More food posts! Hurrah!
All I seem to be doing recently is working, eating and sleeping (and not so much of the sleeping, if I’m honest), so I’m sorry if the blog is kinda full of food posts in the next few weeks…
I’m sure you won’t mind too much. I know what you’re all like about the food. Wink wink.
This post was actually meant to go up on Friday, but then my computer broke. Yay for tech problems! Yay for Windows 10 updates! Yay for Microsoft Customer Service who have no idea what they’re talking about!
(That’s sarcasm. In case you haven’t realised yet, I hate Windows 10 with the fiery burning passion of someone who can’t access their work computer anymore.)
A couple of weeks ago, the lovely team at Virgin Experience Days invited me along to try out one of the cookery courses offered on their website.
Well you know what I’m like about cooking classes… I had to say yes!
I had a quick flick through the options and immediately spotted a class offered by La Cucina Caldesi, that also included a trip to the local Farmer’s Market.
So one crisp Sunday morning, I woke up early, bundled up, and trundled on down to the Caldesi restaurant and cookery school in Marylebone.
And, after a quick coffee, a nibble of home-made cake, and an introduction from chef Stefano Borella, we headed off to explore the market…
And what a market!
Open on Sundays until 2pm, it’s got everything from fruit and veg, to fish, meat, cakes, cheese, beautiful flowers and everything else you could possibly wish for.
Stefano pointed out some of the stalls, but mostly we were left to ourselves, which I thought was a bit of a shame, as I would have loved to get more of an on-hands experience of how to pick out the best produce.
We wandered around, chomping on slices of tart apple, sampling hunks of creamy goat’s cheese, sniffing all the beautiful flowers and (in my case) taking ALL THE PHOTOS.
(My lovely friend Jaye actually wrote a post last week about Marylebone’s market, if you want to see more market photos!)
Back at base, we got down to the serious business of cooking up an Italian feast!
I think what I loved most about the whole thing was how easily everything came together. Even the items I initially thought were going to be fiddly turned out to be much simpler than they looked.
Everything was very chilled out, very relaxed and nothing was measured or overly-structured. It was just a question of throwing things together to make something delicious, and I LOVED that. It’s my favourite way of cooking!
The menu itself is varied for every class, using local and seasonal ingredients and keeping it all very fresh and authentic.
So here’s what we cooked up!
FIORI DI ZUCCA RIPIENI
(Stuffed courgette flowers)
We ripped out the stamens on a bowlful of courgette flowers, and stuffed the insides with a mixture of ricotta, smoked provolone cheese and plenty of seasoning. These were later deep-fried in a light batter and sprinkled with sea salt.
Super easy, super cheesy and so incredibly yum!
I could’ve eaten about 8 of them.
Who knew it was so freaking easy to make yummy breadsticks?!
Forget the dry and horrid ones you get in packets, these are on a whoooole other level.
Yeast and milk in one bowl. Parmesan, butter and strong flour in another bowl. Mix both together.
Roll out into super long and thin breadstick-shapes. Pop them all on a greased tray, and bake for about 25 minutes.
SUPPLI’ AL TELEFONO
(Rice fritters stuffed with mozzarella)
I LOVED these!
We made a risotto with arborio rice and chicken stock, and cooked up a basic tomato sauce. We added the tomato to the rice, spread it all out flat on a tray and stuck it in the freezer to cool quickly for 15 minutes.
Using our hands, we clumped a small handful of the rice, stuck a cube of mozzarella in the middle, and covered it up with more rice, shaping it into a small oblong/rugby ball.
Then we dipped them in flour, egg and breadcrumbs (in that order), before deep-frying.
So good. Crispy, tomato-y, cheesy and delicious.
Comfort food the likes of which has never been seen before.
POLLO RIPIENO ARROSTO ALLA GIANCARLO
We used a specific type of very small chickens for this, but it should work for normal-sized ones too!
First you’ll need to de-bone your chicken.
I’m going to be super useless here and say you’ll have to go YouTube it, cos I wasn’t really listening, cos raw chicken kinda grosses me out a little bit.
The stuffing was a mixture of minced veal, breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan, eggs, and super-finely chopped onion, carrot and celery.
The chicken de-boners (ie: not me!) spread a good amount of the stuffing in the middle of their meat, and then put the chicken back together again, tying it with string so the filling didn’t escape.
Then we roasted them in the oven alongside chunks of carrot and red onion.
To serve, we sliced each chicken in half, and served it all up with the roasted veg, some super creamy and delicious mashed potato, and a massive handful of crispy baked cavolo nero (a green leafy veg, looks a bit like kale).
STRUDEL DI MELE DI STEFANO
(Stefano’s apple strudel)
We made the dough first, right at the very beginning of the class, and let it rest for a couple of hours, while we got everything else done.
Once it came to rolling it, Stefano rolled it out very thinly and then showed us how to stretch it by hand. It has to be so wafer-thin that you can read a newspaper through it, but not too thin that it breaks.
Luckily it’s very stretchy, and it’s easy enough to do, especially if there are enough hands to help!
Slice the dough into large even rectangle, and carefully lay each slice on a clean, dry tea towel. Brush all over with melted butter and then spread your filling generously along one of the short sides, leaving a 10cm gap on the edge.
The filling is just chopped and peeled apples, mixed with sultanas, sugar, ground almonds, cinnamon, ginger and lemon zest.
Once you’ve got your filling on, carefully and gently use the tea towel to help you roll the wafer-thin pastry over and over, coating the pastry with melted butter as you go. This helps add the layers in the strudel.
When it is completely rolled, seal the edges and brush it all over with (more) melted butter.
Place your roll on a tray and leave to chill in the fridge for about half an hour, before baking in the oven for 30 minutes.
Serve hot and sprinkled with icing sugar, with a side of ice cream!
As you can imagine, I went home feeling as stuffed as the chickens!
Overall, I had a fab time. I didn’t learn as many skills as I’ve learned on other classes (like that time I learned how to make souffle!), but I did collect a whole set of delicious new recipes that I know I’ll actually be able to recreate at home on my own.
Especially those tomato arancini and mozzarella balls that are all kinds of amazing but came together so easily. It’s making me drool just thinking about them…
I think it’s time for me to go and find a snack. Because hungry.
Thank you La Cucina Caldesi for having me, and thank you Virgin for letting me try out one of your experiences!
They have a whole bunch of cookery classes available on their website and I’m already eyeing up the possibility of asking Gary for one for Christmas.