Sep 052013

By Mr. TWS

What a day in Emilia-Romagna! We started out from our temporary home in Verucchio for a tour of San Leo (more to come about that and Sweeney’s travel blogging iPhone incident) and then unforgettable culinary experiences in Santarcangelo. Where do I start?

Pasta making is not easy

I love pasta in many different varieties, but indulge rather infrequently because of the carbs. So pasta was one of the things I was really looking forward to as we anticipated our trip to Emilia-Romagna. I developed a craving but also some trepidation that I might return home resembling Jabba the Hutt.

Although we had no doubt that there is much skill and artistry involved in making pasta, we got to learn firsthand the work that goes into the process. One of the great parts of our trip was the immersion into the culture and everyday life. On our very first day in Emilia-Romagna, we stopped for lunch at a pasta shop/restaurant in Modigliana where I was invited into the kitchen to observe fresh pasta being made. It was pretty amazing to see a small ball of dough converted to a very thin 1 meter in diameter disc and then quickly folded and cut into pasta “noodles”.

Taking our immersion even deeper, on a warm afternoon several days later, we met Pasta Fresca Laura owners Laura di Maioli and her husband Michele at their shop in Santarcangelo for Sweeney to have a hands-on pasta making experience in their kitchen.

"Laura Di Maioli and husband, Michele, at Pasta Fresca Laura in Santarcangelo, Italy"

Laura and Michele of Pasta Fresca Laura

They were very welcoming and enthusiastic as Michele animatedly introduced us to what we were about to undertake. We all proceeded to the kitchen. It was rather narrow and long, designed for the efficient work of several skilled pasta professionals. Adding five additional people made tight quarters. It was also very warm and humid, a result of the weather that day, but more we were told for the need to have the best climate to facilitate the pasta making. Sweeney donned an apron that Laura provided and with a big smile, got ready to make pasta. She immediately approached one of the long tables and after some brief instruction, dove in.

"Donning an apron before pasta making at Pasta Fresca Laura in Santarcangelo, Italy"

Sweeney dons her apron

Sweeney quickly formed a flat volcano of flour, poured some water in and began mixing the dough by hand. Several times Michele, observing from behind so as not to intimidate, stepped forward with some brief instruction — one to make the hand mixing more efficient, the second reaching in and grabbing Sweeney’s wrists to demonstrate the proper action, and finally instructing her on how to remove the dough from her hands during the process (all pictured below).

"Getting hands on instructions from Michele at Pasta Fresca Laura in Santarcangleo, Italy"

Getting hands on instructions from Michele

In the picture below in the background you can see another flour volcano which contained eggs instead of water for a different type of pasta. (I think Sweeney had the better of it here, unless you’re into sploshing). The egg dough is just eggs and flour, while Sweeney’s was just water and flour. We had been instructed by Michele that the special flour used enabled such a simple recipe. It was hard-grained, almost like white beach sand, in contrast to the quite different flour consistency I have used all my life. I believe that the egg pasta is especially used in Emilia-Romagna compared to other areas in Italy.

"Forming a ball of dough for pasta making"

Forming the ball of dough

Sweeney finally formed the mixture into a nice large ball of dough. Then Michele gave quick instructions on how to knead the dough. Basically Sweeney took the dough ball and placed it on the edge of the table nearest her; she pushed downward with her weight and at the same time rolled the ball forward to the opposite side of the table, quickly forming it into a torpedo shape. Then she grabbed it, returned it to its starting position, pushed in both ends to make a near short barrel shape and repeated the process until Michele said it was done.

The final result was formed into a ball and then placed in a plastic bag to be refrigerated. After ten minutes, Michele took the chilled loaf and formed it into a boxy cylinder with a rounded top. Then he instructed Sweeney to cross her hands and push down in the center, spin the result 90 degrees and repeat several times.

Next Michele produced a long thin roller (3 cm or so thick by over 1 meter long) and showed Sweeney how to roll it. Basically, she was to set the roller in the middle of the dough patty and roll directly away from herself. Then she centered the dough on the table, rotated it 90 degrees and repeated again and again.

"Rolling out the pasta dough into a thin sheet"

Rolling out the dough

Although I originally had my doubts, Sweeney seemed a natural as she quickly took the long thin roller to the dough and exuberantly began to create an almost identical shape to the one I’d seen in the other shop on our first day. Then Michele instructed Sweeney on folding the dough, cutting it; then grabbing the folded cuttings between her fingers and raising them to let them unfold revealing “noodles”, the tagliatelle. The results were not that dissimilar from what I had seen the first day and I felt a surge of pride for Sweeney. Please see her delight at her accomplishment in the short video below.

Sweeney continued helping with the three other types of pasta that were created. I believe one involved the water dough and similar techniques to produce the same thin disc Sweeney had created for the tagliatelle. Then Michele took a long knife and expertly cut the dough (freehand) into almost precisely uniform squares of about 8 cm. (3 inches) — really impressive! Laura had prepared the fillings for the cappelletti (hat-shaped pasta), one pork and one vegetarian. Small amounts were piled on each square and then the pasta was folded and sealed around it as shown below.

