This article originally appeared in the December 2020 edition of Senior Scope. Article by Seth Thomas. Photos courtesy Coastal Foodshed.
After spending more than an hour leading me through a pasta dish over Zoom, Rhonda M. Fazio’s assessment was plain: “Seth, you’re so high maintenance.”
Prior to the pandemic, Rhonda would host live food demonstrations at the New Bedford Farmers Market or aside Coastal Foodshed’s Mobile Market. She would piece together ingredients like a jigsaw puzzle using whatever local produce was on sale that day.
With the pandemic still raging, she and Coastal Foodshed plan to bring those cooking demos online, and I was her first and only student during a trial run in mid-November.
Rhonda and I planned to cook the same simple dish – some pasta tossed with sautéed veggies – over Zoom, and she would offer tips and tricks along the way. She was in her art studio in New Bedford, and I had my laptop pointed toward my stove so Rhonda could keep an eye on my skillet.
As I explained early on during the Zoom call, while I have fond memories of cooking with my grandmother as a child, it’s a skill I never regularly used and clearly had lost. While Rhonda made cooking appear effortless, it turns out she has no formal training herself. And she, too, had learned the skill from her family.
“Something you should know about me is that I don’t follow recipes – I make it up as I go,” she said. “That comes from decades of watching people cook, like my mother and my grandmother.”
Her cooking, however, draws influence from her work as an artist. Rhonda is a graduate of art history with a focus on textile design from UMass Dartmouth, and her art, much like her cooking, draws inspiration from agrarian societies. The dyes she uses in her textile work is sourced from nature, and many of the ingredients she uses in her dishes are sourced from local farms.
Rhonda had opened her studio space, Interwoven, right as the pandemic was entering the country, and she’s been unable to invite the public inside. But the online cooking classes with Coastal Foodshed, which the group hopes to make a regular production, will offer a peak inside the studio and provide practical tips for those who want to support the local economy without breaking the bank.
Which brings us back to the task at hand: dinner.
We started by sautéing a small, diced white onion in a skillet with two tablespoons of olive oil. After the onion began to brown slightly, we added about half a butternut squash.
We stirred. We talked. We laughed. We added small splashes of water throughout the process to help the squash cook.
Once the squash became tender, Rhonda added mushrooms and her secret ingredient: a dash of nutmeg. (Though Rhonda had emailed me the previous night with an ingredient list, I somehow forgot to grab mushrooms at the store, nor do I own nutmeg or any spices beyond black pepper.)
“What adds flavor when you don’t have all these ingredients?” Rhonda patiently offered. “One thing you can do is sauté your onion down.”
Cooking the onion until it starts to brown, when the natural sugars inside the onion caramelize, can add a sweetness to the dish, she explained. After the onions start browning, she recommends adding a bit of water to the dish and scraping the bottom of the pan.
Rhonda added about a tablespoon of butter to the sautéed veggies and a splash of white wine. Then we both added noodles, which we had both cooked prior to the class. I used spaghetti. Rhonda tossed in some penne. She recommends saving some of the pasta water to add to the dish as the noodles are incorporated to the pan.
I topped the dish with some grated Parmesan, and, much to my amazement, I had cooked something that was not only edible, it was actually delicious. After we cooked we stayed on the line and ate together, which, in my opinion, was the best part of the class.
Click here to check out Coastal Foodshed online or visit coastalfoodshed.org. Click here to learn more about their Virtual Market, which will be operating all winter. Visit Coastal Foodshed on Facebook for updates, including what’s new with Rhonda M. Fazio. See Rhonda’s textile work at dyermakerstudio.com.
Shop online at Coastal Foodshed’s Virtual Market from Saturday at 8 a.m. to Monday at midnight. Deliveries occur on Wednesday from noon to 5 p.m. Credit/Debit accepted for online purchase only. SNAP/EBT/HIP accepted for pre-order online only; payments upon pickup. Pick-up happens on Wednesdays from 2 to 5 p.m. at Coastal Foodshed’s Food Hub, 38 Blackmer St, New Bedford. The market’s delivery area includes: Acushnet, Dartmouth, Fairhaven, Marion, Mattapoisett, New Bedford, and Rochester.
More info at coastalfoodshed.org. Coastal Foodshed can be reached at 508-259-2647.