the open sea seafood, the level of saltiness if different, for example.  He also said he prefers to use farm raised fish for sushi or sashimi due to the lack of parasites in farm raised fish.
Chef Scapinelli selected the fish for our 7 course dinner later in the evening.  We would have sea bass, salmon, sardines, and octopus.  Later to come…… We had a break before the evening’s events to go on a tour of a traditional balsamic vinegar “factory”.  I hesitate to call it a factory because this artisan process is small and personal.  Only 1% of balsamic vinegar is the “Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale” and it is only produced in Reggio Emilia and Modena, Italy.  The process to produce true balsamic involves only 1 ingredient–grapes.  Lambrusco, Trebano, and other grapes are cooked into a grape must.  The must is cooked over a direct fire and it evaporates up to 70%.  The product is then aged in oak barrels for a period of time, up to 12 years.  There are a row of 7 barrels, varying in size, and the vinegar starts in a larger barrel.  Each year most of the vinegar is taken out of the larger barrel and placed into the next size barrel, until the final smallest barrel contains the oldest vinegar.  These barrels are kept in an old hay loft at the seasonal temperature, hot in summer, cold in winter.  The wood in the barrels is also a factor–oak, juniper, chestnut, cherry.  As you can imagine, the finished product is comlex from the grapes, the wood, the aging process, and the weather.  A small bottle of this Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale set me back about $90.00 but it is well worth it.
La Congrega dei Liffi
This school is not a formal educational institution but a personal development, hobby type school.  There is usually a waiting list of 500 or more people to take classes here and it is very expensive.  The opportunity for our group to cook alongside these talented chefs and then share a meal with them was truly a great event. A preview of the extensive menu for the evening: Tartare of Sea Bass with Celery Sauce and Gorgonzola Steamed Salmon with Vegetables in White Sauce Octopus Salad in Green Sauce with Potatoes Cream and Capers Sardines with onion Spaghettoni Risottati with oil, garlic, chili, and clams Green broccoletti ravioli with grouper and green sauce Gelato with Cointreau orange sauce The chefs did not speak English but somehow we were all able to communicate, and we had a Sister Cities representative there to help with translations when needed. I was assigned the task of helping to prepare sea bass for the first course.  After a demonstration on how to properly clean, scale, and fillet the large sea bass I was given a fish to prepare.  Pressure!  Filleting a fish, a very large fish at that, in front of a bunch of people is not the easiest thing in the world.  I did a fair job and then we had to cut the fish into very small cubes for the tartare.  Steve, who had to dress in chef whites just like everyone else did not expect to do any actual cooking.  At the Motti school he just stood around and observed and no one bothered him, but here he was asked to make a sauce!  Ha, ha, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I spotted Steve at the stove stirring a pot of gorganzola cheese sauce.  He was concentrating very hard.  I told the chef he was not a “chef” and just there with me.  The translator said, “the chef said no one here is a chef, we are all just here for fun–no problem” and they gave him another job to do.  This time he had to cut the raw sea bass into tiny little cubes.  When I met Steve he never even ate raw fish so watching him cut it up for his dinner later was rather funny to me.
Clams for the spaghetti
Making the orange sauce for the gelato
Steve making the gorgonzola sauce
Heather making pasta
First course Steve and I worked on:  Tartare of Sea Base with Celery Sauce and Gorgonzola
Octopus Salad in Green Sauce
Pasta recommended by the chefs–slowly dried
Steamed Salmon with vegetables
Vanilla and chocolate gelato with orange sauce
By the time we sat down to have dinner we were tired!  As you can probably imagine, it was hard to eat all this food.  The wine was freely flowing, the laughter was frequent and we made some new friends.  Chef Kurima wants to start a Fort Worth chapter of the Congrega dei Liffi and I’ll definitely be a member.