"Cooking potatoes and cooking lobster is the same," said Andreas Hellrigl, whose cooking is known throughout Italy from his television shows as well as from his Merano hotel, Villa Mozart, and restaurant, Andrea. So he wasn't even faintly daunted by the prospect of cooking whatever an American supermarket had to offer. He arrived at the Georgetown Safeway to choose ingredients for lunch with several lists, for his menu would depend on what looked good at the moment.
He knew, however, that he wanted to make his specialty, wine soup.
That would require chicken broth, which in turn needed a good flavorful hen. So right away Hellrigl faced a dilemma. There were no big old hens at the poultry counter, only young chickens. Those Hellrigl smelled through their plastic bags. "Not too much aroma, the chicken," he stated with disappointment. "Hens have more aroma." So he chose instead a package of chicken wings and a package of bouillon cubes to boost their flavor.
Next he considered dessert, and for that he wavered between a souffle' of ricotta with asti spumante zabaglione and fruit, or an "apple in the oven" with caramel ice cream. But since he was ticking off five courses for lunch, homemade ice cream sounded excessively time-consuming, so he settled on the souffle' and began his quest for ricotta.
That turned out to be no less a problem than the hen. Hellrigl opened a package of ricotta and shook it, trying to assess its texture under the plastic cover. Too soft, he concluded. Wasn't there any firmer ricotta? No, all were the same texture, so he headed for the cheese counter to see if dry ricotta might be added to firm it up. But the dry ricotta turned out to be salty, and by the end of afternoon he would be reduced to adding bread crumbs to the souffle' mixture to give it the body the ricotta lacked.
The parmesan, too, wasn't up to Hellrigl's standards, though he examined every form of it the Safeway had to offer. In general, the packaged cheeses were quickly rejected.
Prospects for lunch improved at the meat counter. What would the main course be? Osso bucco? Liver alla Veneziana? One look at the veal shanks decided the question: It would be osso bucco, for these were meaty, though not as uniform as Hellrigl might have liked them. He also chose some bones for their sauce.
The produce section, too, yielded what he wanted, though the plastic bag dispenser didn't yield easily to his yanking. Like Michel Gue'rard, who had run through this experiment before him, Hellrigl had risen easily to every surprise the Safeway presented except those recalcitrant plastic produce bags. Gue'rard, too, had chosen wings for his chicken broth and picked plum tomatoes from among the several available varieties, and was stopped in his tracks by fascination with the frozen prepared foods.
Being an Italian, though, Hellrigl sneered a bit at the quality of the garlic, and as an Italian, could do with no less than two heads of garlic to make lunch for eight people. He was also disappointed with the selection of fresh herbs, for that day the Safeway's inventory was low, and there was neither rosemary nor sage, not to mention oregano.
What delighted Hellrigl, though, was two-toned savoy cabbage with its purple center. Did it retain its color in the cooking, he wondered? He also slowed his determined pace long enough to examine the varied apples, and eventually chose some granny smiths.
As for packaged goods, Hellrigl has long admired American flour. "America has very good flour!" he exclaimed, smelling the bag. "It has very good aroma." But not so the vanilla beans. He shook the jar and listened; "A little old," he concluded.
An hour and ten minutes for shopping, then four hours for cooking. In that time Hellrigl produced five courses, each of them so complex that they included a tomato sauce from scratch or a broth started on the spot or several sub-dishes concocted for a medley.
He arrived at the kitchen of Chanterelle caterers, which had been borrowed for the afternoon, with a suitcase in hand. "I have my own kitchen," he proclaimed, as he changed from jacket and tie to white chef's coat, apron and toque, and brought out his own knives. He cooks in many kitchens on his visits -- this is his third, he said, to practice his English -- to the U.S. during the three months a year his hotel is closed. The next night he was going to be cooking ravioli in New York.
"The salt here makes me crazy," he confided, as he salted a pot of water on the stove. First a dish tastes undersalted, he said, then he adds a little salt and it tastes oversalted. A few minutes later a Chanterelle staff member came in the kitchen to pour her pot of boiling water -- the water that Hellrigl had just salted -- through the drip coffee maker.
Apologies made, Hellrigl unwrapped the meats -- the veal shanks should breathe for a half-hour, he explained -- and started the potatoes boiling for the gnocchi roll. He sharpened his knives, trimmed the veal shanks and tried to define the name of the gnocchi roll (strangolapreti) in English -- "strangle the priest" was the closest he could figure.
Buy shanks cut from the middle, he advised, as he discovered that one of the shanks he'd bought was too bony and another had muscles that were too hard because it had been cut from the end.
