We had booked a cooking class through the website withlocals.com— an online service that allows you to take part in many different activities with people from around the area you are visiting. We knew we were taking somewhat of a risk– who knew what kind of person would be teaching us to cook, what food we would make, or how comfortable we would feel in a stranger’s house? Our apprehensions were forgotten the moment we entered Roberto‘s house– a Roman native with a big smile, a beautiful, bright kitchen, and a passion for cooking. His two children– a daughter and son– joined us during our magical night filled with fresh pasta dough and conversation that flowed easily as Roberto made us feel completely comfortable and welcome.
We started immediately (after putting on the aprons Roberto supplied for all three of us) and began mixing together the dough. I didn’t know exactly what ingredients pasta dough contained, and I was surprised to find out that all it needed was eggs, flour, and a little bit of salt. Roberto arranged a mixture of three different kinds of flour, which he said were essential in creating the perfect pasta flavor, in a circle on the large wooden kitchen table. Then, he instructed us to crack four eggs into the center of the circle– a task we completed carefully as Roberto, the master chef, watched over our shoulders. He poured a little bit of salt into the egg/flour combination and then started mixing. We all took turns. Slowly but surely, the eggs and flour and salt formed together into a beautiful sticky dough that Roberto then told us needed to be kneaded with love and care. He showed us how to knead the pasta dough– just as his grandmother had shown him– and we took turns doing this too, until it was of the perfect consistency. Then, we rolled it out with a giant rolling pin until it was very thin. Next, we cut the dough into long strips to make Fettuccine and set them out to dry. We were awestruck– the strips of pasta were perfect and delicate and we had made them… in less than 25 minutes. I immediately added “Make own pasta” to my summer bucket list for when I get home (we’ll see how that goes).
As the pasta dried, we enjoyed a plate of cheeses, ham, and olives prepared by Roberto. We talked and talked… it was as if we had known him for longer than an hour. We asked him questions about his time in Rome and travels around Europe and he asked us questions about our lives. We laughed and talked until it was time to start preparing the sauce for our beautiful, beautiful pasta. The sauce was incredibly simple… another recipe I will try at home. Roberto combined cherry tomatoes, olives, olive oil and garlic into a saucepan and let it sit for a bit. We plopped the Fettuccine into a boiling pot of water, and since it was so fresh, it would only take about four minutes until ready.
Roberto plated the pasta and sauce, gracefully grated fresh Parmesan cheese into the tops of our pasta heaps, and dinner was served. “Bon appetite,” his son said, and with that, I dug in to the best bowl of pasta I had ever eaten.
When I look back on this night, I think about the many new things I experienced—bowls made of flour, kneading fresh pasta dough, etc. But the most important one does not have to do with the food we cooked and ate. It has to do with the person we cooked and ate with, who had a different age, culture, and life experience compared to all of us. And yet, it was one of the most comfortable, fun nights I have had during my time abroad. That cooking class was so much more than a cooking class– it was a special reminder to look outside my comfort zone that I will enter when I return home because, as I learned, it can actually still be quite comfortable.