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True Confessions: How I flunked making pasta in Italy. » Apart From My Art
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True Confessions: How I flunked making pasta in Italy.

I love cooking. I’m really good at it. You want Beef Wellington? I can roll with that. You want chocolate soufflé? It’s piece of cake. You want pâte feuilletée? Josephine would have flipped over it. But, I met my culinary Waterloo in Italy!

Villa in Chianti where Giuliano Bugialli holds his cooking class, Sandra Sallin, wooden spoons in the window

Chianti. A villa called, “Podere Il Bagno” in Cincino, near Florence.

It was my first day of a week-long cooking class with the famous chef, author and teacher, Giuliano Bugialli. We were going to learn how to make pasta, which would then be included in other dishes throughout the week. Each of my fellow erstwhile chefs was to learn all the ins and outs of the ultimate pasta from Il Maestro.

Stepping up to the raised preparation counter, Giuliano began to demonstrate the finer points of making pasta while I sat thinking, ” I can’t believe I’m really here!”

Gioliano Bugialli demonstrating how to make pasta

Giuliano Bugialli comes from an old Florentine family.  He is steeped in the classic tradition of Italian cooking and has written numerous cookbooks on the subject.

Giuliano Bugialli making perfect pasta in hi Cooking School

Look at how long he can roll his pasta. Thin, translucent and still holds together. He could roll it out the door!

Glancing at our upturned faces, he asked for a volunteer to join him in the process. Clueless as to what I was getting myself into, I raised my hand. Mistake. Note my ‘deer in the headlights’ look.

Giuliano_Bugialli teaching Sandy pasta making

Despite all of his efforts, I just didn’t have the touch. My pasta was pathetic: it was too dry, too moist, too thick, too thin, disintegrated or stuck together. Basic pasta making and I failed. Big time. Everyone of my classmates commiserated with me. One even gave me a glass of wine. I could have had two.

Sandy concentrating on making handmade pasta

Giuliano Bugialli teaching Sandy how to make pasta.

My pasta might have sucked, but the class thought Giuliano and I should have a television cooking show together. I was his perfect foil, my Gracie to his George Burns. But, still it was, “No! You do not pass. Try again. Fail! Let me show you. Fail! OK, let’s move on. Let’s see if others can do it.”

Beautiful handmade pasta

making fresh pasta

Our goal was to make Lasagne All’Anitra All’Aretina (lasagne with duck in the style of Arezz0). I mean, who knew that there was a style of lasagne? And Bugialli was a perfectionist. There was no throw this in and throw that in.This had to be authentic and that meant it had to have twelve (!) layers of thin, tender pasta.

Handmade pasta for lasagne


squares of home made pasta

I love this quote from Bugialli’s book, The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, “Only an authentic version of Peking duck matches the haughtiness with which the duck meat itself is treated after it is used to make the lasagna.”

Simply translated, he means that it’s complicated and delicious.

Staring at us over the top of his glasses, Il Maestro now instructs us to make our very best pasta for the duck lasagne and he will judge each small piece of this Arezzian puzzle. Only the finest, sheerest and most delicate pasta will be included. Standing imperiously in front of the pasta board, he asks us to line up with our individual offerings of pasta sheets. If they pass, they go on to a damp towel to be used later. If they fail, they will be flung with disdain into a waiting trash bin. Guess who’s pasta got flung with disdain? You’re right. Mine. But, I had a chance to redeem myself. Parsley.

Preparing duck lasagne

For this unique pasta, we needed parsley. But, you can’t just whack off a handful of parsley and chop it up stems and all. No, you must pull off each single leaf and then finely chop the delicate leaves.

picking and separating parsley leaves for Duck Lasagna

My personal scorecard for the day: Pasta: 0, Parsley: 100. And I had almost redeemed myself with Il Maestro. We went on to make the béchamel and cook the duck to his exacting standards. But, in my heart of hearts, I knew it was my parsley that made our Lasagne All’Anitr All’Aretina sing!

duck lasagne

Sandy in dining room of cooking schoolChe posto meraviglioso per imparare a cucinare!

