FOOD Even a master has something still to learn; Mauro's riso filamento wasn't risotto, but it turned out to be a revelation Photograph by Jean Cazals
"It sits like an island in the sun, but with no water," is how someone at La Cacciata described the city of Orvieto, in Umbria, Italy. La Cacciata itself (the cookery school made famous by the teachings of Lancastrian chef Alastair Little), looks directly across the valley towards this remarkable city, most advantageously from the grassy surround of its cool blue swimming pool. I swam happily here, in my gingham and tomato patterned shorts, each (well, almost each) morning, before looking in on the week's tutorial from Italian guest chef Mauro Bregoli.

Mauro, the much respected chef/proprietor of The Old Manor House Restaurant in Romsey, Hampshire (01794 517353), turned out to be the happiest of tutors, entertaining the gathered visitors with his extensive knowledge of the cooking of his home region of Emilia-Romagna.

Mauro created a fine mix of recipes, using local produce such as meat, vegetables and a little fish (Umbria is very much inland). He fashioned superlative hand-made pasta, potato gnocchi and a profoundly delicious rice dish (riso filamento) - which wasn't risotto, but turned out to be a revelation. He cooked a simple soup made with good chicken broth and spindly strands of cheese paste (zuppa di pasatelli), which was intensely savoury, and local Orvieto sausages cooked on a wood fire.

Following Alastair's instructions, Mauro also made a memorable maiale al latte (pork loin, both roasted and braised in milk), which was perfectly cooked and dispatched. And he gave us a pukka Tiramisu.

Thursday night is pizza night. About a dozen different large pizze are cooked in a wood-fired oven, in pairs, and presented to the gathered and hungry assembly for instant demolition. Truly, they were the best I have ever tasted. The one cooked with potatoes was universally thought to be stellar. And these pizze are cooked by a local chef (Mauro had the night off).

I feel you have been a little bereft of recipes while I have been in "Hoppy's having a lovely time in Italy and wishes to tell you all about it" mode. So I'll stop the nattering and give you something to cook.

Mauro Bregoli's Riso Filamento, serves 4

Try and find the very best Italian rice for this, such as Carneroli. Also search out true buffalo mozzarella for its fine milky taste.

250g/9oz rice

200g/7oz grated buffalo mozzarella

1 bunch basil, leaves only, roughly torn

a handful of flat-leafed parsley, roughly chopped

110g/4oz freshly grated Parmesan

salt and pepper

Boil the rice in twice its volume of water, till just cooked. Drain well and put half of it into a heated serving bowl. Add the cheeses, herbs and some seasoning, then cover with the rest of the rice. Now stir well until stringy - two large forks seem to do the trick. Serve immediately onto hot plates.

Alastair Little's Pollo Orvietano (Orvieto chicken), serves 4-6

This intensely savoury and very good stuffed roast chicken is a favourite dish of the region, making full use of the wild fennel that flourishes there. Apparently, as the season progresses, the search around the estate for these feathery fronds ranges further and wider, as more fennel is gathered. Note: try and buy the fennel from a greengrocer rather than a supermarket, as, there, you may find yourself having to buy a dozen packets to yield enough!

1 x 1.8 kilo/4 lb free-range or corn-fed chicken [approx weight]

4tbsp-plus, good olive oil

salt and pepper

500g/1 lb 2oz chicken livers

2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm dice

1 large bunch fennel herb, coarsely chopped

48 oily black olives, stoned

48 large, firm garlic cloves in their skins

50mls/2fl oz dry white wine

500mls/scant 1 pint, good chicken stock

Make the stuffing in advance - as it takes about an hour to prepare. Fry the chicken livers in the 4 tbsp olive oil and stir until coloured. Add the potatoes and gently cook until tender - you may need more oil here - and thoroughly cooked through (you may think it all looks a bit of a mess, but fear not, the final taste is wonderful). Add the fennel with half the olives, season well and set aside to completely cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6.

Spoon as much of the stuffing as will fit into the cavity of the bird without overfilling; place the rest - lubricated with a little olive oil - in an oven-proof dish. Rub the chicken all over with a little more olive oil and generously season. Place in a deepish casserole dish, on its side, and put in the oven to roast for 20 minutes. Turn onto its other side and continue roasting for a further 20 minutes. Finally, turn the right way up and throw in the garlic cloves. Turn the oven down a notch, put in the dish of extra stuffing and continue cooking for a further 30-40 minutes, adding the remaining olives for the last 10.

Remove the bird to a chopping board, allow it to rest and switch off the oven. Put the garlic and olives in a dish and keep warm in the oven. Pour off any excess fat in the roasting dish and add the wine. Bring to boil and reduce until almost evaporated. Pour in the chicken stock and reduce the lot by three-quarters. Cut the chicken into 8 pieces and arrange on a serving dish surrounding the extra stuffing. Scatter with the olives and garlic and strew with more chopped fennel fronds.

Zuppa cuata, serves 4

If you read the piece on Sardinia [20 July], you may remember me talking about this dish. In error, I described it as "lost or hidden bread", when, in fact, it is "lost or hidden soup" - broth that is lost or hidden in the bread. Well, I had a fiddle around La Cacciata's kitchen and came up with this version. Oh, and I made coffee granita to follow the pizze. What fun!

1 x 400g/14oz can chopped tomatoes

2 cloves garlic, chopped

4 tbsp good olive oil

pinch dried chilli


400mls/34 pint light meat or poultry broth

150g/5oz country bread, torn into chunks

12 leaves of basil

50g/2 oz grated pecorino Sardo

Pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6.

Put the tomatoes, garlic, 1 tbsp of oil, chilli and a little salt into a heavy bottomed saucepan. Reduce to a thick sauce over gentle heat - about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, put the bread into a deep oven dish, tuck in the basil leaves and cover with the broth. Allow the broth to be completely "lost" into the bread, which should be ready by the time the tomatoes have reduced. Spread the tomatoes over the bread and scatter thickly with the pecorino. Spoon over the remaining 3 spoonfuls of olive oil and put in the oven for 20 minutes. Finally, heat an overhead grill to full and burnish the cheesy surface to a bubbling, crusted brown. Leave to cool to lukewarm before eating with crisp lettuce and a sharp dressing.

Coffee granita

570mls/ 1 pint very strong coffee; espresso is best

110g/4oz caster sugar

Chill a shallow metal tray in the freezer in advance. While the coffee is still hot, whisk in the sugar until dissolved. Cool and pour into the chilled tray. Place in the freezer for about an hour and then have a look. What you are looking for is ice crystals forming around the edge of the tray (completely opposite to ice cream or sorbets, as here the ice crystals are the essential charm of the thing). Once the crystals have reached about 2 or 3 inches towards the middle of the tray, gently lift them with a fork into the not-so-frozen coffee. Return to the freezer. Have another look in about half an hour and repeat the forking. Continue this procedure until all the mixture has formed crystals; it may take up to 3 hours, but is well worth it! Serve with whipped cream

Details of La Cacciata can be obtained from Sarah Robson, 15 Dawson Pl, London W2 (0181-675 9034)