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Russell Brown at Great British Chefs Cook School

Russell Brown at Great British Chefs Cook School

by Mecca Ibrahim 01 July 2015

In the fourth of our new series of hands-on cookery masterclasses, chef Russell Brown gave an excellent masterclass in homemade pasta and homemade ricotta.


More from this series:

Mecca is Head of Marketing & Social Media at Great British Chefs.

It was time for the last in the summer season of our cookery masterclasses and one we were all looking forward to. Nothing quite beats homemade pasta and it’s a skill that many of our audience are keen to learn. So much is packed into our three hour masterclasses, where one of the award-winning chefs from our website gives hands-on tuition to a lucky group of food bloggers, food photographers and keen cooks.

With this fourth event not only were we treated to a fresh pasta making tutorial, but we also discovered how to make ricotta too. We were in the very capable hands of Michelin-starred chef Russell Brown, who had travelled up from Dorset to London especially to host the event. After an eclectic career, that included everything from photography to selling fishing tackle, he began cheffing at the relatively late age of 27. In April 2003, in the picture postcard town of Dorchester, Russell and his wife Elena opened Sienna. Seating just 15 diners, the tiny eatery was awarded two AA Rosettes seven months after opening; a coveted third came in 2007. Then, in January 2010, the Michelin Guide gave Sienna a star, making it Dorset’s only Michelin-starred eatery, and the Guide’s smallest featured restaurant.

To start us off at the masterclass, everyone crowded around the hob to see how Russell made the ricotta. It was a surprisingly simple process of heating up whole milk, with a little sea salt and some distilled vinegar, stirring gently until the milk separated into curds and whey. Once separated the mixture is left to cool and sit for 10 minutes before straining off the curds with a slotted spoon and letting them sit over a colander or sieve to drain further over a bowl in the fridge. Not one to waste, Russell told us that the whey could be used to make some beautiful scones, where the slightly sour flavour could replace the traditional buttermilk in these teatime treats.

Everyone took a turn at the hob and it was interesting to see how the levels of stirring and slight differences in heat made a difference to the size of curds. As with learning all new skills, practice and experimentation are all part and parcel of the process, and all the participants were eager to get home to try this in their own kitchens.

Heating the milk for the ricotta
Heating the milk for the ricotta
Separating the curds and whey
Separating the curds and whey

Next up Russell made some pasta dough in a food processor, although he said it’s more fun to make by hand, piling the flour onto a large board, adding the eggs and oil and mixing in. Another tip Russell passed on, was that how and where you store your flour will affect the humidity levels, and that can make a real difference to the texture and quality of the resulting pasta.

It was now time to sieve the ricotta and mix this with egg yolks, Parmesan or Old Winchester cheese (vegetarian alternative), sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to make a filling for the agnolotti. Fresh pasta really benefits from having simple, but strongly flavoured, fillings and the homemade ricotta made a perfect soft and creamy base for this.

Russell also made a delicious yet simple vegetable reduction with seasonal veg, star anise, flat leaf parsley and fennel. This was added to butter, peas, courgettes, shop-bought vegetable stock, white wine and Noilly Prat to form a richly flavoured vegetable mix which would be served with the fresh pasta.

It was now time to roll up our sleeves to assemble the agnolotti. In the kitchen we used a pasta attachment on the motor of a KitchenAid, which made light work of making pasta sheets. Once the sheets were at the correct thinness, under Russell’s guidance we cut them into long strips. The ricotta mixture was put into piping bags and then piped along the strip of fresh pasta. A little egg yolk wash was brushed along the pasta and the pasta rolled over to make something like a long sausage roll.

 
 
Rolling the pasta dough
Rolling the pasta dough
Filling and cutting the agnolotti
Filling and cutting the agnolotti

Russell showed us how to quickly pinch the pasta roll at 2cm intervals to form the agnolotti. Using a fluted pastry cutter the pasta parcels were then cut and formed. Russell made this all look extremely easy, but after a little practice everyone managed to make the agnolotti too and felt a massive sense of achievement. It was all so much faster than making tortellini parcels or even ravioli and the yield was impressive too.

It only took a few minutes to cook the agnolotti in boiling salted water and they were served with vegetables in the beautiful reduction that Russell had made earlier.

In just a few hours, not only had we made cheese ourselves but expertly presented fresh pasta too. While we tucked into our dishes, Russell plated a wonderful dessert - raspberry and mascarpone mille feuille. The mille feuille sheets were made from a buttery oat tuile. Some cheffy raspberry squares were created by heating up raspberry puree, vanilla seeds, sugar, white wine and some sosa vegetable gel. The last ingredient helped the jelly to set really quickly - Russell gave us all a spoonful to try while it was heating up and it set in our mouths forming a soft gummy texture like an instant wine gum! The dessert when put together was wonderfully light, not too sweet and full of the great summer freshness of raspberries. A perfect end to the evening.

 
 
Raspberry jelly squares
Raspberry jelly squares
Raspberry and mascarpone mille feuille
Raspberry and mascarpone mille feuille

We’d like to thank Russell for sharing all of his skills, tips, patience and time at our latest masterclass. A BIG thanks too, goes to Rosalind Rathouse and her team at Cookery School for their help and hard work behind the scenes, helping to keep everything running very smoothly. Last but certainly not least, a big thanks to all of the food bloggers, photographers and keen cooks who came along to make our fourth Great British Chefs Cook School a great night. We know they’ll all go on to make agnolotti at home and make their own fresh ricotta too.

Watch out on Twitter for more details of next school. In the meantime you can download a special e-book of Russell Brown’s recipes from Great British Chefs Cook School here.

 
 
 

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Russell Brown at Great British Chefs Cook School

 
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