No sooner had we arrived at Norcenni Girasole Club for a fortnights holiday in Bella Italia than I spotted a sign that was impossible for me to resist. Tuscan Cookery Class. Even more interesting when I found it was to be held in a rather posh hotel next door to Sting's Italian home. What a glorious setting Villa La Pallagina was. No sign of the former Police frontman but a lucky 13 participants for our cookery course.
Our tutor for the day was Federico, or Chef Fred to his students. We were to be preparing our own lunch of Focaccia, Spaghetti, Gnocchi and Tortellini. It was a scorcher of a day but we were cooking al fresco in the shade of a canopy with plenty of chilled water and Prosecco on hand. Huge pan of tatties on to boil for the Gnocchi whilst we got stuck into making the Focaccia.
700g Plain Flour
450g Warm Water
25g Fresh Yeast
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Measure out all the ingredients, including weighing the water. (Something I have never seen done in a recipe before). Crumble in the fresh yeast (where do I buy this in the UK??) and a slug of olive oil. Combine in a large bowl and tip out onto a floured surface and kneed until elastic and shiny. Add more oil or flour if needed. Return to the bowl, cover with clingfilm and put in a warm place to rise until doubled in size. Knock back after the first proving and place on a very well Olive Oiled baking tray. Use your fingers to shape the dough whilst making dimple marks all over it but avoiding the edges. Cover with cling and prove for a second time. Drizzle with Oil and coarse salt before baking for 15-20 mins at 180 degrees.
300g Plain Flour
1 spoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Next up pasta which I've made myself at home quite a few times now. Chef Fred showed us how to make it by hand and then we headed into the kitchen where he made a batch by machine. We used a Chitarra (pasta guitar) and rolling pin to cut the pasta into spaghetti strands. Albeit they were square rather than round.
With the other half for the fresh pasta we made Tortellini stuffed with Ricotta, Parmesan and Fresh Herbs. I've made my own ravioli stuffed with ricotta but the tortellini shapes looked more complex but under Fred's instruction we all got the hang of them. The best tip that I picked up was to use a plant water spray bottle to moisten the edges before sealing. I've been using a pastry brush and water but this gave much more control and less sogginess.
GNOCCHI1kg Boiled Potatoes
200g Plain Flour
Last on the menu was Gnocchi with Pesto. The tatties had been boiled and were mashed with a potato ricer before the flour, eggs, salt and Parmesan were added to make a dough. Basil was picked fresh from the garden to make the Pesto which contained only a tiny amount of pine nuts which I was surprised to see were not toasted. Fred said that would make it bitter. He also didn't add any Parmesan to the pesto but instead mixed it though at the last minute when serving up.
After all our hard work we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labour over a late lunch accompanied with some Chianti from the hotel's own Vineyard. The food was excellent and we were well and truly stuffed with our carb loaded meal. Consensus was we'd done a great job and would all try and recreate the dishes at home.
Following a post lunch Espresso the majority of the course participants headed off but a few of us remained to try out the hotels two swimming pools. Soaking up the sunshine and cooling off in the infinity pool was the perfect conclusion to the day. The sky did however begin to darken around 4pm and a distant rumble of thunder soon turned to a torrential downpour. I may have been soggy but thanks to the Fred's plant spray bottle tip my tortellini won't be.