Thanks to the lovely Jen from Jenius, I won myself a spot to a pasta making class at Alio Restaurant. What better way to end my birthday weekend. When I entered the competition on the blog I was not expecting to win, I rarely win things in my life and when I saw the annnouncement I was in disbelief but excited at the same time too. All I had to do to win was "leave a comment below in 25 words or less and convince me why you should win!", Jen really liked my answer ;). As part of the Alio Restaurant ten-year anniversary celebrations in June, Head Chef Ashley Hughes was giving away a limited number of tickets to a series of interactive pasta-making masterclasses. Two spots were being given away on Jenius courtesy of Wasamedia.
There were about 12 of us in total in the class, all from a mix of backgrounds including bloggers and competition winners. It was also nice to see a familiar face in the crowd by the name of Phuoc from Phuoc'n Delicious. I was nervous coming to the class because I didn't know anyone, it was so totally out of my comfort zone! The information sheet says that it was going to be a hands on class however, it is more of a demonstration class where Ashley shows us through a variety of hand made pastas and also his hand made foccacia. It was quite an intense two hours even without the hands on experience. At the end we get to eat what Ashley cooks in the class =D.
Ashley shows us how to make pasta from scratch. He makes his own pasta fresh daily and has been doing so since Alio has opened. It's amazing what just a few eggs and flour can become. Some important notes I remembered: '00' italian flour will give you a better quality final product as it's a stronger/harder flour and high in gluten. I've seen this on the shelves of supermarkets before though each area varies, might have to go to specialty food stores or a deli for it. If the dough is dry, add more egg and never add olive oil to your pasta dough as it changes the consistency of the pasta.
Ashley has also been making his own foccacia from day one. I love it when a restaurant chooses to make their bread in house though not alot do, it is easier to buy in bread but when you can smell bread freshly baking, oh it's blissful!
He's very generous with his olive oil but only chooses to us the best quality oil so I guess it's not that bad =D. The focacia is flavoured with Murray River salt, rosemary and some other herbs. It was torturous smelling it cook during the class.
Ashley shows us how to make his celebrated ‘Rotolo’dish, which is a roll of pasta filled with a spinach ricotta cheese mix and sauteed mushrooms. He uses field mushrooms and adds in dried porcini mushrooms to add flavour. The mushrooms are sauteed in butter.
We watch Ashley cooking down some baby spinach with his hand! Don't do this at home kids! He explains to us that it doesn't need much cooking time and that by using his hand he can gauge it easier and as soon as the temperature is too warm for his hand the spinach is ready to be taken off the heat.
The spinach is drained of all mositure, finely chopped and mixed through some ricotta and other hard cheeses.
Ashley's older sister Tracey co-owns the restaurant and runs the front of house. She's also his right hand helper during the class.
The fillings are done, then Ashley gets on with making the pasta. The dough is put through the pasta machine and turned and rolled constantly until it is even and straight on the edges.
At the speed and precision which Ashley works you can tell he's been doing this for a long time. I bet he could do it with his eyes closed ;).
The pasta is rolled to the right lenth and then trimmed and placed together to make a large sheet. For amatuer pasta makers they recommend that we source a quality fresh pasta seller and buy the sheets premade. The spinach and cheese filling is spread onto the sheet and a thin row of mushrooms is placed along one edge (which will become the centre of the roll).
The pasta is then rolled up, kind of like a swiss roll, and then wrapped with a cloth and the ends tied up with some kitchen string to help hold it together during cooking.
The roll is then placed into a kettle pot and left to boil away while the class continues.
With the leftover pasta Ashley shows us some of the more common/easier pasta styles.
First off, ravioli.
There is no mould or special tool that he uses here, just a simple pasta cutter or sharp knife and his hands.
He then shows us how to make tortellini's.
Thank goodness for pasta machine attachments. He shows us the attachments to make linguini and fettucine. He suggests to us that to start off with these are the pastas that we want to perfect first before we move on to the filled pastas. The important part is in the rolling of the pasta dough, once you master that everything else will eventually fall into place.
Ashley's plates of ravioli, tortelli, fettucine and linguine.
For lunch he throws together a Caprese style salad to go with the Rotolo. Grape tomatos, buffalo mozzarella, aged balsamic and olive oil, fresh basil, oh so simple but oh so good!
The bread comes out of the oven and everyone goes "Oooohhhh". A little more olive oil =D.
The Rotolo is ready!
Ashley slicing up the Rotolo and dividing it up.
Tracey helps to slice up the bread.
Another side dish, warm marinated olives, I'm not an olive lover, I still havn't quite acquired the taste yet. However, as Ashley goes to so much trouble to cook lunch for us I try a couple, they wern't too bad at all! I still can't say I like them though.
To go with the Rotolo Ashley makes a simple butter, sage and chestnut sauce. We all help to carry plates to the dining room where a table has been set up for us for lunch. Everything on that table (apart from the Grissini) was made during the 2 hour class.
Tracey throws together a rocket and cheese salad for us. It was suprisingly really good, shows the power of quality produce.
The Caprese salad, simple flavours, quality ingredients, it was good! Ashley has managed to balance all the flavours well. The acidity from the tomatoes and the balsamic, the creaminess of the cheese, the freshness of the basil, I could smell it from the distance I was standing to the bench where he was working on.
Warm marinated olives. Not overly salty, just delicious, but I'm still not an olive lover.
Spinach, Ricotta and Mushroom Rotolo with sage and chestnut butter sauce. Yum Yum! The pasta was almost silky, the filling nice and creamy, the chestnuts sweet. I loved it.
The foccacia was pretty good too! And dipped into the balsamic and olive oil... oh my goodness. Soft fluffy interior, and all the flavours from the olive oil, salt and herbs.
Hand rolled grissini sticks which they also make themselved. They were good! Flavoured with parmesan I think?
Chef Ashley Hughes posing for photos. Tracey joined us for lunch and told us a bit about how Alio started and all the stories before Alio when they were both working overseas (together and apart). She also brought up some interesting points about the internet and the impact it has on the food/restaurant industry especially such sites as eatability and it's power where people can anonymously attack restaurants and same goes for blogs. It's made me aware of alot more things and also how I will approach my reviews of restaurants in the future. We also talked about some other stuff but it's a shame I didn't really mingle too much with the others, that's me though in new environments. I enjoyed my morning immensly, even though I had to get up extra early for a Sunday morning. Thank you to Ashley and Tracey for having us and to Jen for picking me as a winner of the competition =).