By now the kitchen was in full swing, with one of Chanterelle's assistants helping to wash, peel and cut ingredients. And not only were five courses under way, but in three languages: She spoke Spanish, Hellrigl switched back and forth between Italian and English, and gestures did what words failed to convey.
At 3:50 the first four courses were ready for a ravenous audience, and it was considered too late to make the dessert. Hellrigl looked crestfallen, but dinnertime was looming before lunch was started. So the group agreed to forego the souffle', and sat down to taste the wine soup.
Extraordinary stuff! They loved it! Suddenly time seemed not to matter any more. If this was the beginning, they were prepared to stretch into the evening to savor the end. They reconsidered dessert, which delighted Hellrigl. Back to the food processor and on to the souffe'.
Here are Hellrigl's recipes. STRANGOLAPRETI (Gnocchi-spinach roll) (8 servings) 1 1/2 to 2 pounds potatoes 2 pounds loose spinach 1 pinch nutmeg 1 teaspoon salt 3 egg yolks 1/2 pound flour 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary 2 teaspoons fresh sage 2 cloves garlic, mashed 1 shallot Salt and pepper to taste About 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups grated parmesan 1 cup whipping cream 1/3 pound gorgonzola
Bring potatoes to a boil in salted water to cover and boil 25 minutes, or until tender. In the meantime, wash and trim spinach, lifting to drain it from the water rather than letting the water drain from it, so it doesn't retain its sand. When potatoes are done, drain them and leave them over high heat for about 1 minute to dry them, being careful not to burn them. Peel them while they are still hot, quarter them and mash them through a potato ricer or sieve. A food processor can be used in emergencies, but it is not as good for mashing the potatoes.
Weigh out the mashed potatoes and put 1 1/4 pounds on the counter top to use for the gnocchi. Reserve the rest for another use. Make a well in center of potatoes and add nutmeg, salt and egg yolks. Sift flour over them and knead mixture together with hands.
Half fill a large metal bowl with ice. Add cold water to cover ice. Set aside. Bring a large pot of water to boil and when it boils add spinach and cook 4 minutes. Drain and plunge spinach in ice water to keep it green. ("This is the new kitchen: color," said Hellrigl.) Drain, squeeze out and chop the spinach.
Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a small pan and pour it into potatoes on the countertop. Knead potatoes to form a dough that is soft but holds its shape; if it is too soft, a bit of extra flour might be necessary. Set aside.
Mince together rosemary, sage, garlic, mashed, and shallot. In a saute' pan melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add minced herbs and saute' 1 minute. Add spinach and stir. Heat 1 minute. Add salt and pepper to taste, then 1/2 to 3/4 cup grated parmesan.
Dampen a dish towel about 20 inches long and wring it out. On a floured surface roll out potato dough to a 12-by-15-inch rectangle and neatly trim edges. Spread spinach on dough rectangle, leaving a 1-inch margin all around. Roll up, starting with the long side. Flour the roll and roll it onto the dampened cloth. Roll up the cloth and tie the ends. Set aside until ready to cook.
Fill a pan wide enough to hold the roll with enough water to cover the roll. Bring it to a boil and add the wrapped roll to the water. Cover and simmer 20 minutes.
To prepare the sauce, lightly whip 1 cup whipping cream. Add gorgonzola and heat over a pot of simmering water until the cheese melts. Put in a blender with 2 tablespoons of butter and blend until smooth.
Unwrap the gnocchi roll and slice on the diagonal 1/2-inch-thick. On each plate spoon a pool of gorgonzola sauce, then arrange 2 slices of gnocchi on top. Sprinkle with more parmesan and serve.
Note: Gnocchi roll can also be served with just a little butter, sage and parmesan instead of sauce. Zucchini can be used to fill the roll instead of spinach. WINE SOUP (8 servings) FOR THE STOCK: 2 pounds chickenbacks, wings or other trimmings 1 carrot, roughly chopped 4 small white onions, quartered 3 stalks celery, roughly chopped 1 leek, white part and 2 inches of green, roughly chopped 1 tomato, preferably plum tomato, quartered Salt and pepper to taste 1 bouillon cube, if necessary TO FINISH SOUP: 2 cups dry white wine, plus more to taste 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 6 egg yolks 1 3/4 cups whipping cream 2 cups croutons
To make the stock, blanch the chicken in boiling water 1 minute and drain. Cover with fresh water and bring to a boil. Add the vegetables, salt and pepper, and simmer 1 hour. Add bouillon cube if stock is not flavorful enough. Strain. Measure 5 cups stock for serving and reserve any extra for another use. Add 1 cup white wine and reheat the stock. Add 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.
