Earlier this week I went back to school – cooking school! More precisely, Scuolo di Cucino. Yes, Italian cooking and even more specifically, pasta making.
You have probably gathered that I love cooking and eating (and reading and thinking about) Italian food. So the chance to roll up my sleeves and get my hands sticky making pasta was just too exciting to pass up. I haven’t had so much fun in a kitchen in a long time!
There were three other ‘students’ at the Italian Pantry's class, and, in a most civilized manner, we began the evening with a glass of prosecco and cheeses: a creay blue cheese, a soft one suitable for topping on pizzas or other grilled dishes, and my favourite, a hard, perfectly dry and sharp reggiano. Heaven on a slice of ciabatti bread!
Then we donned our aprons and stood at our own stainless steel benches, set out with boxes of semolina and 00 flour (which we took home at the end of the evening), three of the biggest hen eggs I have ever seen, bowls, a scraper and a gleaming pasta machine.
Our teacher was Matt (Matteo) with Helen, and armed with his guidance and her hands-on help, we began making the dough by piling the two flours in the bench, making a well for the eggs, then gradually gathering in the flour til the mix came together. Lumpy, then sticky, then crumbly, then – with a good firm kneading action – smooth and pliable and elastic. Aren’t eggs and flour – for that is all it was – magical? Matt said you could do it in a mixer (and therefore enjoy a glass of wine) but I loved feeling the dough change consistency – transform – and the kneading was rhythmical and hypnotic. The repetitive action of pushing the heel of your hand into the dough and away from you, then turning it and pushing again, turning and pushing – after sitting in an office all day it was calming and meditative.
Then the fun really started, with the machines! Tips I learnt from Matt and Helen (that we all said we didn’t know, and made all the difference):
- dust the machine with flout so the dough doesn’t get caught, as often as you need to, especially if the dough is still a bit sticky
- roll the dough thru the machine, then fold and rotate it before passing it thru again. Pass it thru each setting three of four times before moving onto the next setting (which determines the thinness of your sheet – you start at the thickest, 0, and work your way towards the thinnest, which I think was 8)
We had our first go with a soot-black dough Matt had made earlier, using squid ink. It was astounding. I made spaghettini, and the fineness of the strands as they fell from the machine was a beautiful sight to behold – it made me think of the fringing on a 1920s flapper’s party dress.
With the plain dough we made, I cute fettucine ribbons with the paper-thin dough. We then wrapped it into ‘nests’ – to wrap it around your fingers as we did is something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime! We took our nests home, as well as some balls of dough to roll out and cut at home; I am thinking of pappadelle or cannelloni sheets.
We then watched Matt prepare two fiendishly delicious sauces for the pasta, both made in less than ten minutes - so quickly, I thought, ‘oh gosh, it’s so simple!’. But watching the rapid, practiced movements of a real chef toss in garlic, chilli, wine, sausage, reduced cherry tomatoes, is deceptive. My eyes couldn’t keep up. I’d be still sautéing the garlic.
When we sat down to eat, we all marveled at the wonderful chewiness of the fresh pasta; it had a good bite was not heavy in your stomach. And the sauces were so delicious, I again requested a sauce class.
Before I took the class, I thought, ‘this will be fun but I’ll never make pasta at home’. But with Matt and Helen showing us how to do it and sharing the tips you don’t find in a recipe book or the pasta machine’s manual, I released it would be realistically doable – and actually very enjoyable, I didn’t realise how lovely it is to knead and roll and fold and feel pasta dough. So I’ve asked mum to dig the pasta machine out of the cupboard. I have flour, an apron, and plans!