Saturday, 21 August 2010

Caldesi in Campagna: The Promise

On 7th May 2010, Giancarlo Caldesi made a promise. Declared over salsicce fatte in casa, veal saltimbocca and steak tagliata and made sacred with red wine. This exuberant chef from Montepulciano, Tuscany vowed to bequeath the secrets of ragù di cinghiale - that very Tuscan dish of wild boar ragu - to his students after a lesson in his Marylebone cookery school – La Cucina Caldesi. The students had been exerting themselves over Italian Butchery and thought he had been exerted too.

We didn’t really believe him. Did he really like us as much as he claimed that he’d give up a whole day to give us a free bespoke lesson in Bray? Just for us? I wasn't sure we'd been that good at making sausages.

It’s 9.30 on a chilly August morning in Bray. 14 people are staring at a skinless bunny - teeth skeletal and clenched in agony. Giancarlo lops off the feet and enjoys the morbid fascination we display. ‘Always buy rabbit from the butcher with the head on,’ he says conspiratorially. It must be for taste reasons, perhaps buying prior to decapitation stops it going off? ‘You never know - you might be sold a cat’. Oh, right. Several knife flourishes later the rabbit is in pieces ready to be casseroled.

Next it’s pigeon. Feathers fly everywhere after enthusiastic plucking. In a second its skin is un-peeled, breasts teased off, and blood clots from bullet wounds disposed of. Giancarlo’s whites are patchy with gory smears, but his grand figure captures his class’ attention, and if he doesn’t he will spatter you with kisses or pick you out like a naughty schoolchild.

This is all terribly gratuitous. Especially as neither pigeon nor rabbit will be served up to the hungry masses.

‘This is us,’ he declares in thick Italian. ‘A day for us. I don’t want nobody to interfere’.

The restaurant run by Giancarlo and his wife Katie itself is refined and stocked full of art. The floor of the bathroom is the sparkliest marble I ever did see. The garden is ours. We will cook there, learn there, eat there. It is parasoled and kitted out with a ballsy outdoors forno - a boy-meets-man chef’s wet dream. Although only open since 2008, the customers are regular, the dishes elegant but true to its rustic maternal roots.

Yes we are here to learn the intricacies of this ragu, but Giancarlo's generosity stretches further and further as he directs our attempts to devil poussin, create crispy rosemary garlic potatoes, make Italian love, and digest the principles of good cooking. We make pasta, we make ragu. We disturb the amazing and accommodating staff who are just trying to do their day job by wandering in and out of their kitchen with deadly knives and poultry-wrung hands.

The interesting rapport between the head chef Allan, and Giancarlo is a joy to watch. Spat-like and banterous. And the drama unfolds when we learn that the patisserie chef Maria is Allan’s wife, and the Sicilian lemon cheesecake - a star of a dish - is designed by her fair hands.

The three hour lunch matches the three hour lesson. We are the guardians of the secrets of ragù di cinghiale - (to be divulged in my next post). Giancarlo has fulfilled his promise. And more.

So here is what we eventually eat and drink when we sit down at lunch. Do scroll down for Ruth’s Must Drink recommendations. A special thanks must go to Jude, without whose loveliness and organisation, this day would not have happened.

‘I’m totally stupid’, Giancarlo admits, ‘but I know what I’m doing.’ That he does. And I guess, we do now too.

Pappardelle con ragù di cinghiale - Recipe to come in following post

Gilthead Bream - absolutely beautiful. Salmon over coals, with a honey-dressed salad. Devilled Poussin with Rosemary Garlic Potatoes (The recipe in a future post)

Desserts...Lemon Cheesecake with caramelised orange and lemon sauce, pannacotta, churros
The cheesecake was simply the most exquisite dessert. Made with Sicilian lemons, it was the perfect balance of oozy tartness, light sweetness and crunch from the amaretti biscuits.

Caldesi in Campagna

Old Mill Lane, Bray, Berkshire
01628 788500

La Cucina Caldesi Cookery School
118 Marylebone Lane, Marylebone, W1U 2QF
0207 487 0750/6/8

Ruth Ford's Must Drink!

Greco di Tufo is a characterful dry white wine from Tufo in Campania, Greco being the name of the grape. In a glass of this golden wine you can almost taste the glorious sunshine of the warm Italian south: Greco is delicately fragrant like white blossom flowers, and tastes of ripe peaches, and apples, and lemons, with a touch of honey. It is rich and sometimes oily in the most pleasing way, like the salmon Helena ate with it. And yet it finishes crisp, leaving you eager for more of this bright, flavoursome wine. Greco is grown and made all around Southern Italy, and is now very easy to find in the UK, even in the supermarket. I suggest you buy yourself a bottle as an antidote to Pinot Grigio.
With the wild boar, Helena drank Chianti.

There are Chiantis and there are Chiantis...
A good rule when faced with a dizzying choice of wine, or olive oil, or most things really, is to go for the one that has been well made and is therefore good quality. How do you know this with wine? You check the name of the producer on the bottle or wine list. Then you look it up on your Iphone, or whatever piece of smart technology you happen to be carrying (a reference book, perhaps). It’s like looking up the difference between a Rolex and a Casio.
Imagine you went into HMV and you wanted to buy a death metal CD but you’d never heard of any of the band names before. There are hundreds to choose from. Which one is good? What to do? You look around and see a couple that grab your attention and you Google the band names, or simply the topic “good death metal”. You read the reviews and comments. Now you are better equipped to choose your CD.
(Alternatively you could take home several bottles/death metal CDs/watches and try them all out to see which one you like best. This is much more fun where wine is concerned, but I realise not necessarily practical, especially if you’re on your way to a dinner party and already late.)
A bit of research is certainly required where Chianti is concerned. There is too much Chianti. Some of it is wonderful – savoury, rich, and appetite-whetting - and some of it utter dishwater. Chianti is the name of a region in Tuscany where red wine is made. The red wine takes the name of the region, as long as it is made with the correct grapes (Sangiovese is the principal grape, it can be blended with some others including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot). But there are so many different red wines with the Chianti name, of wildly varying quality, that caution must be exercised when choosing which one to drink. For Helena’s cinghiale I recommended the Frescobaldi Castello di Nippozana Riserva 2006 Chianti Rufina which was £40 on the wine list. Frescobaldi is a reliable producer, ‘06 was a great year in Chianti, and Rufina is one of the best areas of vineyards for growing the Sangiovese grape. It worked; the wine tasted good with the rich ragu, and more importantly, Helena enjoyed it.


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