Congratulations are in order for Luciana McKeown, owner of Saucy’s Catering & Cooking in Cottonwood Shores. On Friday, the 18th, she will be celebrating her sixth anniversary in the business, and she will also begin regular dinner service from 5 to 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. At the beginning of the year she initiated new lunch hours. She’s now open from Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Saturdays from 11 to 3.
McKeown has long impressed me with her seemingly boundless energy. Last fall while she was preparing to move from Marble Falls to open a restaurant at her new and much bigger location in Cottonwood Shores, she continued to take care of a full schedule of catering assignments. Even now while she’s preparing to expand her hours, she has begun teaching cooking classes again.
This last month she has been conducting a weekly schedule of hour-long classes on the basic sauces every cook should be familiar with. Participants in the classes get hands-on training in the kitchen and learn new or refined techniques they can use at home.
Last week, McKeown hosted a cooking demonstration in the restaurant for about 25 people, an event I attended with a small group of friends. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when we arrived and I looked around the room, I realized I knew almost everyone there. It was quickly apparent that none of these people were novice cooks. In fact, many of them I know from experience are excellent cooks who could teach a cooking class or two themselves, but I dare say we all learned something that evening. Best of all, it was a party—lots of fun and camaraderie—and, of course, very good food!
The new restaurant was designed with cooking demonstrations in the plans, so McKeown had a convenient platform from which to deliver her instructions. While she demonstrated the techniques, her staff was busy in the kitchen preparing the dishes to be served to us.
First off was the appetizer course, a simple but elegant presentation of what you might call a caprese sandwich—layers of toasted bread, mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and fresh basil ultimately anointed with a drizzle of olive oil and baked until the stack is warm and melty. Personally, I find that combination of flavors irresistible, so I knew we were off to a great start. Delizioso!
Next up was a spinach and gnocchi soup. You don’t have to make the gnocchi—a sort of potato dumpling—from scratch, we were assured, but it does help your culinary image if you can figure out how to pronounce it correctly.
The main course was shrimp paesano, jumbo shrimp in a lemon and butter sauce enriched with egg yolk and cream, served with angel hair pasta with delicate tips of asparagus artfully fanned on top. Dessert was an elegant poached pear in a vanilla sauce made with real vanilla beans and fortified with wine. It was beautiful food, beautifully presented.
Along the way, we gathered some great cooking tips along with the recipes themselves. One technique I found particularly interesting was a method of cooking pasta that was new to me. McKeown recommends putting the pasta in boiling, salted water—so far that’s pretty standard—then, after bringing the water back to a boil, turning off the heat altogether. Allow the pasta to cook in the hot water for the time recommended on the package, just a few minutes for angel hair pasta, for instance, or longer for something like a lasagna noodle. Test for the desired degree of doneness and allow to sit for another minute or two if necessary. This method prevents spillovers (nothing worse than having to clean boiled-over starchy pasta water off the top of your stove!) and it frees a burner. Once you have drained the pasta, you can store it for up to three days before using it. Coat it with a little plain vegetable oil to keep it from sticking and then simply reheat it briefly in boiling water.
Here’s the recipe for the appetizers we enjoyed. Each stack is a fairly large portion, but I confess I had no trouble eating two of them.
Serves 8 (2 skewers each)
12 slices white country or French bread, about 1/2 inch thick
3 tablespoons melted butter or light olive oil
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4" rounds
3 plum tomatoes, cut into 1/4" rounds
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons light olive oil, for drizzle
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, to garnish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Trim crusts from the bread and cut into four equal squares. Arrange on a baking sheet and brush one side with the butter. Bake for 3-5 minutes, or until bread is a pale golden color.
Remove bread from the oven and start making stacks, starting with bread, then a slice of mozzarella, 1 basil leaf and then a tomato slice. Repeat once more, ending with a slice of bread. Push a skewer through each stack. Drizzle with olive oil then sprinkle with salt. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese begins to melt.
Arrange 2 skewers on each serving plate and garnish with chopped fresh basil and parsley.
You can find out more about Saucy’s schedule of classes, restaurant hours, catering and other information on the website: saucyscatering.com. Location: 4005 Highway 2147, Cottonwood Shores. Telephone: (830) 693-4838.