In a bowl whisk together egg yolks, 1 cup cream and 1 more cup wine. Stir about a cup of stock into yolk mixture, then stir yolk mixture into the soup. Reheat but be careful not to boil, or the eggs will curdle. Taste soup to correct flavors. ("When tasting, three spoons is better," said Hellrigl.)
In a bowl whisk 3/4 cup cream until slightly thickened. Add wine and salt to taste. Sprinkle croutons with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.
Serve soup hot, topped with thickened cream and croutons. OSSO BUCCO (5 servings) 5-8 veal shanks, depending on size About 3/4 pound veal bones, chopped into small pieces 1 ounce imported dried mushrooms 10 tablespoons olive oil 1 carrot 1 leek 2 small white onions, roughly chopped 7 cloves garlic 2 1/2 stalks celery 1 1/2 to 2 cups dry white wine 1 teaspoon rosemary Pepper to taste 4 tablespoons flour Skins from 12 tomatoes if available
% shallots 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons butter Tomato pure'e (see recipe below) Seasoned oil (see recipe below) 1/4 cup minced parsley 2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
Unwrap the shanks a half-hour before they are to be cooked. ("It's good a little more time in the air," said Hellrigl.) Trim them of fat and any loose ends of skin. Soak dried mushrooms in water.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute' pan and brown the extra bones over high heat. When they are browned, drain fat. In the meantime, roughly chop 1/2 carrot, green part of leek, onions, 3 cloves garlic and 1/2 stalk celery. Add to pan with bones and stir over high heat 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup white wine and let it boil down. Add rosemary and another 1/4 cup wine. Let that wine boil down and repeat adding another 1/4 cup wine and boiling it down 1 to 2 more times. Add pepper and continue to brown the mixture, stirring occasionally, another 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of flour and stir a minute or two. Cover bones with water and 1/4 of the dried mushrooms. Add tomato skins left over from making tomato pure'e and simmer mixture, uncovered, skimming or adding a little water as necessary, while you cook the veal shanks.
In a large saute' pan heat 1/4 cup olive oil. Salt and pepper the veal shanks and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons flour. Brown them in the oil. Remove and set aside. Mince finely 1/2 carrot, white part of 1/2 leek, 2 stalks celery and 2 shallots. Mash 4 cloves garlic with 1 teaspoon salt. In a large saucepan heat 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter. Add the minced vegetables and garlic and cook, stirring, without letting them brown much, for about 3 minutes. Add veal shanks. Add 1/2 cup wine, cover and simmer 2 minutes.
Deglaze the pan shanks were browned in with 1/2 cup white wine. Add the wine mixture to the simmering bones, and more water if necessary.
Drain remaining mushrooms, saving their juices. Mince mushrooms. Add half to the bone mixture and half to the shanks. Add seasoned oil to tomato pure'e, and add half the tomato pure'e to the shanks. Set aside the rest for another use (see antipasto below).
Strain bone stock and add to shanks. Add mushroom liquid. Simmer, covered, in a 300-degree oven about 45 minutes, until very tender. If desired, add more water to the bones and continue to simmer to extract more flavor and add later to the shanks if they need more liquid.
Remove shanks to platter, moisten with sauce and serve remaining sauce on the side. Sprinkle shanks with parsley and lemon peel mixed together. TOMATO PUREE 1 1/2 small white onions 1 clove garlic 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons olive oil 12 plum tomatoes, peeled (reserve peels for osso bucco)
Salt and pepper to taste
Finely dice onions. Mince garlic on chopping board and sprinkle with salt and mash with side of knife to a fine pure'e. Mince garlic pure'e into onions.
