Our short trip to Bologna was inspired by the desire to eat and learn a little more about the gastronomy of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.
Even though Bologna is not in the same overly touristic route as other Italian cities such as Rome, Venice or Florence, it may sound familiar to some because of the popular dish “Spaghetti Bolognese”. Once you arrive in Bologna, it won’t take you long to realize that this popular recipe is not even a thing around here! Bolognese stands for the typical ragu sauce which is indeed locally consumed, but that never ever goes on top on spaghetti. Instead, the meaty ragu sauce is poured on top of thicker tagliatelle pasta, which has enough surface to embrace the little chunks of minced pork and beef, before you roll everything in your fork and take it to your mouth.
To learn about Italian food and, in particular, about the culinary treasures from Emilia Romagna, I decided to take a cooking class with Barbara and Valeria, at Il Salotto di Penelope. I wasn’t going to trust the internet, waiters at any given restaurant or travel guides to learn more about about Bologna’s food culture. I wanted everything first hand, from local food lovers who’d talk about ingredients and their usage beyond the obvious. In fact, I was craving even more: I wanted to learn how to cook the local specialties to be able to recreate them later at home!
Il Salotto di Penelope is a pleasant space in a picturesque residential area of Bologna. The workshop is spacious, receives great natural light and, as the morning advances, gets filled with enticing smells and accompanying smiles.
During a morning class, I learnt how to make several fresh pastas from scratch, as well as the sauces that were to complete the dishes. On the menu, we had the local favorite Tagliatele al Ragu, stuffed Tortelloni and Gnocchi al Pomodoro. Even though I had the chance to make fresh pasta from scratch for the first time last year, in the Southern region of Puglia, I was eager to perfect the technique. Furthermore, each region of Italy makes pasta in a rather different manner. For example, while in Puglia there were no eggs involved, in Emilia Romagna these are essential to add elasticity and protein content to the dough.
After taking this class and learning the techniques which were shared in such an accessible manner, I think making fresh pasta is quite a laborious process, but one that it would be fairly easy to recreate no matter where in the world you are… as long as you have the time! That is the beauty of Italian cuisine as compared to other cuisines I had the pleasure to learn a few dishes from during our travels: when it comes to Italian cooking, the list of necessary ingredients is not that long, nor particularly complicated. Flour, eggs, veggies (very good tomatoes or, at least, good quality passata!) and cheeses may be all you need to get started.
Making fresh dough and shaping it into different pastas was what I mainly came to this cooking class for – I was thrilled to roll my own stuffed tortelloni in this hands-on workshop! Yet the biggest revelation for the foodie in me were the gnocchi. Italian cuisine is one of my favorites in the whole wide world. But gnocchi had never made it to my list of preferred Italian foods. Past experiences abroad had left me thinking that these potato dumplings were generally chewy, starchy and certainly not as gracious to the palate as other fresh pastas. Turns out I just hadn’t had the pleasure to taste well-made fresh gnocchi before!
Our Gnocchi al Pomodoro were soft, fluffy and a perfect canvas to soak in the tomato and basil sauce we cooked to bathe them with. I am happy this class changed by thoughts on gnocchi, as afterwards I got to experience other really good dishes involving gnocchi eating out in Bologna.
Julia Child once said “People who love to eat are always the best people”. I’d say that those who, not only love to eat but also love to cook and have the capacity to feed tummies and souls with the recipes they craft, are even better! I want to belong to the later group and, this cooking class at Il Salotto di Penelope, has just taken me one delicious step further!
Price per person: 85 Euro / morning class; 90 Euro / afternoon class
Tel. 051 6493627
Via San Felice 116/G, 40122 – Bologna