FAIR HAVEN: SCHOOLED ON MEATBALLS

102115aurichio3Meatballs and gnocchi in San Marzano tomato sauce with parmesan-ricotta crema made by chef Julie Aurichio, below.  (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

By SUSAN ERICSON

102115 aurichio1It takes courage to stand in front of a class full of gourmet-minded students and declare that your recipe for meatballs will be the best they’ve ever tasted.

Lifelong Fair Haven resident Julie Aurichio did just that. Chef, personal assistant and owner of Just Julie — a luncheonette that occupied the space now rented to Seed to Sprout in the Acme Shopping Center in Fair Haven from 2002 to 2004 — she’s now adding culinary instructor to her résumé.

PieHole caught up with Aurichio and her fiancé, Rob Candiotti, a chef at the Raven and the Peach, while they taught a cooking class at Taste and Technique Cooking Studio on River Road in Fair Haven recently. Read on to learn about “Meatballs and More,” their unique twists on the Italian mainstay.

 102115aurichio2Chef Rob Candiotti co-teaches a cooking class with Julie Aurichio at Taste and Technique. Below: veal meatballs in porcini sauce over mushroom risotto. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

102115aurichio4Taught to cook by her Italian grandmother, Aurichio says that in her twenties, “I would cook meatballs for my boyfriends,” in keeping with the adage that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Later, while working in a corporate catering environment, her employer sent her to the Culinary Institute of America. But she found juggling a career while raising two children to be challenging, and decided that catering and party planning on her own was a better fit for her schedule.

Now 52, Aurichio has been tweaking, perfecting and adding new recipes to her meatball repertoire at what she calls “Meatball Fest,” a weekend cooking activity she shares with family and friends where outside-the-box concepts are encouraged.

“Some are a hit and some are a miss” she tells us. The hits make it into a class at Taste and Technique.

With a flair for humor, Aurichio and Candiotti work together like a seasoned comedy team, finishing each others sentences and cracking jokes.

“We come up with ideas together. We challenge each other to try new ingredients,” Aurichio says. “We tried a chicken meatball with apple and brie this week. It needs some work. The trick is to find the best sauce for the meatball.”

At Taste and Technique, they paired up to make a classic meatball dish from beef, pork and veal, serving them with pre-made potato gnocchi in a bright, full-flavored San Marzano tomato sauce, the preparation of which was also taught in the class.

A creamy white garnish was an unexpected eyeopener. Aurichio makes a sauce from ricotta, parmesan, and heavy cream that she swirls atop the meatballs and gnocchi, adding an elegant touch and brilliantly cutting the acidic flavor of the tomato sauce. She says it’s terrific on baked ziti, too.

In addition to the traditional meatballs, the chefs made veal meatballs in a porcini sauce served over mushroom risotto, and chicken meatballs in a sherry cream sauce served over polenta.

“Don’t use ground turkey,” Aurichio tells the class, “That’s disgusting. It tastes gamey. Ground chicken is what you want to use.”

Candiotti demonstrated the fine points to making a successful risotto, a smooth polenta and how fresh made potato gnocchi can be frozen.

Their most recent meatball recipe, said to be favored by everyone who’s been to a “Meatball Fest,” is the buffalo chicken meatballs.

“It’s a matter of coming up with the unusual meatball and then pairing it with the perfect sauce,” Aurichio says. “You have to experiment. We’re working on a recipe for cheese steak meatballs, and also one with truffle cheese right now.”

Information for class schedules at Taste and Technique can be found on their website or by calling 732-741-2665.

SUSAN-ERICSON