I have been looking forward to starting my cookery course at Leiths School of Food & Wine ever since I booked it three months ago, so was very excited to attend the first of six lessons last night. Started by cooking queen Prue Leith in 1975, the school teaches you the skills to produce good quality food, without the fuss. So, when I received the menu for the next six weeks, I wasn’t surprised to read that I would be taught everything from slow cooking and braising meat to making pasta, risotto and pastry.
The first lesson was a brilliant start to the course, as we learnt to make Red Wine and Portabello Mushroom Risotto served with a Parmesan Crisp, along with Ginger and Brown Sugar Meringues with Ginger Cream. Rather than take you through the recipes step by step (they are all available in the Leiths Cookery Bible), I think it would be better to mention some of the tips I was given along the way.
Due to the timings, we started with the meringues – Pavlova and Eton Mess are two of my favourite desserts, so this wasn’t a problem for me. Everyone knows meringues are notoriously difficult to make as they can so easily go wrong, so I’m glad to now know the following: always use slightly older eggs that have been stored at room temperate; make sure your equipment is clean; cook the mixture on silicone non stick baking parchment rather than grease-proof paper and, if you can help it, try not to make them on a damp day.
If you ever decide to make these meringues, take it from me that they are delicious. The brown sugar gives them a lovely caramel colour, and the ginger provides a bit of a kick at the end. Plus, even though the lesson wasn’t a ‘competition’, I couldn’t help but beam inside when the teacher called my meringues perfect on more than one occasion.
Next came the risotto. I’ve always been devoted to Delia Smith’s wild mushroom version, which can be effortlessly baked in the oven like a rice pudding, but as I want to become a better cook, I knew I should learn how to make it properly.
The best thing about risotto is once you master the basics, you can add pretty much anything to it, whether it’s seafood or butternut squash and sage. When it comes to the rice, it’s always best to use Arborio and cook it slowly so the starch releases slowly, leaving you with a creamy mixture. You need roughly five volumes of stock for every grain and the stock should remain warm between ladles.
The final thing we made was Parmesan crisps, which couldn’t have been easier or more effective. All you do is take a baking sheet covered in parchment, place a cookie cutter on top and fill it with a thin layer of grated Parmesan cheese. Then they are baked in the oven for around five minutes at 200 degrees before you leave them to stand. The crisps were so tasty and, when placed on the risotto, made a great alternative to grated Parmesan cheese.
I’m looking forward to next week’s lesson already – it’s the perfect thing to do on what is normally a boring Monday night and you get the best reward at the end when you actually come to eat what you’ve made.