Steamboat Springs It was a life breakthrough for most of us standing over the gas flame a ten burner commercial stove. There was a student at every burner smashing pans onto the stove like nervous zoo monkeys, trying to loosen the crepes we were making.
Then a flip of the wrist and five crepes flew into the air and back into the pans.
The group of vacationers from England, Australia and America and myself were all glowing from the achievement of our first crepe.
Once everyone had flipped and finished at least three crepes, we shuffled to the mousse-making station and practiced the wrist-numbing tedium of hand whipping an egg and sugar mixture over a double boiler.
Most of the students at last Wednesday's cooking class at Riggio's Fine Italian restaurant had never been in a commercial kitchen before.
"This is really exciting to see what happens behind the scenes," one man said. "Now I'll appreciate this more when I go out to eat."
Every Wednesday, by reservation only, Chef Dom Riggio opens his kitchen to the public and teaches people to prepare a four-course Italian meal.
The menu shifts depending on the interests of the students.
After two hours in the kitchen, the class gathers at a long table in the dining room to taste what it made and try Italian wines from Riggio's cellar.
On Wednesday, we made Cozze Fra Diavolo, a mussel dish with tomatoes, garlic and crushed red pepper, as an appetizer; Balsamic Vinaigrette for our salad; Vitello Canneloni, crepes filled with veal, ricotta and spinach, for dessert.
The light but rich chocolate mousse ended the meal -- a luncheon that none of us could believe we made ourselves. We joked about the calorie content of the mousse, and Chef Dom lectured us on the foolishness of dieting.
"If you want to eat real food, eat real food," he said. "Just don't eat it every night. If you want to lose weight, eat less and move more."
It was a mantra he repeated several times during the day like a true Italian. "Food is to be enjoyed."
Dominick Riggio grew up in New York in a large Italian family. The men worked construction and the women spent the day preparing food, he said.
Needless to say, he learned to cook at an early age, and life slowly steered him into a career as a chef.
He and his wife, Karen Riggio, opened their first restaurant in Steamboat Springs in 1990 in the space roughly where the Swiss Haven is today.
Dominick is the chef of the family and Karen is the wine expert. She lived and traveled extensively in Italy and openly shares her knowledge of regional Italian wines.
Most of Chef Dom's recipes and techniques came to him from his grandmother and mother.
We learned to make crepes, he said, because only in America did he see manicotti made with pasta.
"The key to a good crepe is to make the batter the night before," he said. "This allows the flour to absorb."
The pan should also be clean and seasoned with a little oil.
The entire lesson was combination hands-on experience and Chef Dom sharing little cooking secrets he learned over the years.
We all listened attentively when it came time to cut onions.
"I always hear people complain that onions make them cry. I've found from experience and reading that if you peel the onion well in advance to let the gases out and also use a sharp knife, you won't have that problem."
He diced several onions in front of us and not a tear was shed.
Then he threw them in a pot to caramelize.
Chef Dom started teaching cooking school in January of this year. Normally, his mother helps with the lessons.
He got the idea more than a year ago when he was a guest chef at Alpine Bistro's weekly cooking school.
"We loved the idea but didn't want to step on (Chef Brent Holleman's) territory," Karen Riggio said. "When he sold his restaurant to Mambo Italiano, we decided it was something we could try."
Riggio's cooking classes are every Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. including lunch and wine. It costs $60 per person with a 12-student maximum.
Riggio's is located at 1106 Lincoln Ave. For more information or to reserve a place, call 879-9010.
Recipes from Wednesday
Cozze Fra Diavolo
3 dozen mussels, cleaned
2 cans whole tomatoes, diced
10 large cloves of garlic, sliced
1/2 Tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
4 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Tbsp dry oregano
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tsp fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
In a large sauce pan with a lid:
Saute garlic in olive oil until golden brown, add crushed red pepper flakes.
Add mussels and white wine.
Cover and allow to steam for two minutes, mussels should start to open.
Add parsley, oregano and tomatoes, mix and cover.
Cook for five minutes more until all mussels are opened. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately as appetizer or over linguini as a pasta course.
1 large onion, sliced thin
3 Tbsp fresh basil (1 tsp dry basil)
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup tomato puree
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
In a medium sauce pan,
Lightly brown onion and basil in olive oil.
Add heavy cream and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to simmer.
Add tomato puree, simmer for 10 minutes.
Adjust consistency with water, if needed.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Strain through strainer or china cap.
For the crepe batter:
4 large eggs
1 cup flour
1 1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups spinach, sliced
Blend together all ingredients (except spinach) and strain.
Heat nonstick 6" frying pan to smoke point.
Ladle 1 3/4 oz. Batter into pan.
Sprinkle immediately with spinach.
When batter dries on top, flip crepe.
Cook for 20 seconds.
Turn out onto plate to cool.
For the filling:
2 medium onions, finely diced
1 pound ground veal
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 pound fresh spinach, chopped
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 cup grated romano cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
In a large saute pan:
Saute onions and garlic in oil until slightly browned.
Add meat and cook until browned.
Drain any fat or liquid and let cool.
Combine meat with other ingredients.
Fill and roll crepes.
Place on greased pan, seam side down.
Bake at 450 degrees until edges brown and filling sets up.
Serve with coral sauce.
5 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 oz. CrÃme di cocoa
1/4 cup marsala
1/4 cup sherry
2 cups heavy cream, whipped stiff w/ 1/8 cup sugar
6 oz. chocolate, melted
Set up double boiler on stovetop.
Mix eggs, sugar and liqueurs in metal bowl.
Whip until thick and ribbon forms.
Allow to cool lightly.
Fold in whipped cream.
Decant into serving dishes or let cool and pipe out of pastry bag.