I had the absolute pleasure of joining a northern Italian cooking class with La Cucina Di Sandra in Richmond, Melbourne recently. As you all know, I love Italian and I love to cook and learn, so you can imagine my excitement building up to the evening! Sandra casually takes you through an entire meal in her kitchen, teaching you about products, techniques, recipes and serving. Her witty quips and vast knowledge makes for a fantastic evening.
As you walk into Sandra’s house you feel immediately inspired. It’s bright, it’s beautiful and there’s a great vibe. Italian music floods your ears as you are introduced to the others (three lovely ladies in my case) and seated at the kitchen bench where your notes are waiting and you are poured a glass of beautiful wine and offered some delightful, freshly baked polenta cookies.
Then it’s go time! Sandra wants to demonstrate that Italian cooking isn’t just pizza and pasta. It’s much, much broader than that. So with that in mind the entrée we learnt was was tortellini nudi, or tortellini meatballs. It was very different to anything I had ever tried. A different texture too and when combined with the chopped pistachios and baked pasta sticks it made for a really different sensation in your mouth. I would never have thought to put all those different ingredients together!
Sandra has pre-prepared a lot of the meal. Everything is measured and ready and waiting for her. This saves lots of time so you can focus on the exciting parts and chat more about Italy; the food, the culture, the music. She then put’s everything together while you watch, explaining the process and you have prime position to watch her cooking on the element. She has so many hints and tricks, I know I said it earlier but her knowledge on Italy, cooking and ingredients is amazing. Would you believe she has over 500 cookbooks sitting around her apartment?! 500! She uses an online directory to help her find specific recipes. Blew my mind.
The next entree is gamberi alla fonduta di gorgonzola, or prawns in gorgonzola fondue. Now, I’m not sure if I have told you about how I feel about gorgonzola but my goodness, it has to be one of my favourite cheeses. Again, this is a dish that wouldn’t have ever crossed my mind but I would happily serve at a dinner party!
Sandra was born in the centre of Italy, about 1.5hours from Rome, and has been in Australia 40-ish years. These classes have been her dream for about twenty years. Her passion shines through.
We consume the entrées at the bench while Sandra starts on the main. Maiale in crosta di pancetta, or pork fillet rolled in pancetta. She dices up vegetables and fries a pork strap in some cream before taking it out, wrapping it in pancetta and finishing it in the oven while the asiago cheese sauce is bubbling away on the bench. All this with such an air of enjoyment and relaxation. You can tell it is her true passion.
Sandra started the classes at the end of June and soon needed to add more on to keep up with demand. She now runs two classes per week and sometimes an extra for bespoke events. Keep an eye out for her finger food classes which will be on their way soon!
We are shown how to serve the dish and ushered to the table to enjoy the meal together. Sandra’s husband has arrived home and adds to the great mix of people we have in the group. I think he must time it perfectly to get in for the main meal – smart man! The pork is tender, the prosciutto crisp and the vegetable flan finishes it all off. The sauce is to die for. Asiago cheese base and generously poured. I’m practically drooling at the memory.
Back to the kitchen bench, Sandra demonstrates how to throw together quick tiramisu. She chooses her recipes keeping in mind a number of factors and having the time to be with your guests during a dinner party is one of them. Even though I was full I still managed to eat most of it! The mascarpone mix with the quality choc and cocoa was unreal. Unlike many tiramisu’s the coffee flavour (I don’t like coffee) wasn’t too empowering.
We sat around chatting for quite some time after dinner about not only the food but our backgrounds and passions.
All in all it was a phenomenal evening and I would definitely suggest it to anyone in or visiting Melbourne.
I will leave you with a few of the tidbits I learnt from Sandra during the evening. I won’t tell you them all though because you need to go find out for yourself!
- Mediterranean Wholesalers on Sydney Street in Melbourne have pretty much anything you could want to cook with at a great price and best quality
- Dolce means sweet, picante means savoury in Italian
- Mortadella is called bologna in Italy
- Prosciutto comes from the leg of the Pig
- Cucina means cuisine or kitchen in Italian