EATING, COOKING, AND DRINKING LIKE A Roman
Taking a Cooking Class with Walks of Italy
I love to cook. There is something about making food and feeding others that I find deeply satisfying. As we travel around the world, my I've been able to add to my cooking repertoire with inspiration from the kitchens, the local markets, the street food, and the spices from each of our destinations. But even with all that, and with cooking and baking classes under my belt—plus countless hours in the kitchen—one area always seemed beyond my abilities: making pasta by hand.
So, when the wonderful folks at Walks of Italy offered for me a chance to join their Pasta-Making Class, I jumped at the opportunity. After all, learning how to make pasta in Rome seemed like the best way to take the plunge.
On a rainy day in April, 13 eager pasta-making students from all over the world—Canada, Germany, the Ukraine, and the United States—gathered in the beautiful rooftop kitchen studio of Chef David, a former executive who changed careers to pursue his love of cooking and is now a full-time chef.
For those of you that have taken cooking classes, they often fall into two categories: demonstrations and hands-on. The Walks of Italy Pasta Making class was hands-on with an important addition—wine! While not unexpected in Italy, it served as a great ice-breaker with our very diverse class. Over glasses of prosecco and delicious aperitivo, Chef David took us through his background and the flow of the class, and everyone had a chance to introduce themselves and chat a bit before the cooking began.
With our stomachs satiated, we began the class. The biggest learning moment for me right away was just how few ingredients are in a homemade pasta. Thinking back at the ingredients list of most store-bought pastas, I vowed at that moment to try and make fresh pasta whenever possible. With just flour, water, and pinch of salt, we had everything we needed to make pasta. (Note: We were making pici, which is thick pasta made with just flour, water and salt. But if we were making an egg pasta like lasagne or spaghetti, we would need to add another ingredient—an egg.)
We mixed the ingredients by hand, which gave me a real feel for how long to knead the dough. Thankfully, unlike finicky pie crusts, pasta needs more kneading—just when I thought I was done, Chef David showed me it was still too sticky and needed more kneading. His clever test? If you grip the dough and it stays in your hand, it needs more kneading. If it drops out of your hand onto the cooking surface, it is ready to rest.
While the dough rested (refrigerated), we drank more wine and chatted. Then, it was time to make the sauce.
Chef David had a wonderful piece of pork cheek that served as the basis for the arrabbiata sauce. Literally meaning “angry,” arrabbiata is known for its spiciness, however Chef David was careful with the use of red pepper to ensure a sauce that would be enjoyed by a variety of palates. After enjoying cured pork throughout Spain as a tapas, I was interested in its use for cooking.
While the sauce was simmering, we learned how to flatten the dough, roll it through the pasta machine (a very basic roller with only five settings) three times, cut it into even pieces, and then hand-roll the pasta into shape.
This is the part that really intimidated me—the machine—and I got a bit nervous. I was convinced my pasta would fall apart. So, I volunteered for the hand-rolling part in our pasta assembly line and let others in my group go first to use the pasta machine. The hand-rolling seemed much easier. (By the way, after the class I found numerous YouTube videos with tutorials on making various pasta shapes. However, I do recommend this class to get your basics down, nothing like a chef to stand over you and help you roll dozens of pasta to get it right).
Then I couldn’t avoid it any longer—it was my turn ... and guess what?
I did it! My pasta didn’t fall apart, I didn’t fall apart, and we even looked great.
We placed the hand-rolled pasta on a lightly floured pan, and once we were all done, Chef David carefully dumped all the pasta in a large pot at a roiling boil.
Another major learning here. I have been cooking pasta wrong for decades.
I always select a pot that will just fit the pasta and when it is done cooking, turn all the pasta into a colander in the sink. Wrong and wrong!
By using a larger pot and more water, it not only prevents the pasta from sticking to each other, but gives it room to dilute the starch that is naturally released.
Chef David didn’t turn out the pasta into a large colander—he used a hand colander, draining a bit of pasta at a time by scooping it out, draining it a bit over the pot, and then immediately adding the pasta to the sauce to dress it. When he removed the noodles, they were al dente, and by adding the pasta to the sauce, they finished cooking in the sauce, adding great flavor. He also took some of the water from the pasta pot and added it to the sauce which had thickened up a bit too much.
Then it was ready! Bowls were filled immediately, cheese was added, more wine was poured, and … delicious!
Chef David had one more surprise for us—delicious biscotti with a chocolate dipping sauce for dessert. It was the perfect ending to what felt less like a cooking class, but rather a dreamy dinner party.
Rome is unlike any other city in the world. I loved everything I saw, tasted, and experienced during my time there. However, to cook, dine, and enjoy the company of travelers from around the world in the home of a local Italian chef is a special experience, and one that I would highly recommend for anyone visiting Rome. For a few hours, I felt as if I lived in Rome, and after all, wouldn’t we all want that dream to come true?
Note: The Pasta-Making Class: Cook, Dine & Drink Wine With a Local Chef was sponsored by Walks of Italy. The company offers both this class and incredible walking tours in Rome and other cities in Europe. While they hosted me for this class, the opinions are completely mine.