Pasta Pasta Pasta at La Cucina Caldesi Cooking School

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“I am not a glutton – I am an explorer of food”
― Erma Bombeck

Last week I booked myself onto the full day pasta course at La Cucina Caldesi cooking school, which is attached to the Italian restaurant, with the same name, on Marylebone Lane in central London. I was keen to learn from an Italian pro on the various skills and techniques required to make different types of pasta and gnocchi and the sauces that accompany them.

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Cooking courses are always very good fun, not least because you are thrown together with a diverse bunch of kindred fellow foodies who are all eager and receptive to learn. As well as getting to cook a number of dishes together you also get to feast on them over a long lunch with a glass or two of wine.  The ringmaster for the day was the formidable Stefano who tells things straight and does not suffer fools….just don’t mention the ‘pepper lady’ to him, but clearly is a warm hearted Italian from Parma – well via Lewisham, with a good sense of humour.

The workshop included a lengthy list of recipes ranging from green fettuccine with rabbit ragu to potato gnocchi with tomato, sausage and fennel seed ragu, scialatielli – fresh pasta ribbons with herbs and parmesan, cannelloni, ravioli, gluten free pasta, spinach pasta, clams with chilli, garlic, white wine and ribbons pasta and that glorious spaghetti alla Puttanesca, which is a tomato sauce filled with olives, capers, anchovies, garlic and herbs.

From the word go Stefano set a good pace as we had a lot of ground to cover. First we discussed sauces and he showed us how to make a range of good old honest tomato sauces. The class discovered that we all use too little salt and not enough extra virgin olive oil (has to be extra virgin folks there is no going back now) but once we’d ironed out these failings we all stepped up to the plate and were more liberal with both ingredients.

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Making gnocchi was surprisingly very straightforward or perhaps it was the case that Eric, our chosen classmate, made it look easy, to bind the potato, ’00’ flour, egg, salt and pepper. After a large dough ball was created it was separated for the group so that we could all have some dough to work with and create the gnocchi itself. Once the dough is made, it takes a very short time to prepare and then cook them as they only require a couple of minutes in boiling water. Thankfully we had a tasty sausage, tomato and fennel seed ragu ready to incorporate with the gnocchi so that we could sit down and enjoy our hard labour.

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Something that I for one am guilty of is that quite often I serve a pasta dish at home and then I place the sauce on top. This one act alone gives the game away that I am not a genuine Italian mamma, although the fact that I don’t look the slightest bit Italian I guess doesn’t help! Italian pasta dishes are mixed together with the sauce before they hit the plate, so that when the dish comes to the table the pasta and the sauce are already the best of friends.

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We all got very stuck into making the pasta ribbons. Stefano taught us a nifty little trick to prepare them, which I have been practicing at home ever since. In a nutshell: roll out some pasta and then feeder through all the settings on your pasta machine. Make sure you scatter a good helping of flour underneath as well as on top of the pasta and cut into 40cm pieces. Leave to dry out for a couple of minutes before placing your pasta rectangle horizontally in front of you and folding in each end, making sure to do two, three or four folds each end before they almost reach each other in the centre. Then cut through the pasta vertically leaving a finger size between the next cut. Then slip the knife under the middle of the pasta running horizontally and then lift and voila your pasta should look like the one above and below. It was a very satisfying action to achieve.

The ravioli was also very enjoyable to make. So much so I made more when I got home for my dinner guest and then the following day to feed the girls. The ones I made at home I filled with ricotta, parmesan, chives and pink peppercorns. You can get so creative with the fillings that I am looking forward to experimenting over the coming months.

After almost 6 hours on our feet – bar some time to sit down and enjoy the food – exhausted and very full indeed we all bid our farewells and dispersed into the metropolis clutching our goodie bags of leftover fresh pasta for us to use at home. The day flew by ever so quickly and I feel I took away some new skills. If you are thinking of going on a course at La Cucina Caldesi one recommendation would be eat a very light breakfast….you have been warned!

