Cooking the classics at Stirred in Veneto

Cooking the classics at Stirred in Veneto

by Tom Riby 12 December 2016

Tom Riby attends a class at the Stirred cookery school in Veneto and discovers that it’s the simplest dishes that are the hardest to master.

Tom worked as the producer for Great Italian Chefs.

Tom worked as the producer for Great Italian Chefs. Originally from the UK, he has always been a part of Britain's culinary scene, working with chefs such as Robert Thompson and Gordon Ramsay, Tom now lives in Tuscany, Italy with his family. His obsession with Italy’s culture combined with a shared passion for food is his dream now realised.

For me, eating in Italy is a bittersweet experience. The sweetness comes from knowing that virtually everything I taste – from the morning’s first expertly-pulled espresso to the dolce in the restaurant at evening’s end – will be intensely memorable. The bitterness comes later, when you return home and realise how much you miss the flavours of the country.

Italians, who are masters of elevating simple tastes and textures into the realm of the extraordinary, also manage to make the whole process look effortless. This is the reason why recreating some of these memorable dishes is not such an easy task. That’s why I decided to pick up a few techniques and learn to cook some Italian staples with Stirred Travel (a specialist in Italian cooking classes) while visiting Veneto.

Located at the foothills of the Dolomites in the northern part of Veneto just an hour north of Venice, the cooking course took place at the spectacular Villa Casagrande, a fifteenth century villa. It’s a place for the true foodie, with a state-of-the-art kitchen decorated in a classic Venetian style, huge open fires, hand painted frescos and incredible ingredients from miles around. All the classes that Stirred organises are taught with an emphasis on technique and becoming acquainted with regional ingredients. Using locally-sourced seasonal produce and ingredients from the Venetian markets, guests can expect expert cookery classes from professional chefs in an intimate setting.

The Stirred cook school is based in Veneto, amongst the foothills of the Dolomite mountains
The kitchen itself is full of all the latest technology and gadgets

I was part of a nicely sized group of individuals from all over the world, all eager to learn the art of Italian cooking. Because it was autumn and Veneto was a little cooler than usual, our chef Jake from Bocca di Lupo in London wisely decided to start with Saltimbocca, a delicious veal recipe topped with prosciutto and marinated in red wine.

After strapping on our new aprons we headed to the beautiful kitchen, so perfectly neat and clean it looked like something out of a magazine. We crowded the kitchen and started chopping, with Jake delving out tasks as we chatted about food, life and everything in between. We prepared the veal and stock and chopped the tomatoes for the saltimbocca. I have devoured this speciality before but never made it, and memories of how it tasted were not helping my appetite. As in any dish that seems simple, it’s getting it exactly right that’s hard.

In addition to our big feast of veal, we also tackled desserts and fresh pasta. Jake had us each make our own orechiette, tagliatelle and trofie. As novices the shapes we made weren’t consistent, but everyone was proud that each pasta had its own character. For dessert Jake had us each make our own semifreddo. The mix is the trickiest bit; done incorrectly leaves you with a slightly curdled texture. I cannot be trusted to do this alone but with Jake’s gentle help, we managed to get it right and into the freezer.

Making pasta from scratch looks easy, but to truly master it takes years of practice
The class also made [i]saltimbocca[/i], a classic dish of veal, sage and prosciutto

As the various components to dinner were cooking, bubbling and setting, we took time out of the kitchen to wonder around the small village and work up an appetite; something that comes as a bonus to a cooking course like this one. On other days, guests travel to the local cities including Venice and can sample great meals in local restaurants. There were some spectacular walks around the mountains and beautiful little shops to peruse full of handmade gifts to take back home.

As the sun set behind the mountains we were summoned back to the kitchen to make the final preparations for dinner. Our host Sarah prepared the table and set the scene while everyone completed the final task of the day – making focaccia topped with caramelised onions.

The fire was roaring, the Amarone was opened and we all sat down to a feast of homemade pasta, saltimbocca and semifreddo, only achievable thanks to Jake and the team. Conversation flowed as easily as the wine and, after we’d finished, all we wanted to do was grab a pillow and rest our eyes, ready for another day of cooking. What a week!

For more information on Stirred Travel, visit their website.