I have in the past taught an evening class on basic Italian cooking and found it to be a simple guide to psychology. People react very differently when you place them in a situation that they are unfamiliar with – out of their comfort zone! Hence the reason for corporate companies to have team building exercises. It’s their way to watch how people deal with a new situations or tasks, and how they then work with other people. I hated them when I worked at the bank, and dreaded going on courses.
So to try and create a relaxed and informal on the first evening, I did all the cooking, made a selection for tasty bites for them to sample over a glass of wine, and explained what lay ahead of them over the coming weeks, emphasising that this was all about the social aspect of cooking and eating Italian food.
I was most interested to see where everyone placed themselves on the first night in the cookery classroom and everyone scattered to the four corners of the kitchen; one person turning her back to the rest of the class being protective of her wee spot in the kitchen. People become very territorial about their food and their tools, and it took a few weeks to get everyone to communicate and open up and share the experiences. I often thought of writing a sitcom and calling it ‘The Night Class’.
Therefore, when the school asked me to take an afternoon class you would have thought that I would have been totally prepared and confident, however I was terrified as the clientele consisted of Senior Management and teachers. It was their turn to become the students and myself the teacher – no pressure there then! Not knowing how experienced they all were at cooking it could have gone either way. If it had been too easy for them or far too difficult, I could have ended-up looking totally incompetent.
However, I quickly realised that I could have a lot of fun with them as I became the teacher for a change and be able to ‘boss’ them about. It turned out to be a fantastic afternoon. Everyone was enthusiastic and ready to cook. It became a noisy, lively kitchen, with shouting and laughing, the air filled with a fine dusting of flour and very determined people ready for the challenges being set. I had devised a simple menu of pizza and cantuccini biscuits hoping that this would have satisfied all levels of expertise. Normally having to work alone in a classroom, now instead they would have to work together and share the ingredients. The floor became crunchy underfoot with chopped almonds and at one point there was a ‘rainbow’ of olive oil as the bottle was knocked over.
I think they were all genuinely surprised at the end results, as the first pizza was cheered out of the oven and trays full of golden biscuits were ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ over. I must admit, I did feel inwardly proud of myself knowing that the class had been a success and that I had taught a room full of teachers!
I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon, however was totally exhausted and had a well needed lie down when I got home.
So here is one of the recipes that we did that afternoon.
300g strong bread flour (00 if you can) plus extra for dusting
1 sachet of instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp of olive oil – extra for drizzling
About 200ml of lukewarm water
Mozzarella – I use a combination of grated and fresh
Grated/crushed garlic (optional)
Fresh basil – chopped
Any of the following toppings: onions, mushrooms, peppers, salami, pepperoni, olives, fresh tomatoes, chilli –really anything you fancy.
- Heat the oven to 220°C/Gas 7
- Put the flour in a large bowl and stir the yeast and salt.
- Make a well in the middle and pour in the water and oil. Combine altogether to make a soft dough.
- Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes until smooth.
- Cover and leave rise.
- To make the topping combine the passata, a drizzle of oil, garlic, herbs and season with a little salt and pepper.
- If using onions, peppers or mushrooms. I would fry them off in a little oil to soften them before putting them on the pizza.
- Split the dough into 2 balls as this is enough for 2 pizzas. On a floured surface, roll out a ball into a large circle using a rolling pin or use your hands to flatten it into a tin. The dough needs to be fairly thin.
- Lift the dough onto floured baking sheet.
- If you can place an empty baking sheet into the oven to heat up.
- Smooth the passata mixture thinly on the top of the dough.
- Add the cheese and the toppings of your choice.
- Drizzle with olive oil.
- Put the pizza-still on its baking sheet – onto the heated sheet in the oven, so ensure an even cook.
- Bake for 8-10 minutes or until crispy.
- Finish off with a drizzle of oil and freshly torn basil.