On Tuesday, I went to one of Judy Witt's classes. What a day, what a woman! We met in her studio overlooking Mercato Centrale at 11am, then it was off to the market. We stopped for coffee and pastries; Judy introduced us to a couple of local specialties (one of which, the aragosto, looks like a little lobster tail and I'd already snaffled a couple for my breakfast the day before) - then into Mercato Centrale.
First stop in was Conti, where they had an amazing array of fresh fruit and veg, along with olive oils and more delicious things than I had imagined. One of their staff took us in hand for a tasting of balsamic vinegars, olive oils etc. Fact for the day, real balsamic vinegar apparently has no vinegar in it. The most amazing flavour was from a piece of pecorino cheese dipped into honey filled with sliced white truffles. More stalls, more tastes, more smells. As we walked, Judy threw out ideas for things that we could make with the ingredients and had her eyes out for a few special ingredients for things that she thought we could make. I was feeling punch-drunk from seeing so much amazing stuff - but fortunately the Italians do have a taste for kitsch so the penis pasta and tacky "birth of Venus" aprons stopped me from actually dying of delight.
Then to the wine shop for a glass of prosecco while Judy discussed with the owner what we should drink with the menu we'd decided. The prosecco was delicious; unfortunately I didn't see what type it was because it was light and dry and lovely and not at all like the horrible syrupy stuff I've often had before.
Back at the studio, Judy's assistant (Sana? I think that was her name and I am so sorry if it is wrong!) had finished the shopping and arranged the amazing still life of the produce. We sat at the table with beautiful cheeses and glasses of wine to talk through the menu and then started cooking.
First, pannacotta. Much, much easier than other recipes I have seen, this was just cream, a little sugar and some leaf gelatine. No vanilla, nothing else, just the pure flavour of really fresh good cream. That went in the fridge while we had lessons in trimming artichokes for fritters, using a mezzaluna to make a Tuscan herb blend and making veal saltimbocca.
I got a bit of a feeling that some of the people (there were 6 in the class) weren't so interested in the hands-on stuff! But I loved it. I've done marinated artichokes before but they didn't go very well because I didn't trim them enough. The saltimbocca was a revelation too - although I did think the wine we deglazed with was too sweet for my taste - it is just a pity that I don't think I will ever find veal that good in the UK. It was milk fed, but not crated, and as delicate as chicken breast, and trimmed so beautifully!
As a starter we made the salad on Judy's blog - called Chicchi, it is a heavenly combination of this amazing black rice, chickpeas, chilli, tomato and garlic, lifted to extraordinary heights by a jar of sliced truffles. Now, I have bought bottled truffles before and they had no flavour at all, so I was a bit sceptical, but the solid punch of pheromones from those sliced truffles made it slightly indecent to eat this salad around strangers. I've spent the morning trying to source the rice - Italian Gourmet have it - and now I have to try and get some good truffles!