There’s something special about Italian food. The way it seems to beckon you to sit down and enjoy the meal over a glass of wine with family and good friends. It seems simple – pasta and sauce – but there’s a delicate balance to get the pasta cooked al dente, a finesse in each pasta piece that takes years of practice to master, and the delicate balance of flavours even in what appears to be the simplest of sauces.
Where better to learn the finesse and skills needed to make good pasta than one of the oldest family run business in the city? So, I was off to Le Sfogline in Bologna to learn a few of the familia’s secrets.
For 70 years the secrets to the perfect pasta has been passed down from generation to generation where today, sisters Daniela and Monica, work alongside their mother, Renata, to create fresh tagliatelle, lasagna and tortellini to serve to the people of the city.
“The perfect tortelloni weights 2 grams exactly,” Monica said as she laid out tiny dots of mixture onto the freshly cut pasta dough.
Picking up one of the dough-mixture combinations she skillfully twisted the sheet into a perfect, plump tortelloni.
Thinking it looked easy I grabbed a piece and followed her instructions – fold, pinch, squeeze, roll.
I looked at my creation, the mixture oozing out from the cracks in the lining, the dough overstretched and the shape, something more resembling a folded crepe, looked nothing like Monica’s appetising tortelloni.
I sighed. This was going to be harder than the sange ‘ncannulate that I learnt at my pasta making class in Rome.
After a few more tries I slowly begin to get the hang of it; far from the perfect morsels but much better than my first futile attempts.
The secret is in the fingers, they need to have a light touch. From ensuring the dough doesn’t become too sticky with the heat of your hands to the firm sure closing of the pasta, to keep the meat inside the dough to prevent overcooking, and finally the elegant ‘arms’ of the pasta that hug each other that I just couldn’t seem to master – making pasta is a lot harder than it looks! I wisely leave Monica’s pasta out when I come to photograph it.
While one piece tooks me a good minute to create one tortelloni that looks mildly edible, it takes only 25 minutes for each of the girls to make a kilo of tortellini – that’s up to 60 kilograms per day on top of serving the steady stream of customers who come to pick-up orders or buy their pasta fresh.
In my mind the perfect Italian kitchen has a Mama or Noona bustling around helping the family create delicious meals and the kitchen at Le Sfogline had exactly this.
It was the smell that helped us find the store – a warm meat sauce could be smelt from the cloisters outside, and the source was Mother’s, Renata’s, priority as she, while we learnt how to roll dough and shape tortellini, sat over a boiling stove putting together fresh foil packs of lasagna.
We sweated from the stoves heat even just a few feet away so how she sat there diligently filling the trays was a lesson in dedication.
Every so often Daniela came out of the back kitchen with a cool wet cloth to drape on her Mother’s neck as the rectangular foil packs before Renata filled with layers of spinach pasta with ragu sauce or a delicious looking lasagna topped with courgette flowers.
Daniela laughed at when I asked her where to get the best spaghetti Bolognese.
She quickly went on to explain that there is no such thing as Spaghetti Bolognese to a real Italian, it is a misnomer that was given to the dish and only shown on menus in tourist restaurants. To get a real local experience I should order the tagliatelle al ragu.
She later went further to explain that pasta shapes, and even fillings, vary depending on towns and seasons.
Only an hour away, the town of Ferrara favours a pumpkin filling, while Bologna prefers their tortelloni to be made with a special locally made ricotta cheese. When questioned about her favourite pasta Daniela laughed, “everything here is my favourite!“
After we’d finished creating a plate full of tortellini for that night’s dinner at Blogville, we were shown the different styles of pasta that is made in the kitchens – and that we can easily create in our own kitchens!
With the leftover pasta we’re shown how different thicknesses of pasta are used for different styles of cooking.
The thinnest, tagliatelle, is used for broths right the way through to the thick strips of pappardelle that work well with strong meats or game. Any bits left over are then used in soup – yum!
Bundling all our work onto a plate we said our thanks you’s and goodbye’s knowing that the families kindness and their pasta would be kept in our hearts (and bellies) for the rest of our stay in Bologna.
Now it’s over to you:
What’s your favourite type of pasta?
What Italian dish would you most like to learn to cook?
7B Via Belvedere
Phone: 051 22 05 58
Directions: The store is located in Bologna’s lively Mercato della Erbe, under the cloisters.
Cooking class information: The pasta making course at Le Sfogline runs daily, except Thursday and Fridays, in June and July.