Yesterday morning our group took a cooking class. Our instructor was the head chef at the Barone di Villagrande vineyard, shown above, who proved to be a deft, encouraging, and effective instructor. Thanks to him, I now know how to fill a cannoli (you need to start from the middle and make sure you fill the shell completely) and I learned other skills, too.
We began with an immaculate work station, but it didn’t stay that was for long. Our first task was to take a pounded bit of beef, fill it with a mixture of goodies and cheese, roll it up while tucking in the sides so that it was in the same shape as an egg roll, dip it liberally in olive oil, and then dredge it in panko breading. Each of us marked our effort with a toothpick and note so we could eat our own handiwork. You can see my finished, fully cooked product below.
Then it was on to the pasta. We each got a precisely measured amount of flour and an egg in a bowl. You whisk the egg with a fork, make a kind of volcano shape with the flour, then gradually add the beaten egg into the crater of the flour volcano and begin to knead the mixture into dough. I was a little too quick with the pouring of the egg mixture, which collapsed part of the volcano and required some rapid egg damming and general triage. Fortunately, we had some more adept pasta hands in our group who knew what they were doing. (This did not include the Sicilian CEO, whose dough was so dry the chef had to discard it with a sad shake of his head.)
I ended up with a reasonable approximation of pasta dough and learned how to make gnocchi pasta using just a fork, shown at right in the photo above. I then cut the pasta at left into circles and made cannoli-shaped pasta using the handle of a table knife for shaping. The chef stopped by to demonstrate both techniques, and watching him gently but firmly shape the dough into different shapes was like watching Leonardo da Vinci at his easel.
We left our pasta creations with the chef and the kitchen staff, took a break, then came back later to actually taste the fruits of our labor. The beef roll-up and pasta were good, but the pasta sauce—which we had nothing to do with, incidentally—was exquisite, and probably the best ragu sauce I’ve ever had. We topped off our fine lunch with some great wine and a cannoli, which I am glad to report was fully filled.