January 24, 2018

Tortellini vs Tortelloni, do you know the difference?

Someone at some point must have gotten the tortelloni and tortellini confused and started stuffing the tortellini with cheese - probably they thought it wouldn't make any difference.

Ha! that's because they don't know the Bolognese who take their food extremely seriously - as seriously as some people take their sports teams.

Tortellini with meat are a specialty of Bologna and they are served in a brodo (soup). The pasta stuffed with cheese are Tortelloni, and they are traditionally served in a sage and butter sauce so you can taste the amazing stuffing you went to the trouble of making.

The tortellini, with emphasis on the ini because they are tiny, are some serious work. In the tortellini class we make the stuffing according to the recipe deposited at Bologna’s Chamber of Commerce, we make the brodo and then we roll the dough so thin we can actually read a recipe through the dough…yes, that thin. Its a lot of work which is why I keep the tortellini from scratch lesson for advanced students or for a 2nd or 3rd lesson. In terms of how many you need to prepare per person- you should plan on preparing anywhere between 6-8 tortelloni per person while you will need around 20 tortellini per person. Hence, why the tortellini are a lesson by themselves.

Some time ago I wrote a post dedicated entirely to the tortellino (singular, but no one eats just one so think tortellini, the plural). You read all about it here: bolognese-stuffed-pasta-tortellino

Having said all that, there is a very logical reason why tortellini and tortelloni differ is size and it has to do with the flavor of the filling: the cheese filling is flavorful but delicate, you need more of it in every bite so you can actually taste it (otherwise you could put anything, cheap or low quality ingredients in there and you wouldn't know the difference). Hence the pasta shape sorpresine... The tortellini filling on the other hand is extremely flavorful and so you don't need a lot to actually taste it. and no, putting a bunch of the tortellini stuffing in a large pasta would not work, it would totally overwhelm your palate then nothing else you ate would seem tasteless (remember we take our food seriously).

Oh and one last thing, anyone who serves tortellini in anything but a meat broth would probably be ostracized in Bologna! Some youngsters prefer the tortellini in a cream sauce so you might find it served that way - but do not request it, just check if its on the menu.

Anyway, just some information about Tortellini

January 9, 2018

THANK YOU, 2007-2017.

Just a quick note to say THANK YOU to all the students I have encountered in the past 11 (eleven!) years.

When I first taught how to make pasta, I hoped that my students would feel they had learned something useful and that they would be able to recreate the experience successfully at home. I never expected that I'd spend more years as a pasta teacher than in any of my previous careers!

Despite some doubts, I continued teaching because several school teachers, who have studied the Reggio -Emilia methods, as well as professional chefs and cooking teachers have given me positive feedback and encouraged me.

Every year, I've met people in my lessons that I never dreamt I'd meet, in the sense of incredibly wonderful people. I have met Vice Presidents of Fortune 500 companies, owners and ex-founders of many well-known companies who I won't mention to protect their privacy; people who worked for FIFA, people who worked for Google and other technological startups in the technology field (I worked in technology for some years so recognized the names). I have had many fascinating conversations.

Perhaps even more amazing were the adults who accompanied a group of 5 severely handicapped teens to a class of mine. Also, the two professional story tellers who told me about their career (I asked). One of them had been tasked with telling the story of a woman who survived the Holocaust. Both of these encounters humbled me.

There were many people who made me smile; Mark aka Marco from Austria; John aka Giovanni from Hawaii who fell asleep while I explained how to roll the pasta but then demonstrated he was listening by rolling the dough out perfectly. The 2 young couples from Israel who ripped the disposable aprons off each other at the end of the lesson. The couple in their 70s travelling around the world to eat at the best places. The absent minded professor who wasn't so good with knives, the student who I guessed was a surgeon by how he cut the pasta. Also the couple who drove from ex-Yugoslavia with an extremely well-behaved giant poodle! And the sweet young couple who met me at the market but had parked their camper outside my building! Also the fellow who caught his pasta sheet as it fell with his leg and immediately claimed, the pants are clean! There have been so many situations that have made me my day extra special.

I've also cared about my students: some have told me about some serious personal problems during class and I once had to call an ambulance because a student felt very sick during the market tour (she had been sick for several days but kept ignoring it).

I have had also had some very special students, extremely perceptive and emphatic from all walks of life. People with whom I made a connection - some I stay in touch with and others I haven't but that connection happened as they also felt it. Even my late father's boss came as a student - he said to me, you look like a guy who used to work for me! Neither I nor his family group knew of the connection before we met.

