Blame it on years in the service industry or my tendency to avoid things I’m not immediately good at, but I don’t cook. I know that’s probably not something you’d expect an editor at Food52 to admit, but I won’t lie to y’all. When it comes to dinner, I’m often at a restaurant, leaning on my friends who love cooking for others, or reheating a bowl of roasted vegetables over rice (sad, I know). While some find the act of cooking relaxing, rewarding, or fun, I find it stressful, irritating, and unappealing.
Let me be very clear though: I love food. I’m always thinking of my next meal, I love doing deep dives into different cuisines and flavor pairings, and searching for new dishes to try. I enjoy baking—something about following a recipe exactly, to an almost science, is fun for me—and I bartend on the weekends, so you can trust me with making a pie or stirring your cocktail. But if a pot roast needs to be braised, I am simply not the girl you want nearby (although you can count on me to sneak spoonfuls of whatever you’re making on the stove).
So, when I told my colleagues that I took a pasta-making class while on vacation in Italy, they naturally didn’t believe me.
Earlier this month I took a red-eye flight from New York to Rome that kicked off a nearly 20-day vacation across Italy, Sicily, France, and the Netherlands. I strolled through museums and looked at ruins, visited friends, slept far too little, drank more than I should probably admit, and ate countless delicious dishes I am convinced I’ll never be able to properly recreate.
Anytime Abby—my roommate who I planned the trip with—and I go on a vacation, our formula is simple. After we pick the location(s) and book the place(s) to stay, she procures tickets to any art or historic sites she’s dying to see—and I’m left to handle the food, whether it’s bookmarking a specific street snack or making a weeks-ahead reservation.
After spending several days in Sicily and southern Italy eating everything from arancini bigger than my palm to caciocavallo all’Argentiera, octopus sandwiches, panelle, sfincione, and sugar cones topped with heaps of gelato con panna, we found ourselves in Florence. Abby’s only food-centric request? A pasta-making class.
Interested in finding an option that was smaller than the standard ones held in professional kitchens, I went to Airbnb Experiences and found a three-hour class with Paola, a chef from Florence who started her own brand, All’opera, for culinary experiences. So, on our last day in Italy, we found ourselves in Paola’s apartment kitchen surrounded by everything you’d need to make a basil pesto tagliatelle, spinach and ricotta cappelletti, and tiramisu.
For the next three hours we learned the ins and outs of kneading, stretching, and rolling pasta dough, how exactly to fold whipped egg whites into the sugar and egg-yolk mixture for tiramisu, and practiced the art of stuffing and folding pasta dough into the shapes you desire. I learned that the years I spent working at a pizza restaurant in my early 20s did help with my ability to quickly roll out and stretch the dough so it’s thin enough to see the font on a can through it, but no thinner. My fingers weren’t quite as nimble when it came to folding the filled dough into the hat-like shape of the cappelletti (I take full responsibility for a few of the pieces that had the ricotta and spinach mixture busting out).
As the group finished rolling the pasta, Paola got ready setting up the stove for the pasta boiling and the sauces. We had already made the pesto while the pasta dough was resting, so it was ready to go (a tip I learned from Paola: You don’t want to directly heat pesto after it’s done, as it can change the color of the sauce since heated basil turns brown, so she recommends tossing the hot, freshly cooked noodles in a bowl of the pesto instead.) We just needed the tomato sauce for the stuffed cappelletti. Soon enough, the sliced tomatoes were simmering with garlic, salt, pepper, basil, and oil in a saucepan—filling the kitchen with one of the best smells—and we all sipped on wine, waiting to dig in.
Finally, the portions were plated and our small group was sitting down to see if our attempts would pass the taste test.
It was delicious. I won’t sit here and wax poetic about pasta—that level of earnestness is unlike me—but it was one of the best homemade meals I’ve ever had. So good, in fact, that I’ve almost attempted to recreate the experience in my small Brooklyn kitchen. I haven’t yet, but who knows—maybe my days of sad, homemade roasted vegetable bowls are over.
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Have you tried making pasta at home? Let us know how it went in the comments below!