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BY KERRI MCCONNEL
Bologna cooking classes
As I listened to the click of my shoes as I walked on cobbled streets of Bologna it suddenly dawned on me that despite all of the time I had spent in Italy over the years, I had never actually been to a cooking class. No pasta making only a quick lesson on how to make gelato. That’s the great thing about travelling. There’s always a new experience just around the corner. How fantastic it would be to do a cooking lesson in one of my favourite cities in Italy. This wasn’t going to be just any old cooking class. We were going to spend a morning with Oriana learning how to cook traditional Bolognese cuisine in her own home.
Note: Bolognese is the term given to the people who live in Bologna. It is not referring to the term often associated with making pasta and spaghetti. Spaghetti bolognese doesn’t exist in the eyes of an Italian.
Watch our video of the Bologna cooking class below
Meeting our local cook
We announce ourselves at the gate via an intercom. An exuberant Oriana speaks to us in English overlaid with a beautiful Italian accent. “Come on up”, she calls. Up was four flights of marble stairs, swirling their way in a circular style until we reached Oriana’s door. As we introduce ourselves and hold out our hands to shake, we are instantly overcome with the effusive welcome of the matriarch of this Italian home. Air kisses and real kisses alike are planted firmly on our cheeks as we are ushered into the living area that has been transformed into a temporary kitchen for today’s class.
The cosy lounge room couldn’t exude more warmth. An eclectic mix of paintings, statues and sculptures live alongside family portraits and the trinkets and treasures collected over a lifetime. From the balcony outside, the orange terracotta rooftops are the perfect backdrop to this extraordinary location.
The lesson plan for our cooking class
At this lesson, we will learn how to make tortellini and tiramisu, made with a recipe handed down by Oriana’s elders. After assembling at our table, we are taken through the simple recipe for the pasta. When you are in the home of a true-blue Italian, the sins of the western world as far as pasta making are brought to the surface. “No, eggs are not put in all pasta”, explained Oriana. “Eggs are for making lasagne, tagliatelle and tortellini”. The first myth is promptly put to bed. In an earth-shattering revelation, gnocchi, those little fluffy pillows that I thought were made from potato, is not necessarily so. Oriana notes that her traditional gnocchi is made from pasta, with no eggs.
Tortellini and tortelloni
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in Bologna, other than the reference to spaghetti bolognese I’ve already referred to, is to mix up your tortellini with your tortelloni. One small letter makes a sizeable difference. Tortellini are the small, shaped pasta filled with minced meat you will find in the Emilia Romagna region. Usually, they will be served ‘en brodo’, meaning served in broth. Tiny bite-sized pieces of pasta swim around in a luxurious chicken broth. It’s one of my favourite things to eat in this city. However, you need to find good places to eat it in. Like anywhere, there are non-authentic versions of both the pasta and the broth lurking in shops designed especially to capture those who aren’t in the know.
Tortelloni are the much larger version of tortellini, often filled with a variety of different things including cheese, especially ricotta, meat and pumpkin. In Ferrara, just outside Bologna, for example, the pumpkin filled tortelloni has a butter and sage sauce. Once you’ve had both, it’s very easy to know the difference.
Oriana is very delicate with her pasta making. A lifetime of making it with her family has made her an expert. She explains that on many occasions, she sits in front of the tv, making pasta for hours so that she can feed her family. Eggs are included with the flour and moved around within the well in the centre, gradually dragging in more and more of the flour until it is all combined. She does this with one hand, whereas we are more inclined to get both hands in and get it done more quickly.
This is all done by hand, using traditional methods. There’s no sign of a pasta machine anywhere in sight. The pasta is rolled until it is transparent. Oriana holds the pasta sheet up to the light until she can see her hand through it.
With this same piece of dough, we can make tagliatelle or even pappardelle by folding the sheet over several times and cutting strips. We are here to make tortellini though, so very soon we find ourselves cutting the very small squares that will be the outer casing for the filling.
Oriana uses a plastic wheel to cut the pasta into equal portions. With a dish like tortellini en brodo, it’s important that they are all the same size. This allows them to cook consistently, but they also look better in the bowl as well.
