Po Valley tasting journey with Francesco Mazzei and Grana Padano
Yes, yes I should know how to make pasta – but you can always learn more and when the person showing you the ropes is renowned chef Francesco Mazzei, then you know you’re in for a treat.
I had already attended a really cool masterclass with him last year at his Islington outpost Radici – the lovely folks at Grana Padano were kind enough to ask me to join this year’s session too, which I very gladly did.
This year’s event was an ‘extended’ version, actually – and a showcase focusing on dishes from Po Valley regions, from Piedmont to Emilia Romagna, which is where the Grana Padano is produced (and can only be produced with milk from this area).
The tasting menu put together by Francesco sounded incredible.
Like last year, we were welcomed with a refreshing glass of prosecco and then ushered into the Radici kitchen, where chef Mazzei and one of his sous chefs showed us how to make pasta from scratch (and we got to take home our bundle!).
He also demostrated how to hand cut the pasta in different format and shapes, from filled ravioloni to tagliatelle, from farfalle to pappardelle.
He challenged us to try out hands at making them and awarded the best one of us with a copy of his recipe book, too (that was not me, in case you’re wondering).
One final dish the chefs showed us was ‘strangolapreti’ from Trentino, not technically a pasta. Made with blanched vegetables (spinach in our case, but cavolo nero works well), stale white bread soaked in warm milk, flour, eggs and of course, grated Grana Padano, we got to eat this delicacy during our meal too (more on that later).
We finally took our seats in the private dining room, surrounded by a beautiful, freshly cut wheel of Grana Padano and we got to taste bites from differently aged Grana, appreciating the differences in textures and flavour it has. With us not only Francesco, but also Pamela, who works for Grana Padano who was a delight to chat too; she kept us entertained with plenty of stories on Grana Padano and Italian life too.
The first dish that arrived was a starter: Grana Padano morsels, coppa and ‘gnocco fritto’, a crispy, lightly fried dough sheet typical of Emilia Romagna. Mooreish.
We also got to taste some beautifilly prepared polenta tartlettes with baccala’ mantecato (salt cod mixed with milk and Grana) which I particularly loved. The dish is typical from Veneto.
Swiftly followed the surprise (for me) of the night: the aforementioned ‘strangolapreti‘. OMG moment! They were absolutely incredible. Rich and decadent with cheese and butter, enriched by fried sage, but melt in the mouth simplicity. I cannot wait to make them and share the recipe on this blog so watch this space.
Next, we had tajarin (tagliolini) with pink peppercorns, lemon zest and Grana Padano sauce, a very light, delicate pasta dish which is so easy to make yet so satisfying to eat. This represented Piedmont.
Finally, Milano and Lombardia were represented in the final savoury dish: a risotto alla milanese with saffron and bone marrow served straight from the Grana Padano wheel. Impressive to see, but of course absolutely delicious to eat. I just refrained from adding the bone marrow!
Francesco was kind enough to surprise us with a dessert – not made with Grana Padano! – a limoncello drizzled polenta cake served with ice cream.
Needless to say, I rolled home. I ate everything and some, and we all took home doggie bags with lots of Grana Padano as well as cake.
I love Grana Padano, and I love their events but realistically, what’s not to like? It’s one of Italy’s most famous cheeses (with his ‘cousin’ Parmigiano Reggiano), it’s versatile and healthy, it’s good for you because it’s rich in calcium and protein. And it just has so many uses in cooking, as the evening with Francesco Mazzei showcased.
I am wondering if next year’s event might be a showcase of Southern Italy’s dishes (with Grana Padano)? Francesco is from the South like me so it would be pretty interesting. Who knows!
Pastabites was a guest of Grana Padano at Radici; I was not asked to write this post, opinions are my own.