Posts Tagged ‘CIRA’

CIRA Cooking Classes

CIRA Cooking Classes

It’s Italian week at Trissalicious!

That’s right a whole week of tried and tested classic Italian recipes.  A number of these recipes I learned while attending classes at The CIRA Cooking School in Annandale. CIRA stands for the Council of Italian Restaurants in Australia and was formed by twelve restauranteurs to promote the values of Italian food in Australia.  The founding members are a who’s who in Italian cuisine and include: Armando Percuoco, Lucio Galletto; Giovanni Pilu, Marilyn Annecchini; Beppi, Norma and Marc Polese; Peter Zuzza, Vanessa Martin; Elio Cordaro; John O’Riordan; George Pompei, David Cowdrill and Danny Russo.

I love the fact that CIRA is a non-profit organization – a lot of Sydney’s best chefs donate their time and effort to promote Italian cuisine as it should be and many of them sacrifice their Saturday mornings and evenings to teach at this school.

As you know, I love cooking classes.  I am constantly trying to find classes to attend as I find it very rewarding when I learn  something new that I never thought to make before.  When my Mom, the Blog Monster, was here, I took her to CIRA for a few classes.

One  class we attended was run by Chef and TV personality Darren Simpson from La Scala on Jersey.  While Irish, his food is pure Italian inspired no doubt from his stint as head chef of the iconic restaurant the River Cafe.  One of the dishes we learned to make was the classic Spaghetti alle Vongole.  The key ingredient for this pasta dish are the clams (make sure to clean them properly as sometimes they can be gritty from the sand) which, when cooked, release a flavour that marries well with white wine,  olive oil, garlic and parsley.

The Blog Monster with Darren Simpson

The Blog Monster with Darren Simpson

There are two reasons I love this dish.  First, you can make it in less than 10 minutes flat – a great dish to serve during the week when you’re pinched for time.  Second, the sauce is so versatile.  While this is traditionally made with clams, we loved it so much that we made it many times after class once using marinara mix, once using prawns, another time just the sauce alone (Spaghetti Aglia Olio) and on the net I’ve even seen it made with mushrooms.

A word of caution – because this is an extremely simple dish to make, it works better using the best quality ingredients you can afford.

Spaghetti alle Vongole at CIRA

Spaghetti alle Vongole at CIRA

To kick off Italian week, how would you like to join me in a class with one of my favourite CIRA chefs?

Logan Campbell, from two hatted restaurant, Lucio’s in Sydney, is teaching a Christmas class on the 6th of November and Dani, CIRA’s manager has kindly offered to give one slot to  a reader.  The class is hands on AND we get to enjoy what we’ve cooked at the end of the class.  I promise, it will be fun!  All you have to do is leave a comment below and let me know what Italian dish you have always wanted to learn and if you are so inclined, I’d love you to follow me (this is only optional) on twitter.  I’ll announce the winner on the 31st of October 2010.

I’ve attended two classes at CIRA taught by Logan and I always jump at the chance to learn from him.  He doesn’t spoil his students – he teaches you things that you wouldn’t think of making on your own but with his guidance these things are easily mastered.  His Eggplant Ravioli with taleggio cheese  has become my staple go to dish for any vegetarian that comes to my house (and carnivores love it too!).  I’ve also learned how to debone a spatchcock and a stuff a duck leg in his classes.

Stuffed Duck Legs

Stuffed Duck Legs

There are a number of other classes available at CIRA so please do have a look at their website.  You can also  contact Dani on 0405 286067 (business hours) or email cira@cira.com.au to reserve a place in one of the classes or for further information.

Spaghetti alle Vongole

Spaghetti alle Vongole

Spaghetti alle Vongole

(serves 4) Recipe from Darren Simpson, La Scala on Jersey

  • 400 grams spaghetti (Barilla brand, spagettini no 3 is what we used)
  • 60 clams, purged
  • 6 tablespoons flat leaf parsley
  • 6 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons red chilli
  • 2 pinches dried chilli
  • 300 ml dry white wine
  • 200 ml best quality olive oil
  1. In boiling salted water cook the spaghetti until al dente
  2. Place the clams in a bowl with the chilli, garlic, parsley, olive oil and white wine.
  3. Heat a saucepan until hot and then add the clam mixture.
  4. Cover with the lid and cook until the clams open (around 3 to 4 minutes)
  5. The olive oil and white wine will form a sauce – toss the spaghetti in the sauce.
  6. Serve with crusty bread.

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Stuffed Chicken Leg with Brussels Sprouts and Speck

When I graduated  University, I was asked to speak before my  class about my experiences during my four or so years.  I still remember the message I wanted to convey.

I wanted them to know this:

Most of the lessons that we learned at university we would probably forget after a few years  but the lessons that gave us a sense of accomplishment we would take with us forever.

Back then, I simply meant that I would probably forget all my lessons in microeconomics and accounting but the fact that I knew I struggled through those courses and still managed to get top marks meant, at least to me, that if I put my mind to something, I would succeed.  No matter how hard it seemed at first.

