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Deborah Pittorino’s cooking classes teach students how to use what they have on hand and create as little waste as possible (credit: Felicia LaLomia).

Typically, you would expect a cooking class to begin in the kitchen. But for Deborah Pittorino, the chef at the Greenporter Hotel, she brings her students outside — even in November.

Lucky for us, it was one of those odd warm evenings just before the sun had gone down. Just outside the hotel’s restaurant is a garden that was once lush, but now was decaying due to the frost. On the long and winding tomato vines were green bulbs of tomatoes. “We are going to use these,” Pittorino said. Then she turned to a tall fig tree. “Let’s cut the last of these,” she said.

For me and the other four students participating in the cooking class offered by Pittorino through the Greenporter Hotel and her blog the Seasoned Fork, that meant taking the shears and chopping off all the figs. 

Back in the kitchen, the real cooking began. Pittorino cleaned the figs and covered them in water in a saucepan. She put them on the stove to stew. Then, she moved over to the white board.

“Always write down your menu,” she said. “It’ll help you keep track of what you still have to do. I can’t remember the amount of dinner parties I’ve been to where someone has forgotten a sauce.”

She wrote down what we were making:

Fried green tomatoes with a crema

Blackfish with herbed quinoa and green tomato salsa

Vanilla ice cream with stewed figs.

The way Pittorino cooks and teaches her classes is all about creating the least amount of waste as possible and using what is available. The green tomatoes, which won’t ripen this late in the season, can still be deliciously enjoyed in two ways. The blackfish was dropped off by a fishing friend, so she decided to incorporate it into the meal. And the figs won’t last much longer in the season. 

Pittorino threw the quinoa in a rice cooker with some homemade stock made using vegetable scraps and the bones from a rotisserie chicken. “Nothing goes to waste in this kitchen,” she said. Then, she put the students to work. We all slice the firm tomatoes and dredge them in a cornmeal and spice mixture. From there, they are fried in oil until crispy. 

The blackfish, which has already been scaled and gutted, is stuffed with herbs Pittorino has on hand and seared in a pan. The salsa is made with roasted tomatoes, the same homemade stock, salt and spices and blended together in a food processor. Although the menu seems intimidating, Pittorino has us all prepare it in under an hour. All that’s left to do is plate. Taking out a large silver platter, she began placing the fried green tomatoes and crema dip, along with some chorizo,manchego cheese, green olives and homemade crostini to make an appetizer plate. She decorates with a few edible flowers cut fresh from the garden.

“It’s a pretty elaborate meal for an hour,” she said. “It’s all about being organized and using what’s on hand.”

The fish is also plated in a casual, yet elegant way. The quinoa is spread over a platter and the fish lay atop, decorated by more herbs and bright flowers. 

As we sat down to enjoy the meal, Pittorino remembered something. “Oh! The sauce for the fish!” She ran back into the kitchen to grab the salsa verde. “This is why you write everything down,” she said.

The fish is flaky and moist. The quinoa is simple, yet very flavorful. The appetizer spread is delicious. And the dessert, subtle, sweet and a perfect finisher.

To take a class with Pittorino, head to the Greenporter Hotel’s website to sign up. Most Sundays she holds classes of up to six people, always with a focus around zero waste and using what’s on hand to create a beautiful and delicious three course meal.