How to make pasta

Learning how to make pasta in Italy

by Larissa on May 25, 2012

Despite all my efforts, I’ve never really learned how to make pasta from scratch. On a recent trip to Bologna, I was determined to change all that.  I took a pasta-making class at an agriturismo, a working farm and inn on the outskirts of Bologna.

Rolling fresh pasta dough

Federica Frattini demonstrates proper technique for rolling tagliatelle

For the last ten years, Federica Frattini and her husband have run Podere San Giuliano, hosting overnight guests and feeding them in the restaurant on site.  Their mission is to showcase the foods and cuisine native to Bologna and its surrounding region of Emilia Romagna, which of course includes fresh pasta.

Our “How to make pasta” class began with a brief overview of Ragu Bolognese.  Federica’s Bolognese was somewhat different to what I had learned (she does not use milk, for instance) but this wasn’t surprising. Legend has it that if you questioned 100 women from Emilia Romagna, you’d likely get 101 different recipes for the signature sauce of the region.

Sauce-making was all very interesting, but I had really come for the messy stuff:  turning flour and eggs into pasta.  Out to the “classroom,” where each student had a workstation and an apron (much-needed) waiting.

1.  Mixing:  We watched as Federica deftly blended eggs into a small crater of flour, slowly incorporating more and more egg until she had a small lump of dough.  This was harder than it looked.  More than once my little flour crater collapsed, with the eggs threatening to slither across the board and onto the floor.  (This is why all my previous attempts have been made in a bowl, with the sides protecting my wayward yolks from fleeing the scene.)

how to make pasta

The only two ingredients required for pasta dough: flour and farm-fresh eggs

Federica showed us how to shore up our flour craters with one hand while continuing to blend in the eggs with the other.  Eventually I managed a sticky lump, although smaller than Frederica’s since a large portion of the ingredients now coated my hands in a crusty mess.

With hands appropriately un-gooed, we then kneaded our lumpy dough balls.  A few minutes later we each had a smooth, silky mass that looked promising.

2.  Rolling:  I confess that I have always cheated a bit on this step.  My sister once gave me a hand-crank style pasta maker so I could avoid hand-rolling.  Not so in Frederica’s class:  “you want to make fresh pasta, you roll by hand”.

how to make pasta

Pasta dough rolled thin enough for cutting and shaping

I’m no stranger to a rolling-pin (no, I have not used it on Michael) but I can do a pretty mean pie crust.  However, pie crust is soft and malleable.  Something about this golden elastic dough was intimidating.  With the patience of a saint, Federica demonstrated how to flatten and stretch the dough.  Drape over the rolling-pin, start at the edge of the board, and press and roll.  Drape, press, roll. Repeat. To my astonishment this technique worked and I had large, flat sheet of pasta dough lying complacently in front of me.

3.  Cutting tagliatelle, making nifty nests:   In the past I had simply run my narrow sheet of pasta through the cutting blades of the pasta machine, then laid them in a haphazard pile on a towel.  But that technique wouldn’t cut it here.

Federica demonstrated an easy  technique that for cutting and separating pasta into individual portions:

how to make pasta

Before slicing tagliatelle roll both ends of the pasta sheet toward the center then slice across the rolls from left to right into 1/4″ strips. . .

Fresh pasta dough

Slide a knife under the sliced pasta and lift. . .

technique for making fresh pasta

Lightly grasp a handful of the sliced pasta and. . .

how to make pasta

Gently shape into nests

(This will equate to roughly one portion when cooked.) Place on a dish to dry slightly before cooking.

4.  Stuffing and shaping tortelloni:  We used a fluted cutter to divide our second sheet of pasta dough into 3-inch squares and placed a teaspoon of the ricotta filling in the center.   Then came the tricky part:  folding and pinching.  I had tried this at home and usually come up with something that was functional and tasty, but not very pretty.

Fresh pasta tortelloni

Fold and seal tortelloni, then pinch and twist around fingers

Federica demonstrated the “vertical pinch”:  after sealing the pasta closed into a stuffed triangle pinch each side toward the bottom (hypotenuse for you geometry-prone.)  This creates a slightly 3-dimensional pocket for the filling, making it less likely to open up during cooking.  Roll the corners around two fingers and pinch closed for the final effect.  Tortelloni are larger than their better-known cousins, tortellini—which would have been a little too delicate for our clunky neophyte fingers.

5.  EATING!!!:  While the fruits of our labors were taken back into the kitchen to cook we went out to the wisteria-shaded veranda to enjoy some antipasti. While nibbling on some local mortadella along with fresh-baked crostini  we looked out over the farm and gardens.  Later in the year those fresh peaches and tomatoes will appear on the menu, along with whatever else is ripe.

Fresh pasta with meat sauce

Our fresh tagliatelle with Ragu Bolognese

Then, the moment we had worked for:  the pasta arrived at the table!  Tagliatelle with the signature ragu Bolognese and the tortelloni dressed with a simple sauce of burro e salvia—melted butter and sage.

fresh homemade pasta

Our tortelloni sauced simply with butter and sage

Sitting with Federica and some of her staff we enjoyed a pranzo alla Contadina al fresco—country-style lunch served outdoors. The elegant simplicity of the meal with its ultra-fresh ingredients was one I will long remember—it tasted even better knowing I crafted the pasta myself.

