In Cambridge, arguably the country’s finest seat of learning (sorry Oxford, it’s nothing personal), Tine Roche, a Swede, and her New Zealand business partner Liz Young have found a city to match their own ambition and international tastes. The owners of the Cambridge Cookery School, which can be found just south of the city centre, are also awaiting approval on plans to add a prep kitchen and delicatessen to their current sun-filled space.
‘The plan is to have a deli selling the best coffee in Cambridge,’ Tine explains, ‘as well as Scandi cinnamon rolls, brioche and fresh salads to have in or take away.’ All pretty impressive, but I can’t take my eyes off the table of ingredients that we’ll be using for today’s Seasonal Italian course. As well as these half-day classes, which run seven to eight times a year, the school also offers classes in skills from sourdough to cooking the perfect steak and sushi-making.
First order of the day is prepping the rosemary and sea salt focaccia – for which we crumble fresh yeast into a splash of warm water before mixing in salt, strong flour and a couple of generous glugs of extra virgin olive oil. We then knead to a silky-smooth consistency and set aside to prove. In the meantime, we move on to preparing some Tuscan chicken fillets, removing the tendons from the breasts and cutting the meat into long strips, before rubbing with crushed garlic and fresh sage, and setting aside for the aromas to infuse. By now the kitchen is a hive of activity. While some of us are popping pods for a broad bean, mint and pancetta tagliatelle, others are slicing courgettes for a zucchini trifolati, a sort of hot salad with courgettes, cherry tomatoes and garlic. With a maximum class size of 12, Liz and Tine encourage us to have a go at all the elements, though I’m most keen on cracking the vanilla panna cotta with rose-scented berries.
For this, I carefully bring double cream, milk, icing sugar, vanilla paste and a sliver of lemon zest to a simmer before removing from the heat, stirring in the softened gelatine sheets and decanting into mini dariole moulds. Meanwhile, I anoint raspberries, blueberries and redcurrants with a sprinkling of rose water and icing sugar and leave to macerate for the fruity garnish.
Once our focaccia has risen to pillow-like proportions, we deflate before studding with fresh rosemary, and coating with sea salt and olive oil ready to slide into the oven. With the pasta rollers rolling, we flour the chicken and brown in a hot pan with lemon juice, adding cream for a rich sauce. And while the table is set for lunch behind us, we unmould the panna cotta and spoon over a fruit compote for a final flourish. AA. £125.