Tuesday, 23 March 2010

La Cucina Caldesi

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When I was 19, my college held a Charity Slave Auction and I foolishly offered myself up as a Maid for a Day. I got up in front of all my fellow students wearing a pinny and rubber gloves (as well as my normal clothes, I hasten to add) and was delighted to go for a respectable sum.

Then I found out that sixteen of the b*stards had banded together to bid on me and as a result I was beholden to the lot of them.

There's only so many shirts you can iron in one day.

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My very last chore was to make supper for all sixteen of them, so I decided to cook up an enormous vat of spaghetti, told the buggers to bring a bowl each to my unfeasibly small room and then dished up - half pleased that I was getting to feed so many people, and half wanting them all to choke on the stuff.

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The point of this is I've always like cooking Italian food. But I've never really known too much about it other than what I've gleaned from the odd cookbook or TV programme.

So when I was invited with some other bloggers to take part in a cookery class at La Cucina Caldesi, I was champing at the bit to have the pros show me how it's done.

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La Cucina Caldesi is a little cookery school attached to the restaurant Caffe Caldesi in Marylebone.

We were lucky enough to have chef-patrons Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi themselves as our tutors.

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These guys are good - Katie is no-nonsense and clearly knows her stuff, but she's encouraging, making even the most nervous of us feel at ease, and Giancarlo is very funny, but very professional - the speed at which he deboned a poussin almost left me cross-eyed.

And now I can do the same, although not remotely as fast as he can.

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The three course meal that we helped to prepare (and then wolfed down at the end) was as follows:
  • Gnocchi nudi di spinaca con burro salvia e pinoli
  • Polletto al mattone
  • Patate e cipolla al forno
  • Cioccolata in tazza

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The gnocchi nudi were a mix of spinach, egg, ricotta and parmesan which we pressed into quenelles and then gently poached to form a much lighter version of the tradional potato gnocchi. These were then tossed with butter and wilted sage leaves and were beautifully delicious and pillowy - probably my favourite dish of the night (and I'm an unrepentant carnivore).

As for the polletto al mattone (ie chicken under a brick), after deboning the baby chickens, we stuffed them with chopped garlic, rosemary and raw chillis, seasoned and rolled them up again before roasting for about 20 minutes.

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These came out wonderfully moist, spicy and extremely delicious. I've always held the view that bone-in meat is sweeter, but for once I could see that there might be something behind deboning after all.

I was also surprised to find out that chillis are used quite a lot in parts of Italy, assuming stupidly that it began and ended with aglio olio pepperoncino and puttanesca.

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The Cioccolata in tazza was a drinkable molten pudding of dark chocolate, double cream, eggs, sugar, milk and brandy - the recipe had in fact been precociously extracted from a chef by one of the Caldesi sons.

All these recipes can be found in Katie Caldesi's book The Italian Cookery Course, a hefty tome filled with 400 recipes and 40 masterclasses, the result of three years' travelling and studying Italy's regional cookery.

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As well as the Caldesis themselves, the courses at La Cucina Caldesi are run by a range of chefs and experts such as Valentina Harris and cover subjects as diverse as regional Italian cuisine, pasta-making, food for friends, and sweets. They're also pitched at different audiences such as busy mothers, couples and even teenagers. With durations varying from a one-off evening class to a seven-week course, the cliche that there's something for everyone is eminently applicable.

The evening I'd just spent may have only been a taster, but it was great fun, especially getting to sit down together at the end to enjoy the fruit of our efforts and I left there feeling inspired (and with a new skill to boot). And you can't say fairer than that.

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La Cucina Caldesi
118 Marylebone Lane
Marylebone
London W1U 2QF
0207 487 0750/6/8


13 comments:

  1. Gosh - am left feeling a wee bit envious of your cooking class - i have long looked at this course with covetous eyes. It sounds fab - particularly the gnocchi and the poussin - I would never have thought of deboning one (and thought leaves me a little intimidated), but now i really want to give it a go.

    Great pics and write up of the whole experience, it might even convince me to part with a large lump of hard earned overdraft to try one of their courses out one of these days.

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  2. Gah, I'm so envious I'm practically as green as those gnocchi!

    I love how you weave in such a funny personal story to this post; had me giggling!

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  3. Lovely write up and very very tempting - love those gnocci!

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  4. Tell you what, I'll be your tasting slave for the evening. You cook me this menu and I have no choice but to eat everything. Deal?

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  5. Brilliant stuff and you make me feel so, so hungry. What a brilliant class, too, beats the mass cookery exhibition stuff hands down as it seems so much more useful to have a go yourself. The magic blog continues, yah! :¬)

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  6. The poussin was my favourite and all other dishes looked very delish too! Thanks for sharing the wonderful post.

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  7. @The Grubworm - Deboning a chicken is a skill which I never thought I needed but now I am glad I have it.

    @Kavey - Thanks hun x

    @fran39 - The gnocchi were really, really good - I could have eaten a potful, easy.

    @Camilla - Nice try :)

    @chumbles - The classes all look reet good and not tooooo expensive considering who the tutors are

    @greekcookeryclass - You-re welcome - see, I know nothing about Greek food - you must share!

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  8. Oh that looks brilliant - how wonderful to go to the cooking class!

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  9. @Nicisme - I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it ;)

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  10. that Cioccolata looks so sexy... gonna try that one for sure!

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  11. @Paul - It was *the* most gorgeous hot chocolate ever - that river of chocolate that got Augustus Gloop was blatantly made of it.

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  12. Hi Mimi, lovely write up. I had a great time learning those 3 courses too, and thought Katie and Giancarlo were most entertaining. One of the nicest things though was meeting you for the firt time! Hope you are enjoying your Easter Break!

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

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  13. @Luiz - Thanks Luiz - you too :)

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Thanks for taking the time to comment!