Making Pasta, The Italian Way

I enjoy cooking and I’m not completely inept at it (so say my family and friends). I also enjoy eating Italian food. Combining those two pastimes seemed like the logical thing to do while in Florence: take a class (or two) on Italian cooking and then enjoy the fruits of your labor when the class is over.

After a little research on the internet, one of the classes I found that looked interesting was the pasta making class by In Tavola right here in Florence. The price was reasonable and it sounded like fun; plus the 12:00 start time was totally leisurely.

So Saturday I left my apartment at 11:30 for the 15 minute walk to their kitchen, allowing time for both a drop-in espresso on the way as well as grabbing a sandwich to go (wild boar salami) from my new favorite and  inexpensive local sandwich shop. Unfortunately I have to navigate the “tourist hell” which is the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) on a weekend but it’s manageable and I get to the kitchen with time to spare.

I’m only the 2nd or 3rd person (out of 19) to arrive so I start talking to Roberto, the owner.
He asks me where I’m staying, “Via de Pandolfini” I reply.
“Are you close to Danny Rock (a local restaurant/bar) ?” he asks.
“About 20 meters, but I haven’t eaten there.”
“Why not?”
“Because I try to stay away from places with English in their names. Plus they have a ‘menu turistico’ (tourist menu special) and too many items on their main menu. It can’t be good.” He laughs.

I enquire about the 4 course class next week but it’s  booked solid. Evidently Roberto does a brisk business; several of the tour companies bring him clients (the remainder of today’s students) and at 50 Euro a head it appears to be quite lucrative for him and his two assistants. Plus there was a second class later in the day (how to make pizza and gelato).

Everyone eventually arrives, we don our aprons, wash up, divide into 4 groups, and take our places around one of four stainless steel prep tables where we’ll make our pasta. In my group is a mother/daughter from Australia and a newlywed couple from San Antonio.

We’re making both pasta with eggs and pasta without eggs (just flour and water). After the initial dough is made (10+ minutes of working the eggs in and kneading the dough), we are now ready to take a portion, roll it a bit with the rolling pin, and work it through the pasta machine. The pasta machine essentially flattens the dough and in the end, you end up with a sheet of pasta, from which you can make ravioli and fettucini. We made both. (For the fettucini you attach a cutter and run it through to make it. According to Wikipedia, fettucini means “little ribbons” in Italian).
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Our ravioli filling was a roasted egg-plant with ricotta cheese and perhaps a couple of other items (I’ve got it all written down). It was actually easier than I thought, although next time I will make them smaller.

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This is not a leisurely process. Roberto goes from table to table, keeping us moving. The dough will dry out if we let it sit too long. He is also instructing us in prepping the three different toppings for our pasta (cooked and diced tomatoes in garlic and olive oil, some kind of butter sauce, and a meat sauce).

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As if this isn’t enough, he throws in a quick desert lesson, Panna Cotta, which is essentially a cream/milk gelatin based blob that you can flavor many ways.

The water’s now boiling as we discuss cooking pasta. “Do you put salt in the water?” one of the students asks.
Roberto looks at her like she’s got three heads. “But of course” he replies. “Make the water like the Mediterranean.” (i.e. very salty)

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The most important thing I learn all day is that when cooking pasta, to only cook halfway in the boiling water and then finish it in its sauce (with some pasta water added). The pasta will continue to cook in the sauce but will absorb the flavor as it cooks.

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We finish up in the cellar where there are 4 tables, wine, and our handmade pasta served and passed around. The meal is topped off with our Panna Cotta and a light strawberry sauce.

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Postscript

Although Roberto can be a bit brusque as times, he was working two tables (3 chefs for 4 tables). Plus he had to keep us moving or we’d never get done. That said, he was very helpful and always had time to answer questions. I liked the class so much I signed up for one on Thursday which starts with a tour of the market (Mercato Centro).

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~ by l on September 26, 2009.

4 Responses to “Making Pasta, The Italian Way”

  1. Looks like a blast. I am currently working my ass off and unfortunately by the time I finish, and could thus afford to come over, you will be gone..so wrong. Have fun, keep posting!

  2. Makes me crave Italian! Looks like it was a great class and you had fun too….I’m jealous:)

  3. I was hoping you’d post cooking class pictures. I think if I was in Italy for a month I would wander aimlessly, write, take cooking classes, breathe deeply and drink a lot of wine. Enjoy the market!

  4. WooooW! Looks great! Next time I come to Florence (and could be soon…) I’ll knock on ur door 4 a good huge portion of pasta!

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