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Lots of laughs at relaxed cookery class in Bray
WITH a personality as big as Giancarlo Caldesi it almost doesn't matter how good the food is on the cookery class which he runs from his Bray restaurant. But rest assured the food is fantastic with the key emphasis on simple Italian dishes which are bursting with flavour. I went along to Caldesi in Campagna in Old Mill Lane, Bray to join a La Cucina Povera class.
I was given a warm welcome from the larger than life chef at his bright restaurant tucked away in the village of Bray.
It was clear straight away the order of the day was to have fun while learning how to cook simple but fresh Italian food.
Giancarlo has run the restaurant with his wife, Katie, for the last five years, and they also run an Italian Cookery School and restaurant in Marylebone Lane, London. The couple are regulars on TV food programmes such as Market Kitchen and Saturday Kitchen.
Giancarlo is passionate about La Cucina Povera which is the traditional way of eating in the Italian peasant community.
It is about to using less refined food, which is local wherever possible, eat seasonal food, less red meat, plenty of fruit, veg and fish and less sugar.
And most importantly to keep it simple and avoid waste- for example how to make three meals from one chicken.
It is an authentic experience as the class started in the busy kitchen amongst the chefs getting ready for lunch.
Giancarlo makes cooking look fun and something which we can all enjoy.
There was five of us taking the class (the maximum is six) and we made a lot.
We started with the tomato, sausage and fennel seed ragù. For this Giancarlo said we must use the best quality sausages which are simply meat and seasoning. We took them out of their skins and crumbled them into small pieces.
We then put plenty of olive oil in a pan. It seems essential in Italian cooking to use lots of olive oil. I can sometimes be a bit stingy with it but it is important to cover the bottom of the pan.
Giancarlo encouraged us to crush the garlic with our hands, which keeps the flavour, which then went into the oil. Next the onions went in and they cook until they smell sweet- you can notice the difference.
The fennel seeds are then added which released a beautiful aroma and bay leaves. The meat then goes in. Giancarlo said there was a lot of water in the pan but rather than pour this away it should be cooked until it evaporates. We then added red wine, which we cooked until we could no longer smell the alcohol.
Next we added tinned tomatoes. Giancarlo says to use plum tomatoes broken up rather than chopped tomatoes as they have better flavour. This is also left to cook for more than an hour, and is then served on top of our potato gnocchi.
The gnocchi is easier than I thought it would be to make. The potato is cooked, peeled while still hot and then riced. This is then mixed with pasta flour and one egg and salt. We rolled it out and cut it into small sections- the trick is to make sure they are the same size.
We also made Babbo's eggs which we ate first which are eggs cooked in tomatoes.
Giancarlo made a chicken stock with vegetables and a whole chicken, which we then ate with a punchy salsa verde. The stock was then made into stracciatella della mamma di Giancarlo- a soup made with eggs and parmesan.
He also made a Tuscan hunter's stew. He showed us how to divide rabbit and pheasant into portions which were then fried and cooked in a tomato, onion and herb sauce. This was served with oven baked potatoes and red onions with pancetta and carrot sformato (an amazing mix of carrot and Béchamel sauce). For dessert we had a simple jam tart, which he said is best made with plum jam.
It was a gorgeous sunny day and we were able to sit in the beautiful courtyard to dine where we felt as if we were in Italy.
Nothing went to waste and the food is simple, yet delicious, and something I would even try making at home.
For details of cookery classes click on the link below or call 01628 788500.
This feature is in our latest edition of Elite. View the magazine online or pick up a copy from our offices in Loudwater.