by Michele Scicolone
“No machines allowed here!” announces the website description of the Northern Italian Pasta class at Grano & Farina cooking school in Rome. Julia Griner, who co-owns the school with her husband Pino Ficara, a chef, teaches how to make egg-based pasta using a more than yard long rolling pin like a traditional sfoglina, pasta maker, from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.
Since we were on our way to Rome, a friend of ours introduced us to the couple via email, and we met at one of our favorite Roman wine bars. Julia and Pino told us that they had recently opened their school in the Trastevere neighborhood and invited us to attend a class. Charles couldn’t make it, but I was delighted to go. Though I often make homemade pasta, I generally use a pasta rolling machine. This was my chance to learn the art of hand-rolled pasta from a pro.
Julia began the class by describing what we would learn. There were two other students and we would each make our own batch of pasta and roll it into 3 different shapes: fettuccine, pappardelle and garganelli, which look like penne with ridges. Julia spoke about the tools we needed including that 110 cm rolling pin, a large wooden board, and a small gnocchi board with a dowel for rolling garganelli.
Julia told us that the rolling pins and pasta boards we were using had been custom made. The pins were made of beech wood which tends not to warp and will roll out the pasta evenly. Not exactly the old broom handle grandma might have stored behind the kitchen door! The boards, which are used only for pasta, are made of poplar or linden woods which are soft and porous. This helps the pasta develop the right texture.
After kneading, our pasta dough needed resting and we set it aside wrapped in plastic to relax. Then Pino took over. In the cooking area, we began working on the sauces for the pasta. Garganelli with Artichoke Sauce used the beautiful long stemmed Roman artichokes that are in season right now, and the Fettuccine Carbonara, made with eggs, guanciale and grated pecorino or Parmigiano Reggiano is an icon of Roman cooking. We trimmed the artichokes and stewed them with white wine, lemon, and garlic. For the carbonara, we trimmed the guanciale, cured pork cheek, and prepared the eggs and cheeses.
While the artichokes simmered, we returned to our pasta boards and Julia demonstrated the rolling technique. We learned how to maneuver the rolling pin to stretch and press the dough out by moving our hands along the pin as we rolled and rotated the dough. The goal was to keep the pasta round, silky smooth, even and in one piece. With lots of coaching and guidance from Julia, we all managed to achieve thin and mostly round sheets of pasta.
We cut the fettuccine with a knife and Julia showed us her technique for shaping it into “nests” to dry. Then we cut out squares of pasta that we rolled on the gnocchi boards for the garganelli.
The sauces were quickly finished, and the pasta cooked in minutes. We all sat down to a 2-pasta lunch with wine.
What makes hand rolled pasta so special? It has a different “bite” to it than machine made pasta. It is more substantial and chewy, plus it holds the sauces better.
The class was fun and informative. Julia and Pino are knowledgeable and passionate about their subjects and eager to share their information with the students. I really appreciated how well organized they were, something that is often overlooked. In addition to pasta classes, their program includes a wine range of courses in pizza and bread making, butchery and of course pastry. Pino trained as a pastry chef in Paris and worked at some of the top restaurants there and in New York. Classes are offered in English, French and Italian.
Next time I am in Rome, I look forward to taking another class at Grano & Farina. Cornetti, anyone?