A couple of weeks ago, I got to spend the day with Katie Caldesi at her home taking an Italian cookery class as my birthday treat. I can think of no better way to spend a day than taking a cookery course; they are fun, relaxing and most of all, you always come away with so much knowledge and plenty of new skills – even in a very short space of time. I have taken a few classes before, but this time I was keen to learn how to make pasta and I found this to be a really enjoyable class. My review of this class also appears on The Foodie Bugle, in the ‘Cookery schools’ section where there are lots of other great reviews on classes that you can take around the country. If you’ve taken any really good classes yourself, please leave me a comment in the box below to tell me about it as I’m always on the hunt for a good one!
Back to Katie…British-born Katie developed a love of cooking from an early age, having been taught how to cook by her mother. In 1997 and at the time an artist, she met the highly charismatic, Tuscan-born Giancarlo Caldesi and her life took a bit of a different turn. Inspired by Giancarlo’s love of Italy and of Italian food, Katie joined him in running together two Italian restaurants, in London and in Bray, as well as writing cookery books and contributing to magazines. They are a truly dynamic couple and if you ever get the chance to take one of their courses, you won’t be disappointed.
Katie’s most recent independent project has been researching and writing her very own book, ‘The Italian Cookery Course’ which gave her the opportunity of travelling across Italy visiting the many differing regions from North to South. There she was taught first-hand by chefs within trattoria’s and by real ‘Italian Mammas’ in their homes about the true essence of authentic Italian cooking. The book is really quite spectacular (review to follow) and is a real amalgamation of everything Katie learnt along the way.
As well as teaching cookery classes at their cookery school, La Cucina Caldesi in Marylebone, alongside Giancarlo and a host of other guest chefs, Katie now focuses on teaching small groups at her home in Buckinghamshire. The courses are wide-ranging, but many of the classes that Katie teaches are based on the recipes in her book.
The class started at 9.30am and as we arrived we were warmly greeted by Katie at the door. There were seven students on the course altogether, which was held in Katie’s amazingly kitted out, huge kitchen, overlooking the garden complete with potted bay trees and family chickens. From the outset, Katie had a natural and warm teaching style and was keen to share all her tips and the secrets of good Italian cooking. Giancarlo popped home for a coffee and to drop off extra pasta machines and was also lovely and friendly and very welcoming.
Although we were all quite keen to make pasta, we spent the majority of the morning focusing on the basics of Italian cookery. Katie explained that Italian soups, stews and sauces often begin with a ‘soffrito’ which is celery, onion and carrot softly cooked with olive oil and sometimes with garlic. Katie also showed us how to make her favourite ‘Ragú alla Bolognese’ with chopped chicken livers, bacon, red wine and finished with milk, a recipe she had discovered on a trip to Bologna, having sampled some ten different variations in total! Next, we made a classic tomato sauce, ‘La Passata di Pomodoro’, which we were told is as much a part of the Italian kitchen as a good stock. The two huge pans were left to simmer away gently for a few hours as we got on with the rest of our tasks.
As the aromas of Italy filled the room, one student remembered once eating a wonderful pasta dish with crab on a trip to Italy, which prompted Katie to have a rummage through her freezer to see what she could find to replicate it. She didn’t find crab, but she did find some sea bream fillets and a deep-coloured shellfish stock that had previously been made. The stock was reduced down into a sauce which later made the most delicious but simple sauce for our hand-cut tagliatelli. The sea bream inspired Katie to veer off course to show us how to make ‘Tortelloni stuffed with sea bass, with lemon and a fresh tomato sauce’, a favourite recipe from her cookbook. For this, we were shown how to make an easy béchamel sauce to bind the filling. We also made a traditional sage, butter and toasted pine nut dressing to go with our ravioli, and a deliciously thick yet light sauce with lemon, cream and basil, ideal for tagliatelle. Having made all of the sauces, we were now well and truly ready to begin making our pasta.
We were each given a bowl with 200g of ’00’ Italian flour and two corn-fed chicken eggs. The eggs and flour were brought together with a knife and then by hand, kneading the dough for around ten minutes until it was smooth and sprang back when prodded. Katie also said that it is fine to make pasta in a food processor, and gave us some handy tips on what to look out for, in terms of texture and what to do if it all starts to go wrong! Our pasta was left to rest for around 20 minutes, wrapped in cling film. As we waited for the pasta, we made our spinach and ricotta filling for both ravioli and filled cannelloni, and the sea bass filling for the tortellini.
After resting the pasta, we kneaded the dough once more and then rolled it out slightly before being shown how to pass it through the pasta machine. In many ways, it was much easier than I had always thought it would be. There is a certain level of skill involved, but the best way to learn, by far, is to have someone who knows what they are doing show you! Pasta dough also dries out very quickly, so the key is to keep passing the pasta through the machine, turning the thickness down gradually, but working as quickly as possible until it is thin enough to see though, but not so thin that it breaks.
We then made our filled pasta, as well as tagliatelle and sheets of pasta for a rustic-style meat lasagne layered with our ragú and the béchamel sauce that we had made earlier, flavoured with bay, onions and nutmeg. Katie also showed us how to make ‘cannelloni’ with the remaining spinach and ricotta filling and tomato passata as well as a vegetable lasagne. By now, we were all fully ‘hands on’, very keen to take part in all of the cooking and preparation of our dishes – and hungry too!
After a long morning of very hard work, all that was left to do by 2pm was to gather round the table, pour a glass or two of wine and share our Italian feast. We were even lucky enough to be able to open the doors out onto the garden and eat ‘al fresco.’ We were all very proud of ourselves and pretty amazed by just how much we had learnt in one morning. We finished off the meal with a simple Italian dessert of fresh figs baked with orange zest, orange juice, brown sugar and a drizzle of honey served with an Amaretto cream, which was so simple and yet would be a really impressive way of ending a dinner party. Sadly, there was nothing left to take home, apart from our recipes and newly found skills – we were certainly all enthused to try it all out again at home!
There are plenty of courses on offer both at Katie’s home and at La Cucina Caldesi in Marylebone, including ‘Italian Family Cooking’, ‘Hidden Italy’, ‘Entertaining All’Italiana’ and ‘Healthy Eating the Italian Way’. Most classes are priced at £125, which includes lunch or dinner and occasionally, there is a chance to forage and take trips to visit local producers.
‘Pasta with Katie’ would be perfect for anyone who has a pasta machine but doesn’t know how to use it, or, who simply enjoys making good, homemade pasta. I can also attest that a voucher makes a great birthday gift! Making your own pasta is a beautifully traditional and artisanal skill and it was very enjoyable to have been shown how to make it in such a relaxed environment as Katie’s kitchen. I would go back to try another course in a heartbeat; it was a great way to spend the day.
Don’t forget to let me know if you’ve taken any great courses! See Caldesi Cookery Courses and Restaurants for more information.