A few weeks ago I had the pleasure, along with my husband and five other diners, of attending a cooking class with Sandra del Greco. Sandra runs cooking classes for small groups at her home, which she shares with husband Alf, in the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond. From the moment you arrive, you feel you have entered an intimate, private dinner club. Sandra’s classes each focus on a different aspect of Italian cooking, but don’t be fooled into thinking that she only cooks Italian. No, Sandra is accomplished in many world cuisines such as Thai and Moroccan amongst others. Her eclectic home has floor to ceiling shelves to contain her numerous cookbooks. But with her new venture, La Cucina di Sandra (just over 14 months old now), she focuses on regional Italian food as well as special focus classes on say mushrooms, or matching pasta shapes with sauces, or zuppe e minestre (types of soups). We were fortunate to attend the class La Cucina Abruzzese ~ the cuisine of Abruzzo. This is Sandra’s home region; she was born in Pescara on the Adriatic coast. Abruzzo is well known for its many delicious seafood dishes but as its geography also includes rolling hills and mountains that run along the central spine of central Italy, the dishes of the shepherds feature prominently as well. After introductions and a welcome beverage and spuntino (a snack of parmesan biscuits to have with our wine), we gathered at Sandra’s long kitchen bench and watched the proceedings. Lively conversation and debate ensued about fresh vs dried pasta, cheese with fish, misconceptions about Italian food, how emigration has created different ‘Italian’ dishes, plus imported or local ingredients, small goods and cheeses available for home cooks in Australia. Sandra continued to cook through all the discussion, explaining each step along the way. So what did we eat? Our first course of Minestra di brodo di Pesce (a fish soup with broccoli and pasta). It contained lovely pieces of firm white ling and whiting, plus prawns in a very refined clear fish stock. Next, we enjoyed Cozze ripieni al forno (stuffed baked mussels). The oven cooking created a savoury crust without over-cooking the mussels. For the next course we moved inland. Sandra browned finely minced lamb with white wine, saffron, sage and stock. This formed the base upon which rested rigatoni pasta that had been tossed through beaten egg. The process of blending the wheat starch from the still-slightly-wet pasta with the raw beaten egg created a beautiful, satiny emulsification. Topped with freshly grated pecorino, this had to be my dish of the night ~ Rigatoni all’Abruzzese con salsa allo zafferano (rigatoni with saffron sauce). I am not a sweets lover as a rule, but I love a desert that includes cheese. Sandra’s desert course, Ricotta all zafferano (saffron ricotta) used ricotta sourced from local Melbourne business La Latteria. She had drained the ricotta overnight then flavoured it with lemon, saffron sugar and some sweet Marsala wine. Topped with shaved chocolate, chopped hazelnuts and a crostoli biscuit, this was a fresh and light finish to a great meal. Before attending her class we had never met Sandra, but already we’re talking about how we can swing another trip to Melbourne. Sandra’s passion for Italy and generosity with her knowledge make this an experience worth travelling for. We drove eight hours from Adelaide to get to La Cucina di Sandra and it was indeed ‘vale la pena’ – worth the effort! Here’s all you need to know to book your own evening or buy a class for a friend. So go ahead – take a trip to Italy, if only for an evening.
La Cucina di Sandra
62 Lyndhurst Street Richmond Victoria 3121 Australia Telephone: 0419 503 805 or (03) 9421 1883 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: http://www.lacucinadisandra.com.au/