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Give a Man a Bowl of Pasta…

…and you feed him for a day; teach a man how to make pasta and you feed him for a lifetime.

Second only to enjoying a bowl of steaming pasta is the pleasure of making your own, which is what five people did here last Sunday. It does involve work. But as several of them said afterwords, “This was easier than I thought it would be!” This was my thought, too when I learned to make several hand-formed pasta shapes at a cooking school in southern Italy.

Making orecchietteWe did make pasta when I was growing up, but it always seemed like a big production. I underestimated how quickly you can make enough pasta for a few people when you have the supplies handy.

The lovely thing about hand-formed pasta is that most are made with only flour and water, maybe a little salt depending on the recipe. You can’t get much more basic than that.

Hands are wonderful tools. We don’t use them nearly enough (keyboards don’t count).

Part of the charm of hand-formed pastas is that they don’t look perfect. And their taste is superior to factory pasta. Because you are literally making it with your hands, you don’t need any special tools, like a pasta machine. Above, Cheryl forms orecchiette, or “little ear” pasta.

At several points in the evening all was quiet, leaving me to wonder if the participants were enjoying themselves. Getting into the rhythm was what they were doing. It’s easy for that to happen, especially with a flour-dusted glass of wine next to you and The Big Night soundtrack crooning in the background (both are a requirement in my kitchen). One participant, not daunted by the existence of hundreds of pasta shapes, was ready to create her own.

This willing crew made three pastas—orecchiette, minchiareddhi (both traditional shapes from Puglia), and sombreroni, or Mexican hats, which are wonderful for collecting sauce, especially the lamb ragu that bubbled away on the stove.

Which sauce goes with which pasta? It’s a frequently asked question and one that can be answered in part by this beautiful book, The Geometry of Pasta (affiliate link). This is like the missing manual of pasta, and one that I wish I’d conceived of and designed.

The truth about sauce and pasta shape pairing is this: it’s mostly tradition, which means, my mother did it this way and so did her mother and her mother before that. What is tradition practically becomes law. That’s not to say that certain shapes don’t beg certain sauces. There is some logic to the consistency of a sauce and which shapes they best cling to in a satisfying way. You never see penne alfredo on a menu. But that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with it. You just have to ignore all the Italians clutching their chests and groaning “Madonna mia!” A chunky vegetable sauce, for example, is harder to eat with spaghetti than with a short pasta like penne or farfalle (bowtie).

Below, participants are forming a stash of pasta. Inverted bowls keep the remaining dough from drying out as you work on small bits at a time.

A mix of semolina and barley flour was used for all three shapes. You can also use all semolina, but in Puglia, they often mix in a nutty, heartier flour which results in a more rustic pasta. Originally, this would have been grano arso — bits of burnt grain that were gathered by the poor from the fields after they were burned, collecting what the gleaners had overlooked. As a result, pasta had smokey flavor.

Orecchiette is a tricky shape to make but once you get the hang of it, you can get on a roll. Its cup-like shape and knife marks (from dragging the dough across a board with a knife) allow sauce to cling to the pasta beautifully.

Participants were treated to a traditional lamb ragu which is a great sauce for all the shapes. The most traditional Puglian dish, aside from fava bean puree, is orecchiette con cime di rapa, however. Another good sauce pairing is a fresh salsa of sauteed garlic and cherry tomatoes, topped with fresh basil and shaved ricotta salata.


If you’re interested in a fun group activity, talk to me! It’s a great way to shift gears, get creative, work with a team, or just loosen up a bit. And you’ll take away a skill to impress, and feed, your friends and family with…for a lifetime.

“I would have never tried pasta-making alone. Making pasta with a group was fun, because even if my pasta making skills flopped, I at least got to spend time with and learn with others.” —Sierra


Interested in this class as a team-building exercise or just fun activity for your employees? Visit Team Pasta.


  1. Eileen says:

    Fabulous – wish I could come and take lessons. They look as good as the nonna pastas in the youtube videos, and I just learned several interesting new pasta facts. I love the sombreroni!

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