On Thursday night my friend Lizi and I were kindly invited to the press launch of the Moretti Gran Tour, a pop up four day Italian food festival in the centre of Leeds. The food festival showcases leading Italian Food vendors from across the country and their signature dishes. There's everything from Arancini to Pizza, Pulled Pork to Lamb skewers. The entry fee is £10 but for that you get two Birra Moretti beers, two dishes from any vendor on-site and a lovely authentic gelato to finish.
The first thing I noticed upon entering the festival was the amazing decor. Leeds Town Hall has been decorated to evoke the sense of an authentic Italian food market. There's wheelbarrows full of flowers, haystacks with street directions and the most beautiful lights dangling from the ceiling. The main room of Leeds Town Hall had been transformed from dull and drab to scenes that replicate the heart of Italy.
Our first course of the evening were these wonderful Arancini balls courtesy of the Arancini Bros, London. The Arancini Bros originally started out in Melbourne making risotto balls for Melbourne's Italian expat community. As their popularity grew the two men decided to move to London and set up store where they make their own unique versions of the Italian classic dish. These Arancini balls are based on a Sicilian recipe consisting of a fried risotto ball stuffed with cheddar, mozzarella, fresh parsley and lemon.
After devouring the overly delicious Arancini balls I made my way to Pasta E Basta, another London based food vendor. The company was founded by Fabrizio who had a vision of bringing quintessential Italian food to the streets of London and after 8 years of working in London's busiest restaurants, he made his dream come true.
The dish I chose to sample from Pasta e Basta was the roasted beetroot gnocchi with a creamy gorgonzola sauce, toasted hazelnuts and wild rocket. The gnocchi tasted light and fresh and the accompanying gorgonzola sauce was rich but not too overpowering. I loved the slight hint of beetroot coming through the gnocchi and the toasted hazelnuts were a lovely finish as it added a nice crunchy bite to the dish.
Once I had filled myself up with yet another Italian dish, it was time to take a break and give my stomach a short rest from all the food. This leads me to one of the many highlight of my evening, the masterclass with Cin Cin. Cin Cin have been friends with the Moretti brand for quite some time and have often partnered up to host pop up masterclasses and shops across the south. Now in 2015, Cin Cin are preparing to open their first restaurant and to promote their authentic cuisine, executive chef Luke Robinson came to Leeds and decided to show us how to make the Italian classic Ravioli.
I admit, I was a little bit apprehensive about the masterclass at first. My cooking skills have never been the best and the thought of getting tangled up in pasta dough in front of a big group felt rather daunting. However Luke Robinson, who originally trained under the watchful eyes of Mr Jamie Oliver, made the process feel relatively easy and kept us all relaxed and entertained whilst showing us the basics.
After a few minor mistakes (mainly turning the handle in the wrong direction), I finally picked up the hang of this pasta making malarky and eventually had two perfect sheets to make my ravioli. After sorting out the dough, Luke dolloped the filling in the centre and we began making the shape with two ravioli sized cutters. Once the pasta was made Luke mixed the sauce which consisted of butter, basil and vegetable stock and garnished our dishes with pine nuts and herbs.
Even though I didn't make it all, I was rather proud of myself when I saw the completed dish. The funny thing is that I have a pasta machine at home that I bought well over a year ago but never dared to use it. Now I have been shown by a professional chef I will definitely be giving it a go and whilst I know I'm not the next masterchef, I feel confident enough not to screw it up.
After the masterclass and several bottles of beer, Lizi and I decided to go outside and grab dessert before heading home. Our dessert was authentic Italian Gelato courtesy of Brio Gelati, a Yorkshire based Gelato company. Brio Gelati moved to Leeds from Italy in 1979 and after owning several restaurants, teamed up with Jonathan Dale and set on a journey of delivering authentic Italian gelato via their retro Piaggio Ape Classico van. The gelato options were: Pistachio, Ricotta, Limoncello cheesecake, Nutella, Moretti Beer Sorbet and different types of coffee. I opted for the Limoncello cheesecake and it did not disappoint. The gelato was creamy, sweet and tangy and I could have easily gone back for second helpings. It was refreshing and light and the perfect way to cleanse the palate after a lot of food.
The Moretti Gran Tour was one of the best events I have been to in a long time and there's still a chance for you to visit on their last day of opening tomorrow. I would definitely recommend the festival and if you're passionate about italian food and cooking, you would be crazy to miss it.
Have you been to a Moretti Gran Tour?