Cookery classes are among my favourite things to do in London, and whenever I can, on holiday too. This is for three main reasons - in addition to having a great meal, I also get to learn new cooking ideas and recipes, and meet some interesting people.
I regularly meet these friends for dinner or other social occasions like Emma, who accompanied me to “Passionate about Seafood” at the Billingsgate Seafood School or Regis, a fellow Brazilian, member of the London Cooking Club and like me a lover of Persian Cuisine.
Regis and I attended classes at Eat Drink Talk - another great cookery school run by the delightful Jennifer Klinec in Clerkenwell. Also interesting is Atsuko’s Kitchen, based at The Grocery on Kingsland Road, where I learnt some very authentic Japanese winter dishes. Atsuko’s cooking is influenced by Shojin Ryori, a style of Japanese vegetarian cuisine eaten by Shinto monks.
In Hoi An, Vietnam, I recently took a couple of classes at Red Bridge Cooking School, and last year, I was thrilled to spend a whole week at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School in Thailand. They were excellent experiences, very good value and an interesting angle to learn more about the culture and eating habits of these countries.
So when I was recently invited with a group of other food bloggers for a complementary class at Cucina Caldesi on well-heeled Marylebone Lane, I was thrilled. I had wanted to attend one of their classes but for one reason or another was never able to book into one.
Hosted by the owners and co-founders Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi, we were warmly welcomed with a glass of chilled Prosecco and canapés made of endive leaves topped with dolcelatte cheese, honey and pine nuts which started the evening on a good note.
Katie and Giancarlo were entertaining hosts, charming and very interesting to watch. Their interaction was funny and engaging, teasing one another (and sometimes us) throughout the class, which made for a very enjoyable evening.
We were shown how to prepare an authentic 3 course Italian meal, and were encouraged to participate in the cooking of these dishes. We were all given a corn-fed poussin to debone that we were to use for our main course – this was a daunting task but I was surprised to find how well my bird turned out, all down to Giancarlo’s uncomplicated teaching.
For “primo”, Katie showed us how to prepare “Gnocchi nudi con burro, salvia e pinoli” (Spinach gnocchi with butter, sage and pine nuts).
I had made “gnocchi di ricotta” a few times before from one of my favourite Italian cookery books “Italian Food” by Elizabeth David, and was looking forward to trying Katie Caldesi’s take on this classic recipe. Unlike Elizabeth David, Katie adds green spinach to the gnocchi, also shaping them into “quenelles”, which helps maintain their form when cooking.
This was an interesting tip as more than one of my previous attempts resulted in some of the “gnocchi” disintegrating in the boiling water. I find that the dry texture of the ricotta used for these recipes is also important when making this dish.
I loved the flavour of Katie’s gnocchi nudi, they were bright green, fresh and the flavours combined beautifully into one perfect dumpling. I could not imagine eating these beauties with anything else but sage quickly fried in plenty of butter, with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. This was a fantastically simple and delicious dish.
For “secondo”, we had “Polletto al mattone” (Poussin under a brick). Once the birds were deboned, we stuffed them with rosemary, garlic and chillies and left them marinating for an hour or so before roasting. In my opinion, few things smell or taste better than good quality chicken being roasted, and Giancarlo’s “Polleto al mattone” was no exception. The meat was perfectly cooked, succulent, full of flavour and aromatic. It felt great cutting through a perfectly shaped but boneless chicken.
To accompany the poussins, we had a lovely combination of potatoes, onions and pancetta which had been diced and roasted.
As “dolce”, Giancarlo and Katie showed us how to prepare “Cioccolata in tazza” (Hot chocolate mousse in a cup). Served warm in a small tea cup, it had a rich chocolate flavour without being cloyingly sweet. The addition of brandy to the recipe was also an excellent idea, giving an elegant finish to the dessert.
Katie Caldesi has recently published The Italian Cookery Course book, a collection of over 400 recipes from various regions in Italy with some stunning photography which took her 3 years to complete. The book is beautifully laid out with some entertaining stories of her many trips around the country and the delightful people she met.
Verdict - Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi were excellent hosts, and most entertaining cooking instructors. I had a most enjoyable evening, and learnt a great deal I am sure I will be able to apply in future. On the basis of my experience I would wholeheartedly recommend Cucina Caldesi. For information on their courses, click here.