Field trip! Today we hit the road to meet Chris Douglass, one of our core instructors and owner of Ashmont Grill and Tavolo in Dorchester. Chris gave us a warm welcome and took us on a quick tour of the kitchen at Ashmont Grill. The neighborhood restaurant features an al fresco dining area out back (currently covered in snow) and a wood-fired grill. It's a far cry from the seedy bar Chris bought 10 years ago. About a block down the street is his Italian restaurant called Tavolo. We headed there for the rest of the morning to learn the art of pizza making.
Chef Douglass's new kitchen staff took us through the process of making a large batch of pizza dough. The ingredients are simple—"00" flour, water, yeast, olive oil, salt—but the mixture takes time and attention to build flavor. At least 2 days of kneading, proofing, and resting is required before the balls of dough are stretched, topped and baked to order. Previously made dough that had risen and rested was plopped out onto a wood surface like slow-moving gelatinous blubber. It smelled yeasty and fragrant. Tony demonstrated how the dough is portioned out and rolled into perfectly taught balls.
Then we each got to stretch our own dough and make a pizza. I used marinara sauce (theirs is seasoned with anchovies), spinach, feta, sautéed mushrooms, and kalamata olives. The key, we learned, is not to overload with too much sauce or toppings. And to keep the pie from sticking, we dusted the peel with semolina flour that was shaken out of a perforated deli container. It was easy to make a good pizza at Tavolo using their carefully made dough and wonderfully prepared toppings. Let's see if I can replicate that at home.
Once we had all devoured most of our handmade pies, we piled back in the cars to head back to 808 Commonwealth. Chef Douglass met us there to be our instructor for an afternoon of cooking potatoes. In a span of about 3-1/2 hours we made potato leek soup, potato puree, potatoes O'Brien, potato gratin, and pommes anna. Potato leek soup is pretty basic—I make it all the time at home. But I had never made potatoes O'Brien. We learned the technique of rinsing and drying the diced potatoes before pan frying. By doing this step, less starch is released in the pan which would cause the cubes to stick and lose their shape. I'm definitely going to use this technique next time I make home fries!
We also each made our own mini pommes anna—thinly sliced potatoes that are layered with clarified butter and cooked onions. After browning on one side, the whole thing is flipped and finished in the oven. I've also made this at home, but it was good for me to perfect the technique (it's much easier in a tiny pan). All in all, our day of potatoes was a good review and I picked up some new tips. As Chris said, we just barely scratched the surface of what you can do with potatoes.