A place I have yet to visit is Italy, it’s high on my bucket list of places to see, hopefully Tuscany and Florence. But in the mean time, delighted with an invite from the Culinary Arts Team to experience some of Italy, at the Ritz Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa and attend a cooking class at their Italian restaurant, Primavera. My pasta-making skills are somewhat rusty and was thrilled to see a pasta machine on arrival. I remember thinking about my poor pasta machine, sitting neglected at the back of a kitchen cupboard. Following is a peek into a morning of kneading, rolling, cooking and of course enjoying good food.
Italian Chef Mauro Giordano and his team (Jovan and Linto) eased us into the cooking class, demonstrating the steps and techniques involved in making a classic Focaccia, a leavened Italian flatbread. Although few ingredients are needed, the quality of the yeast, flour and water used, affects the overall flavour of the bread. Kneading and proving the dough correctly are important steps and should never be rushed. Before baking the focaccia you have the option of adding different flavourings on top, such as herbs, tomatoes, olives and onions. Focaccia is a very versatile bread and easy to make at home. And who can resist a wonderful chunk of warm home-made bread… I know I cant. If you have made your own home-made bread before you will know, there is a certain joy that comes with bread making. To say you have made your own fresh pasta (and of course bread) is impressive and once you see the process of pasta-making from start to finish, it sure fires up your enthusiasm. Of course getting stuck in is even better and with the help of Chef Mauro, he made it all seem so easy. Egg yolks (the hotel uses pasteurized egg yolks) and flour were the only ingredients used to make up a lovely yellow coloured pasta dough. Rolling and cutting the dough is made easier using a pasta machine, but of course the whole process can be done by hand… if you like lots more work! There’s me up there with a wobble start cutting some tagliatelle… Chef Mauro “I promise to hold the pasta sheets straighter when feeding through the machine next time”. And I’m certainly going to love perfecting the technique at home. You could tell everyone enjoyed the different stages of rolling and cutting fresh pasta dough.
Each of us went to our own cooking station to make a simple cream based sauce with smoked salmon for our tagliatelle. Although I absolutely love smoked salmon I am not a fan of using it in sauces for pasta, the taste for me is somewhat overpowering. The hotel cures and smokes their own salmon and the flavour when added to the cream sauce was much more pleasing… which I did enjoy. At this point it was bubbling water, steam and sizzling hot pans and I needed to put my camera down, fresh pasta cooks very quickly and I did not want to pass the “Al Dente” stage.
We were also guided through pan frying fillets of sea bream and making another delicious sauce with tomato, fish stock , capers, olives and anchovies. Chef Mauro reminded us that cooking need not be complicated, using quality ingredients, simple flavours and paying attention to the cooking process, everyone is capable of achieving great home cooking.
We also enjoyed a tasting from the Primavera Business Lunch Menu, a refreshing mixed salad and penne pasta with a tomato based sauce, with fresh mozzarella. As my tummy was on food overload I could only look longingly at the beautifully presented display of desserts and cheeses on offer, which certainly looked very inviting.
Whether it’s for leisure, brushing up on some cooking skills or a fun activity with friends, cooking classes are an inspiring way to spend time with good food. On leaving the cooking class I knew one think for sure, I am inspired and my pasta machine will no longer sit neglected in a dark cupboard. Looking forward to posting some fresh pasta and focaccia recipes soon.