Name: Flour Power Masterclass at Pizzicotto
Where: 267, Kensington High Street, W8 6NA, www.pizzicotto.co.uk
Cost: Flour Power Masterclass costs £50 per person, and will run from 28th June 2016 from 18:30 for 1½ hours.
About: The Flour Power Masterclass at Pizzocotto is a fun introduction to the more unusual types of flour including activated charcoal, chestnut and buckwheat flour, used to prepare a range of dishes and pizze, which participants will cook and eat at the end of the class. This feature describes a Flour Power Masterclass I attended recently and the dishes we prepared.
Pizzicotto is the second restaurant by the Chiavarini family who have run the popular Il Portico only a few doors away for 50 years on Kensington High Street. Like its sister restaurant, Pizzicotto is a relaxed neighbourhood restaurant drawing on the family heritage of Emilia Romagna and a small network of regional Slow Food and artisanal producers who supply the restaurant exclusively.
For the first half of our class we were introduced to the basics of pizza making by Pizzicotto's head pizzaiolo, Andrea. We learned that the wood-burning oven’s domed shape helped to evenly distribute the heat (425C), while the mixture of beech and larger burning logs adds a touch of moisture into the oven preventing the pizza from becoming too dry.
We were shown how to stretch the soft dough (made with a mix of semolina, rice and corn flours) into pizze, topping them with tomato and mozzarella for a Margherita pizza. The white dough had been proved for a staggering 72 hours (it is usually 24 hours in a good pizza restaurant). The result was an extremely light base, with a blistered crust and an airy texture when cut.
Using the same white dough, we later also savoured the Spacca Napoli Pizza, topped with anchovies, mozzarella, olives and capers, which was deliciously salty and with a hint of chilli and garlic.
A variation on a theme was the introduction of creamed asparagus to the plain white dough, to create a green, slightly softer textured pizza base. Topped with tomatoes, rocket and mozzarella, this was my favourite pizza dough, the delicate but distinctive flavour of asparagus adding a delicious touch to the faintly green crust.
Our last dough used activated charcoal flour, a striking black powder which had been added to the blended white dough and left to prove for 48 hours. Pizzicotto is championing the use of vegetable charcoal, an extremely porous ingredient which has the ability to draw toxins from the body in a process named adsorption. Being insoluble, activated charcoal is then eliminated from the body, flushing those toxins away. Activated charcoal is supposed to aid digestion, lower cholesterol, improve skin and has even been claimed to be a cure for hangover, though that has not as yet been scientifically proven. Its main medicinal use is to prevent the absorption of medicines taken in accidental overdoses, from the stomach and intestines into the blood stream.
Our charcoal pizzas were topped with mozzarella, spicy sausage, rocket and tomatoes. Despite their dark coloured bases, the addition of charcoal was not noticeable in taste. Having been proved for 48 hours, the dough had a finer texture but was extremely light, definitely worth trying for its potential health benefits without any compromise on taste.
The second half of our Flour Masterclass was taught by Pizzicotto's head chef, Marianna Giglio, and focused on pasta. Starting off with 00 flour, an Italian stone ground flour where the bran and germ are extracted after milling to produce a finer, whiter flour, which is also richer in nutrients than its English counterpart.
The dough was rolled into a thin sheet and cut into irregular shaped ribbons (known in Italian as maltagliati). The handmade pasta was later served with a delicious beef ragu, a simple but wonderful dish due to the sheer high quality of ingredients and the freshness of the handmade pasta. This was my favourite dish of the evening.
We moved on to use chestnut flour, an expensive autumnal speciality from Piedmont. We kneaded the chestnut flour with a touch of 00 flour, Parmesan and ricotta to make gnocchi.
The gnocchi were served with butternut squash, mushrooms, Parmesan and a reduced red wine jus. This was a hearty autumnal dish, and while I enjoyed the delicate flavour of the chestnut flour gnocci, I felt they were rather overwhelmed by the squash and mushrooms, and would be better appreciated on their own with a little butter and Parmesan.
The practical side of the masterclass ended with the use of gluten-free buckwheat flour to produce a dough that was again rolled into a thin sheet and cut into triangles. The pasta had a distinctive texture and was served with a delectable mixture of spring vegetables. This was a good option on the menu for gluten-free diners.
After the masterclass, we finally sat down to enjoy our creations. Our evening came to an end with a dessert pizza with a Nutella-stuffed crust, topped with custard cream, more Nutella, thin ribbons of green apple, grapes and raspberries.
Likes: I enjoyed learning how to cook with new flours at Pizzicotto, particularly the striking activated charcoal flour, the mixture of flours used in their white dough, and the 72 hour proofing.
Dislikes: While I thoroughly enjoyed the class, I wish the black charcoal flour pizza as well as the other dishes we learned were available on the restaurant menu. Unfortunately these are only available for participants in the flour masterclass.
Verdict: This is a great opportunity to learn about different Italian flours, and to increase the repertoire of ingredients in your Italian cooking. Recommended.