Back to (Italian cookery) school


Pupils and teachers at Villa Pia’s Italian cookery class

One of the opportunities offered to guests at Villa Pia is a two-hour Italian cookery class in which pupils can learn how to make pasta, gnocchi, various sauces, and other dishes including desserts. I cook a lot at home but jumped at the chance to learn more about authentic Italian home cooking (also it was two hours without parenting duties). So, along with two of my fellow holiday-makers, Ruth and Helen, I signed up.

It’s amazing what you can put together in two hours (especially when you have two experienced Italian cooks zipping around preparing, clearing away and giving instructions). By the end of the session, we had produced:

  1. Gnocchi in a truffle sauce
  2. Spinach and ricotta ravioli (one batch in a sage and butter sauce and another in a tomato and chilli sauce)
  3. Aubergine parmigiana
  4. Panna cotta
  5. Zuccotto

The fruits of our labour (the Zuccotto was still setting in the fridge)

As I said, I do cook a lot making pasta and gnocchi put me well out of my comfort zone. Or so I thought anyway. I was surprised to find that gnocchi is pretty easy to make. Simply boil some potatoes, then put them through a ricer (or you can use a mouli). Then add an equal weight of flour, make a mound with a hole in the middle, and crack an egg into it. Slowly combine until you have a nice dough, adding flour if it’s too sticky. Then divide into balls and roll into long thing sausages before cutting into little gnocchi. It’s that simple!

Once they’re prepared, just drop them into a pan of boiling, salted water and cook for 3-4 mins (depending on the size of your gnocchi). You don’t need to worry about under or over cooking though, as when they’re done they pop up to the surface! We then combined our cooked gnocchi in a pan with some truffle salsa, garlic, parsley and cream and tossed together.


The pasta was fairly straight-forward too, although there was no pasta machine to help us out, just a rolling-pin. The key here was to roll the pasta as thin as possible without tearing or putting holes in it. Then getting just the right amount of filling for each parcel – too much and the filling is liable to leak out, too little and it’s all pasta. The ravioli was boiled and combined with really simple but delicious sauces. Simplicity seems to be the theme here; classic Italian cooking like this is remarkably simple.

The Panna Cotta continued this theme – there was no more to it than mixing cream and sugar in a pan over a moderate heat and, once it was just about boiling, whisking in some gelatine. Then we just poured into foil moulds and refrigerated until they set. Once they came out of the fridge, we topped with stewed berries.

Panna Cotta

Panna cotta with frutta di bosco (fruits of the forest)

I had a great couple of hours cooking some great Italian food and learning some new skills into the bargain. I’m definitely going to be making my own gnocchi at home – something that a false perception of it being difficult and fiddly had always put me off doing.

Our fellow Villa Pia residents were delighted with the outcome too!



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