‘Food’ Magazine writer Laura Tucker is spends a week sharpening her cooking skills at Ashburton Cookery School on the Intermediate Cookery Week.
My fourth day at Ashburton has thrown up a lot of lovely memories that have been filed away in the back of my mind.
I grew up in a family of good food lovers and learnt much of what I know today from my parents, both amazing cooks. We spent a lot of time as children in France thanks to the link with my Father’s French side of the family, and I’m sure many of my influences have come from the culture and food there.
Our Thursday, lunch was a staple favourite of mine: a light tart of ham hock and cheddar with some lovely mixed leaves. My Mum is an incredible cook generally and her tarts are always really wonderful. Not a soggy bottom in sight and the fillings always light and flavoursome, so I thought of her as we prepared ours. We ate them just warm with a few leaves tossed in a lovely mustardy vinaigrette and the combination of this and the tart took me straight back to summer lunches outside in our family gardens. Just perfect.
Dad was a wonderful cook too, and today when we set about making the pasta for our tortelli starters I was suddenly transported back to being at our dining table with him when I was a child – sheets and sheets of pasta hanging from suspended broom handles, chair backs and any other free and suitable hanging surface. It also reminded me of Dad’s regular trips to London when he would bring back exciting cardboard boxes filled with incredible freshly made ravioli from ‘I Camisa’ – an amazing Italian deli on Old Compton Street which is still there today. So with memories of these parcels of delight, I set about making our tortelli. Blimey, they’re tricky little blighters! But, after much rolling, filling and shaping the end result was delicious and really surprisingly successful. Soft little parcels filled with goat’s cheese and red pepper with a zesty green pesto. There may be a rush on granite work-surfaces in our course members’ home towns – they’re amazing for working with pastry or dough and we’ve all fallen in love with the ones in Ashburton’s kitchens.
Our fillet steak main course evoked slightly different memories. You may remember at the beginning of this week I mentioned my hope to “make friends” with meat. From an early age I was incredibly fussy about meat, so much so that I remember a letter Dad sent me some time in my early twenties when I was mulling over a job change, in which he basically encouraged me that I could be good at many things, but ‘perhaps not chief taster in a steak and kidney pie factory’. Says it all, really. So, while my taste for meat has definitely matured over the years, I’ve still been very wary about preparing and cooking it. The fillet steak we were given today needed little doing to it – seared in a little oil and salt then into the oven for a few minutes before eating with a café de paris butter, crispy, chunky chips and stuffed mushrooms. Amazing. Literally melted in the mouth and so incredibly easy to cook! I’ve felt my confidence with meat improving by the day – a massive winner for me and all thanks to Phil and Ross at Ashburton.
Our dessert prep for the day was crème brulee. One of my all-time favourites, and I was excited about getting the blow torches out again. Which reminded me of an amusing family lunch party, many years ago, when an elderly relative leant towards me and said ‘Do be careful dear, there’s broken glass in the pudding’. It was hard caramel poured over floating islands’ (iles flottantes) that Dad had made. So simple, so delicious, so easy to make. Yum.
My culinary walk down memory lane during the day took me somewhat by surprise, but reminded me why eating is about so much more than sustenance – it’s about bringing people together, sharing experiences and stories, and above all enjoying wonderful food prepared and made with love. The team at Ashburton definitely foster that belief which shows in their approach to teaching.
I’m really sad that there’s only one day left but I’m itching to get home and start practising everything we’ve learnt (I’m sure my husband and friends are pretty keen for me to get home, too. Apron at the ready…).
So more tomorrow from our final day…