Have you ever wanted to take a cooking class in Italy? When we travel to Italy we make sure there are several cooking classes included in our itinerary. We visited Bologna, Italy last year and had a great day learning how to make tortellini, tortelloni (bigger tortellini), and tagliatelle.
We started at Emanuele and Elania’s store and lab (professional kitchen). Six days a week they sell their fresh pastas to the public and other restaurants, besides running a restaurant of their own. We had the privilege of spending the day with them, in fact, their only day off from their restaurant and store.
The storefront is cute with a typical display of pastas, vegetables, and pastries. In the back is the professional kitchen where we had our pasta making class. These two dynamo chefs are amazing. They are so quick with their techniques and yet were very patient to teach us.
There are several legends of tortellini. Wikipedia chronicles a few. Emanuele shared his version: The tortellini is shaped to look like a woman’s navel because in medieval times a cook peeked through the keyhole of a women’s room that he was in love with and saw her navel. He was inspired to make the tortellini to represent it. Thank goodness no one is looking through my keyhole for inspiration!!
We started by making pasta dough, rolled fairly thin to make the tagliatelle. There is a folding process after you get the dough to the right thickness and then you cut, cut, cut. We did fairly good at this technique. You can dry this pasta on a pasta rack (I use plastic hangers and hang from the kitchen cupboards), or you could roll it into serving size bundles and let it dry in a stack – I’m sure you’ve seen them presented that way in the stores. They look like little pasta nests.
We then moved on to fillings for the tortellini and tortelloni. We mixed mortadella, aged prosciutto, parmesan, a dash of salt and nutmeg. This dough is much thinner than what we used for the tagliatelle – in fact, Emanuele said you should be able to see the nearby church through the dough. Since we don’t have a church on every corner like Italy, we adjusted the recipe to be able to see the trees outside our windows.
The thin dough was cut and the filling dabbed in the center. We then started our folding and twisting. Ever feel like you are all thumbs? Well, we sure did! I’ve made tortellini many times since this class and have this process down a little better.
Next, we tried our hand at the tortelloni. These larger pasta pieces were filled with a more traditional cheese mixture (ricotta, parsley, salt, and parmesan). Size didn’t matter in this case, and luckily the larger version of tortellini was a bit easier to create.
Once we were done with the pasta making class we were off to the country home of the chefs to cook and eat it. They have a beautiful home that they decorated with charming touches. For example, the chandeliers in the living and dining room were made with ancient grape vines from a grandfather’s vineyard and twisted with lights.
Emanuele went to work cooking up the pastas and served them in courses. First, we had the tortellini cooked and served in a rich chicken broth. It was fabulous beyond belief. To make the broth we were told it is best to have an old wild chicken (now where am I going to find that in Portland?) so we just use chicken we can purchase locally.
Next course was the tagliatelle which was cooked in broth and then added to a butter and sage sauce. Of course, normally there would only be one pasta dish served, but we had to taste the fruits of our labor, so we broke the rules and had two pastas that day. There were various side dishes and a rice cake for dessert – torte de Riso – with almonds and amoretti. A delicious end to a wonderful meal and fabulous day!
I don’t have recipes or exact proportions to share with you. Most of you might know Italian chefs know their ingredients so well, it is rare that they have exact measurements of anything. I’ll do my best to give you the recipe I use loosely based on my experience and how I converted ingredients and proportions to fit our everyday lifestyle.
- • 100 grams flour (about 1 cup - use 00 flour if you can, otherwise regular flour will work)
- • 1 egg
- Mix well and then rest the dough for about 1 1/2 hours depending on humidity. When rested, flour top and bottom of the dough and roll out thin.
- Roll out the dough in long strips, and cut into squares - size depends on the type you are making. Approximately 1 1/2 inch square for Tortellini and double size for tortelloni.
- • 1/4 lb Mortadella (have the deli slice it in one thick chunk)
- • 1/8 lb Prosciutto aged (I use what I can find in the deli and it works fine)
- • 1/4 lb Parmesan
- • Dash Nutmeg
- • Generous dash Salt
- In a food processor pulse all ingredients together. Mixture should be almost creamy in consistency. Ready to dab into pasta squares.
- Dab a small bit of filling in the middle of the dough or use a pastry bag filled with mixture (or a ziplock bag with one corner snipped off) to make the process faster and neater. Otherwise, just use your finger.
- With a pastry brush (or your finger) dip into a small bowl of water to seal the dough on the edges. Press edges of the dough to create a triangle. Working from one edge, carefully pressing out any extra air, create a seal around the filling.
- Pick up both corners of your dough and start bringing them toward each other, working slowly to make sure the dough doesn't split or break.
- Bring the corners all the way together. Then tuck one corner just behind the other and give it a little squeeze. The dough should stick together easily. If yours comes apart, just add an extra dab of water with your fingertip. You are ready to cook!
- TO COOK: add tortellini to the broth to cook. (see next recipe for broth). When they rest on top they are done.
- Serve with a generous ladle of the broth and top with grated parmesan.
- Sometimes I leave the prosciutto out if I don't have any on hand and sometimes I add a dollop of ricotta to the mixture. The filling always comes out good no matter what ingredients are used.
- • 1/4 lb. Ricotta - homemade or store bought
- • Parsley - a few sprigs well chopped or dried
- • Parmesan - 1/8 lb finely grated
- • Salt - generous sprinkle
- Mix well. Ready to use.
- Assemble the same as the tortellini.
- • Chicken (use whatever you have on hand. A few thighs gives a nice flavor.)
- • Veal (frankly, I think it's too expensive to use veal, so I use either a few pork ribs or some beef roast, whatever I have on hand.)
- • Carrots 1-2 thinly chunked - not sliced
- • Celery 1-2 stalks thinly chunked or sliced
- • Onion 1 large chopped
- • Salt
- • Generous splash of white wine
- Put all ingredients in a large pot and fill with water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for several hours.
- I take the larger chunks of meat and chicken out of the broth before I cook the pasta. Save them to serve with the meal.
- When you are ready to cook the tortellini, you can just add them to the broth to cook. When they rest on top they are done. Serve with a generous ladle of the broth and top with grated parmesan.
- You can cook the tortelloni in the broth as well. When done, place drained pasta in a fry pan with butter and sauté for a few minutes, adding sage at the very end. If sautéed for just a few seconds, the sage will melt in your mouth.
P.S. If you are traveling to Italy and want to experience cooking with locals, contact Antimo at Voomago. He created this and many other fabulous travel experiences for us.