My Week as a Sfoglini and How to Make Authentic Italian Tortelloni by Hand

*Tortelloni instructions with step-by-step pictures are at the end of the post*

When you’re in Italy and studying the art of making pasta, it’s probably not wise to admit to your very-serious-about-pasta instructor that you employ your Cuisinart food processor to aid in making the dough. I’m not even sure why I said it. I guess part of me wanted to make small talk, but mostly I wanted to spark a glimmer of pride and develop some kind of camaraderie by letting her know that I’m not new to making pasta. But the only glimpse I was giving her was that of my corner-cutting indolence, and from the condemnatory look on her face, I knew I wasn’t impressing anyone.

La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese - Bologna, Italy

La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese Pasta - Bologna, Italy

The school La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese is located just outside of Bologna’s city center. It was opened in 1993 by Alessandra Spisni, a chef, cookbook author, and television personality, and remains to be the only school wordwide that develops professional pasta makers, called sfoglini. Sfoglini being a word derived from the proper Italian word for the flour and egg pasta dough, sfoglia, and is pronounced sfol-yuh. You don’t pronounce the G, it’s just there for decoration like the word gnome. Fact: gnomes are real and they bite your toes when you sleep. Another fact: tell a stranger’s children this in the grocery store and you can watch the fun unravel.

La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese - Bologna, Italy

The first day of class I found myself in a sultry pasta laboratory adjacent to the professional kitchen which was busy preparing a tasting menu for guests soon to arrive. There were six large wooden top tables in the lab awaiting my newbie hands to glide across them, and behind me the pristine red and orange checkered walls were lined with various daunting sizes of rolling pins. Rolling pins thick and heavy enough that a frighteningly large Mafioso named Joey could probably use them to do serious damage to some sfoglia. And if you thought even for a second that Joey was going to succumb to rolling pin violence against another human being, then shame on you. Make-believe Mafioso Joey turned a corner in his life and is trying to be a positive influence, and maybe he should break your kneecaps to teach you a valuable lesson about being so judgmental.

La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese - Bologna, Italy; Garganelli

Not my hands, by the way.

 

La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese offers a spectrum of cooking courses for varying levels.  From beginner one-day demo classes up to three-month-long professional culinary studies, they cater to whatever aspirant culinary objective you seek. However, their specialty is, of course, pasta, and I had enrolled in one of their more popular curricula: the weeklong pasta making certification course.

La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese - Bologna, Italy; SfogliaLa Vecchia Scuola Bolognese - Bologna, Italy; Sfoglia

 

My week at LVSB felt more akin to serious on-the-job training than your typical cooking class. I was watched intently with every action, ensuring I complied with all professional standards, and no error was overlooked. With each faulty move, my instructor crept up behind me and said, “Allora, pay attention…” She would then grab my hands and run them across the sfoglia so I could feel my work for accuracy, as though I were circumnavigating the smooth terrain of a woman’s supple body.  Or maybe a piglet’s body, I don’t know, I’m not really familiar with the anatomy of either. But I’m sure the dough felt like something womanly and/or pig-like.

“Am I hurting you? Tell me if I hurt you, dear,” she’d ask as her grip tightened around my forearm, and I was sure it was a test.  “No,” I’d tell her through tears masked as sweat, trying desperately to keep my voice from cracking.

La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese - Bologna, Italy; Sfoglia; Tagliatelle La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese - Bologna, Italy; Sfoglia; Tagliatelle

We were made to adhere to industry standards of waste reduction and using only as much as needed to complete a quality product with the highest standard of ingredients hand picked by Alessandra herself. We developed various dough and then hand-formed tagliatelle, garganelli, ravioli, tortellini, tortelloni, farfalle, gnocchi, pappardelle and others after rolling the dough with exhaustive gusto into sizable, paper thin sheets.  By the end of the week my hands resembled that of sexual predator Brian Peppers: purplish-white, swollen, and under arrest. But now, with my semi-crippled hands and certification written completely in Italian, I proudly possess the skill to recreate the large, flowing, delicious, golden-yellow, authentically Italian sheets of pasta at home. Using my pasta roller.

La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese - Bologna, Italy; Sfoglia; Tortelloni

On my very last day my instructor shared a little bit of her background with me. She had come to La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese five years prior after leaving a 22-year-long profession as a photographer. She had grown disenchanted with the profession when the photography world moved from predominantly working in hand-processed darkrooms to digitized Adobe Lightroom. She said, “I need to work with my hands, and making pasta is such an art form. You work with your hands and you work with your heart, and when you get it right, it’s beautiful.”

And that it is.

 

For more information:

La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese

http://www.lavecchiascuola.com/

 

Handmade Tortelloni in Butter Sage Sauce

Handmade Cheese Tortelloni with Browned Butter Sage Sauce

Handmaking Pasta Picture Demo

*excuse the laughably horrible lighting, as you might recall my Italian apartment is an old renovated winery, so I have to work with what I’ve got!

Handmade Pasta Demo - Sfoglia

Handmade Pasta Demo - Sfoglia

Handmade Pasta Demo - Sfoglia

 

Handmade Tortelloni Picture Demo

Handmade Cheese Tortelloni Demo

Handmade Cheese Tortelloni Demo

Handmade Cheese Tortelloni Demo

Handmade Cheese Tortelloni Demo

 Ta daaaa!

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14 Comments

  • June 12, 2012 - 4:14 am | Permalink

    Uggghh yum….drooling excessively. I actually just made some gnocchi today. Although my stomach may hate me for stuffing more into it, I think it’s time to get back into the kitchen and whip up some of these.

  • Terry Peterman Eversole
    June 12, 2012 - 4:34 am | Permalink

    I’m soooo enjoying your blog! Keep livin’ the dream, cuz!!!

  • June 13, 2012 - 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Very nice! Looks really great.

  • June 13, 2012 - 10:36 pm | Permalink

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your pasta making experience! Your instructor sounded very serious and very passionate about making pasta. I loved her comment “….when you get it right, it’s beautiful!” Well, looking at the pictures of your tortellini, it looks like you definitely got it right! Gorgeous bowl of pasta!

    • June 17, 2012 - 11:15 pm | Permalink

      Thank you! They definitely meant business, but that’s the type of instructor I prefer. When someone can teach with a serious, no-nonsense passion, it invokes the same passion in me, which helps me understand the process and pick up the methods much faster.

  • June 14, 2012 - 2:24 am | Permalink

    I must head to Italy immediately and take this course! Thanks for a great post.

  • Pingback: Recipe for the Cleanest, Freshest Italian Marinara Recipe | Yum and Yummer

  • July 10, 2012 - 3:27 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful post! I studied in Italy in college, and I am dying to go back and do a culinary tour. You’ll be the first person I contact when I need resources…

    • July 30, 2012 - 7:21 pm | Permalink

      Thank you! And definitely don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions about tours/activities next time you come to Europe.

  • October 30, 2012 - 12:11 pm | Permalink

    It got really cold here overnight so I woke up today needing something to do to stay warm/not spend money on heating. So I made a batch of these guys. Thank you for having an easy to follow recipe that has broken my fear of making legit pasta from scratch. They’re so good, bravo!

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