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Cooking with Caldesi

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La Cucina Caldesi is something of an institution in London's Marylebone, having schooled enthusiasts in the art of fine Italian cooking since 2005.

As one such enthusiast (frankly, who isn't?), Stylist jumped at the chance to learn how to cook an authentic Italian meal with Giancarlo Caldesi, to celebrate 50 years of Italian food in the UK with Bertolli.

Caldesi, who founded both the school and the neighbouring Caffe Caldesi with his wife Katie, is a larger-than-life presence whose passion for Italian cooking is inspired by his childhood in Tuscany and a long line of traditional family recipes.

The best bit about his classes, as we quickly discovered, is that they involve just as much eating as cooking - with very little theory and a hands-on approach.

ABOVE: The legendary Cucina Caldesi off Marylebone Lane

We split into pairs and each took a starter, a main and a dessert. Ours was the main, Pollo alla Pancetta, an apparently simple dish which nevertheless involved quite a bit of tricky manoeuvring.

After wrestling with cocktail sticks for a good five minutes, Caldesi came to the rescue, expertly pinning strips of pancetta round chicken breasts oozing with gorgonzola cheese.

Then it was time to prep the squid rings, before settling down in time-honoured style for a glass of white wine as Caldesi regaled us with stories about the school, the restaurant and his favourite dishes.

One of these is strawberry risotto (Risotto alle Fragole), an offbeat concoction of rice, vegetable broth, onions, grated Parmigiano and fresh strawberries.

It made for a surprisingly tasty starter, combining a creamy texture with a bittersweet tang. The class ended on a flamboyant note, with Caldesi exercising his blow torch skills on the crème brûlées, with the odd small fire along the way.

Enjoy Caldesi's recipes including Padron peppers with chorizo and seafood polenta, below.

Bertolli has been searching for the UK's favourite Italian delis and trattorias with the Bertolli Spread Olive D'Oro Awards. The awards celebrate 50 years of Italian food in the UK. Go to bertolli.co.uk to see the winners.

Recipes

Crispy squid with garlic & paprika mayo (serves 2)

  • 200g squid, cleaned
  • 2 tbsp. plain flour
  • 2 tbsp. semolina
  • 350ml vegetable oil
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ¼ - ½ tsp. ground smoked paprika
  • Lemon wedges, to serve
  • 4 slices ciabatta
  • 30g Bertolli spread

1. Cut the squid into 1.5cm tubes and divide the tentacles into pairs. Place the whole lot into a large freezer bag. Add the flour, semolina and a large pinch of salt to the bag. Seal the top and shake everything together until the squid is evenly coated. Set aside for 5 minutes.

2. Heat 250ml of the oil in a deep frying pan over a high heat. While it’s warming up make the mayo.

3. Place the egg yolk, garlic, paprika and a pinch of salt into a mortar and mix vigorously with the pestle (or use a bowl and the end of a rolling pin instead). Slowly add the remaining oil, drop by drop, mixing really well between each addition. Continue for about 3-5 minutes until really thick and all the oil has been used up. Season to taste.

4. Drop a little of the flour mixture into the hot oil, if it sizzles and turns golden then the oil is ready for cooking (approx. 170deg C). Add the squid and cook in batches for 2 minutes, until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Serve warm with lemon wedges for squeezing over and a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise for dipping.

Padron peppers with crispy chorizo crumbs

  • 50g chorizo picante
  • 25g stale bread, white or brown
  • 1 tbsp. thyme leaves
  • 25g Bertolli spread
  • 400g Padron peppers
  • Sea salt, to serve

1. Dice the chorizo into 1cm pieces. Place the chorizo and the bread into a food processor and blitz to make fine crumbs. Stir in the thyme leaves.

2. Warm a large, attractive frying or paella pan over a high heat. Add the chorizo crumbs and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often until golden and crisp. Spoon onto a plate and keep warm.

3. Return the pan to the heat and add the Bertolli. Add the peppers and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes until softened and starting to colour.

4. Sprinkle over the crumbs and some sea salt, toss together and take the sizzling pan to the table to serve. A chilled beer or glass of white wine is all you need to complete this tasty tapas.

Seafood and Polenta (serves 4)

  • 50g Bertolli spread
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 400g pack mixed frozen seafood
  • 100ml (4 fl oz) white wine/ fish stock
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • A little salt and pepper
  • 500g pack ready made polenta, thickly sliced

1. Heat 20g Bertolli spread in a large saucepan and saute shallot, garlic and the frozen seafood for 5 minutes.

2. Add the wine or stock, can tomatoes and puree and simmer for 10 minutes or until cooked through.

3. Meanwhile, heat the remaining spread in a frying pan and saute the slices of polenta on each side for 2-3 minutes until golden.

4. Serve the seafood topped with the polenta and sprinkle over the parsley.

Pollo alla Pancetta (serves 4)

  • 4 corn fed chicken breasts
  • 100g (5oz) Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 8 thin slices Pancetta
  • 25g (1oz) Bertolli spread
  • 100ml (4 fl oz) red wine
  • 225ml (8 fl oz) chicken stock
  • 1tsp cornflour
  • Fresh thyme to garnish

1. Flatten the chicken breasts slightly and place a quarter of the cheese on each breast with a quarter of the pepper slices.

2. Roll up and wrap each one with 2 – 3 slices of pancetta. Secure with cocktail sticks.

3. Melt the Bertolli in a large frying pan, add the chicken and cook, turning occasionally until lightly brown.

4. Pour in the wine and stock, cover and simmer gently for 30 – 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

5. Blend the cornflour with a little cold water to make a smooth paste and stir into the pan. Cook gently, stirring, until the sauce thickens.

6. Serve the chicken with the sauce and garnish with thyme.

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