Cooking class for beginners

This week, Food editor Russ Parsons lets us in on a beginner's cooking class he held for a couple of friends engaged to be married:

"So Sunday night, Meghan and Carter came to the house for a cooking class. But instead of doing the usual thing and walking them through a couple of recipes, I wanted to try something different. I love recipes as much as the next guy, but it does seem to me that they are an imperfect way to learn to cook. Sure, a well-written recipe can teach you how to re-create a specific dish, but that's a different thing from actually knowing how to cook, isn't it?

"What I wanted to try out was more along the lines of teaching the structure of a dish, how it is put together. Rather than the details of a recipe (1/2 teaspoon of this, 1/4 cup of that), I wanted to see if I could teach them to prepare a dish by explaining its general outline, allowing for (even encouraging) the kind of freedom to experiment and personalize we all want to enjoy when we cook."

Russ walks Meghan and Carter through a few classic dishes -- roast chicken, pasta and salad -- exploring the structure of each dish to show how it can be varied and adapted to create a variety of additional potential dishes and meals.

Want recipes? Follow along and take notes as Russ breaks down each dish, and see what flavor combinations inspire you.

New to cooking? Russ explores the basic necessities for outfitting your kitchen, and breaks down what you'll want in a well-stocked pantry.

Finally, Russ wrote a great story a few years ago exploring pasta as a simple solution to the weeknight meal, and included a recipe for pasta with broccoli and Italian sausage. You can find the recipe below.

All set? Than go forth and have fun cooking!


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Pasta with broccoli and Italian sausage

Total time: 25 minutes

Servings: 6

Note: The recipe calls for sausage, but prosciutto will work too. Broccoli is a no-brainer, but try the Chinese kind for a change of pace. Finally, you can go meatless with capers and olives, unless you want anchovies too.

1 head broccoli (about 3/4 pound)

2 links fresh Italian sausage ( 1/4 to 1/2 pound)

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 pound dried short pasta, such as fusilli, penne or ziti; or long dried pasta such as spaghetti

Salt, pepper

1 ounce pecorino Romano cheese

1. Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil. While the water is heating, clean the broccoli: Separate the florets from the stems and set them aside. Remove the tough peel of the stems with a paring knife or vegetable peeler, then cut the stems into half-inch cubes. Remove the casings from the sausage.

2. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat and crumble the sausage meat into the oil, flattening each piece slightly so it will brown better. Cook until the sausage browns and crisps. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic turns pale brown, about 5 minutes. Do not let the garlic scorch; if it begins to brown, remove the pan from the heat.

3. Add the pasta and the diced broccoli stems to the boiling water and cook 6 to 7 minutes. Add the broccoli florets and cook until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes total. Scoop out the pasta and broccoli and drain; keep the water at a boil.

4. Place the skillet over high heat and add the drained broccoli and pasta to the sausage and garlic. Add one-half cup boiling water from the pasta pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the water mostly boils away, about 1½ to 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and a good grinding of black pepper.

5. Divide the pasta evenly among 6 warmed pasta plates and shave pecorino Romano over the top with a vegetable peeler.

Each serving: 406 calories; 15 grams protein; 62 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 11 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 12 mg. cholesterol; 263 mg. sodium.

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