An Evening At The Underground Cookery School: Preparing Artichokes, Making Fresh Pasta & A Baked Blueberry Cheesecake
On Tuesday night after an unbearably hot day spent in East London in and out of meetings and chasing up paperwork along with my friend Sherin headed down to a basement near Old Street Station. The reason we were headed in that direction was to spend an evening I had been invited to cooking and learning at The Underground Cookery School. I figured, while I may not have certain skills but I can cook, and as Sherin can’t cook at all (though I did buy her Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book for her birthday, lets see how that turns out!) I thought we’d be the perfect pair to test out one of their evening cooking classes.
The premise of The Underground Cookery School, (set up in 2003) is that ‘Everything Is Salvageable’. The whole operation is overseen by Matt Kemp, a fantastically fun chef who trained under Michael Guerard and worked at The River Cafe, The Ivy and Pont De la Tour, for people who pay attention to things like that. However, he told me that he actually consideres himself self taught, as he was picking up and playing around with recipes long before he went and trained in an actual kitchen. He said that this means that he has made all the mistakes of working things out for yourself, which means he is very well placed to help people salvage things that have gone slightly wrong as he has been there himself; hence ‘Everything Is Salvageable’. What they offer at Underground are mostly Team Building and big group sessions, and smaller group sessions for things like birthdays and hen parties. I’m also enjoying at the moment Matt’s new video cast:
In this post I’m going to go over our starter and out dessert. Our main course was Guinea Fowl with a fantastically light vegetable base but I think I might share the vegetable recipe at a later date. As for the Guinea Fowl, the skill learnt was how to joint a bird. I’m hoping to practice this skill I picked up on Tuesday night on chickens in a few weeks time on an Ottolenghi recipe for my annual Summer dinner party, so I’ll keep you posted how that goes. Anyway, so this above is me making pasta. While I did freak out I was doing it wrong the whole way through, I realised that it is actually a pretty easy thing to achieve all you need it to make sure you buy special pasta flour, and now I have seen it done with a machine, while I might invest in the attachment for the Kenwood Chef to make my own at home, I think I might work on a machine-less recipe for you all. Now I’ve made it, I can’t believe how easy it was.
The actual dish we put together was Fresh Tagliatelle with Black Pepper and Globe Artichokes. Now, up until that evening I had never prepared or contemplated preparing an artichoke in my entire life, and only the other evening I was discussing with my Mother how difficult it is supposed to be. So, I was so glad to discover I would be learning, and, like fresh pasta it is actually easier to do than you think it will be.
So, you take your globe artichoke, and grabbing the leaves (?), tear them all off until you have something that resembles this. Take a spoon, and scoop out all of the fuzzy bit in the middle. Chop the stem of at the bottom do the bottom is flat. It should look something like a portobello mushroom shape around about now. Rub the middle with a lemon to stop the artichoke from discolouring, and with a sharp knife peel the hard outer section from around the outside of your artichoke piece. Chop into large chunks. Below they have been boiled in water until they were cooked the whole way through, then tossed in truffle oil, salt and lots of black pepper.
For desserts we made baked Blueberry Cheesecake First I’m going to give you a few tips and more photos, but the full recipe is below. Serves 6. I was in charge of the first part of one of the two cheesecakes. Below shows me discovering that you have to get your hands dirty to keep going when you try to beat together cream cheese and creme fraiche with a balloon whisk when the cream cheese is not at room temperature. It will get stuck. So, always make sure your ingredients are prepared.
- 50g (1.8 oz) Unsalted Butter
- 225g (8 oz) Digestive Biscuits (Graham Crackers)
- 100g (3.5 oz) Fresh Blueberries
- 1 tbsp Plain Flour
- 400g (14 oz) Cream Cheese, at room temperature
- 150g (5.3 oz) Caster Sugar (Granulated Sugar)
- 3 Large Eggs
- 1 tbsp Cornflour
- 225g (8 oz) Creme Fraiche
- 1 Lemon
Pre heat your oven to 150 Celsius (300 Fahrenheit). Lightly grease a 30cm cake tin (the type that spring open with a buckle at the side.) Dust the blueberries with the flour so they are all coated. In a food processor, break up the biscuits into fine crumbs. Melt the butter and add it to the food processor, whizzing it for about a minute until it is all combined. Using the back of a spoon, or if you are me your fingers press this mixture into the bottom fo the tin and leave in the fridge to set into a base for about half an hour. This is the technique I was talking about in my Nutella Cheesecake Cup recipe, if you wanted to make it on a larger scale for a crowd.
While the base is chilling, make your filling. Add the cream cheese and the creme fraiche to a bowl and whisk or beat together until combined and smooth. Beat in the sugar, the eggs one at a time, the cornflour and the lemon juice. Pour over the base and sprinkle the floured blueberries over the top. Bake in the oven for about half an hour. It should be slightly firm to the touch, you can leave it in a little longer if need be. Turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake to cool in the oven then refrigerate until chilled before turning out of the pan, slicing, and serving.
I think we both thoroughly enjoyed out evening cooking (always with a glass of champagne constantly being topped up in hand); myself because I learnt several skills that I probably would have never learnt without being shown, and Sherin because she discovered that she is more frightened when confronted with a plucked, gutted and trussed Guinea Fowl to joint than she is in the moments before abseiling down the Bishopsgate Tower. if you have a birthday or special event coming up and you are looking to do something fun and different with your friends and colleagues I would really recommend you book yourself an evening in the Underground kitchen. You can find out more about what they offer on their website.