What I love about Italian food is what most people love about Italian food. It’s simple, fuss-free, fresh and most importantly, delicious.
And aside from my love of Caribbean flavours (which I probably eat in some shape or form on a weekly basis), a large proportion of my favourite dishes genuinely come from good old Italia. I mean who could live without lasagne, pasta, pizza and risotto? Not me.
Then you have cicchetti – the antipasto of the Venetian world, which seems to be taking off in London right now (some restaurants are doing it better than others). But there’s only one place you should consider, for learning how to cook cicchetti and Venetian cuisine. And that’s the Enrica Rocca Cooking School.
Enrica Rocca, a Venetian countess, set up her eponymous cookery school in Venice in 2012, which she still runs today. You can visit her franchise in Cape Town and a London outpost run in Notting Hill.
When Enrica’s daughters Charlotte and Claire invited me to join them for a lesson in Venetian cuisine, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. They run various different cookery classes from their home and this one was set to be a full Saturday exploring antipasti or cicchetti, pasta, fish and meat courses.
As soon as I met the lovely sisters with the rest of the group on the Saturday morning, I knew it was going to be good. One couple from Nevada had already been to a class with Enrica Rocca in Venice at least once, and as the class went on, I learnt it wasn’t uncommon for them to get returning visitors to their schools.
I knew it was going to be so much more than learning how to cook too. The first hour of the 6-hour cookery class involves a tour of Notting Hill’s finest fishmongers, butchers and the stalls of Portobello Market, to pick up the ingredients for that day.
Doing your shopping at your local supermarket (or even worse, online), is something we’re all guilty of in our busy lives. But listening to Claire and Charlotte talk us through the differences in supermarket meat and quality dry aged meat bought from quality butchers such as Provenance Village Butcher in Notting Hill, was a real life lesson.
So was seeing the delicious quality of produce available from Portobello Market and the surrounding independent shops. We all know where our local market is, but so many of us are guilty of dismissing it for the more convenient option (me included). Only when you step ‘on the other side’ do you realise what you’re missing out on.
After picking up all our ingredients, we headed back to Charlotte and Claire’s place in Ladbroke Grove and gathered around the floating island of their cosy kitchen.
Before long, we were sipping on glasses of Enrica Rocca branded Prosecco (which is fantastic) and had whipped up some delicious bruschetta using the fire oven-baked bread we’d just picked up from a local pizzeria and bakery.
It was the perfect little pick me up as we chopped, blended, peeled and cooked our way to our Italian feast.
There are two things to note about the Enrica Rocca Cookery School which makes it so appealing.
The first is there’s no rigid agenda, so the group basically cooks what they like, with the guidance of Charlotte and Claire (on what’s seasonal and fresh that day).
The second, is the incredibly laid back approach. As we gathered round the kitchen sipping on our bubbles, it felt like we were hanging out with some friends rather than taking part in a formal cooking class.
There’s something so rewarding too about gathering all your ingredients from the best independent producers.
We picked the freshest prawns from the local fishmongers….
….and pan-fried them with mint, olive oil and lemon peel.
We took feta cheese from Portobello Market….
…to make spinach, feta and Parmesan stuffed mushrooms and a delicious frittata.
We used fresh basil, courgettes and aubergine….
….to make the most delicious pesto I’ve ever eaten. Drizzle it on top of some griddled courgettes, for another divine cicchetti dish.
And we transformed Italian sausage meat and streaky bacon from the Provenance Village Butcher…
…into the most delicious meatballs.
I absolutely adored the asparagus, which was ridiculously simple but sooo delicious. Simply mix together some grated parmesan, balsamic vinegar, truffle oil and seasoning and drizzle it over the steamed or boiled asparagus. It’s a great cicchetti dish to impress your friends with.
The Mediterranean lamb was incredibly delicious too. After searing it on both sides and adding cherry tomatoes, oregano, Kalamata (or Taggiasca) olives and a generous amount of red wine, this was slow-cooked in the oven for around three hours. We served this with pureed celeriac and oh wow, it was good.
Oh yes, and we made salmon tartare; Italian sausage and radicchio pasta and tiramisu too.
I really don’t know how we made so much food in such a short amount of time. AND we managed to chat and share tips and stories across the group in that time. It was quite a feast for six of us and the flavours were incredible.
And it was an absolute pleasure to spend the afternoon with these two, who were a true inspiration. They’ve clearly taken on their mother’s passion and natural flair for Venetian cuisine. I loved hearing their lovely stories about Enrica’s career.
As I say, this is the way cooking should be – easy, fresh, seasonal and straight from the market. If you like the sound of it, join the girls for the cookery class yourself or grab yourself a copy of Venice on a Plate – But What a Plate, the latest cookery book by Enrica Rocca.