I have made pasta with the Italian Marcato pasta machine for over thirty years. Occasionally I would, just for the heck of it, try and make it by hand with abysmal results. So, now that I have a daughter who lives in Bologna and is a block away from a pasta making school, I had the correct karma. This particular school, La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese, offers group courses in English and you work with your instructors, which is a lot better than just having a pasta expert demonstrating it.
The school offers several courses in English. We chose to do a course in filled pasta. And I learned a lot! After your course time is finished, you are invited to sit in a cafeteria setting and eat several dishes of what you made in your class.
Upon registering, you are taken to a nice little locker room, given a key and a disposable apron to wear in class. Classes are held in the area overlooking the main kitchen and dining area. You share a work table with a wood surface with one or two other students. Bring a battery pack for your phone, as you will want to take lots of pictures!
First off, you weigh your flour, which is an all purpose 00 flour – 250-275 grams (8.75oz -9 2/3oz) depending on the humidity of your work area – is what recommended for three gorgeous eggs. Once you create the well, then you mix with a fork on the flat side, making sure the wall of flour does not break. Once it becomes a muddy dough, you are ready to to knead by hand, keeping your fingers clear, instead of bunched in a fist. Use extra flour as needed, but always clear your board with a dough or bench scraper. Your dough is ready to rest when it is a supple ball. Tuck the ends of your dough underneath so that there are not creases showing. Wrap in stretch wrap and allow to rest at least 30 minutes.
You are now ready to start rolling your dough as if you were rolling out a pie crust. Turn your round of dough a quarter with each roll so you maintain a circle and do it in the same direction. You will ultimately need a long rolling pin (about 30 plus inches). I have tried doing this with a shorter French rolling pin but it just makes it harder. Once you have got the circle about 12 inches in diameter. You are ready to switch to rolling the dough that is particular to pasta.
Having looked more videos than I want to admit to, this one best demonstrates the technique. (Mute the musical background!) Do it slowly, you can’t hurt the pasta. Spray with a flower mister if it gets too dry. Once you get the rhythm, it is really easy. Keep your fingers outstretched with just your palms pushing the rolling pin. Rolling pasta is a terrific way of improving your upper arm strength.
Now you are ready to make any sort of filled pasta, At the school they had pastry cutters with set widths, but you can do it with a ruler and a rolling pastry cutter. We started out making the tiniest: tortellini and then graduated to larger filled pastas.
You pinch the folded edges tightly, but then you fold over that edge and pinch again. You then take it around your finger and fold it so the two ends on the long side are pinched together. The top point should automatically curl over. While you would think that people with dainty, slim fingers would excel at this, my beefy British son-in-law made the prettiest ones!
We made several different filled pastas based on this technique, most of them triangular, but one shape looks like a wrapped candy like the American Tootsie Roll, except that the “candy” is the meat filling and then the square of pasta is wrapped around it like a, well, like a Tootsie Roll.
If you have a gnocchi board, you can make one of the “cutest pastas in the world”. That is a direct quote from one of our instructors. Take one inch squares of pasta, roll it around a 1/4 inch diameter dowel (pencil, knitting needle) and you get hundreds of little garganelli, which are indeed, pretty cute.
The classes are indeed very, very helpful. Sometimes the instructors are distracted by more advanced students in solo classes who are working in the same room. The lunch you are served is naturally very pasta heavy. You are served a bit haphazardly in the chaotic cafeteria area below the class room. A very unappetizing starchy dessert was handed to our table, and it was pretty much overlooked. You get water with your three dishes of pasta. two filled ones and a tagliatelle al ragu.