|Barilla tagliatelle with fresh ricotta, asparagus, nduja and salted ricotta made at|
Casa Barilla, Annandale Street, Annandale
|Executive Chef Luca Ciano of Casa Barilla Cooking School|
It's known for specialties like my favourite salumi, nduja Calabrian spicy salami paste and caciocavallo cheese, with a cuisine that's a blend of meat and fish offerings as is characteristic of many regions of Italy that have a sea border as well as inland areas.
|Casa Barilla Cooking School, Annandale Street|
|In the cooking school kitchen|
He has much respect for the Sydney restaurant scene in general, but especially the high end Italian restaurants whose chefs’ portraits adorn the walls of the class kitchen. Ciano cites the lack of good mid-range dining in Sydney as one of our city's weaknesses compared to Italy.
|Chef Ciano cutting dough for crostoli|
Crostoli or chiacchiere are fried pieces of lightly sweetened dough, dusted liberally with icing sugar. It's similar to the dough used in making cannoli shells, just shaped differently and easier for it.
There's also the savoury version gnocco fritto which I had in Bologna in the north of Italy, alongside various cured meats and cheeses.
|Deep frying crostoli|
Chef Ciano did a quick demonstration before we returned to our kitchen stations to make our own dough.
|Crostoli - traditional Easter fritters|
Chef Ciano admits to using his chiacchiere as a base for plenty of Nutella, straight from the jar.
|Deep frying croquettes|
The eggplant "meatless meatballs" comprised roasted and mashed eggplant flesh, various cheeses including fresh mozzarella, and egg and breadcrumbs to bind the mixture. Coated in flour, egg then breadcrumbs, the croquettes were expertly shaped into cylinders (which is the part of the recipe I think I would have eggplant mash falling through my fingers).
|Eggplant croquette with crisp eggplant skins and Barilla tomato and basil sauce|
Chef Ciano joked that Australian eateries offered freshly cracked pepper with everything, "even on your cappuccino!" as he added pepper and olive oil to finish. I can’t disagree – cracked black pepper is one of my favourite spices.
The eggplant croquettes were excellent: piping hot, stringy with cheese and enhanced with both the Barilla sauce and eggplant skins. It’s also a versatile recipe as almost any vegetable can be used (as long as it’s not too wet) and any type of meat can be added (mince, prosciutto, seafood).
|Cooking in the kitchen|
|Mise en place|
|Chef Ciano adding tagliatelle to the sauce|
In Australia, we have their pasta and sauces range; however, in Italy they offer much more under a variety of brands.
|Barilla egg tagliatelle|
Use lots of water so that the pasta won’t stick to each other, reducing the starch to water ratio. Never add oil or wash pasta after cooking (perhaps an exception for pasta salad) – both tips of which impact the starch left on pasta which helps sauces stick to the shapes.
|Cooking spring onions in olive oil|
|Cooking chopped asparagus|
|Heating Barilla Ricotta sauce|
|Adding pasta to sauce in the pan|
|Creating a pasta tower|
Twirling the long pasta with a large fork in a ladle, a bit of a pasta nest forms and can be gently placed onto a plate, for garnishing with grated salted ricotta and oregano sprigs.
|Wine served with lunch|
|Adding grappa to crostoli dough|
For those who haven't used a pasta machine before, this was a great opportunity to sample before making the very easy decision to buy one.
|Chef Ciano demonstrating pasta rolling|
With sheets of pasta rolled, it was simply a matter of cutting them into rectangles with a pastry cutter with a slit in the middle, and getting the frying oil ready.
|Deep frying crostoli|
I loved seeing the dough puff up with bubbles almost as soon as it hit the hot oil, with the grappa and beaten egg in the dough reacting superbly.
In cooking to a golden state, we needed to ensure that the crostoli was cooked for long enough so that it would stay crisp at a later time – an audible crunch when breaking the pastry was the indicator.
At the end of the 2.5 hour class (which ran a little over time in our case), we received Barilla goodie bags featuring the egg tagliatelle we had used for lunch, a jar of Barilla pesto sauce, recipes incorporating Barilla products and a miniature bottle of Campari.
The classes at Casa Barilla are definitely fun and worthwhile. The kitchen setup is great, chef Ciano and his right-hand-man Angelo are infinitely entertaining and full of knowledge on Italian cuisine, and meanwhile, lunch (or dinner) is sorted.
While it could be considered easy enough to cook dried pasta with a jar of sauce, the Casa Barilla classes take basic supermarket ingredients a step further, with tips and tricks that can be used in the kitchen widely and regularly. And as for my visit to Calabrian cuisine – it was hot but I liked it.
See more photos on my Facebook page (and Like it while you're there!). Casa Barilla hosts hands-on classes, demonstrations and celebrity chef classes throughout the year, with several scheduled as part of next month’s Good Food Month – see the website for details.