Have you ever wanted to recreate the tasty home cooking that you’ve experienced in Italian restaurants? Well now you can learn how to cook like an Italian thanks to Enrica Rocca Cooking School Notting Hill. Sisters Claire and Charlotte, who run the London branch of Enrica Rocca, are passionate about Italian cuisine. This flair has been passed down by their Mother, Enrica, who originally set up the cookery school. She now runs a renowned cookery school in Venice and Cape Town and also caters for private dining events. Her Venice on a Plate book is a beautiful tome featuring local recipes and cookery tips served on typical Venetian glassware.
I’ve been to a few cookery schools before but never been shopping for ingredients with the hosts. It’s one of the things that really sets this place apart. We started off at 10 am at Ladbroke Grove where we met Charlotte, Claire and the rest of the group. Classes are kept to a maximum of 7 people, making for a warm and friendly ambiance in which to learn how to cook like an Italian. We struck lucky with a charming group of would-be chefs. Notting Hill has some fantastic independent food stores if you know where to look, which we didn’t until now. We headed first to a local fishmonger where Charlotte and Claire gave us some pointers on how to identify fresh fish, such as lifting the gills to check that they’re a dark red colour. Next we popped into a fantastic butchers, a bakery and a deli to stock up on fresh produce. They asked us what our preferences were for some of the dishes and all dietary requirements can be catered for.
Of course, the star of the area is Portobello Road market. It’s a great source for fresh fruit and vegetables. I’d actually booked an outdoor screening of Notting Hill at Opera Holland Park as a surprise for Paul a few days later. The market features quite prominently in the film, with Hugh Grant walking through it, looking depressed as he tries unsuccessfully to get over Julia Robert’s character ;-).
With our ingredients assembled, we walked the short distance to the cookery school. The tone was set by this retro sign – Claire and Charlotte aim to make cooking fun. They’re a great double act and I wouldn’t be surprised if a TV cookery show beckons one day.
They uncorked a bottle of their very own Prosecco, a Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin wine of the highest quality. The grapes are harvested by hand and the delicate taste has notes of ripe fruit, almond and vanilla. It’s available to purchase online and quite a bargain at 72 euros for a case of 6 bottles.
One thing that we appreciated about Claire and Charlotte is that they are very generous, not only with their wine but also with the quantity of food. In addition to the dishes that we would prepare, they rustled up some tasty appetizers. Charlotte’s tip for bruschetta is not to chop the tomato into small pieces as it tends to fall off the bread when you’re trying to eat it. Just halve cherry tomatoes and squash them onto the bread and they should stay on with no problem!
I’ve felt quite hungry at other cookery classes as you often get no food until everything is cooked so it was a welcome change to have something to keep us going whilst we learnt how to cook like an Italian. Another difference with many classes is that you are each given different tasks. When I’ve done the whole recipe, I’ve sometimes struggled to keep up with the pros but here you work at your own pace without holding anyone up.
Parma ham and melon is a classic that never goes out of fashion.
We started by preparing a fresh tuna tartar with cherry tomatoes, oregano, capers and spring onion. I liked the simplicity of this dish, as you just chop the tuna finely into cubes, add all the above ingredients and a splash of lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil.
We also made a chicken liver paté which is hands down the best one that I’ve eaten. First we finely sliced onion, celery and carrot before cooking them on a low heat and incorporating them into the chopped chicken liver mix. A dash of port, some butter, olive oil and double cream added to the silky flavour.
Next up was our most photogenic dish, a fennel and blood orange salad with Taggiasca Italian olives. Again, this was a doddle to prepare, so perfect for weekend chefs like me!
In contrast, I found the salt and pepper stuffed squid with ricotta, thyme and citrus zest a bit more fiddly to prepare. That’s probably because I was rubbish at stuffing the squid with the ricotta mix. The stuffing mix itself was really quick to do and would make a nice starter in its own right.
The end result was superb, with none of the chewiness that you sometimes get with squid.
Perhaps my favourite dish of all was the zucchini and smoked bacon frittata. The bacon gave it a unique taste and I’d definitely make this at home.
I learnt a useful tip when preparing asparagus with a parmesan and truffle oil. Rather than discarding the end of the asparagus, as I had been doing, you can simply use a vegetable parer to remove the outer tough parts at the base and it will be as good as the top!
Another Italian classic is good old meatballs and we learnt how to make some really flavorful ones. The secret is to use half beef and half pork mince and a high quality Passatta. After prepping the ingredients, you roll the mince mixture into balls using your hands…
before adding the passatta and gently cooking.
Paul is a bit of a dab hand at making saffron risotto with his Father living in Swiss Italy, so it was interesting to see how this one compared. It certainly didn’t disappoint, and I’d have eaten seconds if we weren’t feeling rather full by now!
Our final main course was oven-baked seabass with sliced potato, cherry tomatoes and spring onion. When the fish slides off the bone, that’s a good indicator that it’s completely cooked.
The finale to our fabulous cookery day learning how to cook like an Italian was a homemade tiramisu. This heavenly combination of eggs, sugar, mascarpone, lady finger biscuits and strong coffee is topped with cocoa powder and ready to devour!
And here are some of the dishes that we learnt how to cook like an Italian, with a little help from Charlotte and Claire. After our lesson we were sent not only all the recipes, but also some Italian cookery tips and more recipes devised by Enrica Rocca herself so that we really know how to cook like an Italian. We’re heading to Venice in October so we’re going to put the Venetian restaurant recommendations on their website to good use! I highly recommend Enrica Rocca Cooking School – Claire and Charlotte have succeeded in demystifying Italian cuisine and I can’t wait to recreate those delicious recipes. You’ll see from the rave reviews on TripAdvisor that I’m not the only one. They’ve also just launched a weekend brunch with unlimited Prosecco that is proving hugely popular. Venice on a plate – what more could we ask for?
Enrica Rocca Cooking School – London, Cape Town and Venice