Do you ever get to the point where you really have no idea what to buy someone you’ve known for 40 odd years? Well, that’s how I felt this month. So I decided to buy my Mum (and I) a Birthday pressie… an Italian cooking class with La Cucina Di Sandra.
This is how my day started yesterday. I raced around Melbourne, attending a morning Networking event and then visiting a supplier in the afternoon, heading back up to the hills to play ‘Mummy’ for oh… about half an hour and then travelling back into Richmond. I ran around the darkened streets behind Bridge Road and found myself standing breathless outside a converted warehouse complex to attend my first ever cooking class. Phew!
Sandra Del Greco, the owner and passionate Italian cook behind La Cucina Di Sandra welcomed me and Mum into her home where ‘we took our seats’ at her kitchen bench with six other guests to get a taste of dishes from Abruzzo. I could tell right away that this was going to be a warm and homely cooking experience in Sandra’s eclectic and colourful home. All around me I spotted stunning collections of crockery and glassware, with artwork, photo collections and cookbooks lining the exposed brick walls of the original warehouse. Apparently I am not the only class participant who has thought of leaving with a few of Sandra’s delicious plates and bowls delicately placed in my handbag.
So… armed with a glass of white wine and a plate of Biscotti al parmigiano, Sandra got down to the business of cooking our meal. Serving as our starter, Minestra di brodo di pesce e broccoli which was a deliciously light fish soup with broccolini and pasta. Mmmm…
Soup was followed by Cozze ripiene al forno, stuffed mussels, which required us to sit down at the beautifully set table to enjoy.
Afterwards it was back to the kitchen bench to watch the preparation of the main course, Rigatoni all’ Abruzzese con salsa allo zafferano. Throughout the evening, Sandra’s food prep was indispersed with facts about the cuisine of Abruzzo, the culture and stories behind the dishes and her life as a young migrant. I loved her story about the young Italian men who came to Melbourne in the 50’s and set-up the iconic Italian hub of Lygon Street, not knowing how to cook themselves (being good Italian boys) they rang their mothers back in Italy after their cafés were closed at midnight to try and get hold of the family recipes!
The Rigatoni all’ Abruzzese con salsa allo zafferano was to die for! Moist lamb mince infused with garlic and chilli served with good quality Rigatoni pasta. Hungry yet?
Dessert, always my preferred course. Ricotta allo zafferano seemed so simple in its preparation, achievable even for me to manage at home especially now I know… ‘you can just get disposable piping bags in the Supermarket Bree’. We watched Sandra pipe this smooth, Saffron coloured, Musket laced, mousse mixture into gorgeous dessert glasses, sprinkled with dark chocolate flakes and crushed hazelnuts and topped with a single traditional Crostoli. I scoffed it before managing to take a photo! Sooooo… good.
As each course was created and served in front of seven salivating mouths Sandra made sure we knew the best places in Melbourne to purchase goods. I’ll definitely head off on a Saturday expedition to La Latteria for the best Ricotta in town and then Mediterranian Wholesalers in Brunswick to pretend I’m a fledgling 24 year old again (my then stomping ground) and to buy some GOOD pasta.
At some point through the night, Sandra’s husband Alf / Alfred / Alfredo greeted us in Italian as he returned home and joined our boutique Italian dinner party. Of course making sure the tinkling Italian background music that had been playing throughout the evening continued and that he was available to assist the chef if the need arose.
As much as I loved the food and watching it being prepared in front of me, I think the part that I liked most was the lady herself. Sandra is clearly a lover of creativity and style and she shares a special intimacy with her participants that makes her lessons very real and honest. Attending a La Cucina Di Sandra cooking class is but a small invitation into Sandra’s world.
When I got home last night, close to 11pm (the classes go for 4 hours) I couldn’t sleep. I really wanted to tell my husband all about it but he was asleep and growly that I’d already woken him up. Isn’t that a sign of a good night? Wanting to keep talking about the experience once it’s finished. Thank god I have a blog.
Go visit the Italian lady in her beautiful Richmond home and get a taste of what REAL Italian cooking is all about. You can check out the La Cucina Di Sandra website to find out more about Sandra’s unique cooking classes.