Over the course of just two hours last Friday night, I used more pots and pans than I knew my kitchen had — more pots and pans than I think I’ve used, collectively, since March.
I was taking one of Michael Ceraldi’s cooking classes. From 5 to 7 p.m. every Friday since June, Ceraldi has coaxed a screen of Zoomers through making the sort of flavor-packed meal (toned down a little, maybe) you’d expect him to serve you at his Wellfleet restaurant: braised (and locally raised) beef short ribs; stuffed ’shrooms with a side lesson on foraging, and coconut-hazelnut-macaroon-topped sweet potato panna cotta.
On this particular Friday, we made gnocchi tricolore: potato gnocchi, plus a sauce trio of basil pesto, Parmigiano Reggiano fonduta, and Ceraldi’s classic red.
In the last year, I’ve rented my first apartment, and my second, and my third. I’ve worked my first not-summer-or-part-time-or-internship job, filed tax returns, and called two tow trucks. I’ve become skilled at wielding a Dustbuster. Now comes learning to cook.
I always had a vague notion of what goes on in a kitchen. I grew up piggish — it comes with the territory. But Covid struck while I was still in my dining hall years. Suddenly, I was home, where grab-and-go was not an option, and mashed potatoes did not stir themselves. And then (because I drove my parents crazy) I came here, where I realized I was short on technique.
I’ve progressed. I’ve made soups and stews of all kinds. I learned last month to roast a chicken and supreme an orange. Last week, I ventured into fish. What I whip up in my kitchen is delicious. It is also — because I’m living alone, and rushing to meet deadline, and, well, I’m 20 — simple.
Which Ceraldi’s recipes are unequivocally not. Does one really need three separate sauces for a single bowl of gnocchi? Not in the slightest. That’s precisely the fun.
We opened with the red sauce, which was sweet and rich, simple enough, almost, to convince me that I could ditch store-bought jars for good. The pesto, brightened with lemon and parsley, has made its way into at least one meal of mine every day for the past week. The fonduta was just decadent: a mix of heavy cream and Parmigiano that could not have done my arteries a favor.
My gnocchi? Ceraldi, in class, called them “happy little pills of joy.” Mine were just pills. The fault was mine, not his (something went awry in my halving formula). They were sad.
But in the end, I — a hairsplitting perfectionist — didn’t particularly care about Gnocchigate. The joy was in the class, a total treat, in this restaurantless time.
Ceraldi directs one’s focus just as much on the process of cooking as on the results. I waited for my oil to shimmer in just the perfect way before adding tomatoes to my red sauce. I also learned that my hours of painstaking garlic-peeling have been for naught: all one needs to do for a perfect clove is to apply a bit of pressure, then rub the clove between one’s palms. Who knew? And from a 10-minute chopping lesson, I learned everything about my pre-Ceraldi technique — truly everything, down to the way I was holding the knife — was wrong.
There’s only so much one can judge via a Zoom screen, but Ceraldi does his best to mimic the real world. Question about your fonduta consistency? Hold it up to the screen, and he’ll offer a diagnosis. And there is another way to approach this experience. You can always tune in, pour yourself a glass of the suggested pairing, and spend the evening in “watch and learn” rather than “cook live” mode.