On an unassuming side street off Richmond’s Bridge Road lies a modest sized converted warehouse apartment. What’s happening inside one of these apartments however is much more than one would assume from looking at it. What I’m referring to is La Cucina di Sandra, which is the cooking school run by Sandra del Greco. I was, along with Lauren and 4 others, invited to La Cucina di Sandra to get a taste of what one of the classes was like, both figuratively and literally, with all of the dishes we were learning about forming part of a 3 course meal that also included finger food and a glass of wine.
La Cucina di Sandra was set up by Sandra late in 2014 and we were told by Sandra that she had been blown away by the response. She’s had groups of friends, corporates and all sorts of other people attend in the few months that the school has been open.
Even when Sandra was making a living as an accountant, she was a keen cook with a huge respect for tradition and technique as well as a flair for mixing things up with modern touches, always with a focus on high quality produce. After all, one of the hallmarks of simple, rustic Italian cooking is letting the ingredients shine. Along with the family recipes passed down through the generations, which hark back to Sandra’s birthplace of Pescara in Italy’s Abruzzo region, Sandra’s knowledge extends to all of Italy’s regions. Classes are either focused around an ingredient, for example pasta as was the case with the class that I attended, or a region – Abruzzo, Puglia, Sicily, Sardinia to name a few.
Sandra’s love of Italian food is evident when you look around her house. There are a lot of cookbooks all over the house as well as an array of utensils and ingredients. The high ceilings and exposed brick of the former warehouse really add to the homely vibe of La Cucina di Sandra. In fact the homely vibe is one of the things I really loved most about La Cucina di Sandra – unlike many other places which try to recreate the atmosphere of the home you’re actually in Sandra’s home. The fact that Sandra is a genuinely lovely lady and is full of knowledge, passion and great stories also adds to the overall experience.
The classes run for about 4 hours, with the action taking place both at the long kitchen bench while the cooking is happening and the dining table when it comes time to eat. Nothing is pre-prepared apart from the starters so the action switches between these two “zones” several times over the class.
Biscotti al Parmigiano (Parmesan Biscuits)
Moving on to the food itself, a plate of parmesan biscuits awaited guests when we first arrived. Nothing fancy here, just a simple, crumbly, buttery parmesan biscuit which, along with the smells coming from the kitchen really got the tastebuds excited with anticipation of the meal ahead.
Pennete al Sugo di Salsiccia di Toto (Pennette with Sausage Ragu)
The first course was this pennete dish. Inspired by famous Italian actor Totò (aka “the prince of laughter”), this dish was a great way to start our “medley of pastas”. Sandra gave us all some great advice about buying pasta, including the importance of texture, shape and the flour used – we even learned how different brands of pasta have characteristics that make them better or worse suited to certain dishes.
The Italian sausage (the kind without fennel) worked well with the pecorino and the sauce itself, with neither ingredient overpowering the other more subtle flavours.
Biano e Nero di Carbonara di Mare (Black and White Seafood Carbonara)
The pasta used in this dish was a perfect example of how important using the right pasta is. It had a slightly rough texture which meant that the sauce gripped to the pasta much better than if smoother pasta had been used. The long strands of spaghettoni lent themselves well to wrapping around the thinly sliced calamari and fresh, succulent prawns, with the addition of squid ink (at the bottom of the pasta, waiting to be stirred in) adding a nice boost to the dish.
Rigatoni al Ragu Bianco, Con Mandorle e Cream (Rigatoni with White Meat Ragu, Almonds and Cream)
This dish required pasta that was capable of holding the white meat mince (which included rabbit mince) and the finely chopped onion and vegetables, and rigatoni was definitely up to the task.
The gaminess of the rabbit really work well in conjunction with the other ingredients – there was enough rabbit mince to give the dish hints of game without it being a gamey dish as such.
Cannolo Siciliano un po’ Scomposto (Deconstructed Sicilian Cannoli)
To finish with was a familiar dish with a very unfamiliar presentation. Not only did serving it with the shells broken look great, it actually made the dish a lot easier to prepare as there was no fiddly filling of the shells to contend with. The pistachio and orange blossom were nice touches which were a nod to the influence that Middle Eastern food has had on Sicilian food.
Lauren and I thoroughly enjoyed our experience at La Cucina di Sandra and, at $90 for the class, finger food, a 3 course meal and a glass of wine (guests are more than welcome to bring more drinks if they wish) we’d definitely consider attending another class as paying customers. Lauren and I cook Italian food as part of our usual repertoire of recipes at home but still we learned some great tips and techniques, and tried some food we hadn’t tried before, which is one of the things Sandra wants to achieve with these classes – to show that there’s more to Italian food than pizza and spaghetti bolognaise.
Guests were given detailed recipes for each of the dishes cooked on the night (along with a pen and paper to jot down all of the great tips!) and I know we’ll be cooking a few of them over the coming months. Highly recommended and, if you’re lucky you might even bump into Sandra’s husband who is a very knowledgeable wine buff.
Full details of the courses are on the La Cucina di Sandra website, and you can book either online or by phone.
La Cucina di Sandra
62 Lyndhurst Street
Telephone: 0419 503 805 or (03) 9421 1883
Email: [email protected]