Italian food is an absolute favourite of mine and pasta has been a staple in the Cook household for as long as I can remember.
I love creating a fresh, quickly cooked seafood sauce to serve with linguine or leaving a rich, meaty sauce to bubble for hours on the hob before serving with tagliatelle.
In fact, I love the latter of those so much, I look forward to September and the onset of autumn, or the start of ragù season, as I’ve dubbed it.
Pasta is cheap, convenient and versatile and comes in hundreds of shapes and sizes. You can serve anything with pasta too, which is why it can be found everywhere from the cupboards of student digs to the menus of swish Michelin starred restaurants.
But prior to attending the Perfect Pasta course at Nelson and Colne College’s Cookery School, although I had wanted to, I had never actually made a superior pasta from scratch, partly through fear of the length of time it would take, or worse, being the master of a pasta disaster.
I join a sociable group of five others for the six hour session with Mark Taft, previously head chef at the Angel at Hetton, and with a culinary background stretching back 25 years taking in America, Australia and Europe.
After a few top tips from Mark, he kept his promise and made us work, beginning the session by making three different doughs; a basic egg and flour mix, a green pasta using a concentrated blend of spinach and basil and a red pasta with the addition of tomato purée.
It’s good fun working away to create a good dough under the trained eye of Mark, whose enthusiasm for pasta is obvious. By the third mix, I have gained an understanding of whether it is ready to rest, but Mark is on hand to provide his expert opinion should you need it.
As the doughs proof in the fridge, we turn our attention to making sauces, the first of which is a basic bolognese and as that simmers away, the focus switches to a simple velouté made with flour, butter, cream and chicken stock which can the base for any pasta sauce with the addition of fish, meat or vegetables.
The session is flying by, and I quarter one of my doughs ready to roll it out and run it through a pasta maker to become linguine.
My finished product is not as impressive as others in the group, but the simplicity of it is incredible.
The linguine is left hanging to dry in the kitchen as the group breaks for lunch; a delicious chicken, chickpea and chorizo sauce with fresh pasta rustled up by Mark, followed by sticky toffee pudding.
The Perfect Pasta course is straight off the back of a string of accolades for the college’s catering department.
It won the Partnership with Industry category and Mark was awarded Highly Commended for Best Chef Lecturer at the Professional Association for Catering Education Awards in London and it was a finalist in the Skills Provider category of the Red Rose Awards.
It is one of several throughout the year and upcoming courses include a Fish Masterclass in May and a Kids Cookery School (ages 12 to 14) in June. If there is enough interest for a suggestion not on the calendar of events, Mark says they will be more than happy to accommodate it.
He said: “This year’s Cookery Schools have been a huge success – we have received some fabulous feedback, with participants commenting on how much they have learnt and also how much they loved the social aspect of the events.
“The masterclasses, which have ranged from ‘Perfect Pastry’ to ‘Comfort Foods and Ale’, were initially set up to give visitors the chance to learn from industry experts and gain new skills – no matter what their ability.
“We are looking forward to launching our next Cookery School programme, with exciting new seasonal-themed classes currently in the planning stages. Keep visiting www.nelson.ac.uk/farringtons for more information.”
Feeling stuffed from lunch, we reconvene in the kitchen again, appropriately enough to make tortellini and ravioli.
After Mark demonstrates the basics of cutting out circular shapes to create the delicate tortellini and piping in the filling, I roll out my red dough for the tortellini and use a chicken and tarragon mix for the middle, saving my green dough for the ravioli and a goats cheese, sun dried tomato and basil filling.
Although not as perfectly formed as those you would find in a restaurant or as fresh as a supermarket product, they are definitely distinguishable as tortellini and ravioli, and are ready to be boxed up to take home along with the linguine and sauces I made earlier in the day.
Along with an arm full of self made goodies and a sense of achievement, I also leave with a belief that I could quite confidently attempt fresh pasta at home with a soon-to-be-purchased pasta maker having enjoyed an engaging and interesting course that you can really get your teeth in to.
All I need now is to ensure that the pasta I cook a home is served al dente.