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


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


Handmade Tortelloni in Butter Sage Sauce

Handmade Cheese Tortelloni with Browned Butter Sage Sauce

[print_this]Recipe: Handmade Tortelloni in Browned Butter Sage Sauce


Preparation time: 1 hour(s)

Cooking time: 10 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4


For the sfoglia

  • 300 grams of tip 00 flour (or roughly 2.5 cups)
  • 3 whole eggs

For the filling

  • ¾ cup sheep’s milk ricotta
  • ¾ cup cow’s milk ricotta
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese aged 24 months (less for a milder flavor)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 egg

For the sauce

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 5 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
  • Salt to taste (about ¼ tsp)


For the sfoglia

  1. Place flour on a clean countertop and make a well in the center of the flour using your fingers and moving it in a circular motion moving all flour from the center of the well into the walls. Be sure that the walls of the well are even in width.
  2. Crack eggs into the center of the well and begin to whisk vigorously with a fork, making sure to incorporate air bubbles into the eggs.
  3. Slowly scrape away bits of the flour wall and whisk into the eggs, taking equal amount from each side of the wall. Continue to incorporate more flour from the wall into the egg until it is thick and no longer runny.
  4. Push remaining flour overtop the egg mixture and evenly spread throughout flour, mixing and scraping from the table as you work. Continue doing this until it is difficult to mix any further with the fork.
  5. Use a scraper to scrape the sticky yolk from your counter and use your hands and begin lightly kneading the sfoglia, making sure to incorporate air into it as you fold.
  6. Continue adding flour until the sfoglia is no longer sticky — but not to the point of being dry — and continue kneading, incorporating more flour until the sfoglia is firm, yet still elastic and moist.
  7. Cut in half and feel the cut side of the sfoglia. If it is smooth to the touch (air bubbles are okay), then you’re done kneading. If not, continue kneading and performing this test until the inside of the sfoglia is smooth.
  8. When the sfoglia is cut in half, roll into two equal sized balls, lightly dust with flour and place them into two separate Ziplock bags. Dividing the sfoglia and rolling each ball separately will be easier than rolling one large ball.
  9. Set aside and let rest for 20 minutes while you prepare the filling.

For the filling

  1. Place all ingredients except for the salt, pepper and egg into a large mixing bowl and mix well, ensuring a smooth consistency.
  2. Add salt and pepper gradually, tasting mixture until the taste is at your liking.
  3. Add egg and mix well. Cover and place in fridge.

To assemble

  1. *Please refer to photo instructions at the bottom of the post. The ricotta used in the photographs was a firmer, dryer ricotta than what you should use and yours will come out smoother and white as opposed to chunky and yellow. It was the only ricotta available in stores on a Sunday afternoon in Italy, what can you do?
  2. Roll sfoglia out to a thickness of about 1/8 of an inch on a lightly floured countertop, making sure the dough does not get dry.
  3. Cut into 1 ½ inch squares and pipe filling evenly into each square.
  4. Spray lightly with water from a spray bottle and work from the outside into the center. Cover the remainder of the pasta with plastic wrap while you work on the outside so it does not get dry out.
  5. Pick up a square and stretch the sides – do not stretch the corner (picture 1).
  6. Line up two opposite corners and pinch to seal, pinch and seal the sides form a triangle (pictures 2 and 3).
  7. Crease (but do not fold) the side of the tortelloni and pinch the very end. (picture 4)
  8. Crease the opposite side just as you did with the first side and while still pinching the end of the first side, bring side 2 over to side 1 and pinch them together firmly so they cannot unravel. (pictures 5 and 6).
  9. Set aside to dry for a few moments on a lightly floured countertop and bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  10. Salt the water generously and toss in the tortelloni for about 3 or 4 minutes and remove from water as they float to the top.
  11. *Note: It is important that the sfoglia you make is firm, yet pliable and not rolled out too thinly. If it is too thinly rolled or too soft, your filling can leak through the dough before you get the chance to cook it. This is not good!

For the sauce

  1. Heat butter in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat until it begins to brown.
  2. Remove from heat and add chopped sage.
  3. Add salt to taste.
  4. Place cooked tortelloni in with the sauce and toss to coat.
  5. Serve while hot.


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!

Similar Recipes from Other Bloggers:


14 thoughts on “My Week as a Sfoglini and How to Make Authentic Italian Tortelloni by Hand

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

    • 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.

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

  4. 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!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s