I am feeling quite lucky. I mean, this is my second masterclass this year already. Being an ex-chef, what’s not to like about spending time with seriously talented chefs and learning something from them that I will go on to try out in my own kitchen and remember forever. This Masterclass was with Theo Randall. Theo helps Ask Italian to develop their menus which have been steadily improving since he has been involved. I think they made a very wise choice in partnering up with him. He is one of the most talented chefs in the UK and I have known about him ever since my love of The River Cafe began, where Theo was head chef for many years. He now runs his own restaurant at the InterContinental London, which has won many awards including “Italian Restaurant of The Year” after only having been open for two years and this year, 2013, is the highest ranking Italian restaurant in The Sunday Times Food List.
This Masterclass was a perfect way of finding out more about what Ask has to offer on it’s menu for 2013. Making Panzerottini was the challenge of the day. In other words baked and stuffed, or more politely, filled dough balls. Little pillows of pizza dough with either a smoked pancetta or a Fontina cheese and dried red chilli hidden centre.
I was slightly envious of hearing about Theo’s trips to Italy where he goes for inspiration and to discover hidden gems that will then make an appearance on the Ask menu in one form or another. Panzerottini is one such discovery, found in the region of Campania. I, along with the other guests for the day were shown how to make these little wrapped morsels. They are brushed with oil and baked in a very hot oven for just a couple of minutes before being brushed once again with a splash of oil and served with yes, more olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip. They would make a perfect sharing starter for kids and adults alike.
They are a perfect bite and the Puglian cold pressed extra virgin olive oil used in the dip along with syrupy balsamic vinegar from The Fresh Olive Company really emphasises how much effort they are going to, sourcing top quality Italian ingredients which set Ask apart form their rivals in my opinion.
These little Panzerottini were just the start of what turned out to be a huge celebration of the latest menu. So many wonderful dishes to try and we all got to chat to Theo about Italy, cooking, photography, blogging and feeding children.
Here is what we had……..
Spaghetti al pomodoro
Pizza with salsiccia Nduja
No cheese pizza with creme fraiche, prawns, capers and zucchini
Flourless chocolate cake & Vanilla ice cream
The tomato sauce for the spaghetti was made using Italian passata (freshly bottled after the tomato harvest), San Marzano tomatoes and finished with Buffalo Mozzarella and freshly chopped basil. De cecco, my favourite pasta brand is their dried pasta of choice and such a simple dish can only be good when the ingredients used are as good as they are here.
The real revelation for me was the Nduja sausages which topped the pizza along with some roasted peppers, oregano, rosemary and onions. They have a warm piquant spice like no other sausage I have tasted and the topping was perfectly judged. In other words subtle and delicate and not heavy handed nor over loaded.
The flourless chocolate cake was made from just chocolate, eggs and sugar and was smooth, silky, cloud-like and warm. It melded into the ice cream and disappeared as if it had hardly been there at all. Yes, it was enjoyed rather too much and left me in need of a shot of espresso which I just didn’t have time for. Yes, I had to leave just then and missed some mighty good looking slices of cake. Having said that, I could hardly move after such a fine meal at lunchtime and a few glasses of Prosecco. But, it was so worth it.
This may just sound like a glowing review of a middle of the road Italian restaurant, but in fact it is not. I make my reviews personal and in fact choose not to write up restaurants that are either bad or just so so. As a blogger I do not have time to waste slamming restaurants. I could be creating a recipe and telling you about it which is far more worthwhile to me, and hopefully you too.
Ask Italian has obviously come a long way over the past few years and I imagine this has everything to do with Theo Randall. He knows Italian food, produce, people, suppliers, restauranteurs. With someone like him to bring them into the new generation of chain restaurants, Ask has a bright future. Stylish, authentic and accessible Italian food with bright, sunny flavours, may just be here to stay. And, yes! it’s affordable.
With many thanks to Ask Italian for inviting me to this Masterclass with Theo Randall and for allowing me permission to use their own photo of Theo Randall. All other images are my own as are the words and opinions.