I didn’t have much say with what I was going to be doing in Italy. As part of a friends surprise birthday trip that I planned, the agreement was that he was in charge of planning out our stops in Rome and Venice. Thankfully I’d left it in good hands as he announced over the breakfast table what we’d be doing for the day.
“Guess what we’re doing this afternoon?“
“I don’t know, eating Italian food?“
“Even better. We’re making the Italian food and then eating it.“
I squeeled with excitement. He knew I wanted to learn how to cook pasta al dente and discover the Italian secrets about how to make the perfect pasta sauce after my not so successful attempts back home in Australia, so I was delighted with the choice.
Climbing the last flight of stairs to the roof terrace cooking studio I was buzzed in by a guy who, in true Italian fashion, greeted with me with a large and overly friendly, “Ciao, ciao! Welcome! My name is David, and you are Nicole?” I barely had the chance to squeeze in a “Sì” before Chef David was planting a kiss on each cheek and off to the kitchen to get a glass of prosecco to sip.
As I sat with the group, which soon expanded to 11, and made my introductions, David welcomed up to his home among the terracotta tiled rooves of Rome and welcomed us to snack on the selection of apertivo – that’s Italian for ‘tapas’ – on the table to tide our hunger over before the hard work began.
Stuffed full of cheese, puff pastry and mini croissant-type pastries, which I think were country confused, David introduced us to his immaculately planned kitchen and begun getting down into the secrets of Italian cooking.
A thick slab of guanciale – an Italian cured meat prepared from pork jowl – was produced and slapped on the bench.
Carving the fatty pillow of meat into thick slices, David explains how Guanciale, while found across Italy, is a particular delicacy in the regions of Umbria and Lazio (Rome is the Capital of Lazio) and a simple addition to many pasta dishes including favourites Carbonara or Amatriciana.
That night we were focusing on sugo all’amatriciana – Amatriciana suace – based on three ingredients: guanciale, pecorino cheese and a generous amount of tomato.
Taking turns to carve the slab of guanciale, the fatty meat sliced easily when cut through the tougher cured exterior, and was cubed before thrown into a pan to render the fat.
The recipe to make your own pasta is a deceptively simple – plain flour and water. It’s not simply the ingredients the determine a good pasta over a great pasta it’s the long line of processes it takes from there.
Carefully whisking the flour, water combination together before beginning the specialised kneading process – pushing the dough down and away from you with the heel of your palm before turning the dough ninety degrees, folding the dough over itself and starting the process again until the dough is smooth, before letting it rest.
Half an hour later, you process the dough in a pasta machine. I found seven to me the magic number; rolling the dough out with a rolling-pin on the board it was seven times I put the dough through the machine, gradually decreasing the space between the rollers til a long velvety train of dough flowed through the machine.
We were making sagne ‘ncannulate, a popular pasta in Puglia.
Cutting the thin pasta into strips about 1/4-inch wide, you held the pasta strand at one end before rolling down the strand with the other hand, as you did this the pasta curled up looking a similar shape to the curled ribbons on presents. The process was not over though, as you placed the bottom part of your palm on a pinched end of the dough and folded the dough into a U-shape before placing it on a board. It is harder than it sounds!
Half the group rolled the dough through the pasta maker, the other half of us rolled the pasta. Quickly the wooden board began filling up with pasta shapes that vaguely replicated the expertly made pieces by the Chef. “Practice,” Chef David said as he showed me for the umpteenth time how to precisely roll the pasta, “they’re better than your first!“
As the last pieces of dough were being rolled, David began cooking the pasta piece by piece in a pan of boiling water that was heavily salted. He explained that the simplest way to know when pasta was cooked al dente was when the pasta floated to the top.
To me, if felt more like the texture of a fresh stick of gum – malleable but still stiff.
Stirring the cooked pasta through the pan of Amatriciana sauce which has been quietly simmering on another cook top, fresh bottles of Italian wine were opened and bowls were filled, and a dessert of limoncello and traditional Italian biscuits were shared around.
It was a nice way to end the evening as we all sat around the dining table chatting about how we’d found ourselves on a rooftop in Rome. Good company, great food and plenty of new Italian words – now this is something I could get used to!
Now it’s over to you:
Have you ever taken a cooking class on while travelling?
What’s your favourite Italian dish?
Duration: 3+ hours
Price includes: Aperitivo, drinks (soft drink, prosecco or wine), Rome pasta making class, dinner, limoncello and cookies.
Adult – €59.00 (AUD$87/GBP£49)
Senior (65+) / Student (15-25) – €54.00 (AUD$80/GBP£45)
Child (6-14) – €44.00 (AUD$65/GBP£37)
Infant (5 and under) – Free
Private tours are available at an additional cost.
Many thanks to Walks of Italy for providing me with a complimentary tour.
They did not request a favourable review, and all opinions here are, as always, my own.