As someone whose personal and professional life both revolve around food, it might come as a bit of a surprise to learn that I haven’t had the best track record in the kitchen myself.
Admittedly I’ve come a long way since the time I set the kitchen on fire (luckily my friends put it out before the Dons at Oxford had reason to throw me out), but I still have some way to go before I can confidently say I’ve fulfilled the resolution I made back in 2012. So, when an invitation to Enrica Rocca Cooking School popped up in my inbox, it was an opportunity much too irresistible to pass up…
The school has been founded by a Venetian Countess, Enrica Rocca, and has a chapter in Venice too (housed in their family palazzo). The original London branch is ably run by her daughters Claire and Charlotte, out of their inviting home in Notting Hill. But before we get started in their gorgeous kitchen, we first meet at Ladbroke Grove Station.
The next couple of hours are an animated lesson in sourcing the highest quality ingredients and we visit an organic family butcher, a Scandinavian bakery, a sustainable fishmonger’s and of course, Portobello Market.
The colourful stalls are the deciding factor in setting the menu for the afternoon and we take our pick from seasonal produce and alluring vegetables which pique our interest – such as the Sputnik-resembling kohrabi. Part of the cabbage family, it lends itself rather marvellously to a carpaccio-like salad later in the day!
The morning also provides our first glimpse into the impassioned approach driving the school, as Charlotte spiritedly explains how the underlying quality of the ingredients feeds into the final flavour and finesse of the dishes. It’s this uncompromising focus on quality which reflects in her mother’s own-label of Prosecco, with the grapes harvested by hand!
Back in their airy Notting Hill abode, the scene is set and the Prosecco uncorked with a satisfying pop (it’s generously refilled throughout the course of the afternoon). We’re all ravenous by this point, so we start by making a beetroot dip and bruschetta, to take the edge off our hunger.
If you’ve ever wondered, the trick for a good bruschetta is to rub a bit of garlic onto a lightly grilled or toasted slice of bread (we use a rustic loaf from Fabrique Bakery); then to halve a few cherry tomatoes and squash each piece face-down, so that the juices seep through. Drizzle some olive oil, sprinkle on some Maldon salt, scatter a few basil leaves and you’re good to go!
Working slightly in reverse, we move on to the tiramisu next as this quintessential Italian dessert takes a good few hours to set.
After that, time just whizzes by in a blur of chopping, chattering, prepping and assembling a feisty selection of antipasti (complimented by homemade pesto and a ricotta stuffing); bold and beautiful salads (a kohlrabi carpaccio and a blood orange and fennel salad); and stuffed aubergine rolls (which are baked for a lighter but flavour-packed take on melanzane alla parmigiana).
There are seven of us making up the class in total – two couples; an old friend of Charlotte who’s just moved to London; my friend, Raisa and I.
We amiably divvy the tasks between us so we can work at our own pace, whilst moving freely around the rustic island kitchen. We might have started the morning in our cliquey pairings, but a few glasses of Prosecco and swapping of stories later, we’re all fast friends. In fact, by the time the table is laid with the first course – my new pals even indulge me in allowing my camera to eat first…
As we graze on the spread, our mains simultaneously take shape under Charlotte’s engaging and infectiously-enthusiastic tutelage.
We master the skills needed to whip out an oven-baked seabass (finely layered with sliced potato, cherry tomatoes and spring onions), whilst a risotto simmers on the stove, heartily brimming with fresh peas and asparagus…
… And last but not least. We remove the tiramisu for the fridge, liberally dust on a heavy blanket of cocoa powder and dig in. The wonderfully creamy dessert quite literally translates to ‘pick-me-up’ in Italian, and the recipe has been surprisingly simple to follow. I’m certain that it’s the first of today’s dishes which I’ll be confidently recreating on my own!
We stretch the afternoon for as long as we can – after all, it’s not everyday you find yourself in an archetypal Italian home.
From our morning in the Market through to the oasis-like setting, new friendships forged over fizz and banter, life skills learned and knock-out dishes feasted on – it’s been one entirely extraordinary experience.
Enrica Rocca Cooking School Notting Hill, 227 Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill, W10 6HG London; Tel: +447957078974
I was invited to Enrica Rocca Cookery School.
Recipe for the tiramisu, here.