Learning the Art of Cooking Pasta in Italy

Tagliatelle ragu-Pasta in Bologna, Italy
Tagliatelle in ragu

Don’t forget to watch the short video of the class at the end of this post.

I’d been wrong about pasta all along.

Spoilt by the easy choice to take home packets of Barilla’s whole-wheat penne only to cook it in a sauce that was also bought at my neighborhood supermarket, I had always thought of pasta as a quick-to-prepare meal that wasn’t just hugely satisfying but was also well suited to my limited culinary abilities.

While I still believe the latter to be true, I’m now enlightened about the ‘quick-to-prepare’ part, having had the chance to learn firsthand at a pasta-making lesson in Italy. I’ve now emerged from the experience with a real appreciation for the labor of love that making fresh pasta really is and the tradition of taking time with both the preparation and consumption of meals, things that are never meant to be rushed in the Italian way of life.

I learnt from many conversations that on Sundays, Italian mothers can spend as long as four to five hours in the kitchen, preparing an elaborate multi-course meal for the whole family. Why? Because nothing says love like a heartwarming meal lovingly prepared by an Italian woman.

As I experienced at the Il Salotto di Penelope Cooking School in Bologna, there is nothing instant about preparing a simple dish of pasta; from the thorough kneading of the dough and patiently rolling it out until the texture is just right to stuffing it with ricotta and preparing a delicious sauce. At their cooking school in Bologna, friends Barbara Zaccagni and Valeria Hensemberger teach eager food enthusiasts about the fine art of making pasta while peppering the lesson with stories and dispelling common myths about Italian cuisine.

Love Italian food? Take a Pasta class in Bologna Italy on your Italy trip where you'll learn to roll and cook pasta and taste some delicious pasta dishes.

learning how to cook pasta in Bologna Italy

Valeria and Barbara: Grandmasters of Pasta-making

“Never with spaghetti,” Valeria says while talking about ragu commonly mistaken as ‘Bolognese’ and paired with spaghetti. “The best wedding is with tagliatelle or gnocchi, but never with the dry pasta. And ragu is not meatballs. And ragu don’t swim in the tomato sauce,” she adds, nodding emphatically.

“No ketchup in the meat sauce,” she says, setting the tone of our session with a dash of humor. “Spaghetti Bolognese does not exist.” Who knew that Spaghetti Bolognese was an Italian culinary myth? I bet chefs in Bologna have the last laugh as tourists show up at restaurants and order the dish.

We begin by swirling two fingers on the wooden board to make a crater in the center of the mound of dough, pour eggs into it, and mix with forks until Valeria comes around to check and approve the consistency. Then it’s time to use our hands. To knead the dough, I persevere with all of my forearm strength but Barbara still has to take over to get it right.

She brings out the rolling pins and someone jokes about how they’re the perfect tools to accompany the chiding of mischievous children. She demonstrates how to roll the pasta correctly and we follow suit, rolling out random country-shaped maps of pasta.

learning how to cook pasta in Bologna Italy

Later, we gather around them to finish the easiest and most fun exercise in the cooking demonstration, rolling the pieces of pasta into legit pasta shapes. Tagliatella, bow-tie, and tortelloni sound just as great as they taste. We spoon in a mixture of ricotta, Parmesan, and parsley into each tortelloni, and fold it into a neat little package, only minutes away from its rightful place deep in our bellies. Barbara picks up the tagliatelle and conjures them into nests with the swiftness and grace of an artist. When asked what motivated them to set up the school, Barbara answers, “The culture of food is an important part of the general culture of our country. And we love to transmit this knowledge to others.”

learning how to cook pasta in Bologna Italy

learning how to cook pasta in Bologna Italy

Nests of tagliatelle

The sauces cook as we sit at the table pouring wine to celebrate the fruits of our labor and talk about our favorite pasta shapes. Almost no one picks the one that we rolled between our palms, strozzapretti– the name means to strangle a priest, refers to the rolling action, and developed as a result of historically strained relations of the region with the church.

Tortelloni Pasta in bologna, Italy

Tortelloni cooking in sage and butter

Valeria and Barbara carefully place each dish on the plates and bring them around, one by one. We taste, at first slowly allowing the flavors to blossom in our mouths. In between mouthfuls, we choose and announce our favorites; the tortelloni for how the goodness of the ricotta bursts out of the dough with the first bite and the tagliatelle for how it perfectly scoops up the ragu in its folds as we twirl it around our forks.

Tortelloni Pasta in bologna, Italy

Tortelloni in sage and butter

strozzapretti pasta in Bologna, Italy

Strozzapretti

After a lot of lingering and some wine, it’s time to say our thanks and goodbyes. We leave with full stomachs, happy hearts, and a new appreciation for pasta, perhaps Italy’s most famous culinary superstar that is available in cities and towns across the world, but tastes best in its home-turf and Italy’s culinary capital of Bologna.

learning how to cook pasta in Bologna Italy

Happy bloggers at the Il Salotto di Penelope Cooking School in Bologna, Italy

Watch the video

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I visited the Il Salotto di Penelope Cooking School in Bologna as a guest of Emilia Romagna Tourism through my participation in Blogville Italy 2016. A big thanks to them for hosting me for the duration of the program and for helping me write the kind of stories I love to create. All opinions are my own.

