Food is an important part of my travels, so every time I venture abroad, I will make it a point to try the local dishes, or better yet — try to cook them!
What food can you best associate with Italy?
Gelato, pizza, and of course, the much exalted pasta in all its many forms. Italians are known to be vehemently proud of their cuisine and will never settle for the store-bought kind if they could help it. As they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do, so when I was there last fall, I joined a pasta-making class to learn the secret recipe of Italy’s most popular dish.
How to Book
There are many pasta-making classes all over Italy. All you have to do is choose based on your budget, location, and whether you want to learn in someone’s home or a business establishment. I chose the one in Frascati, Rome because:
- It was the nearest to where I was staying.
- It was the cheapest.
- It was listed on Airbnb, which means it had been vetted by the Airbnb team to be an authentic culinary experience taking place in an intimate setting and hosted by a local expert.
- It came with free drinks and appetizers, and a tour of their wine cellar!
What to Expect
The train to Frascati took only 25 minutes from Rome city center but it was not as frequent as I thought — I had expected it to be every 5 – 10 minutes, like the subway. Good thing that I went early. The not-so-good thing was the train was delayed, which apparently isn’t that big of a surprise in Italy. Still, it made me so frustrated, thinking that I was going to miss the class.
When I reached Frascati Railway Station however, I was relieved to see that the host, Simone was still there waiting for me. It turned out that two other participants were also on the same train. Because train delays were not uncommon there, Simone was totally unfazed at having to wait a little longer for everyone to arrive.
From the railway station, we walked to the class venue. It involved some hike up a set of stairs to a hilltop, where you could see a picturesque view of Frascati. Along the way, Simone told us a brief history of the town and their family business. The class was to take place inside their family’s restaurant that doubled as a cooking school during closing hours.
First, we put on our aprons and washed our hands. There was a long table already laid out with all the utensils and ingredients required for pasta-making.
To prepare the dough, we added egg and salt to a bowl of multi-purpose flour, and mixed it all together with a fork. Once it was the right consistency, we transferred the dough to a wooden board and started kneading until it wasn’t sticking to the surface anymore.
There was no rigid measurement involved during the mixing and kneading. We simply added more flour or water as needed.
This obviously required a lot of experience to get it right. Simone was there the whole time to guide us. He only needed a quick glance at our dough to know whether it was ready or not.
So, we had to continue kneading and kneading until he gave his approval.
Then, we continued to the next step: flattening the dough with a rolling pin.
I thought the kneading part was hard enough, but this one was an even lengthier process. We had to make the dough as thin as possible — until it was almost transparent — without breaking it. I chafed my thumbs from having to press so hard on the rolling pin. No wonder most Italian nonnas are burly women.
I chose the biggest simply because I had never heard of it. So, we rolled the flattened doughs and cut them into strips based on the types of pasta we chose.
Once we were done, we had to let the pasta rest for a while before we cooked it. Heck, after all that strenuous activity, we needed to rest too! The hosts served us with some appetizer, which was a platter of locally-sourced cheeses and deli meats.
The next step was making the sauce for our pasta. There were three options: carbonara with truffle sauce, amatriciana, and cacio e pepe. All three of them are traditional Roman sauces that have been passed down for generations. I went for carbonara because of the truffle sauce.
To expedite the process and probably because there were not enough stoves for each of us, Simone did the cooking while we helped him mix the ingredients in separate bowls. His assistant blanched the pastas.
And then, it was time to eat! During the meal, you will also get to taste their family’s wines: “Frascati Superiore” D.O.C.G. and “Vagnolo”. Or, you can buy a whole bottle to be shared among your group members.
As the grand finale of the experience, Simone handed us each a lantern and took us to visit a cave below the cellar. This was where some of the wines were kept.
After that, with our stomachs full, we waddled back to the train station where we parted ways. A PDF file of the recipes was e-mailed to us a few weeks later.
I may be a foodie, but I’m not a pasta connoisseur. I can’t really tell good pasta from bad pasta. I might enjoy Prego’s instant spaghetti bolognaise just as much as I enjoy an authentic Michelin-starred pasta dish made by a real Italian chef.
As such, I can’t really comment if the pasta I made on that day was good or not. I found it to be a little too soft for my liking, but maybe that’s just how real pasta is supposed to be like.
However, as far as cooking classes go, I’d definitely recommend this one to anyone who’s traveling to Italy, especially those who are big fans of Italian cuisine. Even if you’ve never cooked before, this class allows you to immerse yourself in the unique traditions of the Roman culinary world.
Have you tried any pasta-making or cooking classes in Italy? What was your experience like? Comment below.