The Frazzled Chef Goes to Cooking School – Part 2


Welcome back to cooking school! (If you missed part 1 of the Frazzled Chef Goes to Cooking School, click here to catch up).

The lovely Lella had shown us how to make the budino di riso, and it was baking away happily in the oven. The pappa al pomodoro, thick, hearty and lusciously red was simmering away on the stove, and we were getting down to the business of preparing the pasta.

Now, up until this point the lesson had been a lot of watching and question asking and diligent note taking. When Lella told us it was time to make the pasta, I was ecstatic to actually get my hands dirty and make use of the apron I was wearing.  Each of us armed with our cutting board, two eggs and bowl of flour was to make our own ball of l’impasto (dough).

Cooking Supplies

I thought it was only fair since Lella was a professional and all, to warn her of my terrible track record in the cucina in case something ended up going ridiculously, terribly, horrifyingly wrong. Or, you know, in case something caught on fire.

I didn’t mention that I had once thrown spaghetti sauce all over the floor, and I didn’t mention that I once burned my bucatini and I didn’t go into detail about the time when I broke the wooden spoon making cookies. No, I thought it best to give her a little overview of my cooking skills but, not to get into too many details.

“Lella, ti avverto che sono davvero un disastro in cucina,” I told her simply. Lella, I’m warning you, I’m a real disaster in the kitchen. She laughed good-naturedly and told me not to worry, that everybody could be a chef if they wanted to.

Easy for her to say! I went back to my cutting board and started fretting. Normally I only had to worry about ruining my own meal in my own kitchen. Now I was helping to prepare pasta in the kitchen of a world renowned cooking teacher for a meal that we’d all eat together. Eek!

With the utmost concentration, I followed Lella’s instructions and got to work on my task.

Step 1: Pile the flour into a replica of Mount Vesuvius and plop two eggs into the centre of the volcano.

(She might have said something about being careful and may not have likened the flour to Mount Vesuvius, but I had to think of it in a way that worked for me, right?)

Mt. Vesuvius – Flour and Eggs

Step 2: Carefully add un pochettino (a Tuscan “little bit”) of olive oil to Mt. Vesuvius.

“Un pochettino di olio”

Step 3: Piano piano (slowly) add the flour to the eggs until you have a kneadable impasto (dough).


Step 4: Take your frustrations out (knead) on the dough. Impastare l’impasto.

Lella then provided us with the spinach mixture that we’d then use to fill our ravioli. At this point, my workstation was still nice and neat. I congratulated myself on avoiding any piccoli disastri (little disasters) thus far.

Clean Workstation

Step 5: Use the rolling pin to flatten the dough into a thin rectangle.

Needless to say, I rolled and flattened with all my might. I used that rolling pin and stretched that dough in every direction imaginable. I concentrated and rolled away, tongue sticking out one side of my mouth, putting as much pressure on the rolling pin as I manage. I was in my own little pasta making world when I heard the words I’d never ever thought I’d hear:

“Ma guarda quant’è brava Sarah! Ce l’ha nel sangue!” exclaimed Francesca, Lella’s assistant, as she looked over my rectangle of dough.

Wait, what? Was that praise for doing well? ME?! Was she saying that I had it in my blood to make pasta? My half Italian half Canadian blood? Yes, yes she was!

“Grazie Francesca!” I beamed. Those of you who have followed my kitchen catastrophes can probably guess how much a comment like this would mean to me. I rolled until my dough was sufficiently flattened and rectangular, then went to work on the next step.

Step 6: On the now flattened dough rectangle, make three or four evenly spaced balls of the spinach-ricotta mix.

Setting up the Ravioli

Step 7: Carefully fold the top strip of dough over the fillings and press down around the edges. Use cutter to cut ravioli from the sheet of dough. Press down on corners with a fork to show that the pasta is fatta in casa and not that store bought junk.


Step 8: Allow the ravioli to dry while you take lots of photos before cooking.

Pasta drying rack

Step 9: Cook! Boil! Submerge!

Step 10: Cover with sauce and enjoy!

Ravioli with meat sauce

As promised, we also helped Lella to prepare (and eat) these other delicious dishes:

Pappa al pomodoro


Tagliata di manzo con rucola e grana

Budino di riso complete with icing sugar and a lemon peel flower

(Are you hungry and salivating ferociously yet?!?!)

Needless to say, our pranzo at the Scuola di Cucina di Lella was delizioso! Armed with a few of Lella’s secrets of la cucina toscana, I came away from the lesson much more confident in the art of Tuscan cooking than I had been before. And this picture is proof that I reached all my goals: Don’t burn the place down, don’t spill anything on the floor, and per l’amor di Dio, don’t leave with goo in your hair! And lucky for me, I made a new friend in the charming Lella:

Sarah & Lella

Word of the Day – “Primavera”

La Maestra Maldestra


The uccelli are chirping, the sole is shining, amore is in the air… Signore e signori, today is the first day of spring! 

