Culinary Classes in Umbria, Italy

I came to Italy a Sous-chef and left Italy a Master chef!  Just kidding.  I’m neither a chef nor a baker, but with the amount of cooking we did at Il Colombaio, I’m certain I can get around the kitchen a little better now!


Our first night at the Villa, we learned the Bruschetta making traditions in Italy, as well as how to properly pronounce the name of this tasty appetizer.

In Italy, bruschetta is grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil.  It is also commonly served with hummus or chickpeas, rosemary and cheese.  A third variation may be served with tomato, but this is not the primary way it is served like it is in the USA.


In Umbria, pizza is generally made without cheese!  We had a lesson with Antonietta. After she prepared the dough, we each patted a large handful into blobs, let them rise and then hand pressed them into a rectangular pans.

Then different toppings were added to each pan which included just red sauce; just tomatoes and olive oil; onion, olive oil and rosemary; grilled vegetables; and red sauce with chunks of fresh mozzarella.

We probably threw Antonietta for a loop when we wanted to add some meat for protein, but she only spoke Italian, so whatever she thought didn’t get translated to us!


Another day…another cooking lesson with Antonietta.  This time we made pasta. Antonietta made a big hole in a pile of flour and started adding eggs for the dough. She kneaded the dough mixture until she felt the right consistency.  Once it reached the correct consistency we rolled it out with a rolling pin.  Antonietta could make a perfect circle.  Ours weren’t quite as picturesque, but Kristi and Diana did a nice job.

With our dough, we made several types of pasta.  First, tortellini!  Antonietta had already made the pork filling (no cheese in tortellini in Italy).  Next, she cut circles of dough for us that we folded in half with filling, wrapped the half circle around our finger, pinched the ends together and then folded over the cap.  It was easier to make than I thought!

Then came crescent shaped ravioli that we closed together with the tongs of our fork. We already had good practice with filling the tortellini, so this was a quick success.

Antonietta continued with cannelloni.  She cut rectangles out of the dough and flash boiled it for ten seconds or less.  Only salt is added to water to boil pasta in Italy…no oil!  Also, the pasta is generally scooped out of the boiling water and is never rinsed. Antonietta scooped the rectangles out of the water.  We patted them dry, added ricotta cheese, and rolled them into a cylinder to make the cannelloni.

After cannelloni, we made tagliatelle.  Tagliare means to cut in Italian.  As such, tagliatelle is hand cut.  It is not run through a pasta cutting machine.  A circle of dough is folded on top of itself from two “sides” if circles have sides, so the result is a long, rectangle of folds.  Then, the dough is sliced thinly, lifted from the middle, and swung into a round cluster.  Antonietta could do this in seconds.  We took minutes! Regardless, it was fun, and it was a tasty dinner.


Paola has a special recipe for cherry crostata.  She taught us how to make it.  The secret ingredient was cinnamon.  Once she made the dough, we pressed it into individual pans, added cherry preserves, marked our desserts with a distinguishing deocration, and brought them upstairs to be baked. Guess which one is mine!


Irma is one of the folks who owns and runs Il Colombaio.  We got to learn from her mother, Anna, how to make Tiramisu.  What surprised me the most was to learn the meaning of Tiramisu…”lift me up” or “pull it up”.  It was served to clients in brothels to invigorate them!  I didn’t know that, but it was fun to hear as we learned how to make the dessert.

First we made mascrapone cream by hand stirring in the same direction mascarpone, egg yolks and sugar.  Then we carefully folded in stiffened egg whites.  Next we spread a little mascarpone cream on the bottom of the pan.  On top of the cream, we layered lady finger wafers briefly dipped in coffee.  On top of the wafers, we added more cream and a sprinkle of cocoa.  After three layers of lady fingers, we finished off our tiramisu with distinguishing decorations to tell which dessert belong to each person. Because of the meaning of tiramisu, I put lady fingers in a form of penis!  ETB