|Fresh Laid Italian Eggs|
In 2013, I decided to deepen my childhood ravioli memories during a trip through Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region and registered to attend an official pasta making school in Bologna, the place even Italians recognize as the source of authentic Italian cuisine.
Cooking schools are an industry in Bologna and are plentiful since just offering lunch in a home kitchen could qualify. Visitors looking for particular experiences, especially with time and money constraints, should do as much research as their satisfaction level demands.
|Francesca Prepares Dough|
Minimum research suggestions:
- Identify your parameters for the experience, including cost, location, and particular food interests
- Use guide books, magazines, and a variety of Web resources in your research.
- Pare down candidates using available reviews. Interact with reviewers whenever possible.
- Correspond directly with the schools by email or even by phone. This can assure you that the school is still operating, will give you a sense of their customer service standards, and help you to better understand important details such as payment options.
- Finally, as a general rule of travel, be open to making the best of whatever actually happens.
|Ancient but Accurate Scale|
The five day course I took is actually considered the first step toward earning the school's three month professional culinary certification. Vecchia Scuola is also an ongoing pasta production facility supplying food establishments throughout the region. Students are expected to practice their skills creating usable product. Nothing is wasted. What may not be “beautiful” enough for sale to an outside client will certainly be used in the school's student staffed Trattoria.
|Basic Riccota Filled Tortelloni|
I paid for the class about six months before my trip. Arrangements such as available course times and dates were made through email in both Italian and English, using Google translate when necessary. Payment was sent and confirmed via an international wire transfer made through my bank.
My hotel in Bologna, Albergo Rossini, was a short portico covered walk from the Vecchia Scuola. Class started at 9 AM and lasted about four to five hours. The only new students on the day I started were myself and a twenty-four year old Israeli pastry chef who had just completed a four month certification in gelato making. He was planning to open his own cafe on a beach in Tel Aviv.
Alessandra Spisni (shown above in a screenshot from their website) is the unifying force of Vecchia Scuola. Though she was traveling outside of Bologna during the time I were there, signora Spisni was none the less a constant presence in the many attractive product displays throughout the school. Alessandra Spisni and her entire family are endowed with an insatiable appetite for life.
Our actual teacher was an impressive twenty-seven year old Sicilian woman named Carla. She is the real head and heart of day to day pasta instruction and production at Vecchia Scuola. Alessandro even acknowledged this fact by joking about how often he loudly called her name. (CarrrrLLA!!)
|Carla Instructs a Student from Texas|
During a break, I asked Carla how she chose pasta making rather than pursuing a career in her degree. She told me that she came to Vecchia Scuola to do a cultural research project then discovered she both enjoyed the physical exercise of the work and had a natural talent for it. Signora Spisni offered her a job. Carla took it, still loves it, and sees no reason that will change.
|Filei Calabresi ~ Our First Pasta|
We started with a batch of Filei Calabresi, a simple pasta made with just water and flour rolled by hand into a hollow tube that embraces any sauce. Using a classic industrial scale, we weighed rather than measured all ingredients. Weight, even for liquids, makes it easy to accurately increase or decrease the size of a recipe. We got a feel for how to properly knead dough and assess its readiness for rolling.
|Tortelloni in Process|
Both the matterello and table must be made of wood. Marble and stainless steel are too cold for pasta making. In contrast, wood warms the dough as it is worked and the grain imparts a surface texture that better holds sauces and condiments to the pasta.
|Dried Spinach Tortelloni|
Bologna is known for its tortelloni, pasta with a big stuffed "belly" that brings to mind the city's Medieval nickname, "La Grassa" (The Fat). Of course tortelloni is much more popular than ravioli in Bologna!
One fundamental variation between types of stuffed pasta is the thickness of the dough. Tortelloni requires pasta that is as thin as possible because of its many layered folds. On the other hand, ravioli doesn't have any folds and needs to be slightly thicker to hold stuffing in place with just crimping around the edges. I may not have made many ravioli at Vecchia Scuola, but I did gain a deep reverence for the skill and talent of handcrafting this seemingly simple food.
For those wanting to experiment for themselves, we used the basic recipe below for all variations of stuffed and flat pasta. A large wooden rolling pin can sufficiently flatten the dough but it's actually the length of the mattarello that makes it fun (and an art) to use.
There are no handles on a mattarello. It moves with pressure applied from the palm of your hands, pushing and pulling like a massage as they move back and forth across the entire length of the pin. Yes. It is sensual. Lacking a real mattarello, a two inch diameter dowling, thirty-six inches long, sanded and bleached, will work.
Have fun making pasta! Even the mistakes are edible.
100 grams of "00" Flour
per 50 grams of liquid.
Liquid can be water, egg, broth, or a cooked vegetable such as spinach or mushroom.
One shelled egg = 50 grams
(Should be weighed if very large or small)
50 grams of cooked spinach = one egg.
The following mixtures allow for additional
50 grams of flour during kneading.
6 eggs and 550 g flour
6 eggs, 50 g cooked spinach, 650 g flour
Gently blend flour into liquid.
Knead until dough forms and stickiness is gone.
Wrap kneaded dough in plastic.
Let dough rest at least one hour before rolling.
Filling Weight = Dough Weight
1.5 kilos Ricotta (cow)
200 grams grated Parmesan cheese
20 grams salt (to taste)
Nutmeg to taste
Place a dollop of filling into the center of each square.
Fold dough corner to corner into a triangle over the filling.
Squeeze the bottom tips of the triangle together to form a tortelloni shape.
Practice often and eat your work!