The filling for the tortellini is a blend of pork mince, prosciutto and mortadella, another local speciality from Bologna. Tiny amounts are placed inside the small squares, which must then be folded over into a triangle and the sides pulled in. It sounds really simple, and it would be for Oriana, but for the uninitiated, it’s actually quite tricky.
Still, if there was ever a saying that was true, then practice makes perfect is the one. Over and over, big hands worked on small pieces of dough until we had enough tortellini for our lunch.
Whilst the pasta was being filled and turned into bite-sized pieces, the next cooking event was being undertaken in the real kitchen. A small area, it’s the heart and soul of this household. On the wall, a blackboard announces the evening meal that will involve the making of four courses! All this for a usual family dinner.
We are in here to make dessert, of course. A traditional tiramisu is on the menu today. We know we are in an Italian household when Oriana pours us all a glass of Lambrusco as we watch and learn.
The tiramisu is an easy dessert to make. Marscapone cheese is mixed with sugar, egg yolks and whipped egg whites to form the cream. Savoiardi biscuits are soaked in freshly brewed espresso coffee and layered with the cream and good quality cocoa powder.
Once prepared, it is placed in the fridge to set a little. Meanwhile, it’s time for the broth to be heated up as the tiny tortellini make their way from the impromptu kitchen into the real one. They don’t take long to cook, floating to the surface once done.
Lunch is served
The floured boards and pasta has been removed from the dining table, as though it was never there. In its place, a beautifully set table, ready for a hearty, and jovial Italian lunch. It wouldn’t be lunch in Italy without a good selection of antipasti. We are spoilt for choice here with salumi, Parmigiano Reggiano, mortadella and minced mortadella (my new favourite) and whilst we are talking favourites, squacquerone, a delightfully fresh local cheese.
The steaming hot pot of broth and tortellini is brought to the table and spooned generously into our bowls. It might not be the most elegant looking dish, but it’s delicious. As good as the pasta is, I could eat the broth on its own. A little Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a sprinkle of nutmeg and it’s the complete meal. The tiramisu, with its strong coffee flavour, is the perfect accompaniment to this Italian meal if you love coffee that is!
With plenty of Italian wine and various other liqueurs that I’ve never heard of to try, our lunch is a fun way to end what has been a great cooking experience. The whole time we were here, I felt as though we were Oriana’s friends, helping her to cook up a sumptuous lunch. What a great recipe, if you’ll excuse the pun, for a fun day out in Bologna. Be sure to check out the video at the top of the article to see what a fun time we all had.
Where can I book a Bologna cooking class?
The best cooking classes in Bologna are those that provide you with the most authentic experience. Le Cesarine is one of the best cooking schools in Italy, as it allows visitors who love to cook and who want to learn to hook up with local cooks. Being able to visit a cook’s home and cook with them, learning their age-old recipes, traditions and methods makes for a truly immersive experience. As you can see from our time with her, it was so much more than learning how to make pasta.
Booking online is simple and highly recommended to secure your place and avoid disappointment.
For a comprehensive guide of things to do in Bologna, make this your starting point. It also includes some of our favourite places to eat, where to stay and day trips from Bologna. From truffle hunting to eating truffles, this is an adventure like no other. Spend the day in small medieval villages uncovering their hidden secrets. Get out of the big cities like Bologna and head to the hills of Romagna where you will find ancient fortresses, medieval villages and fantastic food.
The ultimate guide to spending a week in Bologna Italy
A truffle extravaganza: A day of truffle hunting and truffle eating in Italy
Off the beaten path Italy: Exploring the hills of the Romagna region in Emilia Romagna
For a comprehensive guide of things to do in Bologna, make this your starting point. It also includes some of our favourite places to eat, where to stay and day trips from Bologna.
From truffle hunting to eating truffles, this is an adventure like no other. Spend the day in small medieval villages uncovering their hidden secrets.
Get out of the big cities like Bologna and head to the hills of Romagna where you will find ancient fortresses, medieval villages and fantastic food.
Kerri now travels regularly with her husband, Stirling, where eating great food, drinking quality beer and wine, and cooking international foods are integral to their adventures.