 

Potato gnocchi with a sausage, tomato and fennel seed ragu

A recipe I learned during the course at La Cucina Caldesi

Gnocchi

1kg floury potatoes (King Edward, Maris Piper or Desiree)

1 heaped tsp salt

sprinkling of black pepper

300g ’00’ flour

1 egg

Ragu

6 Italian pork sausages (if you live in the UK you can order on line from here or here)

6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed

1 onion (red or white), finely chopped

1 tbsp fennel seeds

2 bay leaves

125ml red wine

3 tbsp tomato puree

400g tin of whole Italian plum tomatoes

To make the ragu:

1. Remove the sausages from their casings and chop up the meat using your hands.

2.Heat up the olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and the garlic. After 2 minutes add the onion and seasoning and allow the onion to become translucent – this will take 5 minutes on a low/medium heat.

3. Throw in the fennel seeds and bay leaf and stir into the onions and garlic.

4. Add the sausage meat and fry for around 7 minutes or until cooked through. You will need to stir the meat regularly to stop it sticking.

5. Add the red wine and allow to reduce for a couple of minutes. Then add the tomato puree and tinned tomatoes and stir well.

6. Leave the ragu to gently simmer for 10-15 minutes allowing the flavour to work together.

To make the gnocchi:

1. Boil the potatoes in their skins in salted water until tender, which can take up to an hour.

2. Peel the potatoes whilst hot using a fork and sharp knife and then pass the potatoes through a food mill (see photo of the potato and gnocchi shots).

3. On a clean flat surface empty out the ground potatoes and add the flour, egg and seasoning and knead together into a dough.

4. On a lightly floured work surface roll the dough into a 2cm thick sausage shape and then cut into 2cm long pieces. Place in a tray which has been lightly scattered with semolina or flour.

5. As gnocchi freezes very well it is advisable to make double portions and freeze half. When you want to use again, cook from frozen and allow an extra minute or two cooking time.

6. Place the fresh gnocchi in a pan of boiled salted water. When they rise to the surface strain and place in a large bowl/plate ready for the sauce.

Place the cooked gnocchi in a large bowl and pour in the sauce and mix together gently with a spoon. Ladle into bowls/plates or into a large serving platter.

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Indian Style Tomato Chutney

I adore condiments with my food no matter what the origin of the food. Chutneys, mustards, jellies, pickles, dressings – you name it, I love to have the option of having them on my plate supporting the meats and/or vegetables and giving the dish that extra added dimension. So you can just imagine how in heaven I was when Mr B’s grandmother, known as Dida, cooked this simple tomato chutney for us when we visited her in Kolkata a while ago. We were all given a little bowl of the chutney to eat alongside our dal and vegetable dishes and it tasted sublime. The combination of hot and spicy with sweet undertones  made the chutney completely addictive.

Tomatoes are to me what I imagine chocolate is to many people. I could give up eating chocolate tomorrow, but tomatoes……well that would be seriously hard. In fact for Easter my parents gave me a tomato plant instead of a chocolate egg, knowing that I would get more enjoyment out of that than a chocolate egg.  I eat tomatoes pretty much everyday and without doubt they are my absolute favourite fruit as they are just so versatile and can completely transform dishes. If you have any tomato recipes that you think I would like please send me an email to chilliandmint@gmail.com as I would love to try them.

With this recipe you can keep it simple and just use tomatoes, but I like to add a little dried fruit so as to blend the flavours. You can add a couple of dried prunes, dates, apricots or mango. Experiment and see which you like to compliment with the tomato.

Dida cooks her chutney without the tomato skins on, however, for speed and because I don’t mind them, I have left the tomato skins on. If you prefer a smoother texture then simply boil the tomatoes in a pan of boiling water for five minutes and then strain them and you will find the tomato skins easily come away from the body of the tomato.

