Sunday, November 27, 2011

Italian cooking class with Artur Bagov at Del Corso (Moscow)


Last weekend I finally paid my first visit to Del Corso, a new Italian cooking school in Moscow led by inspiring and engaging Artur Bagov. Back to Moscow after studying and working in Piedmont, having worked with Isaac Correa at Correa's restaurant at its very start Artur is now developing his beautiful venture. Watching him working you can tell he's doing what he loves. He is sparkling with enthusiasm, so passionate about giving you his very best here and now. It was definitely not my last visit to the school.

I learned about Del Corso through shared Facebook connections. Once I saw the Fish and Seafood class announced for November I knew I had to make a reservation. The November was pretty much booked already and I smiled to myself. Good that the school is doing so well.


I arrived some 5 minutes late for the Saturday evening class. With the help of Artur I figured out that the entrance was under bright green sign saying "Kitchen on your way". It was a light and warm little cafe. The cooking studio was harmonically built into the dining area right next to the bar stand.


The group of four almost gathered. Artur was moving around fast preparing for the class, smiling and welcoming the newcomers. Those who felt like taking part in cooking were welcome to take their positions at the cutting boards (which I couldn't help immediately doing). Those who wished to observe were welcome to take their comfortable seats. This made the setting even more relaxing.


We started off with crostini with goat cheese and ligurian olives tapenade. The fun started right away. Artur explained that we were using his favorite Taggiasca olives. They are very intense in their flavor, small, dark, with large pits. Having chopped them finely we mixed them with soft and light Chavroux goat cheese. Then we slightly rubbed the toasted slices of bread with fresh garlic and spread the topping over quite generously, following Artur's instructions - "Up to one centimeter is fine".


Throughout the 3 hour class Artur managed to keep personal attention to every participant, making sure everybody is comfortable, has everything, can see well and has a chance to share thoughts. When giving out tasks he was almost asking for excuse for making us work. As if he was the only one responsible for getting the cooking done.


Some chopped fresh, basil, cherry tomato, olio crudo (which meant raw - extra virgin, never heated olive oil) and go. I was really hungry to try the crostini and they tasted very good to me, especially paired with light white Sicilian wine. "Italians add oil everywhere except cappuccino" - Artur was laughing.


Then we moved to making the first course - risotto with shrimps, zucchini and tomatoes. I didn't expect to hear something new about risotto especially after my recent visit to l'Osteria, but I did.


Artur told us a little bit about arborio rice and why it is so right for risotto. Not only it is medium-grained and thus helps to create the creamy texture. The coats of the arborio grains soak up the flavors of other products especially well. Though arborio is fine for risotto, in upscale Italian restaurants the more premium and better performing kinds of risotto rice (e.g. Carnaroli, Vialone Nano) are mostly used.


Artur followed the classic risotto technology and we were helping him with chopping veggies. He kept giving more and more valuable instructions. "Risotto is very much about good butter - lot's of butter". "It is preferable to add the wine twice: not at the beginning only, but at the end as well" - never knew. "It is the final add of butter and cheese, which makes the risotto so white - watch how it changes the color".


"I'd love to tell you so much more!" - now he seemed relaxed and emotional in a very Italian way. "I am for Grana Padano, not Parmigiano". "Adding cream is an insult to risotto!"


It turned out that in Piedmont risotto is served in a special way. It is ladled into shallow soup plates. Then the chef takes the plate and hits the bottom of it with his palm, which makes risotto run flat.


That was exactly what Artur did to our plates and we sat down for our first course. Do I have to say the risotto was truly beautiful?


After enjoying the risotto we moved to making Aurata fillet Mediterranian style. I asked about the fish which I didn't know. It turned out that aurata was an Italian pronunciation for gilt-head bream, which we call "dorada" in Russian.


Artur quickly roasted some shrimps and the fish fillets lightly coated in olive oil skins up. He did the same with potatoes, seasoned with fresh rosemary for the garnish.


Then we made the sauce, which gave the dish a pronounced Mediterranean touch. Onions, garlic, olives, capers and cherry tomatoes cooked together in a saucepan till the flavors marry and the sauce comes to the right texture. In olive oil, of course. "Only use extra virgin olive oil. It is not true that it is not good for frying. You will always feel light after your meal" - and it was true, I must say. Though I ate probably twice as much as I normally do in the evening, I felt no discomfort.


The dessert, panna cotta with raspberry sauce, Artur made in advance. "It takes at least four hours to make panna cotta" - so we got it completely effort free. I have to say I never really liked panna cotta before. That one however was looking so beautiful and welcoming that I couldn't help trying. Once I tried I didn't manage to stop before I reached the bottom of the serving cup. "It is very much about good cream" - Artur said smiling.


I even got an extra panna cotta to take it home and share with my family. No surprise that when I came to the kitchen next morning everybody around looked genuinely happy, but there was no panna cotta anywhere. Thank you so much Artur! How do I express my gratitude?

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