"LOOK," SAID Mario Cardullo with some satisfaction, "I've got these people working by a timetable. They don't realize it, but they are functioning like the kitchen crew in a restaurant."
And so they were. Two dozen men and women from Columbia, Md., only one of whom claimed advanced cooking skills, had chipped in $25 each to participate in a most unusual dinner party. They put themselves in the hands of Cardullo, a Department of Energy executive who moonlights as a teacher of Northern Italian cooking. Under his direction over six hours on a Saturday evening, they cooked a four-course, 19-item "Renaissance Banquet" and then ate it.
The scene was the kitchen of Alexandria's Second Presbyterian Church.Cardullo was married there four years ago. (Naturally, he catered his own wedding that day.) Since that time he has used the church kitchen for cooking classes and dinners. It offers two four-burner stoves, plenty of pots and pans and a generous amount of counter space. At a feast such as this dinner, participants who finish their chores early are drafted by Karen Cardullo to move furniture and help transform a nearby room into a banquet hall with -- Renaissance style -- one large table for all.
In the kitchen, Cardullo passed out menus, recipes, some tidbits of food history and the first of several Italian wines as the evening began, then assigned people to various tasks. His pupils moved toward a table on which rested grapes of two colors, garlic cloves in profusion, tomatoes, lemons, red onions, zucchini, parsley, celery and other ingredients. Only plastic-wrapped packages of chicken intruded on the otherwise timeless still-life until the would-be cooks tore it asunder.
At one table, a man was slowly but not entirely successfully separating eggs for marzipan. ("It's the first time," he said defensively.) Nearby a woman sliced carrots, celery and onion while a man cut up a chunk of cheese. Their talk was of a child's personality and action, Cardullo, fresh from demonstrating how to make heavy cream into butter in a food processor, loomed up and grabbed a handful of cheese chunks to show the man how much was required to make a cup once it was grated. He moved on in the direction of the electric pasta machine.
"Where's the scale?" someone inquired. "Has anyone seen the salt?" another asked. There were demands, as well, for more wine. The chorus rose, but as it did, the pile of raw ingredients diminished. Over various gas burners a stock simmered, as did turnips and a bechamel sauce. A woman was restrained from hard-cooking eggs in the turnip water and a man looked from nutmeg to grater and asked, "Do you peel this first?" The marzipan team reported that sea salt had mistakenly replaced sugar in the mixing bowl, but that most of it had been retreived.
There were no strangers in the group. They all work together on Columbia's annual Renaissance Festival, an autumn fair that runs for five weekends in September and early October. Cardullo, who is something of a food scholar, will provide some authentic Renaissance foods for this year's festival and Marlene Weinberg, one of the organizers, thought this would be fun to do before they all had to turn their attention to the upcoming event.
"This is an occasion, an experience," said the exuberant Cardullo. "People make mistakes, but usually nothing very serious. We always eat everything. In the classes I teach, though, we strive for perfection. The students participate because the only way to learn is to do something."
Cardullo's wife, who works in the music department of the Organization of American States, explained that he does five-week classes in the fall and winter and the dinners, based on either the food of a region of Italy or a period, once a month. She was acting as wine steward and also giving tips and advice to the workers. "It's a labor of love for Mario," she said, "and a wonderful way to meet people. We've made many friends through these evenings."
Two of their friends, former pupils Don DeHaven and Michael Tinkleman, were on hand that evening to act as team leaders. Tinkleman credited Cardullo with "a great deal of enthusiasm. It spills over. He instills it in the students and you really enjoy yourself." For himself, Tinkleman said, he had learned recipes, a sense of how foods should feel and look, food history and one rule: "If you don't start with good ingredients, you can't come out with good food."
Cardullo's passion for good ingredients is such that he and his wife had run a two-hour plus shopping course earlier in the day with stops at A. Litteri, the Italian specialty Store, the Eastern Market, the Bethesda Avenue Co-op, the French Market and Safeway. "He won't cut corners on the quality of ingredients," Karen Cardullo said as a bottle of expensive olive oil was tipped into a pot.
According to Cardullo, his love of food shopping came from early-morning trips with his grandfather, and his love of making food was first stimulated in the bakery of an uncle. "In my mother's family, the men have always cooked." He began teaching here after joining the Federal Energy Administration in 1974. Now the Energy Department's director of energy supply transportation, he has been active in food scholarship and research and calls himself "the Renaissance chef."
A couple of hours into the evening, a male chorus had broken into spontaneous song behind one stove, the single experienced cook and a woman agreed that men were better cooks than women and nearly 50 hands had caused such disparate dishes as a pigeon timbale, a stuffed loin of pork and a curled pastry "snake" to take form. Several workers had fallen away, leaving chores to the more dedicated students.
Cardullo had spent considerable time using his mechanical engineer's training to try to fix a recalcitrant electric pasta machine. Time was pressing. Appetites honed by the kitchen work caused the menu to appear less formidable. So the Renaissance chef tok a stroll back in time, abandoned the machine and began to roll out dough for the pasta by hand.
He was happy.
