The heat enveloped us as we stepped out of the last stop on the Rome’s metro blue line. Intense sunlight played between clouds heavy with rain that wouldn’t fall. the air so thick it was almost tangible. I longed for the cool of the metro train as we walked through the nearly abandoned streets. The neighborhood that consisted mostly of large, old apartment buildings was fairly quiet. But, it was the middle of the day on a Wednesday and, this is the real Rome, not the historical center full of tourists seven days a week.
This isn’t a part of Rome I’d ever intend on going to, but we had a meeting with two local chefs who were prepared to teach us an art I’d always wanted to learn, pasta making. Zoe and I were exceptionally early, though, so on our walk to the meet-up location, we stopped for a cappuccino. The nearly empty streets outside gave no indication of what we’d find in the small local bar* we chose. Locals buzzed in and out for a cool drink or an espresso for their mid-day jolt. Zoe and I were the only two silly enough to order a hot cappuccino on such a warm day, but when I’m in Italy I get as much of the good stuff as I can. Especially because it’s taboo to drink cappuccino in the afternoon, and my time was quickly waning.
Finishing our cappuccini (yeah that’s the plural… there’s no such thing as cappuccinos), we headed toward the piazza and the church where we were to meet Lele and Nate, our teachers for the day. I was nervous I wouldn’t recognize who they were but soon enough, they arrived, all smiles and handshakes, speaking almost perfect English. Relieved that the initial meet up was over, we chatted about food, the weather and my limited knowledge of the Italian language as we walked to a local market. At the market Lele and Nate picked some fresh produce that we’d use for the day’s meal. We met Lele’s favorite farmer, an old man who travels to the market every morning at four am. Cleaning them on his shirt, Lele handed Zoe and I each a fresh plum straight from the market stall. Z and I looked at each other, uncertain. She shrugged at me and I did the same, then we bit into the most delicious plums. Juicy and tart they were just the treat we needed. When we finished those we were given two apricots and we happily scarfed those down too.
Done shopping for our fresh veggies, we headed to the local cheese store where we encountered the most amazing cheese. We bought fresh buffalo mozzarella that had been made that morning. I could have stayed there all day choosing different cheeses, but we had one more stop before we started cooking.
Coming to a gated courtyard, Lele proffered four large plastic bottles out of the bag he was carrying. The courtyard we were standing in was a spring water location and for a nominal fee, you can fill your bottles. This isn’t uncommon and, in fact, in Rome there are free, constantly flowing fountains for water all over the city. But this one is different for the sheer fact that they have sparkling water. Straight from the spring, you can fill your bottles with aqua con gas!
After filling out water we walked through the Lele’s neighborhood toward his apartment and our kitchen for the day. Stopping to talk to a friend, I got puppy kisses that made my entire week.
Arriving at the apartment, it was time to get down to business. Washed and aproned, Nate explained to us the two types of pasta we were going to make, egg based and water based. He then proceeded to show us how to measure out the weight of the flower on a scale and how to add just the right amount of water. I used the scale second so Nate had already started talking to Zoe about how to mix the pasta. Always the overachiever, I was trying to listen to what he said and fill my bowl at the same time. I over poured. Twice. Luckily Nate was patient and told me how to rectify the situation, changing the measurements to counter the extra flour.
We kneaded our water based pasta dough first followed shortly by the egg based dough. The water based dough was a little more dry and took a minute to get a handle on. But the egg based pasta came together nicely. Finished kneading, we wrapped our dough balls in saran wrap and let them sit. It was snack time. Nate produced sliced cibatta bread and the fresh buffalo mozzarella we had purchased earlier. An amazing snack. I would have preferred a little balsamic on it, but they explained that’s not a Roman thing. Huh… who knew. 😀
All the mozzarella eaten, we started the fun part of the day, the roll out. First up was the water based pasta. We were making cavatelli pasta, which kind of look like mini hotdog buns. Starting with a quarter of our dough, we rolled the it into little snakes and I had a short flash of childhood and play dough. Cutting the snakes into little pieces, Nate showed us how to use the side of our thumb to press and roll the dough into shape. It took me a while to get the hang of it, but by the end I was a pro. Well… not a pro, but at least I got them done!
Next up, the ravioli dough. We were told to make it paper thin… and they weren’t kidding. We rolled and rolled and rolled some more. Mine staying more circular while Zoe’s ended up like a large rectangle. We learned quickly though that rectangle is the shape to go for as it makes it easier to create the ravioli. Once the dough was so thin you could almost see through it, we spooned on small dollops of the lemon zest ricotta filling, pinky spaces apart. Folding it over and pinching off the edges before we cut, we made 14 little ravioli each. Apparently, a record for Lele and Nate’s classes. We’ve always been high achievers. 😉
All the pasta shapes created, it was time for the real chefs to take over. Since it was such a sweltering day, Lele let us know he’d be making light sauces, nothing too heavy for the heat. Making a creamed zucchini sauce for the ravioli and a light sauce with eggplants and fresh tomatoes for the cavatelli, Lele astounded us. And before we knew it, it was time to eat our creations. The four of us sat down to eat the delicious meals and talk about life. We talked about what it was like to live in California and how we enjoyed living in Europe now. We all told stories and laughed and it felt like we had known them for much longer than a few hours.
Sadly, all good things must come to and end and after lunch it was time to leave. Lele and Nate walked us to another local bar and we each had an espresso shot to complete the meal. I’m so in love with Italian culture! Exchanging instagram handles and hugs all around, we vowed to keep in touch and said goodbye.
As we walked back to the nearly desert metro station, Zoe and I agreed completely that that class was one of the best possible ways to spend a sweltering day in Rome.
*bar in Italy is not just a place to drink alcohol but a place to get coffee and food as well.
NB: I know it sounds rude of me to not share how you canals take this amazing class with Lele and Nate, but for the time being they have halted their cooking classes to focus on other work at an amazing little pasta store in Rome. However, if you’d like to have a similar experience to this, head over to Airbnb Experiences to search for local classes. This is the second time we’ve done an experience and it’s worth every penny.