During the first months of my funemployment, I’d been looking for cooking classes decently close to Santa Monica – and had found a cooking school about twenty minutes away in Culver City that had an array of themed recreational courses.
Then my travel schedule grew a bit hectic, and so out of the four classes I’d booked, and I had to cancel all but this one last fresh pasta-making class on my last Thursday in Los Angeles.
I showed up a little late, so I had a front seat to Chef May explaining the four recipes for the night and demonstrating how to make the dough – using the uncracked egg to round out a crater of flour into which she then cracked the three eggs and used a fork to simultaneously beating the eggs and slowly mixing in the flour. She did this on a waist-level metal counter in front of us, molding a neat ball of dough in a matter of minutes. There was a slanted mirror hanging over the counter that provided a bird’s-eye view of the process, carried out with a matter-of-fact deftness.
Maybe they have them in other cooking school kitchens, but it was the first time I’d seen dough being made from that angle. In a totally normal, wholesomely American way, it was like having ceiling mirrors in the bedroom.
Anyway, the student body was somewhat eclectic, although generally older – a few married couples both new and old, three generations of one family’s women, two teachers who lived in the neighborhood, a housewife from Orange County. And me.
This was my first time making pasta dough, which had always seemed more complicated than a pile of good seminola flour and a corresponding number of eggs. Chinese dough concoctions (e.g., dumplings, bao) usually just involve flour and water, so using exclusively eggs was different (but really only philosophically). From a tactile and convenience perspective, the trick to the dough is figuring out the right time to put down the whisking fork and get your hands dirty. If too soon, the mix is still too wet and sticks to your fingers. When the dough feels appropriately gummy (I don’t know what that means, don’t ask) – once it felt like gluten had kicked in a bit – we smoothed out the surface a bit, placed the seran-wrapped boule in the fridge for some 20-30 minutes, and turned our attention to the fillings and sauces.
I’d picked the mushroom agnolotti station, so was chopping and sauteing mushrooms and onions while two other station-members worked on the pancetta-and-peas cream sauce.
Another (luckier) group got to watch this:
…turn into this:
Occasionally, Chef Mai would call us over to the different stations to teach us a particular part of the process – rolling out the dough via the pasta machine, how to fold circular cut-outs into agnolotti or tortellini, how to fold and press dough sheets into raviolis.
As it was for the Italian dessert pastry class I took in London, a part of this was just about doing something for the first time, especially something that in concept had seemed both technically daunting and culturally foreign. Once I had a better grasp of the relative simplicity of making dough, a larger set of possibilities opened up – from there, I could then think about different kinds of fillings and sauces. To continue upon the theme of ceiling mirrors, another takeaway was that the equipment matters a lot. Or rather, it makes life so much easier.
I think we’re still talking about pasta here.
So the course focused on stuffed pastas – and while it would’ve been nice to learn how to make a fettuccine, rigatoni, or perhaps gnocchi, the course as it was set up made a lot of sense thematically, and had a manageable diversity of fillings and sauces.
Recently, I made the agnolotti again after moving out to Shanghai – good seminola flour and ricotta (which features in basically all the stuffing recipes) were hard to find and, when found, very expensive. But the more annoying part was trying to roll out sheets of dough. I didn’t even have a rolling pin, much less a pasta machine – I ended up using, in succession, a can of beer, a bottle of vinegar, and a handle of Absolut vodka. At least you can’t fault the effort, right?
New School of Cooking
8690 Washington Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232