Secrets to making real Italian recipes

editorial image

Wootton, in Northampton, may not be the first place one would search for an Italian cookery expert, but, nevertheless, it is the home of Carmela Hayes.

Fast becoming the ‘go to’ person when it comes to Italian cooking questions, Carmela – like so many modern cooks – first began carving a name for herself through her blog carmelaskitchen.

Using her southern Italian background and upbringing as inspiration, she has been using cyberspace to share her ideas, recipes and tips with her growing set of foodie followers.

But in recent weeks, Carmela has been bringing her culinary expertise into the ‘real’ world by starting to write an Italian recipe book and by launching her own home cookery classes.

She has so far been teaching at her own home in Northampton, at a range of community venues and at Bay Tree Cottage, in Farthingstone. And, although her focus is all things Italian, her cookery course subjects are varied.

The mother-of-four said: “My youngest started school in September so then I decided to start teaching. I teach teenage cooking courses and fresher courses, sending kids off to college knowing how to make three do-able meals. I did a Christmas pudding class last year and taught 70 ladies how to make it.”

But the majority of her courses are Italian inspired, including everything from learning to cook fresh pasta, to making a perfect calzone or pizza.

She said: “I was born here but all my family, apart from my husband, are Italian. My parents came over when they were teenagers. We are a very Italian family. The recipes I grew up with I will pass down to my children, and I develop my very own recipes.

“My passion is pasta making; pastas, pizzas and Italian desserts.

“In Puglia, southern Italy, where my family are from, the food is very pasta oriented, high in carbs and with not a lot of meat. I learned everything from my mum and my dad’s mum. They inspired me and I found my own way.”

For Carmela, being able to make Italian classics such as a parmigiana with aubergines or a bolognese sauce (which can be made in a large batch, frozen and used when needed) is a way in which people can feed their families well and cheaply, without recourse to ready meals or fast fixes.

“People can still buy fresh meat and eat cheaply. I have four children and think I’m not going to buy processed food when I can buy and make my own food at home, people should bring things back to basics.”

According to Carmela, slow-cooking is the key to a great bolognese sauce, but if made in batches and frozen, it can prove a fast solution to a quick week-day dinner.

“Start with carrot, celery, garlic and a small onion, chop them small and fry in olive oil. Soften them slightly and pop the mince in. Brown that and pop in the tomato passatta, a couple of tablespoons of tomato puree, a handful of basil and oregano (this goes in when you fry the veg). You can also put red wine in. You have to simmer it steadily and give it three to four hours, a bolognese isn’t a hurried job and slow cooking is the key.”

See Carmela’s blogspot or find her on Facebook for recipes and more details on her forthcoming classes.