I was invited to try my hand at boning a chicken and cooking it Italian style at the cookery school which is Kitchen Caldesi (La Cucina Caldesi) in Marylebone. Any feelings of nervousness our group of food bloggers may have felt at the prospect of cutting out the carcass without cutting off the wings (or indeed our own fingers) were dispelled when we had to don aprons which looked like a cross between Brabantia bin liners and elephant condoms. Further hilarity ensued when the ebullient host, Giancarlo, having plied us with Prosecco and then demonstrated the cuts to make, reprimanded latecomers with a dry wit and quite a good line in political incorrectness. The ice was broken.
Giancarlo made boning a whole baby chicken (or poussin) look easy and indeed, with practice, one could dispatch one in about two minutes especially as we were thankfully not boning out the wings too. We proceeded to stuff our chickens with roughly chopped garlic, rosemary and chilli peppers, salt, pepper and olive oil before rolling the birds back up again. The curious name of the dish, Poussin under a Brick, (polletto al mattone) derives from the tradition of flattening the bird with a brick and leaving it to marinate. I imagine this aids carving when the bird has been roasted and stops it falling apart. We were to eat this later with rocket and potatoes roasted with pancetta.
Meanwhile, Katie was preparing gnocchi nudi or spinach, sage and pine nut gnocchi without pasta or potato (hence 'nude'). The cooked spinach was drained and then mixed with ricotta, egg and parmesan, salt, pepper and nutmeg and a little flour and then formed into quenelle shapes between two spoons.
The gnocchi were then gently poached in simmering water. Just before serving they were tossed in butter, sage and parmesan. They proved to be extremely light and digestible compared with more traditional gnocchi dumplings.
The final dish was cioccolata in tazza, a superb molten chocolate pudding containing 70% cocoa content chocolate, double cream, eggs, sugar and milk which one could drink straight from the cup it was served in. It can be further improved by the addition of brandy or grappa.
The evening was hugely enjoyable not least because of the banter between the host and the 'students'. We all sat down together to eat the food that we'd helped prepare and were served wine by the school's staff.
Various courses are available, daytime and evening, and prices start at £45. They often have guest tutors like Valentina Harris and Ursula Ferrigno both of whom I have seen in action elsewhere and who both have a similarly entertaining and no nonsense approach to Italian food. The Caldesis own the restaurant next door, Caffè Caldesi. Katie showed us her impressive new book which is the result of three intensive years studying the cooking of Italy's 20 regions.