I have spent some of my most enjoyable cookery moments at La Cucina Caldesi. Two years ago I was given a voucher to their “Three Course Italian” all day cookery course, led by Giancarlo Caldesi himself. An inspiration in the kitchen, he shared great technique and knowledge with us, deeply rooted in his Italian upbringing. Together, we gently stuffed and fried delicate courgette flowers and podded fresh peas, transforming them into a creamy topping for our crisp, garlic scented bruschetta. We massaged swathes of smooth, riced potatoes into flour creating dainty gnocchi dumplings to carry our rich pork and fennel ragu. Next we folded deepest, darkest melted chocolate into fluffy, cloud like, egg whites to form luxuriant fondants. Naturally, we followed this with a second dessert in the form of a velvety vanilla panna cotta, elevated with notes of basil and topped with a succulent strawberry and balsamic compote. Finally, and unsurprisingly, the fruits of our labour were devoured rapidly at the large, familial dining table over a glass of wine amongst the friends we had made throughout the day.
I imagine that even the most insipid reader among you should be able to recognise the pleasure and enjoyment I took from this experience. It would be superfluous to instil in you my delight at receiving another voucher for a Caldesi Cookery course on Christmas Day 2013. With great excitement and anticipation I ventured out to my” Italian Trattoria” class on Saturday 4th January.
I was lucky enough to be in the midst of some great personalities from all corners of the globe. A friendly family from Australia, their convivial cousins from New Zealand, a boyfriend from Scotland, arm in arm with his fabulously gregarious Canadian girlfriend and a lovely young woman from North Carolina, to name a few.
Words, and perhaps my iphone photographs, cannot aesthetically do justice to the food we produced under the guidance of Stefano Borella (STE-fano he will have you pronounce, not Stef-ANO). Nevertheless, I will happily, and somewhat smugly, share a glimpse into our evening.
Our menu read as follows;
Ravioli di zucca con burro e salvia
Pumpkin ravioli with butter and sage sauce
Salsicce con zuppa di lentichhie e castagne
Italian sausages with lentils and chestnut soup
Cavolo nero con pepperoncino e aglio
Sauteed cavolo nero with chilli and garlic
Budino di panettone con scrioppo di arancia e crema di Amaretto
Panettone pudding with orange syrup and Amaretto cream
I implore you to try the lentil and chestnut soup if nothing else (in fact you must also try the panettone pudding but we’ll come to that). This dense, almost stew like soup will envelope you in a warm, comforting cocoon of savouriness. I took home a very generous portion for my lunch the next day and can say, with heartfelt honesty (from an inherent meat lover), that the lack of meat (all the sausages were finished that night – obviously) made me love it all the more for its herbivore, hubristic and bold attitude.
Our little nuggets of golden ravioli were sweetened by crushed amaretti biscuits, balanced by the inherently savoury sage and butter sauce.
Nothing goes to waste in an Italian kitchen. Offcuts of our delicately thin ravioli pasta were transformed into slightly thicker, meatier, tangles of tagliatelle.
Crushed amaretti, cinnamon and freshly grated parmigianno regiano were folded into our smooth pumpkin puree.
No January diets here! A generous amount of hot, foaming butter was used to sautee sage leaves and slick our little morsels of pumpkin ravioli.
The finished dish; ravioli di zucca con burro e salvia
Our plump Italian sausages were first fried for a gloriously golden and crisp crust, then finished off in the oven, with a ladleful of stock, producing a juicy and morish filling.
My new favouite winter warmer; salsicce con zuppa di lentichhie e castagne
Plenty of finely sliced garlic and chilli, sauted until aromatic and used to fry our cavolo nero.
Last, but by absolutely no means least, our indulgently perfect panettone pudding. Served with Amaretto marscapone and a bitter-sweet orange syrup; Budino di panettone con scrioppo di arancia e crema di Amaretto.
Thankfully, the students leave with, not only a satiated appetite, but a list of all recipes and tips imparted upon us during the course.
All recipes are gratefully received from La Cucina Caldesi and are not my own. http://www.caldesi.com/caldesishop/index.php?page=courses&action=category&id=3
Pumpkin ravioli with butter and sage sauce
1 quantity of fresh pasta
1 quantity of butter and sage sauce
For the stuffing;
- 1 butternut Squash or Pumpkin (c.650g)
- 1 tsp of syrup of Mustard Fruits (optional)
- 10 amaretti biscuits
- 2 tbsp of Parmesan, finely grated
- freshly ground salt and pepper
- a pinch of ground cinnamon
To make the stuffing, preheat the oven to 200°C, peel the squash and cut into 6 even sized pieces. Lay them onto a piece of silver foil and cook for around 1 ½ hours. Allow to cool, then remove from the foil and put through a ricer (or whizz in a food processor until smooth). Crush the amaretti biscuits until fine and mix these along with the syrup, if using, into the puree. Stir in the parmesan and cinnamon then season to taste.
