I’ve always dreamed of learning how to cook Italian food in Italy. There’s just something romantic about traveling through Italy, immersing myself in the local language and taking a series of Italian cooking classes. It would be like my own version of living Under the Tuscan Sun.
Of course, our version of this romantic dream occurred in Emilia Romagna, where we were fortunate to experience four different types of Italian cooking classes. In each of them, we learned how to make pasta from scratch. We also learned the differences between all of the famous pasta dishes in Emilia Romagna. Most important, we met some amazing people who really make traveling in Emilia Romagna so special.
Italian Cooking Classes – Learning in the Home of Italian Cooking
How could you not want to learn how to cook homemade pasta from these two women? At Casa Artusi, we did just that.
Casa Artusi is a museum, library and cooking school in Forlimpopoli, named for the Italian gastronome Pellegrino Artusi. He is often credited as being the father of Italian food. Prior to Italian unification, each region or state within Italy had its own unique cooking style. In the late 1800’s, Artusi traveled the entire country and created the first national cookbook. Artusi wasn’t even a chef or a cook, just a passionate foodie. His book, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, has been in circulation since that time. It’s often given to Italian brides as a wedding gift. They say if the book comes from the bride’s new mother-in-law, it’s not a good omen. You can order a copy of Artusi’s book from Amazon.
Casa Artusi is dedicated to the concept of Italian home cooking. During our cooking class we watched a demonstration of each of the famous Emilia Romagna pastas. Most of the pasta dishes are made with nothing more than flour and egg, giving them a distinct yellow color. It also means the pasta is fresh and needs to be cooked and eaten quickly.
Our assigned pasta cooking mentor was Corrada. She’s a member of the Associazione delle Mariette, an association whose goal it is to teach the traditional forms of cooking Italian food. Those at Mariette are all volunteers – they are not paid to teach at the school. This I found fascinating.
Corrada may have been left reconsidering her decision to be a volunteer after working with Eric and I on our pasta. As we like to say, “Marriage is nothing if not a competition”. Why should learning how to make pasta in Italy be any different?
Eric was able to easily roll out his pasta, using his big man muscles. I was left to struggle, with Corrada often coming by to give me a boost. It’s hard to roll out a big ball of pasta dough into a thin sheath.
But when it came time to actually cut the pasta, form it into small designs like tiny tortellini, or roll it into garganelli, I was clearly winning. Corrada continued to compliment me, while criticizing Eric. At least, I think that’s what was happening. Our entire cooking class was in Italian, so I was translating to Eric when I could. Yes. I’m sure of it. My pasta was clearly better.
It was a fun experience, learning how to make pasta at Casa Artusi, especially having hands on training from a woman whose been making pasta for almost her entire life.
Italian Cooking Classes – Learning in a Michelin Chef’s Kitchen
During our first trip to Emilia Romagna, Yummy Italy arranged for us to step into the kitchen of a Michelin star chef, to learn how to make pasta. In the kitchen at Amerigo dal 1934, in the tiny town of Savigno, Chef Francesca walked us through the preparation of several iconic pasta dishes, including passatelli, gnocchi, and tagliatelle. It was a crash course in pasta making.
Amerigo is home to Michelin Star Chef Alberto Betinni, whose 80+ year old mother often teaches the pasta making courses. We met Chef Betinni in the kitchen, as the entire staff were preparing for dinner service. The tiny kitchen was a bit of a mad house, but a controlled madness.
As we learned how to make gnocchi, and how to roll it into the perfect shape, I asked Chef Betinni if these were the actual gnocchi we would be eating at our truffle dinner that night. He quickly smiled to infer no, our gnocchi were not up to his restaurant’s standards.
What was most interesting about this Italian cooking class was the ability to see inside the kitchen at a well-known restaurant, and to meet a chef held in high regard in Italy. Chef Francesca did her best with us, but I learned quickly that in a restaurant of this caliber, the cooking should be left to the professionals.
Italian Cooking Classes – In a Simple Italian Restaurant
At La Piazzetta Del Gusto, in Nonantola and outside of Modena, we really got our hands dirty. When at Amerigo, I was a little stand offish, feeling out of place in such a fancy restaurant while they were preparing for their dinner service. At La Piazzetta we learned how to make pasta from a woman with tattoos. This I could get behind.
Nonantola is a small town that most people don’t end up visiting. I love the area because not only did we have an amazing meal at Acetaia Pedroni just outside of Nonantola, but we were able to meet Massimo. Massimo is the owner of La Piazzetta, and is the first to admit he is not a chef. Nevertheless, he was hands on during our cooking class.
We learned to make tortelloni stuffed with cheese. This is one of the hardest pastas to make because it’s necessary to stuff the delicate pasta and curl it between your fingers, pressing firmly. Eric had a really hard time making tortelloni. I excelled, of course.
After, we learned to make Tortelloni Vecchia Modena. We cooked up some bacon in butter (yum) and tossed the tortelloni in. After, we drizzled on some balsamic vinegar and topped it with grated Parmigiano Reggiano (double yum). To me, this is the epitome of pasta in Emilia Romagna. I loved that this cooking class was simple, easy, fun, and left us with a delicious meal in the end. That’s what Italian cooking classes should be about.
Italian Cooking Classes – Learning in a Family Kitchen
I loved this experience of learning how to cooking Italian food at Fattoria Maria, a small family owned agriturismo in Soliera, outside of Modena. We thought we were just popping into the agriturismo for a nice lunch. Instead, we were quickly escorted to the kitchen.
It’s one thing to take a cooking class in a space like Casa Artusi, which is set up specifically to host cooking classes. It’s another thing to take a class in a professional kitchen, like we did at Amerigo and La Piazzetta. In this case, we felt like we were in the family kitchen, albeit one that supports an agriturismo restaurant.
Three generations came in and out of the kitchen as we learned how to roll garganelli, over something that looked like a small medieval torture device. In addition to learning how to make pasta, we also learned how to make gnocco fritto, a puffy deep fried bread. Afterwards, we actually ate the gnocco fritto we made ourselves, along with a board full of freshly sliced cured meats and of course a bottle of Lambrusco.
Italian Cooking Classes – How to Book the Perfect Experience
It’s possible to contact places like Casa Artusi directly to book their Italian cooking classes. It’s also possible to arrange cooking classes at a lot of the agriturismo properties throughout Emilia Romagna. Look for properties that list cooking courses on their website or email them ahead of time to see what they would recommend in the surrounding area.
Or, as always, you can contact a company like Yummy Italy, who can find a cooking class based on what you are looking to learn and what kind of personalized experience you seek. For some people, a group cooking class is sufficient. Others want a more personalized experience. The great thing about Emilia Romagna is that it has sophisticated culinary tourism offerings, where anything is possible.
Planning a Trip to Emilia Romagna?
Looking for more travel tips on Emilia Romagna, and how to eat the best food in Italy? My book The Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, is available on Amazon now. If you are a NOOK reader, it is also available for download on Barnes and Noble.
Heading to Bologna?
Where to Stay in Bologna: Get Bologna hotel recommendations here.
What to do in Bologna: Book a culinary experience with Yummy Italy!
Learn more: Get the only guide you would ever need for Bologna, the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, from Amazon. Or, get a copy of Pellegrino Artusi’s The Art of Eating Well to learn to cook traditional Italian cuisine at home.
Cooking classes can start as low as €60 and increase in price based on class size and duration of course.
For more on Italian culinary tourism, check out our Emilia Romagna Food Travel Guide, which is continuously updated with information on how to eat well in Italy.
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together they have traveled to over 70 countries.