But I'm not perfect and have had my off days: that 1 group per year when my students ask questions without listening to the answers and then repeat the questions stresses me and I become impatient. Or when I haven't slept well and mix my languages up. But I do learn from my mistakes and have taken preventive actions to avoid those off days.

Thank you to all the people who shared their life stories with me, students travelling alone, couples, friends, and families travelling together. It has been fascinating to meet and befriend all of you. I wish I could stay in touch with all of you.

Who would have ever thought that being a cooking teacher would have turned out to be SUCH a fascinating experience in professional and personal growth? You teach but you are also taught.

THANK YOU ALL for a significant and lovely past 11 years
PS this was meant to be a quick note and it evolved into a looong note.

PSS and I haven't told you about the twenty something young man who said his goal was to become an Italian nonna (grandma)! or the many students who arrived with gifts: cookbooks from famous chefs in their towns/country, aprons, kitchen towels, books for children (from people in the publishing industry), food items from their country. The more I think about it, the luckier I feel!

October 27, 2017

Why I make pasta from scratch and handroll it

Many people tell me I make pasta making look easy. But we all know it is not. It is hard work but I also believe that if you practice anything enough times, it becomes much easier. It is similar to learning how to drive a car or ride a bicycle; the first time seems like it is too difficult but with some practice you realize you can do it!

Of course not everyone has the time to make it as often as they would like to eat it so that is why the pasta shops in Bologna flourish! People love the fresh egg pasta but not everyone has the time to make it. So they buy it. Making pasta for ten should cost you about 3 Euro versus paying between 27€-38€ for a kilo of handmade pasta.

But its not just about the savings, there is the satisfaction of having made such a wonderful thing to eat. Everyone marvels at how the flour and dough transforms itself into this glorious pasta, whether its long golden noodles or stuffed, golden pasta.

Plus I find making pasta rather relaxing, especially while mixing in the flour and kneading. The repetitive steps help you focus and dare I say: be mindful, be present. You must focus or else you might add too much flour or tear your sheet of pasta.

Most of all, it makes me terribly happy to serve handmade pasta to my friends and family. Making pasta with the rolling pin on a wooden board gives my pasta that amazing texture that is a delight to everyone's palate. You can't get the same texture if using the pasta machine. So for people who really love egg pasta, the work is a worthwhile effort!

I have been teaching how to make pasta for over 10 years while I have made my own pasta for at least another 10. To me, learning to make pasta was like preparing artichokes; the first time it seemed daunting but because I love artichokes (and pasta) so much I decided I HAD to learn how to prepare them. There was no choice, I had to learn. So I did not let a number of situations stop me from achieving my goal: I had different teachers, consulted books and practiced, a lot. I practiced so much I found a way to make pasta that I thought was much easier. I developed this method and it is the technique that I teach you.

So how do you know its a good technique? Well in over 10 years, we have never had to skip a meal or substitute with boxed pasta because of bad pasta! :) So if you add a little practice to the equation, you might even think about opening your own little pasta shop!

Happy pasta rolling!

By the way, who decides when its #nationalpastaday or #worldpastaday ? Where is the calendar? who is in charge of PR? I found out too late! :) hahaha!

July 5, 2017

Discover the Romagna in Emilia-Romagna!

a typical seaside town in Romagna
Although part of the same region, Emilia and Romagna are quite different, in many ways. The Romagnoli  are also different from the Emiliani - that is something that is quite easy to notice once you work side by side with a Romagnolo/a. Their sunny disposition and ability to solve any problems with a smile is a virtue the rest of us envy.

A couple of friends of mine have put together a week-long trip of food and culture in the Romagna area that is just wonderful. You'll get an in-depth view at things and food that are unique to the Romagna area. I participated in the trip they organized in May and was very pleased at their attention to details. All the locations are beautiful, all the guides, the cooks and chefs are very good at what they do and a lot of information is covered. Let's just say that even I learned a few things I did not know!

Having tested first-hand this package I can absolutely recommend it. I hope to come meet you one of the days you are on the trip, please be sure to let me know if you book the trip!

They are now taking reservations for their September and October dates. If you need 2018 dates, please write to me put "Romagna trip" in the subject of your email.

