Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Me and Alastair

I was nodding off at my desk the other day, when I got an email.

I was excited. I don't get that many emails. It was from Alastair, who is a boy who runs an in-your-own-home cookery school who wanted to teach me how to make pasta. Okay not a boy, he is 29.

He's more handsome than this in real life
 But  he really does run his own cookery school. He comes round your house with all the stuff and teaches you how to do it all, without you having to put your shoes on or anything.

"I saw on your blog you wanted to make pasta so I'll come and teach you how to do it," he said. My heart sank slightly at the prospect that I might have to do something, but then lifted slightly when I realised that what I could sneakily do was get him round to my house, feign exhaustion from pregnancy and get him to make me lunch.

"Ok," I said grandly. "But I get very tired. So we'll have to keep the lesson to one and a half hours."

Alastair arrived at 10am on his motorbike with all his kit. Then I talked about myself solidly for 3 and a half hours, while eating all the filling for the ravioli and all the cheese for the cheese sauce. He made the pasta, which I managed not to eat until it was actually cooked.

I'd explain how he did it but the thing is, it was quite complicated. Best get him round to your house to teach you how to do it. Or if you're doing a no-carb thing, he can teach you how to chop things, or fillet fish, or make sushi! Sushi-making is his most popular class and more details can be found here. I tried to persuade him to do a class in macaroons and one in whoopie pies, because that's all anyone seems interested in making these days. Apart from sushi.

If you don't have a pasta machine, you're not going to make pasta, probably. And if you do have a pasta machine, you're already going to have a good pasta dough recipe. But one or two of you have complained about Jamie Oliver's pasta dough recipe, so if you want Alastair's, which worked out great, here it is:

400g 00 pasta flour
2 whole eggs
4 egg yolks
2 pinches salt
1 tsbp olive oil
semolina flour for dusting

So we made the dough. Or rather, Alastair made it and I sat at the other end of the kitchen eating crackers and going "Uh huh, yup, yup."

I insisted that Alastair teach me (i.e. do and I watch) hand-made ravioli because I thought it would be nice for my readers to be able to make some pasta thingy without having to buy a pasta machine. But it would take you about 8,000 years to make a lot of ravioli by hand, because you have to roll out the dough so bloody thin, so we skipped over that quite quickly to rolling it out with a machine.

Alastair says that Kitchencraft make a good pasta machine for about £20. But he also said don't buy one on eBay because sometimes they're rusty.

So this is a ravioli tray-thingy, that Alastair bought from a cookshop called David Mellor, apparently not the former Minister for Fun who had an affair with Antonia de Sancha. You have to sprinkle a LOT of semolina in it to stop the wretched pasta from sticking.

Then you lay a super-thin sheet of pasta dough on the ravioli sheet, wipe water over the whole thing to stick it together and then add your filling (in this case butternut squash, pancetta and shallot, sauteed for 20 mins and then mashed) in little blobs. The you put another sheet over the top and press down. Sprinkle the top with semolina flour and with a rolling pin, sort of squish down on the jaggedy lines and then turn the whole thing upside down so it all come out, like the picture above.

The first trayload of these will be a disaster, and will get steadily better. By the end I, and by that I mean Alastair, was doing it like a pro.

The ravioli was boiled for 4 minutes and served with a pasta sauce made from melting some cream and the last scrap of dolcelatte that I didn't eat straight out of the packet with my fingers and some toasted walnuts (ditto) together and pouring over, finishing off with some basil leaves.

And here it is! It was fantastic. Even yummier for my barely having lifted a finger in its creation. That isn't normal, said Alastair. Usually his students are a lot more involved than me. I scowled. "But they're not pregnant obviously," he said hurriedly, as I posted a large spoonful of blue cheese sauce into my mouth and then shooed him out of the door so that I could have a nap.

I've got a limited number of promotional discount cards here, so if anyone wants a visit from Alastair (although he can't go much outside London on his bike), or to give a class as a gift, drop me an email and I'll post one to you.

Or if you'd like to pay full price, because that's the kind of person you are, email Alastair directly on contact@cookeryschool.com or join up at the website at http://www.cookeryschool.com/.


  1. I've only recently started making pasta because I got a machine as a wedding gift in October. (If only there were more occasions where it was acceptable to send out a whole list of wants.)

    I've made ravioli without the tray thingy. It's an Ottolenghi recipe in his book Plenty. You roll out the thin sheets and then cut out shapes with a pastry cutter. Fill half the shapes and then you fit on the lids, squeezing out all the air and sealing tightly. You also wash with egg white - I guess this helps it to stick. It worked really well and I'm a bit of a slap dash cook.

  2. Alastair is an absolute hero. I gave my sister a cookery class with him for her birthday and can barely get her out of the kitchen now...

  3. Oops, I didn't mean to say Jamie's pasta recipe doesn't work at all. It may well work with a pasta machine (I didn't try as I don't have one). But he says it can be done with just a rolling pin, and it can't. Here's my attempt at it, you'll see the dough isn't nearly thin enough:

    Pasta from scratch

  4. This is amazing ! dont suppose any more vouchers left ?

  5. We have done the make-your-own pasta thing several times at home, and it's fun and turns out delicious (though not nearly as professional-looking as the above), but it is very fiddly and takes ages. We now do it using wonton wrappers and it still tastes great, but halves the prep time.