Heat olive oil and saute' onion mixture 1 minute, being careful not to brown. Chop tomatoes finely and add to saute' pan with onion. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. SEASONED OIL
This herbed oil is used for meats and fine sauces when you don't want bits of herbs in them but you want their flavor. Fresh herbs are better than dried, and the amounts of herbs depend on how strong you want your oil. You can vary it with any herbs you wish. The purpose of the wine is to keep the oil from overheating. 1/2 small white onion 2 cloves garlic 1/2 cup olive oil 1 teaspoon rosemary 1/3 cup dry white wine 2 pinches pepper 1 teaspoon each oregano and sage (could use basil or thyme)
Roughly chop onion. Mash garlic. Combine all ingredients in a small covered sauce pan about 15 to 30 minutes. Strain and use to flavor sauces and meats. VEGETABLE ANTIPASTO (8 servings) FOR THE EGGPLANT: 1 small eggplant Salt 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for saute'eing 3 to 4 slices prosciutto or other smoky ham 8 slices (about 1-by-2-inches) fontina or mozzarella 1 teaspoon sage Pepper to taste FOR THE STUFFED ZUCCHINI: 3 stalks broccoli 2 zucchini FOR THE PEPPERS: 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for sprinkling 2 red or green bell peppers 4 anchovy fillets 1 teaspoon oregano 8 teaspoons tomato pure'e, flavored with seasoned oil if desired (see recipe above) 1/2 cup chicken or other stock FOR THE MUSHROOMS: 1/4 pound mushrooms 1 tablespoon olive oil 3 tablespoons white wine 1 bay leaf 1 clove garlic 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup chopped ham 1/4 cup bread crumbs FOR THE STUFFED TOMATOES: 4 plum tomatoes, peeled 1 clove garlic, mashed 1/4 cup bread crumbs 1 anchovy fillet, minced 1/4 cup parsley, minced 1 tablespoon grated parmesan 1/4 teaspoon oregano 1 teaspoon olive oil Pepper to taste FOR THE SCALLION GARNISH AND SERVING: 8 scallions 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar Vinaigrette to taste
Slice eggplant vertically into 8 thin slices. Salt and set aside a half hour. Squeeze and pat dry. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Film bottom of a saute' pan with olive oil and saute' eggplant slices 2 minutes on each side, or grill them. Cut prosciutto to fit eggplant slices and lay one on each. Top each with a slice of cheese across the middle, sprinkle all with 1/2 teaspoon sage and roll up eggplant slices. Sprinkle with oil and put in a baking pan. Sprinkle with remaining sage and pepper, and bake at 300 degrees for 15 minutes. Arrange on plates.
Cut florets from broccoli and boil them 5 to 10 minutes until tender. Plunge in ice water to stop the cooking and brighten their color. Cut zucchini into slices 1-inch-thick and hollow each slice with a small spoon into a cup. Boil 15 minutes in water to cover and plunge into ice water to stop their cooking. Stuff zucchini cups with broccoli florets. Arrange on plates.
In a baking pan put 1/4 cup olive oil. Quarter peppers and seed them, and arrange peppers in pan rounded side down. Halve anchovy fillets and put one half in each pepper quarter. Sprinkle a spoonful of the anchovy oil over all, then 1 teaspoon oregano. Put 1 teaspoon tomato pure'e in each pepper quarter. Sprinkle olive oil lightly over all. Add 1/2 cup broth and bake at 300 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes or until peppers are tender. Trim peppers neatly, cut off any fleshy corners that are inflexible, and score the peppers lightly with tip of a knife to flatten them further. Roll peppers up and arrange on plates.
Remove stems from mushrooms and chop the stems. Boil mushroom caps in oil, white wine and bay leaf for 6 minutes, remove caps from pot and set aside. Mash garlic with salt and add to stems, along with ham. Add ham mixture to cooking juices in the pot and cook 2 minutes. Add bread crumbs, combine well and stuff into mushroom caps. Arrange on plates.
Peel tomatoes, halve them and scoop out insides. Stuff with a mixture of all the rest of the ingredients and arrange on plates.
Cut scallions into 3-inch lengths and boil 10 minutes. Toss with vinegar to taste. Arrange on plates with other antipasto vegetables. Sprinkle all the antipasto with vinaigrette to taste. RICOTTA SOUFFLE WITH FRUIT AND ZABAGLIONE SAUCE (8 servings) FOR THE SOUFFLES: Butter and sugar for souffle' cups 1/2 pound ricotta 4 eggs, separated 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1 tablespoon grated orange rind 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, if ricotta is soft FOR THE SAUCE: 1/2 cup sugar 6 egg yolks 1 cup asti spumante Strawberries or other fruit to taste for garnish
To make the souffle's, thickly butter 8 small souffle' molds, 1/2- to 1/3-cup capacity, preferably metal. Sprinkle throughly with sugar and shake out any excess. In a food processor combine ricotta, egg yolks, 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, orange rind and, if the ricotta is not firm, 1 to 2 tablespoons bread crumbs. Blend well. In a separate bowl beat 4 egg whites with 1/4 cup sugar to stiff peaks. Fold into ricotta mixture and spoon into prepared souffle' molds to 2/3 full. Put souffle' molds in a pan of hot water to 3/4 the height of the souffle's and bake at 500 degrees for 10 minutes until puffed and lightly brown. Unmold onto plates and spoon sauce over souffle's. Decorate with strawberries.
To make sauce, put a large metal bowl over a pot of simmering water on the stove and add 1/2 cup sugar, 6 egg yolks and the asti spumante to the metal bowl. Whisk over the simmering water 5 to 8 minutes or until the sauce is foamy and hot. Pour over souffle's.