I consider myself to be competent in a kitchen, but if you want to unsettle me quickly, just ask me to make you some homemade pasta. I’ve long considered pasta to be fussy and irretrievably beyond my skill set. In an attempt to conquer my fear, I asked for and received a manual pasta roller last Christmas, which I’ve used unsuccessfully twice since then.
Rather than concede defeat and put the pasta roller away for good, I signed up for The Chopping Block’s one-day Pasta Bootcamp hoping they would be able to cure me of my “pastaversion.” I was glad I did because Chef Erin Patsiopoulos and her staff (Stephanie and Ida) were able to do more for me in six hours than I’d accomplished over the previous three months on my own.
With six students in our session, we received a lot of attention and guidance from Chef Erin and her assistants. We were divided into groups of three and were told we would be creating an ambitious roster of pastas both by hand and using manual pasta rollers. Before we started, Chef Erin quickly demonstrated dough making via food processor, but the focus for the bootcamp was on the two other methods mentioned. We began by making three types of dough: egg pasta (a white version as well as a black version that included squid ink), ricotta pasta, and semolina pasta. A fourth type, Ligurian white wine pasta, was prepped for us in advance.
I jumped in with both feet and volunteered to prepare the white and black egg doughs. If I was going to conquer my fear, why not double-down and include an ingredient — squid ink — that I’d never used before. Chef Erin mentioned several times, “Pasta wants you to be confident,” so I showed no fear and was surprised at how easily the doughs came together. Once the doughs were made, we set about making the filling for our first dish, which we also would be enjoying for lunch: pansotti (Ligurian ravioli filled with ricotta and bitter greens in a walnut sauce). Each member in our group made a set of pansotti using the pasta rollers. We each contributed to the filling, boiled up the pasta, and then shared the dish at a communal table with our other bootcampers. The final product was amazing, but I was too busy relishing my first victory of the day to take a photo. I learned my lesson though.
After lunch, we turned our attention to the white/black striped pasta, which we turned into farfalle (bowties) using the pasta rollers, hand cut and stacked, shaped, boiled, and ultimately combined with shrimp and zucchini to serve as a cold salad.
We eschewed the pasta rollers in favor of our hands to create cavatelli alla matriciana, a spicy dish made with panceta and San Marzano tomatoes; busiati (spiral pasta) with broccoli rabe and sausage; and orecchiette (tiny ears), which we boiled and then sat to dry so that we could take them home. We were told that we would be eating again once these dishes were finished.
Even though we were still full from lunch, we enjoyed these three new dishes as well and were hard pressed to agree on which was our favorite. My one regret was forgetting to pack up our orecchiette with our other leftovers to take home. However, that disappointment was short-lived because now I’m totally confident in my ability to make these and other pasta dishes on my own.
Classes at The Chopping Block are designed for “recreational” cooks — folks who are interested in learning because they enjoy cooking. If that sounds like you, or your significant other, or your friends, or your kids (or your friends’ kids), I encourage you to give their classes a try.
Now, if there’s something The Chopping Block can do to help me address my remaining fears of clowns, bugs, and shifty-eyed dogs, count me in.
The Chopping Block has two locations in Chicago: The Merchandise Mart and 4747 N. Lincoln.