What comes to mind when you think of Italian food? Pizza and pasta would seem like fairly obvious choices. Regular readers of this blog will know that I adore both Italy and the gorgeous cuisine it produces, but it’s normally a bit of an indulgence, with a lot of carbs and calories. I was recently invited to a cookery class with Healthy Food Guide which focused on healthy Italian food, so I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us to rustle up!
The class was held at the La Cucina Caldesi Italian Cookery School in Marylebone, which I hadn’t been to before, so it was nice to discover somewhere new. And the class was held by Kate Caldesi herself!
We started off making almond milk. I’ve seen this being used in recipes for a while but hadn’t actually tried it myself. It was made by blending the almonds (which had been left to soak overnight in water – both to make it easier to break down in the food processor and to break down the protective layer of phytic acid that can irritate the gut), and then squeezed through a cloth/muslin. I loved the taste of it – it’s quite a confusing experience to drink something that looks like milk but for it to taste nutty! The leftover almonds could also be cooked in the oven to make into a brittle-like snack!
We then added raw cocoa powder to the milk and heated it to try as a winter treat! It was quite bitter to drink on its own, but still enjoyable. Kate suggested three different options to make it sweeter; maple syrup, xylitol or rice malt syrup, each of which has its benefits for various health reasons (e.g. diabetes, on a diet to lose weight etc).
Personally I preferred the maple syrup – I could think of nothing better than snuggling up on the sofa in front of the fire with a big mug of that, even if that was the most indulgent option!
Next we moved on to the dish I was the most intrigued by – a chocolate cake made using sweet potato and black beans. This was another type of recipe I’d seen on lots of healthy eating blogs and had been wanting to try but had just not got around to. I couldn’t wait to see what it would taste like and if it could really be as good as a traditional choccie pud!
We were split into two groups – one made theirs with butter and xylitol (with raspberries) and the other (my group) made it with coconut oil and dates (and walnuts). We popped them in the oven and awaited the results!
To prepare the first main dish, we chopped a number of vegetables, including courgette, peppers, capers, onion and garlic, with a healthy lashing of olive oil, and roasted them in the oven.
Next we prepared farro and mixed it in a bowl with the roasted veg. We then made courgetti (I really had an issue with this name for some time but it’s growing on me!) with a spiraliser and combined it all together.
To top it off, we created goats cheese quenelles (I love making these, I find it rather therapeutic!) and placed one on top of each serving, with a bit more olive oil, salt and pepper.
The final dish to prepare was a shaved salad, with celeriac, radishes, pears, walnuts and cheese. This was fairly easy to throw together and I was tasked with grating the cheese, while resisting the temptation to eat half of it!
At this point we sat down to eat, with some lovely Italian white wine and great company! The courgetti dish was delicious and something I’ll definitely do at home (when I finally get round to buying a spiraliser!) And the flavours of the shaved salad dish worked so cleverly together, I really enjoyed it!
Then came the dish we’d all (secretly !) been waiting for – the chocolate cake. Kate topped it with coconut cream, by taking a tin of coconut milk, putting it in the fridge and allowing it to separate. She then took the thicker top part and whipped it up into a coconut cream – a great idea and presumably a lot better for you than standard cream!
Finally came the taste test. I think the general consensus was that the cake made with butter, xylitol and raspberries was nicer (I agreed with this) but I think that this is just because it was sweeter and more what we would expect cake to taste like. The other version was still very nice but it had a bit more of a raw, bitter taste to it
I thoroughly enjoyed the class and it has certainly made me think about how I can substitute certain elements in my cooking and baking for healthier alternatives, for it to still taste great. I wouldn’t have said it was the healthiest class in the world but it was a happy medium – fresh ingredients with a few treats thrown in there. It would have been nice to have some meat in at least one of these dishes but I didn’t feel like I missed it too much.
Having grown up in Cyprus, I’m a big believer in the Mediterranean diet. I don’t think the use of things like olive oil is a bad thing. Provided you’re using fresh ingredients, in moderation, as a balanced diet, I don’t see how you can go wrong.
If you’re interested in trying out a class at the cookery school, you can find a full list here.
I was invited to attend and review the class by Healthy Food Guide, but did not receive any payment. All views are my own.