When my favorite Chicago pasta shop, Pasta Puttana, announced that they were offering pasta making classes, I signed up immediately. The two and a half hour class was lead by shop owner Jessica Volpe, and covered making lasagna and ravioli. The class was held right at the Pasta Puttana shop on Grand Street, and it gave attendees a glimpse into how the shop cranks out 100 pounds of pasta per day.
We started by rolling out the dough. Prior to opening Pasta Puttana, Jessica spent time experimenting with different flours and different techniques to make the best pasta possible. The pasta is rolled through the Atlas pasta machine several times until it reaches the proper thickness. Then the large sheets of pasta were put on racks to dry out a bit.
Then we moved on to preparing the filling for the ravioli. Jessica toasted sage and then added it to roasted pumpkin and brown butter. The crisp sage leaves complimented the pumpkin nicely.
Jessica uses very traditional pasta making techniques. She places scoops of filling on the dough, spacing them about two inches apart. She places filling on just half of the pasta sheet, and then flips the other side of the dough over the filling. Each ravioli is sealed by hand and then a pasta cutter is used to separate the raviolis. Jessica made it look easy, but getting all the air bubbles out of the ravioli took practice.
Jessica studied in Rome, and her pasta are very traditional Italian pastas. They aren’t as heavy or as loaded with cheese as American-Italian pasta dishes. We learned how to prepare the tomato sauce and cheesy bechamel lasagna that is sold in the store.
I was impressed that Jessica went out of her way to accommodate a dairy free student. She made a special daily free bechamel sauce, which was very creamy even though it was made without dairy.
The lasagna had a much lighter taste than the ricotta and mozzarella filled American-Italian lasagna. The flavor of the fresh lasagna sheets wasn’t overwhelmed by all of the other ingredients. The bechamel and the tomato sauce blend together and become a deliciously creamy tomato sauce.
The best part of the class is that we got to go home with everything we made. I loved the rustic lasagna. It was very filling – the two of us couldn’t finish it. The same lasagna is sold at the store and at farmers markets in the Chicago area. The pumpkin ravioli was just as wonderful. I served it with just a bit of butter and a sprinkle of Parmesan. Next time I make butternut squash ravioli I will definitely be adding crispy sage leaves to the filling.
For more information on Pasta Puttana, check out their website or stop into the store at 1407 West Grand Street in Chicago. The class was a very enjoyable way to spend an evening, and I learned some great new pasta making techniques.