Just in case you hadn’t guessed, primavera is the Italian word for the season spring.  And after having suffered through an inverno (winter) that brought with it the most snow Italia has seen in decades, Italians (and, well, pretty much everyone else) are really celebrating the arrival of spring today.

Does the arrival of spring inspire you? It certainly inspires me, and I want to share with you how primavera has inspired others.

So, what have Italians over the years had to say about spring? Well, guardiamo un po’ (let’s take a look)!

Famous, famous, famosissimo painter Sandro Botticelli actually named one of his 15th century paintings “Primavera“:

Primavera – Sandro Botticelli

This painting, although I’m sure it inspired many other things, inspired present-day author Marina Fiorato to write her bestselling novel The Botticelli Secret. Check it out. As far as historical fictions go, I think this is one of the most enjoyable ones I’ve read.

Now, fast-forward 500 years from Botticelli’s painting. The runner-up song in the 1981 Festival di San Remo is called “Maledetta Primavera”, which roughly translates as “Damn Spring”. Lovely! To watch a video clip taking you all the way back to the big hair and dramatic makeup of gli anni ’80, click here:

Last but not least, the option you might be most familiar with: pasta primavera – any shape of pasta, usually with a bit of cream and cheese, littered with colourful vegetables. Contrary to popular North American belief, pasta with “primavera” sauce, is not an Italian dish. Just like our old friend Fettucine Alfredo. They’re both North American inventions which you will not find when you go to Italy. I repeat: Will. Not. Find. Don’t ask for them. People will think you’re nuts! However, please feel free to enjoy them on the other side of the Atlantic, as they’re both deliziosi (delicious).

Pasta Primavera – Not Found In Italy

And on that note, I leave you to be inspired by the new season. Paint, write, sing or cook, and let primavera guide you to it!

Buona Primavera! Happy Spring!

Tuscany’s Odd Mascot: Il Cinghiale

When someone says Tuscany (Toscana, for you Italian speakers) what comes to mind?

The rolling hills – check! Or the iconic cipressi (cypress trees) – certo! The world renowned wine (vino) – of course! And the fields of sunflowers – you bet! A squat, 300-pound tusked animal that wreaks havoc on the idyllic countryside? Not quite, eh?

Meet Toscana’s unofficial mascot: il cinghiale. The wild boar. Carino (cute), no? Sure he is. This little cartoon can be found all over Tuscany – on t-shirts, mugs, dishcloths, notebooks, you name it! I even found a sweet little cinghiale in peluche (a stuffed one!) to bring back to Canada with me.

These guys (the real live ones) exist in many parts of  the world, but I’m here to tell you in a weirdly proud sort of way, that the biggest ones are often found running around the Tuscan countryside. What do they do? Well, they eat the grapes that had been earmarked for wine. Dig up peoples’ gardens. Run out into the road and cause traffic accidents. Aren’t really wary of humans. Can potentially harm someone who gets in their way.  And to top it all off, they maybe gobble down an expensive truffle or two in their spare time…

On the up side, they taste delizioso on your plate…

Pici al ragu di cinghiale

If you ever get to Tuscany, be sure to indulge in one of my favourite pasta dishes which features the cinghiale: Pici al ragu di cinghiale. Pici pasta with wild boar sauce. Mmmm, buona! You can also get Pappardelle al cinghiale, but since Pici are Siennese and I’m slightly biased, I’ll tell you to forego the Pappardelle and  hold out for the Pici.

The ever-famous cinghiale also appears in places other than on your souvenir t-shirt or your dinner plate. Meet Pietro Tacca’s bronze cinghiale statue in Florence. The original is stored in the Pitti Palace, but this replica lounges proudly outside the Mercato Nuovo in Firenze. Note the odd coloured nose on this guy; when passing, tourists and locals alike believe that rubbing its bronze nose will bring good luck.  Needing all the good luck I can get, I too, patted the well-worn snout:

Il Cinghiale – Amico mio!

My worldly cinghiale friend also popped up in la Musee du Louvre in Paris. This time, he’s made from marble:

My friend the Cinghiale in the Louvre

So, if you’re ever in Tuscany, don’t be surprised to see cinghiale on the menu, cinghiale on the t-shirts, cinghiale in the countryside and cinghiale statues in the cities. The cinghiale is, for all intents and purposes, Tuscany’s odd little mascot.