A Pasta Making Lesson in the Hills of Tuscany
My right arm was ready to fall off as I was kneading my fourth round of dough in less than an hour. I so wanted to take a break, but I had no one to enlist for help. I kept looking up at Giovanna, hoping to see the signal that the dough was good enough and I could stop. But her nod rarely came soon enough.
When I arrived at La Locanda del Borgo an hour earlier Filippo, the owner and Chef Giovanna’s nephew, gave me an overview of the cooking class.
“Normally, we do the class for a minimum of two people and up to four. It is usually a family who comes to take the class together. They make four dishes and then have lunch.”
I looked around the kitchen and quickly remembered that today it was a class of one. Me. Well, two if you count Dave who was sitting outside the chilly kitchen near the warmth of the fireplace in the dining room. He was kind enough to escort me to the restaurant and wait it out so he could reap all the rewards of my hard work over lunch. Now that I think about it, that’s fairly typical of most days at our house.
I was up for the challenge though and excited to learn how to make pasta from scratch. I believe the only cooking classes worth paying for are the ones where you get to make the food rather than watch a demonstration, so at least I was going to get my money’s worth.
Giovanna had bowls of flour, eggs and other fixing set up on the long prep table. She continued to bring flour sack after flour sack out as I slowly made my way through the preparation of four different types of dough – one for pizza, one for ravioli, one for gnocchi and one for pici, the typical pasta of the region. Giovanna would rattle off the amount of ingredients in Italian, Filippo would translate to English and I would try and write it all down in my notebook as I simultaneously started mixing them together. Filippo would occasionally grab the pen from me and start writing so I could concentrate on mixing.
It was an intense few hours.
After learning how to make a hole in the flour to add in the eggs, water and other things, I slowly caught on to effectively mixing them together so that the flour was added to the liquid with the right consistency. I was shown how I didn’t do it right with the ravioli dough, having left some chunks of egg mixed with small pieces of flour that weren’t sticking to the rest of the dough. Not a big deal, Dave was just out a few raviolis at lunch since I didn’t make the full amount of dough.
There was no rest for the weary. As the doughs sat aside resting (or sleeping as Giovanna called it), we got right into making the gnocchi. It was the one dough that didn’t need to set after mixing. I mixed the mashed potatoes together with flour and an egg and watched as Giovanna demonstrated how to roll out the dough and cut it into bite sized pieces. I was handed the knife and got to work. I had to have made 200 pieces by the time I finished.
Then, onto rolling out the pici. Pici is the typical pasta in the Tuscany region and is rolled out by hand into long strands like spaghetti. The dough is relatively thick so the pasta comes out fuller and rounder than your average spaghetti. Or if I’m rolling, it comes out much thicker!
Next up, battling that pesky ravioli dough. Giovanna handed me the rolling pin and instructed that the dough should be extremely thin. After watching me take a couple of rolls, she grabbed the pin and demonstrated a better way of rolling it by wrapping an end of the dough around the pin and then continuing to wrap the dough as you fan it out with your hands along the pin. Genius I tell you! Adding in the ricotta, spinach, cheese, egg and nutmeg filling through an icing bag reminded me of decorating Christmas cookies. Filippo commented on the small raviolis I was making. They were tinier than Giovanna would make them, but he was positive I would make at least 40 and not miss out on many given the small amount of dough I made. (He was right).
We spread out small pieces of the pizza dough on a baking sheet to make a few flatbreads for the appetizer and then got to work in the kitchen on the sauces for the pastas. Zucchini, sausage and cherry tomato for the gnocchi, butter and sage for the ravioli and garlic and tomato sauce for the pici.
The flatbreads came out of the oven (needing to bake a little longer given my thicker pieces – it was starting to be a theme) and I got handed the plate to serve my anxious husband sitting in the dining room. I sat down to enjoy a glass of wine and my flatbread. Not long into the dish, I got waved back into the kitchen to finish up the next course. It was a progressive lunch, with me becoming progressively tired!
Filippo paired each course with a local wine. Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a white wine, for the appetizer and ravioli and two Chiantis for the final dishes. He is working on his sommelier certification and was happy to share his local wine knowledge with us.
Since we are in Tuscany during the off-season, there are many things we can’t do and places we can’t visit because they are closed until the spring. I am grateful to Giovanna, who is also the owner of the house where we’re staying, for opening her restaurant just for me. Her patience with my pasta making inadequacies and constant smile and laugh kept me comfortable in the kitchen and the food we made together was truly delicious.
Grazie Giovanna and Filippo!
The Tenuta di Decimo property houses the La Locanda del Borgo restaurant, but also has apartments and rooms for rent during the high season. It is a beautiful property tucked far away from the main road, overlooking the hills toward the town of San Gimignano. Giovanna and her staff make the pasta from scratch every day so this restaurant is worth a visit!