We were thrilled to welcome Sara Danesin Medio to our AGA cookery school on Thursday for a most enjoyable cookery demonstration.

Sara has an impressive pedigree when it comes to producing a demonstration with a bit of a Mediterranean slant.

Firstly there are her credentials as Masterchef finalist and secondly there is her heritage. Sara is of Italian descent and was ably assisted by an equally Italian ‘Auntie Iris’. The duo treated us to a menu of dishes that were perfectly suited for Valentine’s Day.

We stared with homemade gnocchi and accompanying pesto sauce. Sara explained why she is so precise in her selection and measurement of ingredients. For example the use of Rooster potatoes, selected because they yield the dry and fluffy flesh that is necessary when making your own gnocchi. Sara made good use of the AGA’s cast iron ovens to cook her bevy of Roosters, scooping out their flesh once they had cooled enough to handle. With delft touch of hand this humble potato was soon transformed into light fluffy balls. Then heated again and immersed with homemade pesto.

Again for the production of the pesto there should be no skimping on the quality of the ingredients. Sara also discouraged those of us that might be tempted to take short cuts by using supermarket pesto. Supermarket bought pesto tends to be thin on Parmesan and pine nuts, as they are expensive ingredients.

To make the perfect pesto use the best quality basil possible, which according to Sara’s 98 year old great grandma comes from Genoa, (Sara did admit that it could be tricky to source this locally!) However, interestingly what she did point out was to be aware of vicious blenders to chop your basil as they can bruise the leaves in the chopping process. The proof of her attention to detail was in the tasting! The gnocchi was so light and soft and the pesto was superb. They were a prefect match for taste and texture.

Next Sara prepared pigeon carpaccio. She explained not only the method of lightly cooking the pigeon breasts but also the scientific reasoning behind her methods. Her medical background serves her well in her intelligent approach to selecting her ingredients. Like all of us, Sara cares about what she eats but she is also pragmatic when she admits there is a reason food bathed in butter or maybe cream usually tastes so good!

The pigeon was accompanied by a specially prepared glaze made from stock from the pigeon carcasses. Again as Sara said this is a process that the AGA’s simmering oven does so well. This could be accompanied by Sara’s hand roasted tomatoes. These ‘babies’ were encouraged to dry out before being liberally covered in herbs and fine breadcrumbs and roasted in a cast iron dish in the hot oven.

They were a perfect example of a simple recipe which combined ingredients that compliment each other perfectly. There was a burst of Mediterranean flavour and warmth when you bit into them – shame they weren’t accompanied by Mediterranean weather!

Sara finished off with her heart shaped sables, sandwiched together with her own raspberry jam. Again, they were so light and delicate. The crunch of the biscuits and the tang of the jam were perfect partners. Sara had sampled afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason whilst on Masterchef. She had clearly taken on board British afternoon tea in the creation of her accompanying scones too. We were only sad that we didn’t have the afternoon to spend drinking earl grey tea and munching through her delicious treats! 

Sara has her own cookery school at Sara@St John’s in York. She also runs one of the most successful dinning clubs in the country. Her latest venture is to travel with the Masterchef brand. She is also hosting cookery courses in her native Italy with the tour operating Cox and Kings. Please visit her website for further information.