"Michele and Laura making cappelletti in Santarcangelo, Italy"

Michele and Laura making cappelletti

Sweeney demonstrates below her version of the perfect cappelletti.

There was another type of pasta created with the water dough that Sweeney made. She took a ball of dough (mixed and kneaded) and created a brick shape. Then with the instructions of Michele, she cut them into long, thin rolled up strands. The video below shows Sweeney starting slow, finishing fast and basking in the praise.

These strands were then rolled between her palms to create very thin (1 cm) and long (about 10 cm.) pasta tapered at both ends. I really enjoyed watching Michele do this. He was very fast and ejected each completed with a quick toss and the pasta landing on the table. Sweeney caught on fast and was almost as efficient as Michele.


All in all, it was a frenzy of activity with 3 to 4 people working on the four different kinds of pasta. There was Sweeney’s first, the noodles (tagliatelle, very fettucine-like) similar to what I had seen made the first day; there was the ravioli-like tortelli, there were the long thin tapered at both ends, and finally there was the cappelletti.

"Finished pasta presented by the proud pasta makers at Pasta Fresca Laura"

The pasta makers

Michele and Laura were efficient and patient instructors. They gave excellent direction and provided slight suggestions to quickly improve the skills of the students. Above all, they were enthusiastic, friendly and humorous in the attention they gave Sweeney and the others.

"Owners Laura and Michele outside of Pasta Fresca Laura in Santarcangelo, Italy"

Laura and Michele outside of Pasta Fresca Laura

I have to say that I was quite impressed. I never expected such achievement in such a short time. The four different pastas were packaged in the same containers in which customers would carry their purchases. The containers were placed in a plastic bag which we kept refrigerated at the tourist office while we enjoyed aperitivos at a café before heading to a nearby winery, Collina dei Poeti. At the winery, we would help prepare the pasta and then enjoy a late evening meal of our handiwork accompanied by wonderful wines. As with pudding, the proof is in the eating. But that is the subject of an upcoming post — stay tuned.

Three final words

Pasta Fresca Laura
Via Ruggeri n.8
47822 Sant’Arcangelo di Romagna
Phone: +39 0541 626770

Disclosure: Thanks to Le Case Antiche for providing our accommodations in Verucchio. Thanks also to Alessandra of 21Grammy and Associazione Internazionale Alberghi Diffusi for making this project possible.

  52 Responses to “Making Pasta Fresca in Santarcangelo”

  1. That looks like a lot of fun, I love taking cooking classes when I am visiting a new place…and pasta, well that’s a no brainer!

    • It certainly was fun for Sweeney and for me (vicariously). This was the first trip ever doing this and we had several other similar activities on this trip. It would be a no-brainer, if one gets the chance. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Great job 🙂 Looks like you had a great time.

    • Sweeney really did a great job and had fun doing it. It’s one of our favorite memories among many from this trip. The cooking and eating were great too (post on the way.) Thanks for commenting.

  3. Way up there on my bucket list, as you know because I’m always talking about wanting to stay in Italy for at 3 months and take authentic cooking classes. Someday!

  4. I feel in love with Emilia-Romagna! I want to spend months there doing nothing but learning to cook from cute Italian Grandmas and drinking wine! Looks like you had a great day!

    • It was a great day and the cooking and dining on the pasta were the same day and fantastic (coming post.) Thanks for the comment.

  5. Hey Mr. TWS, After my post last week and yours this week I am thinking we need to get our spouses together. . .we could be on the cusp of a new restaurant in the making. They could do the cooking and we could be in charge of greeting the guests and serving the wine. How’s that for a plan?

    • Sounds like a good idea. I’d certainly be up for the wine and greeting. Not so sure Sweeney would like the kitchen every day. Thanks for the comments.

  6. What a great experience! We did a pizza-making class in Italy a couple of summers ago and I think it’s what my daughters remember most about the trip. I’m very impressed at how quickly Cathy caught on to the pasta making – I remember doing it in home economics class in elementary school and it was hard!!

    • Sweeney did get it quickly; and a lot of thanks go to Michele and Laura. They really complemented Sweeney’s natural aptitude. That’s really cool about your daughters. After this trip, I can really see that. Thanks for the comment.

  7. What a fabulous way to experience a culture!! I bet you had the time of your life!! I only hope I can do this one day my friend! Keep those videos coming … you’re a natural!!!

    • Sweeney really is a natural. We are doing more videos and they’re fun. They’re all spontaneous and Sweeny just picks up the cue and runs with the questions. This was one of our favorite trips ever because of the people and the location but also because of the immersion and many activities like this. Thanks for commenting.

  8. This is the life. Your being able to get a “hands on” experience with the local chef’s is a special event. Thanks for showing us the details of your fun experience.