Roll out the pasta a little at a time (keeping the rest wrapped in cling film to prevent drying out) to the thickness of 1mm (up to the last setting on your machine). Lightly dust the work surface with flour and lay the sheets of pasta down flat (taking care not to add excess flour to the upper side of the pasta).
Place heaped teaspoons of the stuffing onto the lengths of pasta, spacing them wide enough apart to allow for the shape you want to cut (without being wasteful). Aim for around 2cm between the mound of stuffing and the edge of the ravioli.
Fold the bottom half of the pasta sheet over the top half (horizontally) to cover the filling. Carefully press all of the air out around the ravioli. Use your chosen instrument to cut out the ravioli (a knife, glass or pastry wheel work well). Place the ravioli on a tray dusted with flour or semolina. Set aside until ready to use, but for no longer than an hour or they will stick. If you need to make them in advance you can either freeze them at this stage or par cook them and toss in oil.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the ravioli for 3-5 minutes or until the pasta is al dente. Drain and toss through your butter and sage sauce.
Serve immediately with grated parmesan. Sprinkle with a little more crushed amartettiand cinnamon if desired.
Butter and Sage Sauce
10 sage leaves
Salt, to taste
Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the sage leaves along with the salt and pepper (if using). Fry for a couple of minutes. Add a spoonful of the pasta water and stir well.
Lentil and Chestnut Soup
Serves 6 as a starter or 4 as a main
150g chestnuts (vat packed or canned), reserve a few for garnishing
1 quantity of soffritto
1 bouquet garni
500g green lentils
200g chopped tomatoes
1.5 – 2 litres of veg stock (preferably homemade)
Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 200°C
Cook the soffritto in the extra virgin olive oil on a low heat. Add the lentils, chestnuts and a bouquet garni. After around 5 minutes add the tomatoes and stock, bring to a simmer and cook for 2 hours uncovered, stirring frequently.
Around 5 minutes before the soup is ready, pass a third of the soup through a passatutto (food mill) or sieve (or use a stick blender). Return the blended/sieved soup to the pan and bring back to the boil to thicken.
Divide the soup between bowls, scatter with a handful of chestnuts and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
Basic Soffritto Recipe
Also known as a battuto, this is the essential base for Italian stews and soups, and some sauces and ragu. The recipe varies by region, but most versions contain the “holy trinity” of carrot, celery and onion. In summer, make batches to freeze for the winter, some with or without garlic.
150g carrot (around 2 – 3)
150g celery (2 – 3 stalks)
150g onions (red or white)
150ml olive oil
2 garlic cloves (optional)
Salt and pepper
2 large sprigs of rosemary or thyme
2 bay leaves
Finely chop the vegetables or pulse in a processor (the carrots will take longer than the celery and onions in a processor).
Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-hot heat. Add the garlic if using, and season with salt and pepper. Fry for 1 minute before adding the remaining ingredients. Keep frying, stirring frequently for 15 – 20 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Use straight away or freeze.
Freezing your soffritto
Divide the quantity into suitable containers, leftover yoghurt pots or ricotta pots work well. Once frozen, turn out into blocks and place them in a plastic bag in the freezer.
Cavolo Nero with Chilli and Garlic
1 head of black kale/cavolo nero
3 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves peeled and finely sliced
1 red chilli finely sliced
Salt and pepper
Pull the green parts away from the hard stalks and wash them under cold water. Throw away the stalks.
Finely shred the leaves and put them in a steamer or salted boiling water for 5 – 7 minutes. Drain but reserve a few tablespoons of the cooking water.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan, when hot add the garlic, chilli and salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes until they soften, take care not to burn them. Add the cooked cavolo nero and fry for around 5 minutes. To prevent sticking use the cooking water you kept to one side.
This also works well with spinach which does not need pre cooking.
Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding
Serves 8 – 12
1 large panettone (900g) cut into 5cm thick slices
568ml double cream
568ml full fat milk
2 vanilla pods slit lengthways, seeds scraped out
6 egg yolks
4 whole eggs
200g caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 150°C .
Place the panettone slices in a large baking dish, slightly overlapping if necessary. Pour the cream, milk and vanilla (seeds and pods) into a saucepan and gently heat.
In a bowl, add the whole eggs to the egg yolks and whisk in the sugar.
Once the cream mixture has heated through (do not allow to boil) whisk them into the bowl with your eggs. Remove the vanilla pods and pour over the panettone. Leave to soak in for ten minutes, then place into the oven for 30 minutes until golden and set.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.
100ml double cream
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 – 3 tbsp amaretto
Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl using a hand whisk. Adjust the amount of Amaretto and sugar to taste. Keep chilled.
Use Grand Marnier, Cointreau or brandy instead of Amaretto.
Add a little lemon or orange zest or for a citrus punch
200ml orange juice
Zest of 1 orange
Place the ingredients together in a saucepan and boil until the liquid becomes a syrup. Allow 10-15 minutes for it to reduce adequately.
Leave to cool. It is ready to use when it has reached room temperature.. If it should thicken, simply reheat until it softens again to a liquid.