Indian Style Tomato Chutney

Makes 1 bowl, 4-6 servings

300g tomatoes, chopped in half if using cherry and quartered if using larger size

1 inch of ginger, grated or chopped finely

2 dried red chillies

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tbsp olive/mustard/nut oil

1/4 (quarter) tsp salt

4 tsp sugar (to taste)

3 slices of Aam Shatwa (dried mango), or dried apricots, dried prunes, dried dates – optional

1. Warm the oil in a pan and when it is hot place the two dried red chillies into the oil. You want to fry them until they turn black, which will take a few minutes. For those of you who have seen or made my homemade mango chutney you will remember that frying the dried chillies will make you cough. My mother-in-law assures me that it helps those with nasal congestion, so if you have any issues in this area get involved at this part of the recipe as it is sure to help your ailment!

2. When the dried red chillies have blackened add the remaining ingredients and stir. The tomatoes will release juice as they warm in the pan. Squash the tomatoes with the back of a fork so that they become limp. Taste the chutney and add extra sugar if required.

3. Leave to simmer for 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes have completely softened and then transfer into a bowl to cool. Serve at room temperature.

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My mother’s legendary ‘Smokey Barbeque Sauce’ and ‘Tarragon and Lemon Chicken’

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No barbeque is complete without my mother’s legendary smokey barbeque sauce. It’s straightforward to make and always guaranteed to please. There are certain things that you eat as a child that remain in your memory forever and this sauce is definitely one of those happy memory tastes. We were blessed with stunning weather this past weekend – for the Wimbledon finals – so having a barbeque was definitely in order. A glass of Pimms, that ubiquitous English summer tipple, a game of croquet (which is seriously addictive) all in all made for a perfect summer’s day.

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Smokey Barbecue Sauce

Makes approximately 1/2 pint/300ml

25g /1oz butter

1 onion, peeled and finely chopped (although my mother uses leeks as my father has an onion intolerance, which works equally well)

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

150ml/1/4 pint of water or vegetable stock

1 tbsp English mustard

2 tbsp demerara sugar

1 slice of lemon

1 bay leaf

Pinch of cayenne pepper

2 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce

5 tbsp of tomato ketchup

3 tbsp tomato puree

salt

fresh ground pepper

1. Melt the butter in a saucepan and fry the onion (or leek for those with an onion intollerance) and garlic until soft and translucent.

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2. Now add the vinegar, water or stock, mustard, sugar, lemon slice, bay leaf and cayenne. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Stir in the remaining ingredients with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for a futher 10 minutes. I tend to leave the bay leaf in when I serve the sauce as I like the rustic, homemade quality to it.

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As an alternative to simply just barbequing chicken, which is delicious in its own right, my mother’s ‘Tarragon and Lemon Chicken’ is a good alternative. It’s best to marinade the chicken for as long as possible, ideally overnight and to pierce the skin of the chicken so that the flavours can really be absorbed by the chicken. Serve with a crisp green salad and piping hot new potatoes with a dollop of butter and some chopped up fresh parsley and my mother’s legendary smokey barbeque sauce.

Tarragon and Lemon Chicken  serves 4

3.5lb whole chicken cut into pieces

5 fl oz olive oil

6 tbsp lemon juice

1 onion (or leek), finely chopped

1 large handful of fresh tarragon

1 large handful of fresh parsley (flat leaf or curly), finely chopped

few drops of tabasco

salt and pepper

lemon wedges and fresh tarragon sprigs to garnish

1.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and then make a few knife incisions into the chicken pieces. This is to enable the marinade to really penetrate the chicken so that it is more flavoursome when it is cooked. In a separate bowl mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, onion (or leek), the handful of tarragon and parsley and tabasco. Then add the chicken pieces and with your hands really work the marinade into the chicken pushing some of the onion and herbs into the small incisions that you have made.   Leave the chicken to marinate in the fridge overnight.
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2.  Take the marinated chicken out of the fridge for over an hour before cooking time and leave to stand at room temperature.
3.  When the barbeque is ready brush the grid with olive oil.  Drain the chicken pieces, reserving the marinade, and place chicken on the grid starting with the bony side down. Brush the chicken pieces with the marinade at intervals during cooking, remembering to turn the chicken so that it is cooked sufficiently.
4.  Barbequing the chicken takes 30 minutes. You know that the chicken is cooked when the juices run clear when pierced with a knife through the thickest part of the meat.
5.  Garnish with tarragon sprigs and serve with lemon wedges.
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