Little did I realize that even today, I take what I said to heart.  Which is why I enjoy taking cooking lessons so much.  You could say, I am a serial “cooking lesson taker”.  I have to admit, I take my lessons seriously.  At the end of this month alone I would have attended a total of six different classes covering Italian cuisine, bread making, pastries, verrines, (flying to Melbourne for three days for that!) and a very private lesson with Peter Gilmore of Quay (but more on THAT another day!).

Logan Campbell's Dish Stuffed Duck with Broad Beans and Pecorino

My favourite lessons are inevitably the ones where I can learn something that I:

  1. would have never thought of trying if not for attending the class
  2. can take and vary to make it “my own”
  3. make over and over again

Logan Campbell, Head Chef at Lucio’s in Paddington is one of those teachers that embraces this philosophy.  I have attended two of his classes at CIRA and each time have added each of his creations to my armory of “impress your friends” dinner staples.  In fact, during the class I jokingly told him that I made his dishes so often that these were now known as “my signature dishes”!

Logan likes to teach dishes that you would be fearful to try yourself  but under his guidance you become confident and go home knowing you can do it yourself.

Logan Campbell's Prawn Salad with Artichokes and Parmesan

So far I’ve learned to (1) make pasta, (2) debone a spatchcock, (3) debone a duck leg and (4) peel an artichoke.  Pretty cool huh?  Well, this post was initially meant to show you how I adapted his recipes to make my own.  So Logan taught us how to debone a duck leg, and I deboned a chicken leg and varied the stuffing a little bit.  I also placed the chicken on a bed of brussel sprouts and speck. Again, another lesson I learned from Logan – how to enjoy brussel sprouts!

In the next day or two I’ll post the recipes for the chicken dish I made as well as the brussel sprout recipe (which is fantastic!) but in the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few pictures from the day at CIRA and a question:

When was the last time you learned something new?

Buon Appetito!  🙂

A Day at CIRA

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The Council of Italian Restaurants in Australia offers cooking lessons on a regular basis. The classes are held at Casa Barilla in Annandale and many of them are hands on. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a number of classes, these are conducted by the who’s who of Australia’s Italian cooking world.

Attending a class is almost as good as eating in anyone of the restaurants from where the chefs are associated with.

The first lesson I attended was a hands on class with James Kidman from Otto Restaurant where we learned the secrets to making a great rissotto. The second class I went to was taught by Armando Percuoco from Buon Ricordo. Signore Percuoco is one of the most amiable and down to earth people I have ever met. His class was entitled Cucina Povera (Peasant Cooking or humble food) where he shared pragmatic yet very delicious recipes.

Two weekends ago I managed to drag my husband to CIRA once again for a class with Logan Campell, head chef at Lucio’s in Paddington. My husband had never cooked a meal in his LIFE prior to the class so it was interesting to see how he would react to this whole new experience. I am happy to report that he LOVED it! Absolutely loved the experience.

The class was entitled “Logan’s Ligurian Experience”. The hands on class featured two dishes, Eggplant Ravioli and a Rolled Spatchcock. Both were amazingly easy to prepare (yes, even deboning the spatchcock) and can be recreated at home.

I’ve written down the eggplant ravioli recipe and hope you’ll enjoy it!

Pasta Ingredients
300 grams plain flour
3 large eggs
pinch of salt

Filling Ingredients (you will probably have leftover filling depending on how you fill your pasta)
1 large eggplant, diced
1/2 bunch picked thyme
100 grams diced taleggio cheese (I used Mauri Taleggio)
50 grams parmesan cheese
1 egg
1/4 bunch chopped parsley
salt and pepper

To Serve
125 grams butter
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
A few sprigs of parsley

Pour flour onto benchtop and make a well in the centre.
Place the salt and add the eggs into the well and incorporate until the dough forms
Knead for 5 minutes and rest covered for 1 hour

Sprinkle the eggplant with salt and let stand 20 minutes
Rinse off the salt and drain
Saute the eggplant in a little olive oil, add thyme and cook until eggplant is browned
Allow to cool and then mix the eggplant with the cheeses, egg and parsley
Season with salt and pepper

Using a pasta machine roll out the dough until a thin sheet is formed. Brush with egg wash and place some the ravioli mix along the sheet 3 centimeters apart.

Roll another sheet and place on top of the first, pressing down around the mix to remove any air pockets.

Using cutters, cut the ravioli out removing excess dough around each one.

Place on a floured tray and cover.
Brint a pot of water to the boil.
Melkt the butter in a large frying pan
Blanch ravioli for 3 minutes
When butter is brown and foaming, add the pasta, balsamic vinegar and walnuts.
Garnish with chopped parsley
Toss and serve.

That’s not the end of it!

This weekend I invited a few guests to try out the pasta… here are a few shots of my version of the eggplant ravioli.

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