I Took This Pasta-Making Class in Florence, Italy & You Should, Too

Get ready for pasta, prosecco, and a bunch of new pals.

pasta class in Florence
Photos courtesy of Airbnb
Photos courtesy of Airbnb
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Next time you’re at an Italian restaurant, marveling at the silky texture of your fresh tortellini, wouldn’t it be nice to know how to make it? Such is one of many reasons to take a cooking class on your travels to the bel paese, which you’ll find can be booked in the same way as your accommodation: on Airbnb.

Airbnb Experiences offers more than 100 pasta-making classes to choose from in the Florence area alone, and even more throughout the rest of Italy. Whether you’d prefer to roll out fresh tagliatelle in a Chianti farmhouse, sleek restaurant kitchen, or rooftop overlooking Brunelleschi’s Dome, the choice is yours. Most classes boast that they’ll teach you how to cook like a “real Italian mamma,” and I’m sure they deliver. To me, it seems like the best way to learn about everyday cooking is to do it in someone’s home—which is how I recently ended up in Francesca’s pasta and gnocchi class, held in her spacious, art-filled apartment in a quiet neighborhood about a 40-minute walk from the center of Florence. The class made good on all it promised, and then some; in three hours Francesca taught me to cook a trio of homemade pasta dishes she learned from a combination of professional pasta makers and her own grandmothers. Throughout it all, the snacks, dessert, and prosecco never stopped flowing.

Some of the pasta we made | Photo by Sara Cagle

The Italian hospitality began when we walked in the door. Coffee was brewing, and a spread of black cherries and buttery shortbread cookies lay on the table. Francesca set up our pasta stations in the kitchen while our group of seven got to know each other in her living room. We were a varied bunch: a San Francisco-based accountant, an architect and English teacher from California's Central Coast, a British couple, a woman from Australia, and a Florence-based writer and private chef from Dallas (that's me).

First on our to-do list was making the pasta dough. Aprons on and hands washed, we stood around Francesca’s long wooden table, each with our own pile of flour. We used forks to slowly whisk an egg into the flour while Francesca floated around the table, making sure we mixed the paste “piano, piano,” slowly, slowly.

Though I went to culinary school in Florence and teach cooking classes myself, I found I had already learned something new from these first few moments of class as Francesca stressed the importance of gradual mixing for the smoothest dough, adding a tablespoon of olive oil for an extra velvety texture. After a few minutes of kneading, we each had perfect little dough babies, which we snuggled up in a tight plastic wrapping to allow the gluten to relax.

“The resting time is not an excuse to drink,” Francesca clarified as she refilled our prosecco glasses.

A snack of bruschetta | Photo by Sara Cagle

Maybe so, but resting the pasta seemed like a good excuse to snack. We refueled with bruschetta, tomato juice dripping abundantly onto our plates. Meanwhile, the kitchen filled with the aromas of our first sauce, garlic, oregano, and basil sizzling in a pan with tomato puree and olive oil. Though it’s not traditional, Francesca threw in a pat of butter at the end—my kind of finishing touch.

By now, our dough had finished napping, and we impressed ourselves with how thinly we were able to smooth it out with wooden rolling pins. We used Francesca’s Atlas Marcato 180 pasta machines to form some dough into spaghetti alla chitarra, a square-cut spaghetti that gets its name from the “guitar” tool it’s traditionally shaped with. Later, we tossed our spaghetti with summery pesto and cherry tomatoes.

The rest of the dough was reserved for the pièce de résistance, a generously filled pasta called cappellacci. To make it, we cut sheets of dough into squares and topped each with a mixture of spinach, Parmigiano, nutmeg, and silky fresh ricotta. Francesca taught us how to deftly fold the cappellacci into what looked like tortelloni (big ol’ tortellini).

making gnocchi
Forming the gnocchi | Photo by Sara Cagle

We moved onto our final dish, gnocchi, passing steaming hot boiled potatoes through a ricer, then folding in egg and flour until just combined. Francesca taught us how to find the sweet spot between not enough flour (your gnocchi will fall apart) and too much flour (your gnocchi will be tough). We rolled the dough into ropes and cut them into pillows, handling the dumplings as little as possible to maintain a tender texture. Each of our uniquely beautiful gnocchi piles, from Joe the Brit’s bodacious blocks to Gab the Australian’s dainty quadrilaterals, boiled briefly while we turned our workstation into a dining table. I’m sure Francesca’s neighbors heard our contented sighs when we finally sat down and rested our feet.

Our gnocchi were ready to eat first, and they were perfect—light and fluffy and just barely chewy, tossed in a mildly spicy tomato sauce. We’d switched to red wine by now and had all come comfortably out of our shells. I, for one, was especially happy to have had an opportunity to ask my British classmates about their thoughts on Love Island.

Some of the finished pasta dishes | Photos by Sara Cagle

The next course was our cappellacci, the pillowy pasta swimming in a rich, golden sauce with butter and sage. The flavors of each luscious bite worked in tandem, nutty Parmigiano balancing mild ricotta, fragrant nutmeg adding a subtle warmth.

“My nonna likes to claim that she invented cappellacci," Francesca told us as we ate, then added, "but it isn’t true."

With a third plate of food—our spaghetti al pesto—down, my classmates and I clinked glasses of limoncello as amateur pasta makers and new friends, chatting about everyone’s travels through Italy as we prepared to haul our happy bellies home.

You can arrange a private cooking class with Francesca, but the group event (capped at eight people) really allows her teachings and the food to shine. Plus, cooking with strangers allows you to collect more stories, and isn’t that what travel is all about?

Francesca's 3-hour Pasta & Gnocchi & Italian Sauces class is currently available for $63 per person, or for private groups of up to 12 people starting at $558.

Sara Cagle is an Italy-based freelance writer, private chef, and pasta enthusiast. Follow her @saracagle.
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