Sal’s Kitchen discovers… Cookery & Wine Workshops at the Italian Food Hall

Just before Christmas, I visited the fabulous new Italian Food Hall on George St, to discover all sorts of delicious treats – click here to read my full blog post and find out more about the best goodies to buy if you’re popping in. Now, a few months on, the Italian Food Hall have settled in and started to expand their offering beyond the deli – and when they invited me along to one of their Cookery & Wine Workshops, I knew I had to check it out.

Every month, the Italian Food Hall will be offering one of these food & wine evenings, each one themed around a different region of Italy, and featuring a cookery demonstration from Giacomo Carreca (head chef at Amarone), a chance to get hands-on and try making a few things yourself, and of course, plenty of delicious food to try with a matching wine flight. Last week, I joined them for an evening themed around the region of Puglia – it’s an area I must admit I don’t know much about, but I was eager to find out more.

A beautiful Puglian sparkling red, one of several wines specially chosen to match the menu

To kick the evening off, we all gathered around a single long table, covered with a bright yellow cloth and already set with some tempting nibbles. The Italian Food Hall is not a big space, so it was a fairly cosy crowd, but there was a great atmosphere – I was pleasantly surprised to discover that as well as couples and groups of friends, quite a few people had come along on their own, which shows you how lovely and welcoming these evenings are. We were introduced to Marco Fedele from Fiandaca Wine, himself a Puglia native who would be choosing our wines for the evening, who explained to us that Puglia is best known for its red wine, but that we’d be starting with a rare white, Minutolo. It was a deliciously fruity wine that made me think of nectarines. To accompany it, as well as the savoury taralli crackers, Italian sausage and marinated aubergines we were already tucking into, Giacomo served us friselle, traditional rolls made with durum wheat that are baked twice. The double baking makes them very hard, so they’re dipped quickly in water before serving – traditionally, Giacomo told us, it would be seawater, so that the salt would add a little seasoning to the bread – and topped with fresh tomatoes, a little like bruschetta. The flavours were fantastic, but I must admit I slightly feared for my teeth with the incredibly hard and crunchy rolls!

Orrechiette is typical in the south of Italy, and features in a lot of Puglian pasta dishes

Our next dish (pictured at the top) was something else I’d never tried before: strawberries, dressed with black pepper and balsamic vinegar, and served with burrata, a very soft cheese made with mozzarella and cream, so it’s even richer. Strawberries and cheese might sound like a crazy combination, but honestly, this was absolutely sublime – the dressing on the strawberries intensified their natural sweetness, while the rich cheese, so soft it melted in the mouth, balanced that sweetness beautifully. To accompany this dish, Marco served us a gorgeous sparkling red, itself with strawberry flavours alongside cherry and rose, which went perfectly. Honestly, I’ll be thinking about this one for a long time.

Next, it was time for us to get stuck in and try a little pasta-making. Giacaomo whipped up a quick pasta dough in front of us, using just flour and warm water (apparently the warmth of the water means that eggs are unnecessary, as it serves the same purpose in creating elasticity), then showed us one he’d prepared earlier, puffed up like a beautiful pillow after its rest in the fridge. Cutting off a small piece, he demonstrated how to make the pasta known as orecchiette, or ‘little ears’ – then handed the rest of the dough over to us for a try. It’s a deceptively simple technique that involves cutting the dough and then using pressure applied with the tip of the knife to roll it against the tabletop – I did start to get the hang of it after a few goes (I felt quite pleased with how ‘ear-like’ my pasta was looking) but it’s amazingly hard work to make enough for a whole bowlful!

Orecchiette with a fresh tomato sauce and cacioricotta cheese – delicious!

Thankfully, we didn’t have to make enough for everyone – while we were having a go, Giacaomo was cooking up a huge fragrant bowlful of orecchiette with tomatoes and cacioricotta, a soft Puglian cheese, so we could skip straight to the good bit. It was a simple dish, but paired with a deep velvety Primitivo from Marco it was absolutely mouth-watering (I went back for seconds, and I definitely wasn’t the only one).

Finally, we rounded off the evening with pasta frolla con crema pasticciera – a sumptuous vanilla custard tart with incredibly light and crumbly shortcrust pastry. The flavours were subtle but scrumptious, and went beautifully with a glass of Malavasia Dolce, a semi-sparkling dessert wine. I don’t think I’ve ever had a sparkling dessert wine before, but it was gorgeous, the intense golden sweetness balanced by the freshness of the fizz.

A melt-in-the-mouth Italian custard tart

If you’re a foodie who likes to cook as well as eat, then this is the perfect evening for you – a brilliant mix of cookery class and tasting menu, with the chance to learn more about Italy and its incredible gastronomic heritage. Loads of gorgeous food and wine to try, plus the opportunity to learn from one of Bath’s most talented Italian chefs, all for just £35 per person – I’d say that’s a bit of a bargain.

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