You can never learn enough, particularly in terms of food and cooking, so I always try to improve my skills and develop. Holidays in particular offer some great opportunities to learn so I went to Sorrento looking forward to wonderful food and maybe a chance to learn a little more.
In one of the “drains” behind the Corso Italia is Old Taverna Sorrentina, a restaurant, coffee shop and gelateria – which coincidentally offers Bed and Breakfast and self-catering apartments. We had enjoyed good meals there in the past and some of the best coffee and ice-cream in town so naturally arriving on an evening flight and wanting to eat we headed there.
As we sat to enjoy a meal I saw William Garguilo, the chef. Last year I saw William teaching some New Zealanders how to make Mozzarella in the kitchen of the coffee shop so I asked him whether he was still teaching. “Oh Yes”, he replied “and I have now opened a Cookery School in one of our buildings, come and have a look”.
Now that’s the kind of invite you can’t refuse so I crossed the narrow alley to the Old Taverna Sorrentina Cookery School. With a large demonstration/work table the school is well equipped and the ovens, when not in use for lessons turn out many of the breads and pastries available in the restaurant and coffee shop. “I’m teaching tomorrow evening, come along” said William and my plans for the next day took a new turn.
William is firmly committed to local produce; much of it comes from the family farm and local fishing boats and has been cooking all his life. As a child he watched his grandfather cook and at 14 joined his father in the restaurant kitchen. William now runs the coffee shop and cookery school whilst his sister is in charge of the restaurant. William has superb English, largely learned from his mother who in turn learned it in a Welsh Language school in Patagonia! (Her father was a railroad engineer who was extending the Argentinian railway system through Patagonia). Most of the cookery school courses are in English, though other languages are available on request.
Three menus are offered in the school, a 7 course Menu Italian Style, 4 course Menu Italian Style and a Menu of fresh fish Italian Style 7 course. The menus are pretty much mix and match dependent on the availability of fresh local ingredients, the one I would cook would be the 4 course Italian menu as that is what the other students had booked.
Bruschetta Sorrentina, Gnocchi Sorrentina, Scaloppini di Pollo and Tiramisu would be the dishes and Mrs K who likes the product rather than the process would join us for the eating that comes at the end. Water, Coffee and Wines are all included in the price and what better way to spend an early evening than cooking and eating al fresco with new friends?
Now I have cooked all of these dishes before, but I was fairly certain that I would learn new tips and techniques, and so it proved.
Now, if you have never done a cookery course, here’s a hint, you don’t start with the starter and work your way through, to deliver the meal at the right time you have to jump in and out as different elements have different cooking times so you may work on starter, dessert, mains, starter, second course, dessert, mains, etc.
First up the Tiramisu, individual plates, so started first to chill for presentation. Biscuits dipped, and drained, in coffee, whipped cream, second layer, piping and chilling. William asks lots of questions to get you really thinking about food e.g. If you didn’t want to use coffee on the ladies fingers how could you get the taste? Answers Kahlua, Tia Maria etc., and, for total coffee rejecters, why not Baileys or Cointreau, Grand Marnier? What fresh fruits could you add instead of chocolate? Strawberries, Raspberries, Kiwi. Not the traditional Italian recipe – but neither is Tiramisu having been invented in London during the 1970’s.
Then the gnocchi, 600 grams of potato mashed (with a ricer) and off to chill. Cold potato loses much of the moisture so handles and cooks better. “How do you get 600g?” was one question, “Weigh them before cooking” the obvious answer – though not to newish cooks.
While the potatoes cooled we started on the tomato sauce for the gnocchi including a masterclasses on cooking times for the various kinds of tomato available, fresh, tinned, passata and concentrate. We also learned that Italian cookery uses minimal garlic, but extracts all the flavour from it, in this case just one thin slice was fried at high heat and removed once browned.
Chicken was next, flattened and paneed before quickly frying and setting aside with some water added to make a sauce and ensure that the chicken remained moist.
On then to bruschetta and the making of the topping, tomato, olive and spring onion seasoned and lightly oiled before being set aside for the flavours to develop and the juices to flow.
With cooled potato we made the gnocchi, adding 00 flour and eggs before bringing into a dough, cutting into strips, rolling out to cylinders and quickly cutting with a pastry cutter. “Don’t worry if they are different sizes, this is peasant or artisan food so variations are fine” we were told.
Debate about the suitable addition of herbs was important, Basil and Oregano for tomato based sauces, always Parsley for white ones.
As the various elements came together the pace in the kitchen warmed up as the gnocchi were quickly poached and added to the tomato sauce before Mozzarella and Parmesan were added and tossed. The chicken was reheated gently before freshly sliced Mozzarella was laid on top of the escallops and a lid placed over them to melt.
Toasted bread was dressed with the bruschetta, one tip being tilt the bowl to the side and always serve from the bottom so each slice gets anointed with the juice.
Finally we retired outside to the alfresco tables to enjoy our meal with wines to accompany each course and a Limoncello to finish.
A good way to spend three hours or so - learning, making and eating. Mrs K who had arrived just in time to eat pronounced it extremely YUM, and my fellow students had enjoyed both the session and the food.
If you are in Sorrento and want a good experience head off to the Old Taverna and talk to William about a course. He is generally there from 6am to 1am and will fill you with confidence and damn fine coffee!
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