I blow hot and cold with food television. I watched all of MasterChef last year, but this year simply cannot be bothered. Last year’s eventual winner, Tim Anderson, was a safe bet of reaching the final from when we first saw him. Sara Danesin, wowed John and Gregg by lifting her excellent Italian cooking to the level of fine dining, and becoming a finalist has enabled her to leave her job as an intensive care sister and establish a new career in food.
I was delighted to receive an invitation from Garofalo Pasta, to have lunch with Sara in her beautiful home in the shadow of York Minster and to talk about pasta, recipes and MasterChef.
Great food requires great ingredients which Sara is passionate about. Her focus is on simplicity, combining the flavours and foods of her Italian heritage with the principles of fine dining to create dishes that are special, but also non cheffy, delicious and not intimidating. Sara glows with health and energy (she runs marathons), she is as passionate about eating food that is good for you, as she is about the quality of her ingredients.
London to York is a long way to travel for pasta, even when cooked by a Masterchef finalist, so I was keen to find out what makes Garofalo so special. As with many other matters, Italians are divided on the subject of cooking pasta. In the North it is cooked for longer and is far far softer, in the South cooking time is shorter, and al dente can veer towards the crunchy end of the pasta cooking spectrum. What is in general agreement is that it is better to buy quality pasta. Sara uses Garofalo pasta – with poetic style she said “it makes my heart beat”. (There is an entire science on the pasta and sauce matching, try watching this video (with music) on the Geometry of Pasta – the art of matching sauce to shape.)
It is fabulous pasta, granted it is more expensive than your bog standard supermarket own label, but it is not a fair comparison. The Garofalo is darker, more substantial and becomes part of the dish, rather than a vehicle to ferry the sauce from plate to mouth. Made in Gragnano near Naples there is exactly the right climate for drying the pasta, which incidentally results it in being lower GI (here I need to check why). Garofalo uses the finest durum wheat which results in pasta that has more flavour (the plain pasta tasted distinctly nutty), texture and shape. Served more al dente than I am used to the pasta was chewy and had substance without being the hard work that cheaper pasta can be to eat when it is served al dente.
I very rarely say this after having been entertained by a brand, but, I am a convert. The Garofalo is miles superior all round, and when cooked properly and served al dente I certainly will be satisfied with less pasta on my plate.
Lunch over, and coffee in hand, we chatted about MasterChef, for Sara, a life-changing process. She applied for the programme after a particularly bad day at work, having reached the final she took John and Gregg’s advice to “Go out and make the most of your talent” and rebuilt her kitchen to enable her to change careers and to work “feeding people”, running her cooking classes and her Dining Club the second the final was aired. She said with that opportunity you have “carpe diem“, grab it and work on it and reap the benefits. I feel if Sara were not cooking full time, she could also be a life coach, she made me realise I need to stop, think, and then get on with it in life.
I have cooked for John and Gregg in the past and found it a pretty nerve wracking experience, and I am full of admiration for anyone that subjects themselves to the full Masterchef process. Sara talked about the filming of the programme, the flight to Australia, where they had to ignore John and Gregg who were also on the plane to keep identities of the finalists secret. Her tears in Australia were mainly caused by insomnia, tiredness and jet lag, she would be walking on the beach at 3am for example, whilst both Tom and Tim were able to sleep. Some of the behind the scenes stories make me even more impressed with all the contestants, the pressure, and the sheer amount they learn on their journey.
Fuss Free Flavours was the guest of Garofalo. Many thanks to them and to Sara for a lovely and inspiring day.
Galofalo pasta is available from Ocado (where the wholewheat is currently on offer) and selected delis nationwide.
To book Sara’s Dining Club or to learn more about her cookery courses visit her website here.