My only regret was that I had not booked one of the podere’s comfortable guestrooms—a nap afterward would have hit the spot.

Pin it!Spend the day at Podere San Giuliano, an agriturismo near Bologna. Learn the art of hand-rolling pasta, then enjoy the delicious results.

Many thanks to Federica and the staff of Podere San Giuliano for hosting me at this class, and to the staff of Blogville Emilia Romagna for making the arrangements.

Pasta lunch al fresco

The shady veranda serves as the perfect setting for our lunch al fresco

If this post got you hungry click the link for other food stories.


(Thanks to Chris Damitio for taking the photos of me)

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Deb Wright May 25, 2012 at 7:09 am

Oh it looks delicious

very jealous

Deb 🙂

Andrea May 25, 2012 at 8:15 am

Good job! You can come over and cook for me when you get to Paris. 😉

Celeste May 25, 2012 at 8:19 am

Thank you, Larissa for the post. I definitely want to do this once in my lifetime. I enjoyed reading about it, at least! Celeste

John Discepoli May 25, 2012 at 9:14 am

Not Fair!
This posts the day Laine and Gabby take off for SCAD and I am left to eat cold cuts and PB&J.
The simplicity is what is lost on most folks that have never tried making a meal from scratch.
Cannot wait to enjoy first hand what you learned.
Miss you guys.

Michael May 25, 2012 at 9:50 am

Follow the directions and make your own pasta. You can surprise them when they return.

Tony May 25, 2012 at 9:56 am

I always thought L was great at making pasta — at least that was my experience. I guess there’s always another level. I’m not quite getting the “vertical pinch” — tell Frederica I’ll be there in the fall to learn first-hand.

Larissa May 25, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Time for a trip to Italy, Deb. Leave Rob to deal with the ‘roos and go make pasta 🙂

Larissa May 25, 2012 at 3:28 pm

You’re on! Show me the good baguette bakeries, and I’ll make the pasta 😉

Larissa May 25, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Always room for improvement, Tony. Podere San Giuliano is just your type of place–and Frederica is a great teacher (she and her husband also love Vespas, by the way)

Larissa May 25, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Glad you liked it–do it as soon as you can so you can enjoy making fresh pasta long afterward!

Barbara May 26, 2012 at 2:27 am

What a great idea to take a pasta making class while in Italy.
The result looked so yummy.
Congrats Larissa!

Larissa May 26, 2012 at 2:31 am

Grazie Barbara! 🙂

Kate Bailward May 27, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I’ve always faux-regretfully (but with a sense of relief) fallen back on the excuse that I don’t have a pasta machine. You having negated that one, I’m going to have to do it, aren’t I?

Imagine me making rude Sicilian gestures right now. 😉

Michael May 27, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Since I’m half Sicilian I don’t have to imagine the gestures.

Ryan September 2, 2012 at 7:27 am

That looks soooo good! When I was in university I was a prep cook in a small Italian restaurant in California called O’steenis (Irish husband, Italian wife). Anyway, the whole time I worked there, I didn’t know that fresh pasta was “soft.” Can you imagine that? The only pasta I had ever seen was the hard stuff that came in a box/bag! I thought pasta only got soft after you cooked it! Ha ha!



Lillie - @WorldLillie February 11, 2013 at 11:21 am

YUM! What a delicious activity! It really is an art. Wish I could dive into the screen and eat it!

Micki February 11, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Oh, yum, Larissa! This looks so good. I love making homemade pasta, though I have to say it’s been a very long time.

Bethaney - Flashpacker Family February 12, 2013 at 5:57 pm

My mouth is watering!!! Definitely an item for the bucket list.

Cole @ February 13, 2013 at 3:28 am

We did a pasta making course as well near Bologna at Casa Artusi! So delicious eating our handmade pasta that night 🙂

Val-This Way To Paradise February 15, 2013 at 12:52 am

Yum!! The tortelloni looks so good…

Cat of Sunshine and Siestas February 15, 2013 at 8:54 am

I was just in Bologna and remembered, as an afterthought, that you had written about cooking classes. We didn’t have much time – we were too busy eating!

Linda @EcoTraveller February 18, 2013 at 7:54 am

Aw, I am so hungry right now… I really need to try that tortellini. It all looks delicious. Such a great way to experience a country, too.

Larissa February 20, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Funny, I wish I could do the same thing! It was really a fantastic way to spend an afternoon :0

Larissa February 20, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Yes, Micki, I tend not to do it because of the effort–but it is SO worth it!

Larissa February 20, 2013 at 4:33 pm

There can be no more noble skill than knowing how to feed your face 🙂

Larissa February 20, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Yep, I love fresh pasta any time, but it seems to taste even better when you’ve made it yourself 😉

Larissa February 20, 2013 at 4:35 pm

And once you get the hang of it there’s something sort of therapeutic in working with the dough. . .

Larissa February 20, 2013 at 4:36 pm

I know what you mean, Cat. I could have spent 23 hours a day eating in Bologna 🙂

Larissa February 20, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Agreed, Linda. When you make a meal with someone in their native country, you feel like an honorary citizen 🙂

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