The 2017 dates are:

  • September 10-17  2017
  • Sept 24th -October 1st, 2017
  • October 1-8th, 2017

8 days / 7 nights   Tour for active, curious people.
Your accommodation for the week is in a medieval village, where every morning you'll breakfast surrounded by the scents of the hotel's private garden, and hear the town church bells ring; it is a two minute walk from the lively center of Santarcangelo di Romagna, where you can stroll the narrow cobblestone streets and reach shops and city markets. In the nearby hills we will cook and eat together at a charming country villa.
  • 2 cooking classes, preparing our four-course lunches
  • Wine tastings and lesson with a sommelier
  • Guided tasting of PDO and IGP products from Emilia-Romagna
  • Following in Fellini’s footsteps in the seaside resort of Rimini
  • Making your own pizza with an Italian pizzaiolo
  • Guided tours of three medieval/Renaissance towns
  • Enjoy a procession of Fiat 500s on a drive through the Romagna countryside
  • 7 nights accommodation
  • Airport transfer
Lunch al Fresco
Here is an outline of the daily itinerary.

· WELCOME TO ITALY Day One (Sunday): Arrival to the medieval town of Santarcangelo di Romagna. Introduction to the tour and the town, and dinner at one of the best restaurants in the region.
· FOOD AND WINE IN THE ROMAGNA HILLS Day Two (Monday): After breakfast at the hotel we’ll meet at ‘our’ café in centro,our meeting place for the rest of the week. We’ll transfer to the country villa where we’ll have our first cooking lesson, preparing what the Italians call il pranzo della domenica, which of course we’ll then enjoy along with delicious local wines. Later in the afternoon we’ll visit a local winery with an expert sommelier followed by a wine tasting accompanied by typical appetizers (stuzzichini). Later we take a tasting tour of Emilia-Romagna with its superb and famous products including parmigiano cheese, specialty cold cuts, balsamic vinegar of Modena and the traditional Lambrusco and Pignoletto wines.
· SAN LEO HISTORY, TRADITION AND BEL CANTO Day Three (Tuesday): This morning we step back in time with a visit to the medieval town and fortress of San Leo. In the afternoon we’ll visit a farm where wine and extra-virgin olive oil are produced. The owners take us on a tour of the property, and together we’ll gather elderflowers (sambuco) to make elderflower syrup. We’ll have dinner here but first we’re treated to a live performance of bel canto, a traditional Italian vocal style renowned for its beauty.
· ART IN URBINO AND A CULINARY JOURNEY THROUGH EMILIA-ROMAGNA Day Four (Wednesday): Today we’ll explore Urbino, where we begin to appreciate the power and splendor of Montefeltro’s palatial residence that today hosts the National Gallery of Marche. The museum displays works of art by Piero della Francesca, Tiziano, and Raffaello, who was born here in 1483. In the afternoon we’ll learn about the ‘fossa cheese’, visiting one of the pits dug out of the tufo/volcanic tuff where this highly-prized cheese is aged. 
Cooking lesson no. 2
· AN ITALIAN PRANZO AND FELLINI'S RIMINI Day Five (Thursday): This morning we return to the Romagna hills for our second cooking lesson and the preparation of another delicious four-course lunch. We return to Santarcangelo, then get ready for a night on the town in Rimini. Here we’ll learn about Rimini’s Roman and Renaissance history, then shift to the twentieth century and follow the footsteps of Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, who was born in Rimini in 1920. For dinner we’ll reach the seaside town of Cesenatico where we’ll have an unforgettable fish dinner by the sea.
· MARKET DAY AND THE REAL ITALIAN PIZZA Day Six (Friday) Today is the weekly market in Santarcangelo and you’ll have time to explore it at your leisure. In the late morning we’ll meet up for a ‘cooking show’ demonstration by a professional pastry chef, followed, of course, by savoring his delicious creations. In the afternoon we’ll go to the very place where in 49 BC Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon (river) with his troops. Afterwards we’ll walk to a pizzeria for today’s cooking lesson—making traditional Italian pizza under the guidance of a professional pizzaiolo (pizza chef).
· AN UNFORGETTABLE TRIP BY FIAT 500 Day Seven (Saturday): To kick off the weekend we’ll attend a procession of the legendary Fiat 500 cars and take a ride to the medieval village of Longiano. Together we’ll visit a well-known frantoio (olive mill) to learn about and taste the local extra-virgin olive oil, and we’ll have lunch at the locanda (inn) next door. After some free time in Santarcangelo we’ll have our last outing, down to the enchanting village of Roncofreddo. Here we’ll have our final memorable dinner in a little Osteria.
· 'ARRIVEDERCI' Day Eight (Sunday): After breakfast, departure by private transfer to Bologna airport or to Rimini train station.
What’s included
  • Double-occupancy accommodation for 7 nights;
  • Meals as noted in the itinerary: 7 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 6 dinners;
  • Wine and other beverages at included lunches and dinners;
  • Group transfers to and from Bologna airport and/or Rimini train station at the scheduled times;
  • All cooking classes, completely hands-on;
  • A wine lesson and tasting by a sommelier;
  • A pastry ‘cooking-show’;
  • Professional licensed guides in San Leo, Urbino, Rimini
  • All entry fees for scheduled excursions and tours;
  • Expert bilingual tour leader to accompany the group at all times.
Please check with your health insurance provider to understand your international coverage: you may desire to purchase additional short term health insurance. Airfare and travel insurance are not included. We highly recommend the purchase of travel insurance  (we can provide recommendations upon request).
Our four-star hotel, described as ‘Italian sophistication in a medieval setting’, is a recently renovated villa surrounded by lovely grounds and just minutes away from the ‘old town’ historical center of Santarcangelo di Romagna. You’ll quickly become accustomed to meeting up at our favorite café in centro where the barista, as he does with all his clients, will soon learn your name and preferred beverage. Our lunches and dinners are at the best regional restaurants where your fellow diners are locals and where we’ll enjoy the excellent wines of the area.
Activity Level
Most days require some walking, but no more than is usually required for, say, a city stroll or a guided tour. Transfers between activity locations vary, but usually are no more than 20-30 minutes in a van, with the exception of the first and last day transfers to/from Bologna (approximately one hour and fifteen minutes), and the day we visit Urbino, which requires an hour and a half each way.
Price are per person and based on double occupancy and minimum 6 people on the tour.
A limited number of single accommodations are available for a supplemental charge of 330 euros.
Prices are listed in euro.  The price you pay in a different currency depends upon the exchange rate at the time your deposit clears, and again when you pay the balance.  If desired, you can lock in a specific exchange rate by paying the entire amount when making your initial reservation. Please click here to read our ‘Payment and Cancellation Policy.

