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).
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?)
Step 2: Carefully add un pochettino (a Tuscan “little bit”) of olive oil to Mt. Vesuvius.
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.
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.
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.
Step 9: Cook! Boil! Submerge!
Step 10: Cover with sauce and enjoy!
As promised, we also helped Lella to prepare (and eat) these other delicious dishes:
(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: