Cook like an Italian

If you’re like me, pasta is something you boil into an edible state from its natural, dry state. But perhaps, when tossing the plastic-wrapped spaghetti into your cart in the grey gleam of the supermarket strip light, you have daydreamed about another possibility.

To stand around a wooden table, music in the background, laughing among friends with a glass of wine in one hand and the handle of the pasta machine in the other, spinning it while transforming the fresh, natural dough into perfect tagliatelle. All while an expert chef guides the group, tells you the secrets behind a filling ragù, laughs and toasts with you, like a reverse Gordon Ramsay.

Meet Mauro – the most good-humoured chef you’ll ever have the chance to cook with!

Mauro and his lovely wife Viola run Montese Cooking Experience just outside San Gimignano, with amazing views to the medieval Tuscan village. They invite anyone interested to cook with them in their home, around their kitchen table and it’s an unforgettable experience.

They will tell you the trick behind a workable pasta-dough (egg yolk) and the filling ragù (more olive oil than you’d imagine!) that I used to call “Bolognese sauce”. Together with an intimate group of fellow foodies, you can embark on a little gastronomical adventure, make friends while doing it, have fun and have a wonderful meal.

Being generous folks, Mauro and Viola agreed to let us share their recipes with you, so you’ll have chance to cook a true, Tuscan meal. And if you want it to taste better, you just have to go to Tuscany and visit Mauro!

Fresh Pasta

This is the backbone of the Italian national dish and can be transformed into a number of varieties like spaghetti, tagliatelle, pappardelle, ravioli, gnocchi etc. The trick behind getting a thick, workable dough is to use egg yolk, some handiwork and store the dough in the fridge 1/2 hour before use.

You can use a pasta machine to work and cut the dough, but you can also just do it with a rolling pin. In the final cutting of the pasta, it’s only the width of the cut pasta that decides whether it’s tagliolini (2-3 mm.), tagliatelle (5 mm.) or pappardelle (13 mm.). The thicker your sauce, the thicker you want to cut your pasta,

Ravioli with spinach and ricotta

We refrain from cutting up one dough of pasta in order to prepare the small gift-wrapped presents for your stomach: Ravioli. A mixture of spinach and ricotta cheese is scooped onto the fresh, thinly rolled pasta. Then a top layer of pasta is added and the filling is sealing between the two layers.

Cut the ravioli and cook them on a pan with butter and sage. Serve with freshly grated parmesan. Then you don’t have to add salt.

Tagliatelle with ragù sauce

So this is basically the fresh pasta we did earlier, together with what I was taught to call a “Bolognese sauce” but in Italy is simply called ragù di carne – meat sauce. Now, the recipe only says 2 spoons of olive oil but in reality, Mauro used much more than that – more like 2 decilitres.

Perhaps that IS the secret behind this satiating, hearty dish. It’s really easy to make – and the longer you cook it, the better it gets!!

Tiramisu

This recipe is easy to make and will look great on your table since it’s arranged in a glasses. You don’t have to use the so-called Ladyfingers or Savoiardi biscuit. Anything from a sponge biscuit to the rock hard cantucci can be used – it’s just a question of how long to soak them in strong coffee to let them absorb the brew and become soft.

This Italian dessert classic literally means “pick me up”. Just how much you need to be “picked up”, is decided by how strong you make the coffee to soak in the biscuits.  And when you’ve arranged the dessert and sprinkled the top with cocoa, you’re allowed to lick the bowl!

It’s a quintessential Italian experience to cook together with a native Italian, preparing the food from scratch and perhaps even making it something to do for the whole family. There’s nothing better to cure a fussy eater than to make them prepare the food themselves and it should be a part of any kid’s gastronomic education.

If you’re not game on getting it on with gastronomy yourself, you can also get Mauro and Montese Cooking Experience to come and cook for you while you’re on holiday in the San Gimignano countryside. To find a farmhouse or apartment with a kitchen of your own, check out the local rental agency WeTuscany. Either way – you’re in for treat!

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