Earlier in the year I was sent some prosecco from Italian chef Enrica Rocca's vineyard. Not only was this hands down one of the best proseccos I've ever tasted, I was honoured to try such an exclusive brand that's only available by the crate (so quality won't be compromised). It was great to hear from Enrica again and be invited to her London home where she runs her cooking school - or rather her two brilliant daughters, Charlotte and Claire, do. Enrica usually teaches at the Venice branch (recent students include Sylvester Stallone and his wife), and there's one in Cape Town too. Enrica joined us for this evening which gave press a taste of the classes; usually students will have a whole day at the school from 10am to 4pm, being taken to nearby Portobello Market to shop for super-fresh ingredients and then coming back to the cosy Notting Hill town house for a day of cooking lessons, eating and prosecco drinking. If I knew the Italian word for perfection, I'd insert it right about now.
On arrival we were given prosecco (what else!) and some beautifully crafted canapés (or the Italian equivalent of canapés). My vegetarian ones were so delicious, I would never think to pair ricotta cheese with lemon, but it worked so well. Claire and Charlotte talked us through the menu and assigned everyone jobs. Sasha (below) was on stuffed mushroom duty, whilst I was taught by Enrica the correct way to cut an onion - turns out you don't just randomly hack into it.
For our first course Enrica whipped us up some incredibly fancy farm-fresh eggs, fried in butter with truffle grated on top. She told us to eat always eat truffle quickly after it's been grated or it loses its magic.
Next up were yummy aubergine pizettas, with buffalo mozzarella, capers and fresh basil for me, and Italian ham for the meat fans. After the world's worst aubergine served the previous week here, I could have quite happily never eaten it again, but now I got to taste how good it can be. Charlotte showed us how to griddle the sliced aubergine (never salt it!) and then add the toppings and oven bake. They were fabulous, and are a really simple thing to make for soirees. Of course they went well with more prosecco!
Whilst the Aubergines were being prepared, Sasha finished up the stuffed mushrooms. These tasted outstanding, and I'm surprised it's such an easy recipe. For the filling, red onions were fried with garlic and then fresh spinach was added to the pan. As it wilted feta cheese was stirred in to make a rich creamy mixture that's spooned into mushrooms and then lightly grilled. You could make these for friends and everyone would think you're a genius.
Next up was the main course: mushroom risotto. Usually this makes my heart sink; it's the vegetarian standard on most restaurant menus, and is very rarely done well. But we were given an absolute masterclass in how to do this dish, from making the perfect vegetable stock to the perfect risotto rice to use (carnaroli). I was put on mushroom cleaning duty, and marvelled at the range - portobello, porcini, and even some fungi that one of Enrica's friends had found in their garden. It's okay, she assured us - she'd tried some the night before and was still alive. Enrica got us all to sample the stock, saying it must be perfect. Her motto - "if you put good things in a pot good things will come out, if you put crap in a pot, crap will come out." Wise words.
This was absolutely amazing. Served with ice-cold soave, with seconds for those who wanted it, the fruits of Sasha's twenty-five minute stirring labour was heaven on a plate. Yes, Sasha did do most of the assisting, but it was a blessing for everyone that I was only on onion chopping and mushroom cleaning. Dessert didn't need any assistance as it had already been made for us, incredibly simple and scrummy jam tarts - well, Enrica made the pastry sound simple, but amazing chefs have a way of forgetting how tricky some cooking can be for us mere mortals.
An Italian cooking lesson at the Enrica Rocca school would make the perfect gift for any foodie. The ethos is about simple, authentic dishes full of flavour and fresh, quality ingredients - things you can easily recreate at home. Not only do you have expert tuition, you sit with charming company and enjoy delicious food and wine - and it's not in a soulless industrial kitchen in some restaurant, it's a private home that's absolutely cosy and inviting. The kitchen and lounge are one big room, and in the summer there's a terrace with table and chairs. Their gorgeous dog nestled amongst the cushions whilst an awesome Spotify playlist got everyone talking.
The full day class costs £150 per person, including tuition, all food and wine. Private lessons can also be arranged, and they've even had a stag party before who got so drunk they slept at the house! They very kindly focused on vegetarian dishes at this class because of me, but there will usually be more meat or fish, if you so wish. Charlotte and Claire can also bring the food to you if you have a party that needs catering, and you can find out how to get your hands on their divine prosecco on the website (I urge you to try it). If you'd like to have a lower key introduction to Enrica's marvellous foodie mind you can pick up her cook book (below), an ideal Christmas present if ever I saw one.
Thanks so much to Enrica, Claire and Charlotte for inviting us, and showing us how to do Italian food with style.