I have tried to make pasta numerous times. I have gone so far as to invest in a pasta roller and cutter attachments for my KitchenAid mixer. Every time I tried to make pasta it had been an epic fail. I had given up.
One Sunday morning when we were in Modena, Italy, I could not sleep. My jet lag had caught up to me and I lay there wide awake at 3 a.m. Monday was Halloween and in Italy that means Tuesday, November 1, is All-Saints Day. My understanding was a lot of businesses would be closed. When planning our time in Modena, I purposely left Monday and Tuesday open as I did not know what the environment would be like during a back- to-back holiday situation.
My husband is usually game for anything that I want to do. So, while lying in bed, I decided to search and see if I could find a cooking class. I found exactly what I was looking for! A class that you got to cook with a local, or as they are called in Italy a cesarine, in her kitchen.
According to the Le Cesarine website:
“Le Cesarine is a network of local people from over 120 towns and cities all over Italy. Today there are over 800 “Cesarine”, (a term derived from a Romagnolo expression meaning ‘ruler of the kitchen’) expert cooks that organize culinary events of all sizes in their own homes for people who would like to experience Italy’s ‘forgotten flavours’.
They are guardians of their culinary heritage, working with the goal of providing authentic experiences and gastronomic excellence.
The Cesarine are carefully selected to showcase the best of Italy. They are driven by an authentic passion for traditional cuisine and wish to preserve and share their knowledge by welcoming curious food lovers into their own homes.
Each Cesarina creates their own unique Taste Experience to reflect their regional cuisine, and to encourage awareness of traditional Italian recipes. Not only do the Cesarine offer dining experiences, they also organize cooking courses, cooking shows and bespoke events in your accommodation”.
Sounds like this is right up my alley.
Once Scot was up on Sunday morning, I told him about my early morning deep dive on the internet and what I found. He seemed fine with what my plans were on Monday and I was very excited that he was up for this adventure.
Monday morning at 10:30 and we met our Cesarine, Raffa, outside of a local church. She rode up on her bike with a beautiful basket. It was like something out of a movie. Scot looked at me and smiled. He knew my heart is fluttering with excitement and he wasn’t wrong.
In broken English, Raffa asked what I wanted to make. I told her anything was fine with me. She insisted that I decide what I wanted to make. So, I told her that I wanted to learn how to make my favorite food so far in Italy. This was Tortellini in Brodo and Tagliatelle. Perfect! She already had the ragu cooking back at her place. Let’s go to the market and get the rest of the ingredients. She rode her bike down the crowded cobblestone streets as we swiftly walked behind her. I was smiling from ear-to-ear.
There is some thing that Europe has going for it, that the United States is just missing out on. The food culture! Extending from the markets all the way to the regional foods and the respect that the traditions are given continues to amaze me. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my Trader Joe’s and Costco, but there is nothing like walking into a market and getting fresh ingredients directly from the purveyor. I love a farmers market, but very rarely will you find a city that has a farmers market open on a daily basis.
All of the cities and towns in Italy have these small markets. It helps prevent the need for preservatives in their foods and also they use the freshest ingredients. Trust me, it makes a difference. It isn’t just with the taste, but also how our bodies react to the food.
Fresh eggs and flour for the pasta, ground prosciutto and mortadella for the tortellini filling and the capon, beef and beef bone for the brodo. We also need Parmesan cheese, but of course she would have that already in her kitchen.
Walking through a market is one of my favorite things to do. Just listening to the sounds, seeing the bright, beautiful fruits and vegetables, and listening to the conversations fills my soul.
We got most of the ingredients, but Raffa needed to stop at her butcher on the way home since the butcher at the market was closed. She gave Scot and I her address and said she would meet us there. She took off on her bike and we took a long stroll to Raffa’s apartment about a half mile away.
Walking up the stairs to her apartment was something out of a movie to me. I turned to Scot and asked “can we move here”? His response was “Sure, if we win the lottery, we can get a house in Modena”. He’s always so supportive of my dreams. The aged copper pot sitting on the Italian marble floor was stunningly simple but beautiful.
While her apartment was not huge it was filled with cozy nooks and tons of memories. I loved it! She was very efficient at how her kitchen was set up with a spot for everything. Her kitchen was open to her dining room and she did a lot of preparation on her dining room table.
