It took a bit of arm-twisting, but last weekend I managed to convince Adam to come along to an Italian cooking class with me (on the proviso that I didn’t tell anyone. Oops). Most people I’ve recounted this to have said, “Italian cooking class? But aren’t you Italian?”. Yes and yes – continued learning is very important!).
The cooking class was hosted at Alio, an Italian restaurant in Redfern, owned and operated by brother-sister duo Ashley and Tracey Hughes. Ashley is the head chef and Tracey manages the front of house, however Ashley was off on a charity bike ride so Tracey and chef Christopher showed us the ropes. I had been hoping a bit of a hands-on experience, however we were seated gallery style and treated to a demonstration.
The menu del giorno: Rosemary Focaccia, Witlof and Pear salad, followed by a Rotolo with Spinach, Ricotta and Mushroom. Tracey gets started on the focaccia first, as the dough will need time to double in size. This is a quite similar recipe, if you want to try it at home.
The pasta dough is next, which is mixed together in a food processor. It’s interesting to hear Tracey specifically recommend 70g weight eggs for pasta dough (Takeaway Tip!), and quite amazing to watch the skill with which Chris kneads and later pulls the dough through the pasta machine. The chefs at Alio make fresh pasta daily, so I’m guessing he’s had some practice!
The pasta dough will be used for the rotolo, which is essentially stuffed and rolled pasta. It’s a traditional Tuscan dish, usually filled with creamy spinach and served with a tomato based sauce. For our lunch, Tracey whips up a filling of pan-fried mushrooms (in butter, and oil, with some ground and dried porcini mixed in for good measure), ricotta, parmesan cheese and wilted spinach. This is a similar recipe.
The freshly-made pasta sheets are then placed on white linen tea-cloths and covered with the filling. They have dried out slightly in the few minutes that they were left uncovered (Takeaway Tip 2: Always leave fresh pasta sheets covered with a towel!) There’s a 2cm gap on the pasta sheet, and the towel is then used to roll the pasta on to itself. The ends are tied with twine and the rotolo, cloth and all, is placed into a long rectangular dish and poached gently on the stovetop for 20 minutes.
We are then shown how to make different pastas from the dough – fettucine, ravioli (using a moulded tray – genius), farfalle and tortellini, as Adam demonstrates below…
Just as Adam starts stifling yawns and my stomach begins to make itself heard, the focaccia is pulled from the oven (and smells ah.ma.zing), the salad is thrown together and some mixed olives warmed in the oven. We then take seats at the table to enjoy the fruits of Tracey and Chris’ labour:
We really enjoyed lunch and picked up a few tips from the demonstration, and I’m more motivated but still a little scared when it comes to mastering pasta dough. Tracey and Chris are great hosts, and I enjoy their approach to Italian cooking – staying true to good, simple, honest flavours.
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