In Italy, Pasta is religion.

Spaghetti is holy, chefs who do it well are worshipped for their craft, and tradition is everything. If you don’t do it right, move to Spain.

Bright and early on my first morning at Antico Casale di Scansano I did one of the activities they are most well-known for: A pasta making course with their Scansano-born chef, Claudio Bovicelli.

Fettuccini, Papardelle, Potato Gnocchi, and Spinach and Ricotta Tortelli were on the menu, and in Claudio’s kitchen, pasta does not start in a cardboard box. It starts with flour and 2 eggs.

You start by positioning the flour into a big, circular mound, then sticking your finger in the middle and circling it around slowly, clearing out the middle and turning it into an O shape. That becomes your mixing bowl, in which you crack 2 eggs, sprinkle a half teaspoon of salt, and then start whisking with a fork. The technique took a while to catch onto, and I felt Claudio watching my fork like a hawk. At very precise moments, Claudio would push some of the flour from the “bowl” with his fingers into the eggs, creating a thicker and thicker mixture over the course of 15 or so minutes.

I should tell you, Claudio does not speak any English. Sure, he knows a few words, but our entire communicative process was through gestures, examples, and me hanging onto occasional romance language roots during his Italian instruction. Often times my guesses were not accurate, and if I touched or moved something sacrilegiously, Claudio would yell “no!” and get visibly upset. For example, the time I was excited to show him I was “catching on” and pushed some flour from the flour O into the eggs with my own fingers. Horrible idea! It needed another 5 seconds! I truly felt guilty and like I had spoiled Italian tradition. Claudio was sweet but strict, and I wouldn’t have my pasta teacher any other way.

Sure enough, I had completed my very first ball of pasta dough. Claudio called it belissimo, and I was so happy that I thought we should pose together for a photo.

It’s important to remember when you make fresh pasta to never let your dough sit out. Just 10 minutes of contact with the air will kill the freshness and you’ll have to throw it away, so immediately saran wrap anything you’re not using. I cut the dough into thirds and we started on Fettuccini.

Rolling pins seemed simple until today. I had mastered them in my Play Dough Factory at age 4, but today I didn’t know my fingers from my elbows. Too fast, too slow, not enough flour, too much flour, flip now, why would you even think of flipping right now, and OMG, why is this starting to look like a heart? That’s not good. Claudio warned funny shapes are bad. Hearts must be a one-way ticket to Spain. Push out, push in, too thick, too uneven, my back hurts, STOP!

I thought it would never end. The pressure! The disgrace! But it finally did, and me and my belissimo flat piece of dough were ready to take the next step.

Next, you fold it in from both sides like this, then cut it into the Fettuccini sized pieces.

After slowly, carefully unfolding each Fettuccini strand and laying them on the table, Claudio went down the lineup like a football drill, and hastily removed the ones that didn’t make the cut. One was too wobbly. One was too short. One looked more like a pathetic Linguini. NEXT.

With my precious pastas I had left, I lined them up in my hand, wrapped them around like he showed me, and tucked the ends under forming a smooth “nest”. This took more than a few tries, but boy was it rewarding finally see it done, even if Claudio needed finish it off.

And then, onto the Papardelle, which meant the whole shenanigan all over again just making the pasta twice as thick and 3 times as wide. I improved a bit, but for someone who’s been making pasta his whole life, I can only imagine how frustrating it is to watch someone screw up the details.

The Tortelli called for new techniques, starting with the mixing of ricotta, fresh steamed spinach, one egg, salt, parmesan cheese and Indian spice.

Then came the nerve-racking dough-rolling process all over again, followed by squeezing 6 dollops of the mixture onto what was more of an art palette than anything; folding, pressing, perforating and getting ready to boil right away.

Potato Gnocchi was next up, where potato became a foundation of the dough. Let’s do this one in photos:

And here are all the pastas on stove…

And finally, after 3.5 hours of preparation, lunch was served. I was joined by Marta Pelligrini, the delightful and very cool owner of Antico Casale di Scansano, to witness my very first Italian pasta creations that didn’t come from a box. We both agreed the Gnocchi was the best. Marta says that Gnocchi is one of the hardest pastas to get right, and apparently I did, and should open up an Italian restaurant in New York City. Maybe one day!

For now, I’m thrilled to have found a friend in Claudio Bovicelli, because the food he cooks here day in and day out is absolutely delicious. I would recommend this experience to anyone visiting Antico Casale di Scansano or the region. So much to learn about food and Italian tradition; you’ll never be able to eat another morsel of pasta without thinking back to it! Truly unforgettable. And as Claudio said to me… BRAVISSIMO!

Today’s WIN ITALIA Question:

(to win the luggage filled with souvenirs from Rome and Tuscany)

What is the most extravagant pasta dish you’ve ever made?


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