Raffa pulled out two huge wooden boards and rolling pins. She set Scot and I up with stations to start making pasta. We put the flour down and made a well in the center. The eggs were tapped on the side of the table, opening up these beautiful, farm fresh eggs, and poured into the middle of the well. As they broke open sharing their vibrant, bright orangish yellow yolks. I literally got choked up. I had never seen yolks this color! Trust me, this picture does not do it justice.
We slowly started to incorporate the flour as we mixed in the eggs. It seems so easy! Is it because we’re in Italy or is it because I just never did it right before? Time will tell.
Once we got the dough to the right bouncy consistency we put some olive oil on it and wrapped in plastic wrap. Now we wait. While Scot and I were working on our dough she had started the brodo in her kitchen. (See the recipes below).
Raffa shared with me the instructions on how to make her ragu, the brodo, the tortellini filling. She had me grate the Parmesan as she answered my thousand questions about all things, Italian food.
The hour that we needed to let the dough rest came to an end and now it was time to roll out the pasta. Scot’s dough was a little dryer so she chose to cut that for the tagliatelle she would serve with the ragu.
The dough that I made was a little bouncier so we used that to make the tortellini. She cut the dough and started to put little dots of the filling all over it. She showed me how to fold it from corner to corner, in a triangle and then wrap it around my pinky to make a little tortellini. Scot’s hands were way too big to be dealing with this delicate pasta so he filmed me while I did it. I was making tortellini! In Modena! I was so excited.
Raffa opened a bottle of Lambrusco, because after all we were in Modena. Lambrusco is served in Modena like it’s Coca-Cola and I am not mad about it. She served us tortellini in brodo and I literally started to cry. I could not believe that I was cooking in Italy with my husband and this beautiful soul, my new friend Raffa. It tasted so incredibly comforting. I was so excited to have been a part of creating this meal. Next, we had the tagliatelle with ragu. It was just as good as the brodo and so fulfilling.
She had made a cherry pie prior to our arrival and we had a small slice of that for dessert. It was incredibly good. Talk about a fresh cherry pie!
It was now 3 o’clock in the afternoon and we needed to let her go.
Of all the time that I was in Italy, these were probably my favorite six hours. Scot and I strolled back across the city to our hotel, and with stomachs and hearts that were full of love and pasta. As we laid down to take a nap, I heard the bells ring across the city. Lulling me to sleep so I could dream about making more tortellini.
Put the flour on a board and make a well in the center.
Crack the eggs in the middle and with a fork slowly start whisking the eggs then pulling in the flour.
Once mixed start to kneed. Kneed with palm until bouncy (You can do this in a stand mixer with a dough hook)
Oil hands and put in plastic wrap for an hour at room temp.
Cut the ball into 4 pieces. You can either roll it out until paper thin or use a dough roller.
For Tagliatelle: cut into 6 mm or 1/4 inch thick. Make sure you coat with flour once it is cut and put into a “nest”. You don’t want it to stick. You also can use your fettuccini roller. Let the pasta dry.
For tortellini cut in 3 cm square or tortelloni cut into 5 cm squares. You also can use to make ravioli.
Put a bit of filling (see filling recipe) in the middle and fold corner to corner to make a triangle. Bring the tips of the triangle together to make the shape of tortellini/tortelloni.
Place them on a tray not touching each other.If you aren’t going to use immediately you can let them dry then store them.
Work quickly so the dough does not dry out. You can cover with a towel if it is starting to dry.
Put into stock pot. Cover with water to 2 inches over the ingredients. Bring to boil then simmer.
Cook for 3 hours on medium heat uncovered.
Strain through cheese cloth and put back into the pan.
Taste and season with salt and pepper.If using for tortellini in brodo bring to a boil and add tortellini.
Cook for 3-4 minutes until pasta is tender.
Put some olive oil in a heavy duty Dutch oven.
With the heat on medium, sauté the onions, carrots and celery.
After 10 minutes add the garlic and sauté for one more minute.
Slowly add meat. Smash it after each addition then add more. Once the meat is cooked season with salt and pepper.
Add tomato puree and stir. Add enough water to be about an inch on the sauce and stir. It will evaporate as it slowly cooks.
Cook on low for 3-4 hours. As the water evaporates check the flavor. If it doesn’t have the depth of flavor you desire add more water to cook down.
This will be a heavy ragu. When it is complete, remove bay leaves and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over fresh tagliatelle.