When traveling to Italy, there is usually a list of foods people must eat while they are in the country known for its carbs: pasta, pizza, focaccia, and biscotti to name just a few. But rarely do travelers get the opportunity to learn how make all of these dishes from local Italian chefs!
The Chopping Block's Cook Like a Tuscan tour in conjunction with Onward Travel offers four hands-on cooking classes where you roll up your sleeves and get your hands full of flour, dough and fun. I've already told you how much I enjoyed the butchery class by eighth-generation and world-famous butcher Dario Cecchini. But another class that stands out as a true highlight of the week happens at Badia a Coltibuono.
Badio a Coltibuono
Once an abbey, this farm and its land have been producing excellent wines and oils for over a thousand years. Today, the family-owned business is an agritourism destination in the heart of Chianti with a restaurant, cooking school, boutique hotel accommodations and is a popular wedding venue. The family has been hosting cooking classes since the 1980s featuring local Tuscan ingredients, many of them coming straight from the vegetable garden.
Fresh vegetables for our cooking class
I've already talked about the fact that Badia a Coltibuono carries one of my favorite Chianti Classico wines that we just happen to carry at The Chopping Block, as well as the rest of the beautiful wine we tasted on this trip.
But this post is all about the delicious and fun cooking class we experienced at Badia a Coltibuono with Chef Patrizia Del Cucino.
Chef Patrizia Del Cucino demonstrates how to make pasta
From the moment we walked in the door, Chef Patrizia was a master in making everyone feel comfortable in the kitchen, no matter if this was their first or fiftieth time making pasta from scratch. She got everyone involved from the start so that the entire group got hands-on experience with each technique she instructed.
We started with the focaccia dough so that it could proof right in the Italian sunshine in the warm kitchen. No proofing boxes needed here!
Focaccia dough proofing in sunlight
Each person in the group made their own batch of pasta dough by hand so that we could experience how the different flours and eggs incorporated together, how long it took to knead the dough and what the dough should feel and look like before it rests.
Group pasta dough making
While the pasta dough rested, we made the biscotti dough. Biscotti are twice-baked, oblong-shaped, dry, crunchy cookies, and they are served with the Italian sweet wine Vin Santo. You dip the cookie into the wine before eating it. I typically find biscotti here in the States to be too dry for my taste, but I can honestly say that the biscotti we made and had for dessert was the best I've ever tasted. I'm also not typically a dessert wine fan, but I loved this combo!
I'm all smiles making biscotti dough!
Shaping the biscotti
Biscotti after the first bake - it will be sliced and baked again a second time
During this entire time, the ragu is simmering away on the stovetop. There was an entire bottle of Chianti used in this sauce so you know it's going to be good!
Then, the real fun began began! Rolling out and cutting the pasta dough into noodles is an activity that can't help but bring a smile to your face. There's something so satisfying about watching a ball of dough be transformed into paper thin dough for ravioli or perfectly toothy fettucine noodles.
There wasn't one person in our group who didn't have a blast learning how to make the noodles and shape, fill and cut the ravioli. And everyone got a turn doing each part of the rolling process so you would feel comfortable doing it on your own at home later.
Kevin and Lisa's beautiful pasta
Ann and Janet's noodles before cutting
Cutting the noodles
Chef Patrizia demonstrating how to make ravioli
Cheryl shows off her ravioli
Fettucine on drying racks
Ann and her mom Linda put the finishing touches on the ragu
Chef Patrizia presents our ravioli
After the work in the kitchen is done, you get to take a break in the beautiful gardens. We had a beautiful appetizer and some Vermentino (a Tuscan white wine I'm now obsessed with and a good alternative to my go-to Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand) before having some time to wander around the gorgeous grounds.
Appetizer of Crostini with Pickled Tomatoes
Our Cook Like a Tuscan tour group in the garden
Chef Patrizia and her staff pull everything together for an elegant meal in the dining room after we had a Chianti tasting of Badia a Coltibuono wines. It was so fun to see our food transformed into plated masterpieces!
Focaccia - before and after
Fettucine with Ragu
Chef Patrizia told us she eats pasta every day which is typical of Italians, since pasta is typically served as a first course. But it's usually just a small portion - definitely not the two to three portions you get when you order a pasta dinner in an American restaurant. Plus, the ingredients aren't processed like they are in our country. Italians use durum wheat flour which doesn't spike your blood sugar levels as much or contribute to weight gain as much as regular refined white flour does. So, the Italians believe (as well as the rest of the Mediterranean countries) that everything can be eaten in moderation!
Fresh Pasta Dough
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: 3-4 servings
Active time: 20 minutes
Start to finish: 40 minutes
2 cups hard-wheat (“00”) flour (see note, below)
1/4 cup semolina
1 to 2 tablespoons water
1. Place the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.
2. Add eggs and 1 tablespoon water, and process until well combined.
3. Test dough to make sure it will hold together. If it is dry, add up to a tablespoon more water as needed to make the dough moist but not sticky.
4. Turn dough out and knead for 1 to 2 minutes until dough is smooth.
5. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic, and allow it to rest at least 20 minutes.
6. Roll out in a pasta maker until smooth, then roll into sheets and cut into desired noodles.
7. To cook and serve, plunge into rapidly boiling salted water, cook until tender, about 2 minutes, and serve at once with your favorite sauce.
- In Italy, flour is classified either as 1, 0, or 00, referring to how finely the flour is ground and how much of the bran and germ have been removed. Double zero is the most highly refined ground flour from durum wheat, making it high in protein, which results in an extremely elastic dough perfect for pasta, focaccia, pizza and flatbread.
- Pasta dough can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. Allow to come up to room temperature before rolling out. Pasta that has been rolled and shaped can be frozen. You can also set shaped pasta out on towels until completely dry, and then it can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
If you don't have a pasta machine, there are plenty of shapes you can make without any equipment. Chef Mickey shows how to make chiusoso pasta and Chef Sara shares her methods for making oriecchiette and busiate pastas.
Or, you can be like my friend Cheryl who asked her dad for a pasta machine for Christmas immediately after returning home from Tuscany. She's now working on perfecting her pasta technique at home! (Those are also Gnudi from the Badia a Coltibuono's cookbook you receive after the class on her cutting board).
I was so inspired after my trip to Tuscany last fall that I came up with the menu for our new Winter in Toscana class. We only have two more sessions that are not already sold out, so don't miss your chance to learn how to make this delicious Tuscan comfort food:
- Hands-On Winter in Toscana Friday, February 23 6pm Just 4 spots left!
- Hands-On Winter in Toscana Friday, March 8 6pm
Travel with us this October and see how much you fall in love with fresh pasta and other Italian specialties. I promise it will ignite a passion in you for Italian cuisine no matter what your cooking skill level. Our Cook Like a Tuscan tour is truly a bucket-list experience for any food and wine lover, and I can't recommend it enough!