The Homemade Pasta Workshop at Cook's World is taught by the executive chef of Serafina, Dylan Giordan. The class is not hands on in the sense of having your own station; the chef stands at the kitchen counter with a mirror on the ceiling allowing you a side and top level view of what he is doing. Students sit at several small tables directly in front of the counter. They serve wine and you can get as involved as you want, asking questions and volunteering. There is some class participation, with one or two (sometimes three) people going up to the front of the room to knead dough, roll out gnocchi or help out in other ways. Or if you don't want to be involved you can just sit and drink wine and absorb the lesson. We made goat cheese ravioli, gnocchi and fettucine alla carbonara.
Dylan talked about the importance of salting your food at each step of the cooking process, not just at the beginning and not just at the end. He said you will end up with food that tastes like there is a single layer of salt in the food if you apply a single application. And why salt the pasta water? "The salted water infuses the pasta and the Italians say the water should be salty like the sea," he quoted. He is going back to Italy in the late spring and he said, "he hopes to get in some kitchens."
The gnocchi we made was soft and had a good texture and flavor. It was served with a marinara sauce. There were a lot of complaints about gnocchi preparation from the students and the final dough product that he produced (before cooking) was pretty sticky. Surprisingly sticky. Gnocchi can suffer from too much flour mixed in which will result in hard pellets or not enough flour, which results in watery, falling apart gnocchi. My experiences with gnocchi have suffered from the latter. When you are rolling out the gnocchi with your hands little scraps will end up separating from your dough and he recommends trashing them. If you work them in, he said, they aren't the same as the incorporated dough and will end up tearing the gnocchi. And when you roll the gnocchi out to cut it (this was one task I participated in), you don't push down very much, instead you kind of stretch and roll until it is the right shape.
The ravioli lesson was inspiring as I was really able to get a feel for how easy it is to make up your own ravioli recipes. He said the filling of ravioli can be almost anything. He suggested braised meat or chocolate fillings. For the chocolate he recommended frying the raviolis instead of boiling them. The filling needs to be something that really just needs to be warmed through, anything that needs to be cooked should already be cooked before it is put in the ravioli. The fresh goat cheese ravioli we made were light and delicious. They were also very salty but not in a bad way, in a way that shows how multiple applications of salt does work.
The best part of the night was the part where we ate food prepared by the executive chef of Serafina (with some help from the minions). The delicious fettucine alla carbonara, the goat cheese with sage stuffed ravioli with sage browned butter and gnocchi in a sweet marinara sauce. He was very generous with a giant chunk of parmigiano-reggiano that he grated over the food. He touted it as the best cheese ever, "I had a huge block of it in my fridge for two years one time, it almost never goes bad due to the low water content." He described specials that he had prepared at Serafina and his home cooking adventures as well. The descriptions of the interworkings of his home cooking were just as interesting as what went on in Serafina, more immediately applicable to our own cooking and entertaining too.