Me, always eating! Everything was SO tasty! Bravo Chef!
Although we do our best to adhere to the schedule listed above, we reserve the right to change the schedule due to circumstances beyond our control.

WRITE ME now to get more details or to book the trip! 

Please write "Romagna trip" and date you wish in the subject of your email.

June 6, 2017


Hello everyone,
Today I would like to share with you one of those recipes that is SO easy, SO tasty and goes with either egg-pasta, or hard wheat pasta (only high quality brands pretty please!). It should get you many compliments. Even my son who is not exactly keen on vegetables had seconds of this pasta dish. 

The only secret is to search for the tastiest ingredients you can get your hands on. If necessary buy or try different tomatoes, you want them to be bursting with flavor a bit on the sweet side. If the only tasty tomatoes you find are larger than cherry tomatoes, then cut up the tomatoes to bite size! 

2 shallots or garlic cloves
Extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch fresh, thin asparagus (500-600grams or a bit more than a pound).
10-12 ripe cherry tomatoes, washed and halved
OPTIONAL: 1-2 dried hot peppers (I prefer whole but you can also use crushed or powdered)
A pinch of salt.

1. Trim the asparagus of its hard stems by snapping off the end: begin by placing your thumb and index finger at the very end of each stem and try to snap it off. It usually snaps where the woody part ends. Wash the stems under running water and dry slightly.
2. Slice the asparagus stems into bite sized pieces.
3. Take a large skillet and add a swirl of olive oil.
4. Peel and chop the shallots and add to the large skillet. Turn on the heat to a medium –low.
5. Once the shallots are softened, add the cleaned, chopped asparagus and continue to cook for a few minutes, until they become bright green. Toss around in the skillet to ensure all the asparagus is cooked evenly.
6. Add your halved cherry tomatoes at this point and sautè until the tomatoes are slightly softened.
7. Salt everything to taste. Toss a few times and turn off the heat.

If needed for extra flavor: Crush the hot peppers and add it to the shallots while they warm up.

8. Cook your pasta, drain and toss with this dressing. If it seems too dry, add a swirl of excellent extra virgin olive oil.

PS no grated cheese is necessary!

Please let me know what you think of this dish in the comments below. Thank you.

Buon appetito!