Friday 27 September 2013

The Italian Way - Cooking class with Chef Maurizio Raselli at Hyatt Regency, Delhi

Life is a combination of magic and pasta –Federico

My whole life is like a classroom where each person I meet on the way is a teacher, inspiring, molding, imparting life's invaluable lessons. I feel there is just no end to learning, whatever kind it might be. No single person can stand up and claim, "I know it all!! I have nothing more to learn!!" Because that just isn't possible.
Me for one, am always open to learning new things, trying hard to push my boundaries and  broadening my horizons. There can be no greater love for me than trying out a new recipe, and when it turns out well and is given a big thumbs up by friends and family, the excitement and the appreciation gives me a big high, a feeling comparable to none. This is what makes me really happy and keeps me going.
So, whenever an opportunity to educate myself or a chance to experience something new falls in my lap, I grab it tightly with both my hands, making sure to absorb it and utilize it completely, to enrich my learning process. 
To my delight, a few weeks back, I received an invite to attend an interactive Italian masterclass with Chef Maurizio Rasseli, Chef de cuisine in La Piazza restaurant at Hyatt Regency, Delhi. It had me excited as what better way to learn than by watching the expert himself!!
Chef Maurizio and Chef Maurin Leuthard
An extensive menu chalked out for us, consisting of a Green Beans and Potato Salad, Ricotta and Spinach Ravioli with fresh tomato sauce, Seafood and Green Asparagus Risotto and the classic Italian dessert, Tiramisu had us hugely excited, in anticipation of great things that lay ahead. All the dishes were simple and easy to follow proving how with just a few simple and fresh ingredients a great dish can be prepared. The instructions and tips the chef Maurizio shared with us during the class were invaluable and made me see what I was not doing right in my cooking. Small tips, like the consistency of the pasta dough, blanching the beans and splitting them to retain their flavor, the proper way to cook the risotto, rolling of the pasta dough in the pasta machine were really helpful. These small tricks of the trade just can't be picked up by reading a recipe or from a cookbook but through a person with years of experience. 
On reaching, we were greeted by Chef Maurizio and Chef Leuthard in the hotels plush Lounge area, after which we were taken to the kitchen. Brightly lit, with a spectacular view from the huge glass window, the masterclass kitchen was a dream kitchen equipped with all the gadgets one could probably think of to assist you while cooking. 
We were also joined by Vidhi Jatia, CEO and Director of Charmaine. Charmaine holds Personality Development workshops, first of its kind in India, for young girls and ladies wanting to learn the finer nuances of life like social ettiquettes, grooming, hair, make-up as well as image consulting, nutrition, health and fitness under the expert guidance of consultants like Ritu Beri, Kapil Bhalla and Carl Sequeira to name a few.
Vidhi was also instrumental in getting the class organised for us and we can't thank her enough for it.
Inside the kitchen was a beautifully laid out table, spread with all the ingredients we would be requiring for the class that day kept neatly organised in small bowls, giving you a clear insight about how the chef likes to work and manage things in the kitchen.
Chef Maurizio Razelli who grew up on a farm at Piedmont in the north of Italy, says he got interested in cooking helping his grandmother in the kitchen. His style till date remains the same simple, fresh and full of flavor. He told us not trust the recipe too much, just read through it, take the path to follow but in the end listen to your heart. Ultimately we should understand what we are doing so that we can play with our ingredients. The charming chef with his infectious dose of energy, his high level of enthusiasm and excellent sense of humor kept us thoroughly entertained throughout the class, at the same time never losing focus at the task on hand and churning out one stupendous dish after another. Seriously, I haven't had a more fun in a cooking session than this. 
The chef started off with making the beans and potato salad  for which he chopped the potatoes and boiled the beans. This was something new for me as I always used to chop my beans before blanching. But according to the chef, it is always better to blanch the beans before cutting it as it helps retain the flavor. He then split them whole into two and mixed the beans and the boiled potatoes in a bowl with a prepared dressing of chopped garlic, onions, vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. With a generous sprinkling of grated parmesan cheese the salad was to die for. Simple yet so amazing. 
Next the chef showed us how to make the pasta dough. To start with, he added some fine semolina to the flour (about 70/30 ratio). I have been putting semolina (suji) in my bhatura dough but never in the dough for my pasta. In this he added 1 egg plus an egg yolk and some extra virgin olive oil and kneaded the dough really stiff which again was a learning point for me. I have always been struggling with rolling fresh pasta sheets in the pasta machine. They would always stick or tear up.  I realized that I had not been kneading my dough stiff enough. But that's changed and now  you can see me rolling out perfect sheets of pasta!! Another great tip that he gave was to bake the lasagna sheets uncooked in the sauce. That way, according to him, they would cook in its own sauce and absorb more flavor. 
Leaving the dough aside to rest he started with the filling of the ravioli. Spinach was blanched, dunked in ice cold water, squeezed extensively and then finely chopped. The spinach needed to be chopped really finely to ensure that while eating you did not get any threads in your mouth.
In went the ricotta cheese, minced garlic and a few herbs and the filling was ready.
Next came the task of rolling out the pasta sheets. This I observed quite closely having messed up mine a couple of times at home. Having rolled it out once through the pasta machine, he folded the sheet like an envelope. This step was repeated a couple of times. Folding it several times gives structure to the pasta. These been rolled, the prepared filling was placed uniformly on the sheets..
The sheets with the filling were covered with another pasta sheet and pressed down to ensure that no air pockets remained. Once done, these were cut with the help of cutters and voila!! cute little raviolis were ready. We were also advised not to fill the pasta too much as getting a bite of the pasta was as important as the filling itself. He also showed us various ways to shape the ravioli.
A quick toss in the freshly prepared tomato sauce...
had us all making a beeline for it to taste it. With freshly grated parmesan cheese on top it tasted amazing and was spooned up in a matter of minutes.
As we were digging into the scrumptious pasta, the chef was getting ready to make the risotto. For this he used Carnaorli rice instead of Arborio, as it was more starchy and resulted in a better risotto.There was absolutely no doubt about that. Cooked in a base of seafood and butter, with asparagus added in the end for crunch and texture undoubtedly made it the winner dish of the day.
Next in the class was what I had been waiting for all along, the traditional Italian dessert, Tiramisu. Eggs, both yolks and white were whipped, with an amazing show of strength and added to mascarpone cheese which again was whipped together to real smoothness. Though Deeba was little doubtful about eating raw eggs, the chef put her fears to rest by telling her that as long as the eggs were fresh they are not harmful and that the sugar acts as a preserve in the dessert.
The assembled Tiramisu was extremely light, creamy, not too sweet with just a slight hint of amaretto and a strong kick of coffee - all the flavors spot on. It was a great tasting Tiramisu, undoubtedly the best I have ever had. I was so inspired by it that I just had to try it at home to the utmost glee of my husband and kids. With a few helpful tips from  Deeba Rajpal, it was a breeze. You can check out how  my Tiramisu turned out here.
Over with the masterclass we headed for lunch to the Hotels lounge area where the same menu was served to us.
 Chef Maurizio ver y sweetly presented us with bottles of bruchetta made by him.
Needless to say, it was a great learning experience for us. Highly informative with useful tips which could have come only from a person with great experience. The ingredients used in the dishes too were simple and easily available in the market. 
Out of the four dishes taught that day with the exception of the seafood risotto, I have managed to try the other three at home with great results (will be posting the recipes soon)
These classes are suitable for all levels and I would recommend that you should certainly check it out for a great learning experience.
Thanks Chef Maurizio, Vidhi, Aparna Pradhan and Riya Dey for having us over for such a wonderful time.

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