Cooking class provides tips for elegant meals

Teaching: A former restaurateur teaches students how to make simple gourmet meals quickly -- and she does it with style.

October 17, 2002|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,SUN STAFF

Anacleta Liebling knows that the way to students' minds is through their stomachs.

She starts her Italian cooking classes by handing out samples of a completed dish, such as a thick risotto made with three types of cheese, prosciuto and green peas.

"Put something in your stomach, and then we talk," she told her class last week at the Restaurant Association of Maryland building in Columbia. It was the first noncredit class of a two-part series she is teaching this fall for Howard Community College. The second class was yesterday.

Once Liebling has the students' attention, she tries to demonstrate as many dishes as possible. She showed her 23 students a simple butter-and-lemon-based Francese sauce and a basic tomato marinara sauce, both of which can be used to make several kinds of chicken and fish dishes.

She also cooked an elegant shrimp al cognac and a filling chicken rolatina red, with prosciuto wrapped around chicken and cheese.

Along the way, she shared plenty of tricks learned over a lifetime in the kitchen.

"Use fresh parsley only or don't use it at all," Liebling said. Also, chop garlic ahead of time and store it in olive oil; keep frozen tablespoons of marinara sauce in an ice cube tray in your freezer for spur-of-the-moment use; and get familiar with concentrated chicken base because it is used in many recipes.

"If only for the chicken base, [the class is] worth it," Liebling said.

By the end of a three-hour session, which included frequent samples, the students were mentally and physically full.

"Everything she has prepared has been simple and delicious," said Dottie Zoccola of Woodstock, who attended the class with her daughter, Gilda Day of Westminster. At the same time, Zoccola said, "It's a lot in one night."

Liebling, 64, learned to cook and sew growing up in Rome. When her family left war-ravaged Italy for New York in 1955, she got a job sewing in a design shop of Saks Fifth Avenue. She worked in New York's fashion industry for a number of years before she left her job and had a daughter in 1967.

Her inspiration

While living on Long Island and taking care of her family, Liebling knew a number of Italians who had restaurants. Inspired by them, she and friend Peppino Mazzella opened their restaurant in 1978.

At Peppino's Italian Restaurant in Somerdale, N.J., Liebling was in front with the customers most of the time while Mazzella was the chef. But, Liebling said, she had to learn how to cook everything and often helped with food preparation.

"We never had to advertise because the food was so good," Liebling said.

Her customers suggested that she start a cooking school, Liebling said, and she thought it was a great idea. She started teaching cooking at Camden Community College and in New Jersey high schools.

"What I teach is such good food," she said. "I knew what the people wanted."

From the beginning, Liebling has concentrated on fast, simple recipes, fresh ingredients and healthy food. She says these elements are more popular today as people try to fit gourmet meals into their busy schedules.

Continued to teach

Liebling left the restaurant in 1985 to spend more time with her daughter, who was a teen-ager at the time. She continued to teach cooking and also studied psychology at Long Island University "for myself," she said.

HCC administrator Marge Cangiano said Liebling's personality made a great impression at the first class.

"I don't use this term very often: `delightful,'" said Cangiano, the college's coordinator for lifelong learning. "She embodies ... warmth, enthusiasm and love of life. It carries over into her teaching."

Liebling credits her teaching success to the tried-and-true recipes she shares. In yesterday's HCC class, she offered instruction in pasta dishes and let students do more of the hands-on work.

More classes

She will offer classes for both HCC's noncredit division and for Recreation and Parks in their winter sessions. And Liebling hopes to start her own classes in the winter.

The recipes are "so delicious and so simple," she said, "it's a waste if I don't teach them."

The HCC cooking series costs $65 for individuals and $99 for couples. On Oct. 10, Liebling started teaching a five-week course through Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, costing $94 with materials. Information: HCC's noncredit division at 410-772-4823 or the county Department of Recreation and Parks at 410-313- 7275. Or write to Anacleta Liebling at P.O. Box 41, Highland 20777.

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