Cooking is one of my very favourite things to do. Partly, of course, it’s because I love eating, so there’s something delicious about the anticipation of preparing a good meal. I know it doesn’t feel this way to everyone (my husband finds cooking incredibly stressful, probably partly because I’m peering over his shoulder and chiming in) but I love the soothing ritual of turning gorgeous ingredients into a meal, particularly when it’s something that takes a while – the all-day process of making a really spectacular cake, or the slow stirring of a risotto. And I also really enjoy the fact that cooking is a constant learning curve – so I love a good cookery course and the chance to learn new skills, and I was delighted when the Pig Guide invited me on an Italian cookery day with Peter Testo at In The Kitchen.
In The Kitchen is a cookery school tucked away above The Tasting Rooms on Green Street, and when you get to the top of the narrow staircase you’re up amongst the rooftops of the city, with sunshine pouring into the bright little kitchen. Peter is a lovely smiling chap, full of ideas and advice, and once we’d scrubbed up and tied on our aprons, he started us off making dough for focaccia. Having mixed our ingredients (keeping the salt and the yeast separated, to stop the first killing the second) and kneaded our dough into submission with generous lashings of olive oil (to stop it sticking without drying it out, as you would if you added flour), we set it aside to puff up into a big soft pillow. Next, we made pasta dough – another serious workout for the muscles, to make it gloriously silky and smooth – and set it aside to rest in the fridge.
|Thyme & mushroom arancini, made with Peter’s delicious risotto|
Out of puff now, we watched Peter start off a fabulous risotto, briskly dicing an onion with a wicked knife, and he gave us a brilliant tip for sharpening knives: to whet them against the exposed ceramic foot on the underside of a plate or bowl. All my knives are going to be terrifyingly dangerous from now on, which may result in me losing a finger (I have a scar on one finger where I’ve cut myself no less than three times in exactly the same spot – it doesn’t even bother to bleed any more). Once the risotto was bubbling away quietly, we made gnocchi, ricing fluffy baked potatoes and mixing with flour to make gorgeously soft little dumplings. I’ve made gnocchi before but always made the mistake of letting the potato cool – turns out the warmth, along with as little working as possible, is essential to keep your gnocchi really light.
|Pesto in progress|
Next, we combined piles of fresh basil, parmesan, pine nuts, lemon zest and garlic to make pesto, which is one of my absolute favourite things to make – I love the delicious aromas of the ingredients, the old-school process of bringing them together in a pestle and mortar, and the simplicity of creating something so yummy simply by chucking everything in together. Pesto prepared, ready for later, we returned to our focaccia, now swelling out of the bowls, and punched the air out of it before spreading it out in bread tins like a big fluffy duvet (I’m not sure what it is about bread that makes me think of sleep – maybe it’s the natural after-effect of a gorgeous carb overload). We topped it with olive oil, rosemary and coarse sea salt and dimpled it with our fingers, and then put it in the oven.
|Beautiful fluffy focaccia|
Now it was time to make another of my very favourite things, arancini, with Peter’s pre-made risotto. I chose to flavour mine with fresh thyme and mushrooms sautéed in butter, and shape it around mozzarella pearls for a gooey centre. Finally, we transformed our pasta dough into long ribbons of tagliatelle, using a pasta machine – again, this is something I’ve done before, but Peter gave us some brilliant tips that will make it so much easier in the future. I particularly loved the idea of turning the long cumbersome length of the rolled-out dough into a circle that just keeps going through the machine, with the settings changing on each revolution. Genius!
|Peter’s genius pasta technique|
To put the finishing touches on all our creations, we cooked our pasta, gnocchi and arancini, and whipped up some delicious sauces to Peter’s recipes, including a dreamy combination of gorgonzola, white wine and wilted spinach for the gnocchi. Then it was time to carry the entire feast outside, to a little hidden courtyard at the back, where we sat in the sunshine and stuffed our faces, washing it all down with glasses of chilled prosecco (all included in the price). Though I say so myself, it was all utterly delicious, but I particularly enjoyed the fresh tagliatelle with gorgeous lemony pesto, and big chunks of still-warm focaccia dipped in olive oil.
|Fresh tagliatelle with pesto, all made from scratch and utterly delicious|
I can honestly say this is one of the nicest days I’ve spent in ages – we had a brilliant time cooking, and the al fresco late lunch was the icing on the cake (although I did appreciate having plenty of delicious leftovers to take home, too). An Italian cookery experience like this would normally set you back £75, which I think is a huge bargain – so much is packed into four hours, not to mention lunch, that you really get value for your money. Classes are kept small, with a maximum of six people, so you can guarantee you won’t be getting lost or left to fend for yourself, and Peter is a brilliant host and a great teacher. Coming up are all sorts of great courses, from beginners’ basics to nose-to-tail butchery (I’ve got my eye on the tapas class, which looks amazing) or you can book Peter for bespoke classes for a special occasion. Either way, I can’t recommend getting In The Kitchen enough.