My brain swells with a week of pasta tips and tricks, my duffel bag bulges from newly purchased pasta tools, and my tummy protrudes over my apron from too many carbs…three signs of a successful trip. It’s time to bid arrivederci (for now) to Manuelina Culinary and CAST Alimenti. I’ll miss Italy, yet I’m eager to sleep in my own bed again, dreaming of uovo in raviolo with freshly grated parmigiano, of course.
I waddle into class on day 3 – pasta (and Italian pastries) can take their toll on a girl. This morning, we shift from hand-shaped pasta to watch a machine-extruded pasta demonstration. There’s not much art in pasta prepared this way, but it’s a necessary evil, I suppose. After the demo, we resume our hand work and finish our training in classic shapes. Below is Maestro Walter’s version of Brescian style meat casoncelli. Can’t you envision these gondolas of goodness with sage butter pooling in those divots? Nom. Nom.
Next, we prepare cappelletti and tortellini, starting with the largest at about an inch and moving towards the teeny, tiniest Barbie-doll version for brodo. So cute.
After lunch, we work on innovative, modern pastas like caprese ravioli (one of my favorites) with a filling of candied tomatoes, basil cream and mozzarella, as well as chocolate toblerone-shaped pasta with ricotta, and squid ink tortelli with baccala, capers and a ginger oil drizzle. It’s only day 3 and I’m already pondering a pasta business for my future.
Day 2 begins with a hasty espresso from the cafeteria. When I return to the states, I’m lobbying for an espresso bar and barista in our office. That little cup is more effective than Wellbutrin when an instant attitude adjustment is needed. Today, we’re tackling colored and filled pasta in countless varieties. Our first assignment involves producing the raw material needed for today’s class – colored pasta dough. My classmate and I are assigned yellow and green. Do you need turmeric or saffron to get that highlighter yellow color shown below? Neither, that’s just yolks from hardy, free-range Italian chickens. The other teams contribute dough in red, hot pink, cocoa, black, and chestnut.
Our instructor, Maestro Walter, is the most immaculately clean chef I’ve met and we tease him about his tidiness. He’s not a stereotypical, hot-blooded throwing pans chef. He exhibits an unruffled manner and quiet sense of humor. Melina, Manuelina’s Director, stands at his side, on hand to translate any tricky concepts. Maestro’s lessons are easy to follow except for an occasional and endearing confusion between the translation for “red” and “green”, which could result in a perplexing Paglia e Fieno (straw and hay pasta).
Tagliatelle paglia e fieno with fresh porcini
While the dough rests, we shift to producing a plethora of pasta fillings including pumpkin, pork and two versions of spinach. After lunch, we’re rolling, cutting and filling pasta for the balance of the afternoon. We request risotto for dinner.
I’m Italy bound for culinary school once more. This time, it’s pasta in the North. Distressingly, I find myself lacking any anticipation for my adventure. School is paid for and my flights are booked, but I’m facing difficulties arranging the second week of my visit. Jeanette Winterson’s “The Passion” has me unexpectedly longing for Venice again. “Everyone should see it – once,” was my decree for 30 years. Now, I’m aching to return – but not amid summer’s high season. I see narrow streets clogged with overweight Americans, sunburnt pink, wearing fanny packs and grumbling about the lack of ice. I’ll wait for the misty February Venice, shrouding the enigmatic and the strange.
No other Northern city has captured my heart. Milan – yuck. Trending on my list are Parma and Bergamo, both lacking in popular allure. There still remain Italian destinations I wish to visit – the cinque terre, for example, but not this trip, not alone.
Thursday and Friday – and now we’re into the complex stuff.
My “action oriented” impatience is starting to wear on my co-students. When chef says “make your pastry cream,” I’m not waiting around for someone else to lead the charge – or crack an egg. Let’s get the ingredients, get the utensils, and make this bad boy! Now that I’m gone, my fellow students can leisurely go about their baking.