Pasta with Manuelina Culinary, Day 5

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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.

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Pasta with Manuelina Culinary, Day 3

Extruded Pasta at CAST Alimenti

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.

Tortellini en Brodo

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.

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Pasta with Manuelina Culinary, Day 2

Fresh Pasta

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.

Fresh Pasta Manuelina Culinary

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

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.

Brescia, Lombardy’s hidden gem

 

My lodgings are in the unsavory part of the city, across from the train station, on the wrong side of the tracks.  This isn’t the famous and distinguished grit of LA or NY. The hotel itself is clean, modern, and utilitarian.  My bathroom is equipped with one smallish towel, one bathmat and a bidet towel.  Nothing to wash my face with, but my caboose will be squeaky clean.  Outside my window is the local kabob grill and bar, its patio populated with old, hairy, pot-bellied men smoking and drunkenly singing Italian love ballads at 3:00 p.m. at the top of their lungs.  Welcome to Brescia.    At first glance, it’s disappointing.

On my initial venture outside, I skirt past the pot-bellies, homeless and graffiti (I later discover a better route) for a hopeful investigation of the central Old Town. One should not judge a city by its train station.   Brescia’s old town doesn’t disappoint.  I find a center filled  with narrow, cobbled lanes, many for pedestrians only, winding around picturesque piazzas, two Duomos (one dating from the 11th century), Roman ruins and even its own hilltop castle.  Brescia is charming.  Better yet, with its moat of unappealing urban sprawl  and neighbors like Lake Como, Milan, and Venice, Brescia has been forgotten in most guidebooks, ensuring there’s nary an American accent to be heard.

Brescia Duomo - Manuelina Culinary

I’m enjoying my Aperol Spritz aperitivo and nibbles on the Piazza Paolo VI after my stroll, listening to the Italian chatter punctuated by the clock tower clanging the quarter-hour. The sun paints long shadows over the pink café umbrellas and focuses its golden eye on the Duomo.    I recall my gelato school classmate proclaiming that he shunned café locations in central piazza locations, adamant that these attractive, central old town destinations are mere tourist traps for the ill-informed.  I’m now convinced he’s an idiot.  There is nowhere else I want or need to be at this moment.  Brescians know how to live “la dolce far niente” and this city is lovely.

Brescia, Italy

Pasta with Manuelina Culinary

Manuelina Culinary

I arrive at Milano Malpensa airport excited about my upcoming culinary exploits.  I’m traveling to Italy again on another culinary adventure.  In addition to my giddiness, I’m tired – extremely tired.  My travels began at 3 am yesterday. As a trudge towards the train station,  the sign with my name shines like a beacon of light. Was it providence that the car and driver were incorrectly scheduled for my arrival instead of my departure?  I’m not thinking too hard about it.  A private sedan instead two train rides after a 14+ hour flight?  Are you kidding?  I’ll take it.

I’m attending a week-long intensive pasta course in Northern Italy through Manuelina Culinary at the well-regarded CAST Alimente culinary school in Brescia.  I’m unsure what to expect and heading in rather blind.  I haven’t had much time for research on the program.  I enquired to Manuelina last year in 2015, but due to an email glitch on their end, it was some months later until the school finally responded.  Due to the difficulties, the school generously offered me a discount for my trouble.  The 2016 program coincided nicely with a slow time at work and the availability of a round trip flight using points solidified my resolve,  so I stopped considering and sent the deposit.

Fast forward six months and I’ve arrived in Italy.  We’re a motley crew of students.  I’m the only American – the “food enthusiast” in the group (a nice way of saying that I’m doing nothing with my culinary education).  We have a 19-year old Latvian just out of Cordon Bleu, a Canadian who’s considering opening a shop, a quiet yet determined Czech looking for a career change, and two vivacious Australians that remind me of Patsy and Edina from Ab Fab, although I’ve never actually watched the show.

This isn’t my first attempt at pasta making.  We kneaded and cut pasta for a day or two during culinary school, but that’s a blur now, and I also had an impromptu lesson in 2013 during gelato school.  I’ve made pasta a handful of times at home, but  I’ve still kept a dream of learning to make pasta “the right way”  from some Italian nona  – and the Life & Thyme pasta video makes  it so sexy (even with a burly tattooed chef),  I wanted more.  So here I am.

The school is large, well-equipped, professional, state of the art, and sparkling clean.  This isn’t any nona’s kitchen.  In addition to our group, the student body numbers around 350 taking various classes at the school.  There’s a cafeteria (with an espresso bar, of course), lockers and a well-stocked store on property.

On our first day, Maestro Chef Walter walks us through making basic egg pasta and it’s plethora of shapes and sizes as well as the steps to authentic lasagna (béchamel, no ricotta, folks) from the Bolognese sauce, through cooking the pasta sheets,  to the last sprinkling flourish of parmesan.

It’s been a full day.  I try my best to absorb it all.

Manuelina Culinary Pasta Program