If you love pasta and Italian food (and if you don’t, you may as well be an outlier), I highly recommend taking a pasta making class with Valeria and Barbara at the the Il Salotto di Penelope Cooking School. Appointments required and you can also check them out on Facebook.

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At the Il Salotto Di Penelope Pasta class in Bologna Italy you'll learn the art of cooking pasta and taste some delicious pasta dishes.

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To see more posts about Italy and what I was up to at Blogville Italy, such as going to Gelato University, hiking the Alta Via Trail, and the wonders of the Po Delta, check out my Italy travel blog.

 

33 Comments

  • OMG I love this post and the pasta looks absolutely delicious. When I visit Bologna, I’ll be sure to do this. When I visited the Amalfi Coast, I did a similar class at an agrotourismo and it was an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Sue Reddel says:

    I would love to take a pasta cooking class in Italy. Cooking classes are such a wonderful way to learn more about a country your visiting and bring home your new skills to share with your friends and family.

  • Woah! Four to five hours to make pasta? That’s passion right there! Every single one of the dishes looked amazing, and so much better than dollar pasta from the store. Thanks for sharing!

  • A pasta-making class in Italy? What a dream! It looks difficult but delicious! Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  • I think it would be so cool to take a cooking class in Italy! The tortelloni looked delicious and I’d love to be able to make it from scratch! I like that the women also dispelled common Italian myths while they cooked. A great way to learn!

  • this is heaven.. and who puts ketchup in their tomato sauce?! i love homemade pasta, especially when all the ingredients for the dish are so fresh. yummm butter and sage with tortellini sounds incredible.

    what you’ve done and experienced is exactly what i’d love to do in italy.. to learn how to cook real italian food and have it paired well with wine <3 you lived my dream!

  • I love homemade pasta! I often make fresh pasta here at home! They take a bit time but always worth it! And I giggled a bit about ‘Spaghetti Bolognese’ haha!

  • I’ve just had lunch but I’m hungry again after reading this! I would love to learn how to make proper Italian pasta!

  • Um, I drooled throughout this entire post! Both the pictures and words you use to describe the experience reeeeeally made me hungry. Delizioso! There is *nothing* better than handmade pasta in Italy. Yum. (can you tell I enjoyed this?!) 🙂

  • Yeah I’ve never had the patience to make pasta from scratch. Looks like a really fun day though!

  • Megan says:

    So jealous! I wish I’d been smart enough to take a cooking class when I was in Italy. One of the few things I regret from my time there. Particularly that tortellini.

  • Angela says:

    This would be a dream come true for so many people including me! I am just an okay cook and once we start slow traveling more, would love to take cooking classes in some of the areas we visit. Since I love Italian Italy would be ranked #1 on my list. Glad you got a chance to experience something like this!!

  • anna says:

    OH YES!! This is definitely an experience I would love to do! The food in Italy is amazing and I’m sure learning how to make your own pasta while in Italy is an experience in itself! NEED TO DO THIS!

  • Toni Broome says:

    Hand making pasta and bread have to be some of the most meditative experiences in the kitchen. I would love to learn from an expert in Italy how to do it the right way as you have I’m sure my process is very flawed!

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Well the experts certainly know best, but you’re right, it’s a labor of love and it’s nice to learn the right way to do it.

  • Hi Natasha,
    Such a well-written post! There’s a cultural essence that comes through the text that invokes wanderlust for Italian experiences, as well as cravings for homemade pasta! I’d absolutely love to take a class like this and learn how to make and enjoy pasta in such an authentic way.

  • Lillie says:

    Yesss homemade pasta! The last time I took a cooking class was in Thailand in 2009, but it’s clearly high time for another one because it was a highlight of my travels, and this looks awesome.

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Thanks Lillie, i think it’s great to take one in Italy because the food is the best in the world 🙂

  • Stephanie says:

    Pasta is one of my favorite dishes! The kind that’s made fresh, cooked al dente, and seasoned with tender loving care—not the boxed pasta you get from a store, smother in store-bought sauce and call it a day. A pasta making class sounds amazing, so cool you got to experience it while in Italy!

  • I love pasta and those photos are making me hungry 🙂 Making it yourself from scratch is even more enticing (appetizing is probably a better choice of words). Tortelloni in sage and butter? Yes please!

    • Natasha Amar says:

      Haha! I had to get myself to an Italian restaurant right after I wrote this post here in Reykjavik, Iceland 🙂

  • Kim-Ling says:

    Italian is my absolute all-time favourite cuisine, not only to eat, but to cook as well! You’re not wrong in the length of time to prepare pasta – I’ve often spent a Sunday afternoon making gnocchi or pasta from scratch, with love being the main ingredient! It’s a dream of mine to learn how to cook in Italy, and this class looks perfect! Was it tricky to make the green pasta? I would love to learn how to shape pasta to make tortellini and ravioli. Great post, with mouth-watering pictures!

    • Natasha Amar says:

      I’d definitely recommend anyone who like to cook or likes pasta to take a class in Italy, there’s so much you learn about it and what is and is not the right thing to do while preparing simple pasta dishes. And making the shapes- that was the fun and easy part 🙂

  • Pasta is definitely my favorite dish. You had a great experience learning how to make it by your own as Italy is THE place to do it! That’s amazing!

  • This is my actual DREAM! Your photos looks so so appetizing, and I would love a formal cooking class! When I do my food tour of Italy, this will be on my list!

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