  9. This looks like so much fun! I would love to learn how to make perfect pasta. I’ve tried a couple times at home, but I’m sure it would be much better with some Italian instruction. What a great job you did!

    • Thanks for the comment. The instructors were special and that made it a lot of fun. Hope you get to make perfect pasta; it certainly was delicious. It was a lot of fun because Michele and Laura were perfect with the group. They knew pasta and were excellent instructors.

  10. So cool… I would love to learn too…

    • I hope you get a chance to try it soon. You’d probably have to repeat frequently to retain the skill. Sweeney hasn’t tried it at home yet. I’ve since read how much better handmade is than machine made. Thanks for commenting.

  11. Bravo for Sweeney! I would love, love, love to learn how to make fresh pasta. I’m very impressed that it was all done by hand. This would be a dream excursion for me.

    • I hope you get a chance to do it soon and get people like Laura and Michele. Supposedly it is much better completely by hand than using a machine. When I saw it the first day, I thought it would be very hard though I was impressed at how quickly they made it. When Sweeney had almost the same results in almost the same time I could see how the restaurants and many of the people make it manually daily. Thanks for the comments.

  12. There’s something sexy about making pasta, isn’t there…

  13. Oh, I so want to go to this class too!!!

  14. One of my dream trips is to take a cooking class in Italy and make fresh pasta. It was such a delight following Cathy along on this class and seeing her enjoying this experience. It looks like a lot of hard work but looks so fun and rewarding.

    • The heat made it harder. It was good exercise (probably not enough to compensate for the calories). Sweeney said it took a lot of effort and the motion was repetitive. It really was rewarding. They were all quite proud of the accomplishment as seen in the photo. And the eating was another special reward, even for this observer. Many of the comments speak to this as one of their dreams. I’m glad we got the chance and hope this spurs you to find a way to do it soon. Thanks for the comment.

  15. Looks like a lot of fun, Cathy. The best part about cooking classes of course, is eating what you made after.
    Great job capturing the experience, Mr. TWS!

  16. This looks like so much fun! You all did a brilliant job and made some beautiful pasta and I am so impressed by the incredible variety. I hope that you enjoyed the fruits of your labour later in the evening!

    • We certainly did. It was the cap to a great day. We toured a beautiful winery, helped ( a little) with the cooking of the pasta and sauces, and had great wine with the pasta until after midnight, dining outside at the winery. (Post on the way,) Thanks for commenting.

  17. What a wonderful experience and I’m so impressed with the product. I realize it was hard work but I’m sure the meal was worth the effort!

    • The meal was excellent; we helped some with the preparation but the real fun was the eating accompanied by very yummy wines. It was a beautiful warm evening and we ate outside at a winery. Thanks for commenting.

  18. Fantastic post! You do such fun things!

  19. What a fun looking class. Usually I like to watch cooking classes but I think making pasta so you could take that skill home would be one where doing is so much better than watching. I think you’d have to have some patience to be a cooking instructor.

    • I’m mostly the opposite. Don’t quite get watching the food channel. but this was fun to watch. Teaching takes patience for sure, plus knowledge and skill of how to do it right, plus a sense of wanting to see novices achieve plus a sense of humor. We were lucky that Laura and Michele had them all in abundance. The students were pretty good too.

  20. What a fun tour. I always wanted to learn how to do make pasta. And to learn in Italy, you can’t go wrong 🙂

  21. What a fun thing to do. I’ve only watched home cooks making pasta on TV, and it looks quite hard to get the technique right. Hope you both had fun 🙂

  22. […] much fun as it was to get hands-on pasta-making lessons from Laura and Michele at Pasta Fresca Laura in Santarcangelo, it was also nice to sit down and […]

  23. This is one of the things I love about your site… you don’t just tell me the information, you’re not making a list, you’re literally in it, involved up to your elbows and it’s so enjoyable to watch. Motivates me to do more – even at home between trips. Thanks!

  24. I got a professional KitchenAid recently and plan to buy the attachment to make pasta…I’ve tried in the past without equipment and it’s just too tough. My challenge is to make it gluten-free! Looks like you did an awesome job

  25. We luv eating pasta! But making it from scratch by hand? Maybe we can just come to your house for dinner? Or maybe we’ll have to visit Emilia-Romagna…

  26. Yum! I loved learning how to make pasta in Italy. We even made a batch when we got home. Once… 🙂

  27. Wow! How to make it look easy 🙂 The whole day looks so much fun and I hope you got to eat your own pasta at the end?

  28. Looks like you had a great time!

  29. Successfully making fresh pasta is a true achievement. 🙂

  30. […] chefs as they made pasta and piadinas. I didn’t have the hands-on experience that I got making pasta fresca in Santarcangelo in June, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching and appreciating the […]

  31. […] tried my hand at bread and pasta making before, but this was a first experience at attempting to make something on the sweet side and I […]

  32. […] travel companions and I had an awesome private pasta-making lesson arranged for us at Pasta Fresca Laura in Santarcangelo, but classes can be found in throughout the […]

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