There’s little more comforting than a steaming bowl of pasta with pesto or ragu, and parmesan shaved generously over the top. In fact a quick survey of friends revealed few who don’t have pasta at home every month if not every week; so firmly has it become one of our kitchen staples.
But it’s not just pasta that’s become a British favourite. So too have pizza, risotto, bruschetta, tiramisu to name just a few Italian classics. And can you believe it was nearly two decades ago that Jamie taught us to rip apart balls of fresh mozzarella, silken Parma ham and juicy peaches for a casual salad?
To expand my knowledge of this much-loved cuisine, I turned to David and Holly Jones, founders of Manna from Devon Cooking School. Both worked in non-food careers before making the switch, eventually running a catering business and thriving market stall together. Their love of talking to customers, helping them discover new flavours and sharing tips on bread making lead them to offering classes and then to setting up a cookery school.
Located in the pretty village of Kingswear, their tall Victorian house perches on a hill, affording stunning views across the river to Dartsmouth. Small class sizes allow for a personal experience; while five of us learn Italian with Holly in the main kitchen, David teaches bread-making in a kitchen downstairs. David and Holly emphasise hands-on practice of techniques that can be applied many recipes and classes are taught in a relaxed and welcoming home environment.
There’s also an outdoor kitchen with two purpose-built wood fired ovens – The Joneses are two of Britain’s foremost experts in using such ovens and regularly teach enthusiasts the tricks of wood fire oven cooking, not just for bread and pizza but fish, roast meats and vegetables too.
Our class focuses on using seasonal ingredients in recipes that are readily adaptable to use whatever is readily available when you cook. Our spring-summer Italian menu covers a surprising number of dishes in one day.
We start with semifreddo, a simple ice cream dessert frozen in a block and sliced to serve. Ingredients are whipped separately before combining; Holly shows us a simple way to fold the mixture evenly, pulling the metal spoon from top left to bottom right before turning the bowl half a circle and repeating.
The next recipe is for lemon polenta cake. Questions abound; “What’s the difference between greaseproof paper and parchment?” reveals that the first needs to be greased whereas the second has a waxy side that is already non-stick. “What is polenta?” leads to a longer discussion about different types of cornmeal culminating in a tip to use the finest grind available for a smooth-textured cake.
Making fresh pasta from scratch is the most intimidating task of the day, but we soon realise it’s far less complicated than we thought. Once made, the dough needs to rest but not us; as it goes into the fridge we move on to making pesto from scratch in a mortar and pestle – quite the physical workout! The pesto is immediately put to use spread over Parma ham and wrapped around chicken breasts, to be roasted later.
By this point we are flagging but Holly has that in hand, quickly demonstrating a delicious crab and asparagus risotto that we sit down to eat as soon as it’s ready.
We don’t stop for long, as there’s still plenty to do. Fortified, and as rested as our pasta dough, there is much giggling as we get a handle on how to pass dough through the pasta machine rollers to create long thin strips. Half go through tagliatelle cutters and the rest we turn into ravioli, using a simple ricotta and ham filling.
For a rustic fish soup and a simple sourdough bruschetta there is much chopping of vegetables, the perfect opportunity to improve our knife skills, with Holly giving guidance before we set to work. Slicing a seared fillet of beef thinly enough for Carpaccio is trickier than it looks, but once draped across a plate, scattered with rocket and parmesan and drizzled with olive oil it look far less mangled than we feared.
The class ends with a feast of food enjoyed around the kitchen island, family style, all of us delighted with how much we’ve achieved during the day. Manna for Devon’s Italian class is perfect for home cooks looking to expand their repertoire and gain confidence in this much-loved cuisine.
Kavey Eats attended this class as guests of Manna from Devon.