Learn how to make pasta on a rooftop in Rome

View from a Rome rooftop — Photo courtesy of iStock / manjik

The soft fragrance of fresh herbs and garlic already filled the air as we climbed the stairs up to the roof. There, on a terrace four stories high in central Rome, our class would sip wine, sample cheeses and learn the art of pasta making.

Of all the many ways to fall in love with Italy and to savor its cuisine, creating dishes with the guidance of a local chef is beguiling. So, it was a welcome discovery to join this experience, simply called “Pasta-Making Class: Cook, Dine & Drink Wine with a Local Chef.” Yes to all of those things!

For this delicious gathering, we met at a private apartment near Piazza Navona for a filling lesson in gastronomy. Italian chefs take the helm for this class, lending an air of professionalism to what could be mistaken for a food-focused soiree among new friends. There on the roof, the indoor kitchen opens onto a big, partly covered terrace where a standing-height table awaits guests at individual stations.

The day I attended, chefs Denyse and Julia led our class. They welcomed us with glasses of Prosecco and shared delicious appetizers of baby pizzas, plus parmigiano-reggiano and pecorino cheeses, olives, prosciutto and salami.

After introductions, our chefs shared their backgrounds, then explained that the modest ingredients at each station are the essence of authentic pasta: eggs, semolina flour, oil, salt and water. As with many of life’s pleasures, simplicity reigns.

Learning pasta making in Rome with Walks of ItalyLearning pasta making in Rome with Walks of Italy — Photo courtesy of Kelsy Chauvin

Chef Denyse explained that much of her culinary savvy is the gift of her mother and grandmother. It was in their kitchens that she learned the most about Italian cuisine.

With ease, she and chef Julia demonstrated and then guided our class through the steps of blending and kneading the pasta dough, chilling it and later, rolling it through the pasta machine. In time, these long, thin sheets would become spaghetti alla chitarra (square-edged spaghetti) and supple ravioli.

While we kneaded, our chefs regaled us with food talk. We learned that there are around 350 types of “official” pasta and around 1,200 “unofficial” types. In Italy, each one pairs with one kind of sauce.

For example, carbonara goes with spaghetti, bolognese goes with tagliatelle and filled pasta like ravioli goes with a light butter or oil sauce. Different regions also favor certain pasta dishes, so don’t miss the carbonara in Rome or the gigli with cream sauce in Tuscany.

Simplicity reigns in pasta makingSimplicity reigns in pasta making — Photo courtesy of Kelsy Chauvin

Other gastronomic tidbits include that, in Italy, meatballs are always a standalone dish, and lasagna is a special Sunday meal (so beware of touristy restaurants serving it Monday through Saturday).

While the pasta rested in the fridge, our chefs lit their tabletop gas burner and introduced us to amatriciana sauce. Using no oil, chef Julia tossed small strips of fatty guanciale, an Italian salt-cured pork jowl (pancetta is a common substitute), into an oversized skillet.

I took the reins then, taking time and lots of stirring for the guanciale to reach perfect golden crispiness. Once that moment arrived, our chefs instructed me to add a cup of dry white wine to flavor the meat for a few moments, then drain the fat. A quick stir later, we’d melded the pork with a fresh tomato puree and pepper, and let it simmer.

Next up, chef Denyse brought out a big bowl of ricotta mixed with fresh basil and oregano, the filling of our ravioli. With our chilled pasta balls, we stretched out doughy sheets (also called “pasta tongues”) and learned the surprisingly easy art of ravioli making, using sawtooth ravioli stamps. In a short time, they would pair with a tasty butter and sage sauce.

The class felt like a food-focused soireeThe class felt like a food-focused soiree — Photo courtesy of Kelsy Chauvin

It won’t surprise anyone that delicious Italian wines flowed throughout the lesson. But we were educated by chef Denyse, who said, “Italians rarely get drunk on wine at a dinner table because they respect the wine.” Rather, the Italian tradition is to sip wine slowly while nibbling, to better savor the flavors.

As the cooking wound down and the sun set over central Rome, we gathered inside the studio’s dining room. Our instructor-chefs shared plates of our freshly made ravioli di ricotta topped with shaved pecorino, and spaghetti alla chitarra con sugo all’amatriciana.

And our little group of novice pasta makers toasted to an evening of education – an edible, shareable souvenir from Rome.

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