I’m a vegan (legally, I have to tell you that within 5 minutes of us meeting, otherwise they take away my special licence) and so sadly, fresh pasta isn’t really something I often indulge in, as it’s usually made using eggs.
Because fresh vegan pasta often costs an arm and a leg (which is not a very vegan way to barter) I haven’t eaten it in years, and so when Ayla and I were invited to the vegan pasta class at The Avenue Cookery School on Sunday 17th November, we were over the moon! We sell a cookery choice voucher for The Avenue Cookery School, which you can redeem against one of a choice of culinary classes. We went for vegan pasta, because, well, it’s the best thing ever – but there are so many other options, including a vegan sushi workshop I have my beady little eye on! If you’re not following a plant-based diet, there’s no shortage of other amazing classes, including doughnuts, paella, gluten-free pasta and more. The Avenue obviously put a lot of effort into catering for a variety of different dietary requirements and preferences, and it shows! They even have speciality chefs employed for certain types of food, as we found out when we met our head chef and instructor for the evening, Renata. Renata specialises in vegan food, with courses from The Wild Food Café and The Raw Chef under her belt, as well as a stint at Mildred’s – so we knew we were in good hands!
As soon as we entered The Avenue, we were struck by how bright, open and nicely decorated the space was. There were huge work stations spaced evenly throughout the kitchen, with a demonstration area at the front. As it’s coming up to the festive season, The Avenue had entered into the spirit by displaying a huge, beautifully decorated Christmas tree by the door. This, combined with the soft, warm lighting and the friendly welcome from the staff, made for a very inviting atmosphere. There was also a jug of water, and a tray of freshly baked bread set out for guests to enjoy.
We were introduced to our chefs for the evening: Renata, who would be leading the demonstration, Gloria, and Jorge. It was a small class of about eleven, and we all introduced ourselves before we took our seats. It was great to meet the other students doing the workshop and swap tips (I did NOT know that Galaxy had launched a vegan chocolate bar…)
Meanwhile, Gloria told us that it’s actually very rare to have a ‘fully vegan’ class of students, and explained that quite often there will not be a single vegan in the class, as people are often just interested in learning different techniques, or reducing their meat intake. Lots of our fellow students were enjoying a glass or two of wine, as the class is BYOB. (Anyone who enjoys cooking at home knows that there’s nothing better than a glass of wine while you make dinner!)
With everyone settled in their seats, Renata began her demonstration. She was standing at a large counter at the front of the class, which helpfully had a mirror directly behind it so everyone could clearly see what she was doing. We would be making butternut squash ravioli, with a variety of toppings. She showed us how to make the perfect ravioli, starting with that all important ingredient: the dough. She told us the kind of flour we’d need to make the pasta dough was 00 flour, traditionally from Italy. She poured it onto the countertop and made a little well in the middle for the vegan ‘egg’, which was water mixed with saffron. As she began mixing the dough, the saffron coloured it a lovely light yellow. Once she had the right consistency for the dough, she showed us how to use the pasta machine by feeding the dough through it, starting on the largest setting and getting smaller each time, until you have a lovely, delicate sheet of it, perfect for filled pasta. Next, the careful art of filling, folding and sealing the ravioli! Renata showed us how to space out our fillings, fold the pasta over the top, and cut it into squares. Next came a nifty contraption for sealing the pasta into the classic ravioli shape.
Once the demonstration was complete, it was time for us to get cooking! Everyone took to their workstations in pairs, ready to create the pasta of dreams. Ayla and I worked together to create the dough, then wrapped it in cling film and let it rest while we made our filling from the pre-roasted butternut squash, mashing it in a bowl with our choice of flavours. The chefs were always on hand to give us advice; there was such a wide range of ingredients to choose from, but they warned us against going too crazy and adding everything, as this would result in an overpowering flavour. (I am definitely guilty of doing this at home – peanut butter and marmite sandwich, anyone? No?) We restrained ourselves, and went for a drizzle of truffle oil, some vegan crème fraiche, vegan cheese, and of course, salt and pepper. As there were some lovely fresh herbs floating around, it was difficult to resist throwing a few small leaves of thyme into the mix.
We then unwrapped our dough, and began feeding it through the pasta machine. Although this was fiddly at first, it was immensely satisfying once we got the hang of it; successfully feeding the dough through one side to see it emerge the other, thinner each time. When we had a couple of sheets ready, we placed our delicious butternut squash filling in small balls across each, and folded the sheet over to make our parcels. After we had cut these up, we began delicately pushing the air out of each ravioli parcel, a very subtle art I never would have known how to do without this class. Once we had sealed our parcels with the special contraption, it was time to boil our pasta! Now, I’m not going to say we were behind exactly, but our neighbours across the countertop had already boiled most of their pasta and were started on a second batch. I began to sympathise with the contestants on The Great British Bake Off – although this, of course, was not a competition! (Definitely not one that we were winning, anyway…)
Once we had boiled our pasta, Gloria helpfully brought over some heated bowls for us to use. We ladled the pasta into the bowls, then went to the chef station to add toppings. The chefs had prepared a beurre noisette for us to drizzle over our pasta. Yes, a beurre noisette. What do you mean, you don’t know what that is? (Don’t worry, neither did I, but my life will be forever changed now that I do.) It’s a French sauce, which literally translated means ‘hazelnut butter’. I know you’re picturing a delicious jar of Skippy, but it’s not that kind of nut butter. In this case, it was walnuts, sautéed with vegan margarine, to create a simple but delicious, rich, warm sauce for our pasta. It went unbelievably with the other flavours, and we also liberally sprinkled fresh parsley, vegan cheese and a little more truffle oil on top. (After this class, I finally understand what all the fuss is about with truffle oil!) There was also homemade vegan ‘parmesan’ which sounded so simple to make, but was incredibly effective.
Looking at the finished product, I felt like a real chef (although of course, I’m sure this fantasy will fade after I’ve made a few more peanut butter and marmite sandwiches!)
Once everyone’s pasta was ready, we all sat down around the communal table and ate together. It was lovely to interact with the other guests on the experience, and learn what had brought them each there. As we ate the pasta we’d just made from scratch, I couldn’t believe how great it tasted. The toppings perfectly complimented the butternut squash filled pasta, and the fresh dough tasted great. It made me want to rush straight to Amazon and buy my own pasta machine.
When everyone had eaten, Renata stood up to say thank you to everyone for coming. We left, full-bellied and happy, and enjoyed our convenient 10-minute walk to Wandsworth Town station to begin our journey home.
After Sunday’s class, I feel like a true pasta connoisseur. (Shh, I can dream.) Myself and Ayla would like to say a huge thank you to all the staff at The Avenue Cookery School for putting on such a fantastic class! Their open choice cookery voucher makes a great gift for the choosy foodie in your life, whether they’re vegan or not. (And even if they’re not, who can resist freshly made pasta?)