I recently went for a jaunt from Manchester down to South Devon to take a one day course in vegetarian cooking at the Ashburton Cookery School. Rather a far way to travel for one day of cooking but certainly worth it. It’s even more convenient if you happen to be staying at a holiday cottage in Devon.

 Set in a beautiful Georgian town on the edge of Dartmoor, the Ashburton Cookery School offers over 40 cookery courses to choose from, ranging in skills to suit beginners as well as experienced cooks. I consider myself a reasonably good cook; however I have never been on a cookery course before so was a little anxious about how it was all going to pan out.

 I needn’t have been so anxious; we started the day by being greeted by a friendly receptionist who showed my fellow ‘students’ and I to a sleek, well-lit dining room for tea and coffee before the start of the course. This gave us all an opportunity to introduce ourselves and learn a little about each other and why we had all chosen this course. There were about 8 of us and most had received the course as a present (the school do gift vouchers, order them online here) whereas others were enthusiastic cooks curious about vegetarian cooking and had decided to go to Ashburton because of its reputation as a leading cookery school in the UK.

 After coffee we were invited in by our chef tutor for the day, Joe Bartlett, who has worked at some of Devon’s finest restaurants. He was most recently head chef at Holne Chase Hotel, holding two AA Rosettes before joining the cookery school in 2008. He asked us to choose an area to cook in and to get in to pairs as some of the cooking would be done between two (this is not because the cooking necessarily requires two people, but it does serve to keep things social and fun in the class). The kitchen was modern and fully equipped with everything you would ever need when cooking; I was rather impressed by the design and functionality.

Ashburton Cookery School and Buckfastleigh Cottage (59) by e.artesero.

Magnetic Knife Strip photo by Elisa Artesero

 We were all handed a booklet with the day’s recipes and given a comprehensive health and safety talk about how to conduct ourselves in the kitchen.  We were then shown how to make an amazingly fresh and flavoursome soup stock that we could make at home and freeze for future soups, such an easy recipe and far superior to using stock cubes. With this stock we prepared a creamy parsnip, lentil and cumin soup, which we would take home to eat for our dinner.

Ashburton Cookery School and Buckfastleigh Cottage (60) - edited by e.artesero.

Stirring the soup - picture by Elisa Artesero

We prepped some aspects of dishes to complete later, such as the filo pastry baskets, which wouldn’t need to be done so far in advance normally but for teaching purposes and to get as many things packed in to the day as possible, this is how the day was structured.

Next up, was the baked courgette, mozzarella and pesto rolls and the celeriac, carrot and feta cheese fritters, which we would make as our mid-morning snacks. Chef Joe demonstrated what we were to do in a clear and concise manner, all the time giving little tips on variations on the recipes, nutritional advice and information on where the vegetables have come from, as all the food used at the cookery school is organic and from local farms.

I had a bit of a tussle with the fritters as they are so delicate to put together and cook without falling apart. The key, I quickly realised, was patience, don’t try to turn them over before they’re fully browned on one side. Once I got the knack though, I think I did rather well! They certainly tasted lovely and are a brilliant way to eat healthy vegetables full of flavour, vitamins and protein.

Ashburton Cookery School and Buckfastleigh Cottage (75) by e.artesero.

Courgette rolls and fritters picture by Elisa Artesero

Once cooked, we had a half hour break to eat our stuffed courgettes and fritters in the dining room while the kitchen assistant cleaned and prepared the kitchen for our next round of cooking. I had made so many that I kept some to take back to the cottage with me that night and put them in the tubs provided.

The next dish to prepare was the filo pastry tart filled with creamy leek, apple, wild mushrooms and tarragon with a soft poached egg. This was a particularly stylish dish, one which I’m sure you would not turn your nose up at if served it in a top restaurant. Joe taught us a little about the wild mushrooms (all picked locally) and taught us how to clean and prepare them to avoid getting any grit in our cooking. This dish was surprisingly easy to make once you have all the ingredients laid out in front of you. Perhaps the most impressive thing that I learnt however; was to make a perfect poached egg, one which you can prepare up to 3 days in advance of when you want to use it and have a perfectly runny poached egg when you quickly heat it up. The secret ingredient appears to be salt and white wine vinegar…

Ashburton Cookery School and Buckfastleigh Cottage (86) by e.artesero.

Filo pastry tart filled with creamy leek, apple, wild mushrooms and tarragon with a soft poached egg photo by Elisa Artesero

We ate this tasty dish as a starter, but I found it so filling that it could be cooked as a main.

Finally, we made the main dish, stuffed aubergine with roasted vegetables, halloumi cheese and pumpkin seeds; which we’d cooked in part earlier in the day so we wouldn’t have to wait too long between our starter and our main.

The roasted vegetables were first pan-roasted, for which I had the opportunity to practice my chef’s flick with the pan, it’s certainly something I will be impressing my friends with at dinner parties soon! A good tip with the halloumi cheese before griddling it is to cover it in flour to stop it from melting everywhere. Simple, but as someone who hasn’t used halloumi before I might not have thought of it!

Ashburton Cookery School and Buckfastleigh Cottage (91) by e.artesero.

Stuffed aubergine with roasted vegetables, halloumi cheese and pumpkin seeds photo by Elisa Artesero

This dish was, of course, delicious and a wonderful end to a fun and informative day. We all ate together, talked and then said goodbye to Joe, who I thought was the perfect teacher for the course. At no point did we feel rushed or like we were running out of time; everything was informative, well instructed and enjoyable. I’d recommend this course for anyone with an interest in cooking, even if they don’t consider themselves a good cook. To browse the wide selection of courses available, browse the main website here and to browse for cottages in the surrounding area, visit our main site here.