Here is what the group prepared and ate. A smattering of recipes follows. MARIO CARDULLO'S RENAISSANCE BANQUET First Course
Pieces of marzipan and marzipan balls, fresh grapes, Spanish olives, mostarda di frutta , the focaccia , zucchini salad, stuffed eggs. Second Course
Pigeon timbale, pasta pie, turnip cake, loin of pork with garlic, rosemary and black pepper . Third Course
Tagliatelle with nuts, chicken with fennel seeds, Renaissance-style rice, sauteed frogs' legs, artichoke fritters, sweet peppers with onions and tomatoes . Fourth Course
Curled snake, aniseed wafers, cookie rings . SWEET PEPPERS WITH ONIONS AND TOMATOES (PEPERONATA) (6 servings) 6 large sweet peppers, red, green or mixed 1 pound ripe tomatoes 2 cloves garlic, chopped 1/2 pound onions, sliced 1/3 cup olive oil Salt
Cut peppers in half, discard seeds and rinse in cold water. Cut into 1/2 inch wide strips. Skin and quarter tomatoes.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sautee until golden. Add peppers, stir, cover and cook 10 minutes. Uncover and add tomatoes and salt to taste.
Cook until most of liquid evaporates -- 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and serve with chicken, pork or veal. This dish is also excellent cold and reheats well. Risotto renaissance style (4 servings) 1 cup Italian rice 2 1/2 cups chicken stock 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground 1/2 teaspoon ginger, ground Pinch saffron, dissolved in 2 tablespoon boiling water 3 egg yolks Salt to taste
Place stock in a medium size pan and bring to boil. Add rice, cover and simmer 20 minutes or until liquid absorbed. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes. Add cinnamon, ginger, and dissolved saffron.
Place egg yolks in a small bowl, add 2 tablespoons of rice into egg yolks and stir.Mix egg yolk mixture into remaining rice. Check seasoning and serve. Chicken with fennel seeds (6 servings) 3 pounds chicken, cut into 8 pieces 1 teaspoon fennel seeds 2 medium onions, finely chopped 1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped 1/4 pound Panchetta or salt pork, finely diced Salt and black pepper, freshly ground
Place chicken in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil for 20 minutes. Remove chicken from pot and reserve. Add fennel seeds and onions to broth. Simmer until reduced to 1/3 orignal volume.
Place panchetta in a large skillet and sautee until fat is rendered. Add almonds and chicken and sautee until golden. Add reduced stock and cook for 5 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and serve. LION OF PORK WITH GARLIC, ROSEMARY AND BLACK PEPPER (8 to 10 servings) 10 cloves garlic, sliced lengthwise into 4 pieces each 3 tablespoons rosemary leaves 1 1/2 tablespoons salt 1 tablespoon black pepper, freshly ground 4 pounds pork loin, boned and flattened 12 black peppercorns, whole 1 tablespoon olive oil
Place garlic cloves, rosemary leaves, salt and ground pepper in a bowl and mix. Place loin of pork on a board and open it flat with inside facing up. Spread half of garlic mixture over the inside and scatter over the whole black peppercorns. Roll the pork loin up. Take a piece of cooking string and wrap around one end of roll, pulling it tight. Now bring it down lengthwise about 2 inches and wrap it around the roll again. Continue this process until the roll is totally tied. Using a skewer or other sharp pointed instrument make 12 punctures in the roll about 1/2 inch deep. Fill these holes with remaining garlic mixture. Any remaining mixture should be sprinkled over the roll.
Place olive oil in bottom of a roasting pan. Add the roll. Bake in a 350 degree, preheated oven for 25 minutes to the pound. After 1 hour turn the roll over.
Ten minutes prior to completion increase oven to 400 degrees to brown the roast. Remove from oven and cool at least 10 minutes slice then and serve. This can be eaten hot or cold. Usually in Tuscany it is eaten cold. TURNIP CAKE (6 to 8 servings) 2 pounds white turnips, unpeeled 1/3 cup sugar 1 tablespoon pepper, freshly ground 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon ground mace 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1 pound Bel Paese Cheese, thinly sliced
Bring a pot of water sufficient to cover turnips to a boil. Place turnips in water and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on size, until just tender. iDrain and let cool.
Peel turnips and slice into 3/4 inch thich slices. Mix all spices together in a small bowl with sugar. Butter a shallow 9 inch baking dish. Arrange a layer of Bel Paese Cheese on bottom, add a layer of turnip slices overlapping. Then sprinkle with sugar/spice mixture. Add a layer of cheese and repeat the process, ending with a cheese layer.
Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes or until top is browned. Remove from oven, invert dish and unmold cake on a warm serving plate. This can be served either hot or cold. COOKIE RINGS (4 to 5 dozen) 3 cups flour, triple sifted 1/2 cup hazenuts, toasted in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes, skins removed and finely ground in blender 1 cup sugar, superfine (caster or bar sugar) 2 eggs 2 egg yolks 1/2 cup butter, softened 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt
Sift flour into large bowl and make a well in center. Add all other ingredients. Mix with pastry blender thoroughly, then knead with hands until smooth dough is formed. Wrap in wax paper and place in refrigerator for 2 hours.
Remove from referigerator and roll out on floured pastry cloth or board to 1/4-inch thick. Cut into rings. Lightly butter a cookie sheet and arrange rings 1/2-inch apart. Place in 425 degree preheater oven for 10 minutes. Remove and cool on cake rack.