For information regarding this superb cooking school: Giuliano Bugialli’s Cooking in Florence

Giuliano Bugialli

 Lasagne with Duck in the Style of Arezzo

Duck lasagne in the style of Arezzo

For the sauce:

1 fat domestic duck ( about 5 pounds) liver reserved
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon ( 1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
1 large red onion cleaned
2 large carrots scraped
1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic peeled
10 sprigs Italian parsley, leaves only
4 medium celery ribs
1/4 boiled ham in one piece
2 ounces prosciutto or pancetta in one piece
Salt, and freshly ground pepper, and freshly ground nutmeg
4 large, ripe, fresh tomatoes ( about 1 pound), or 1 pound canned tomatoes, preferably imported Italian, drained
1 to 2 cups meat or chicken broth, preferable homemade

For the pasta:

4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 extra-large eggs
4 teaspoons olive or vegetable oil
pinch of salt

The ingredients are simple:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 extra-large egg
A teaspoon of olive oil
Pinch of salt.
Coarse grained salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil or vegetable oil

For the Balsamella:

6 tablespoons (3 ounces ) unsalted butter
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
For the filling and topping:
8 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/3 cup unflavored bread crumbs, preferable homemade, from Tuscan bread

Make the sauce first:

Clean the duck very well, setting the lives aside, then sprinkle inside and out with salt and pepper. Put the tablespoon of butter inside the duck,, then place it in a large oval casserole, along with the olive oil. Put the casserole over medium hear and sauté the duck until it is lightly golden on all sides ( about 30-35 minutes). Meanwhile, chop the onion, carrots, garlic, parsley, celery, boiled ham, and prosciutto together, all very fine.

When duck is browned, add the chopped ingredients to the casserole and sauté gently for 25-30 minutes more, turning the duck over two or three times. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste and mix thoroughly.

Pass the fresh or canned tomatoes through a food mill, using the disc with the smallest holes, into a bowl and add them to the casserole. Simmer slowly, covered, for 1 hour, adding broth if the sauce becomes too thick, then remove the duck from the sauce. ( The cooked duck may be eaten separately, hut it is no longer necessary for this dish.) Chop the reserved duck liver very fine and add it to the sauce. =Taste for salt and pepper and let simmer for 5 or 6 minutes more.

Transfer the sauce to a bowl and allow it to cool for at least an hour. Remove half of the grease from the top.

Make fresh pasta using the ingredients fin the proportions listed above and stretch the layer of pasta for lasagna.

Make the balsamella, using the ingredients in the quantities listed, then transfer to a crockery or glass bowl, press a piece of buttered wax paper over the surface and let cool for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Butter a 13 1/2 x 8 3/4 glass baking dish generously, since in this type of lasagne no sauce is placed on the bottom, then fit in enough pre-cooked pasta squares to cover the bottom and allow about 1/2 inch to hang out over the edges all the way around. Cover the layer of pasta generously with the duck sauce, then sprinkle abundant grated Parmigiano over the sauce.

Make another layer of pasta (with no overlap) and repeat the procedure with sauce and Parmigiano. Keep making layers( this amount of pasta should make 6 or 7), putting sauce and Parmigiano over each layer except for the last. Cover the last layer with the balsamella and  cover the baslamella with bread crumbs. Fold the pasta edges over the ends of the bread crumb layer.

Bake in a preheated over for 20-25 minutes, then allow to cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Note this dish may be prepared a day in advance. If so, after the dish is assembled but not bake, wrap it in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator. When needed, unwrap and place in a preheated 400 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.


A side note. Arezzo is the Tuscan town which is home to the frescoes of the great Piero Della Francesco.

Adoration of the Holy Wood and the meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba by Piero della Francseca

Adoration of the Holy Wood and the meeting of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba by Piero della Francseca



All images appearing on True Confessions: How I flunked making pasta in Italy. are the expressed property of Sandra Sallin. All rights reserved. In other words, don’t steal it!

Facebook Comments
  • Randy - Pasta is so hard!! You’re a champ even trying it. And to be honest, I mostly can’t tell the difference between high quality dried pasta and homemade. So who needs it!ReplyCancel

    • sandra - I must say the fresh pasta was exquisite. So light, just lovely. BUT I CANNOT MAKE IT!ReplyCancel

  • Debra Eve - What an absolutely delightful and delicious story, Sandra. Hey, at least you got a glass of wine and you were in Italy! That trumps everything else. I’ve made really basic pasta, but I’ll admit that recipe isn’t anything I’ll be tackling soon.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Aw,Italy. I loved the whole exprience. Doesn’t matter if I’m a failure at pasta, I was so fortunate to have the experience.Bella Italia.ReplyCancel

  • Julie - Love it. The best part is your face in the photos!!!!ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Yep, deer in the healights. I was concentrating and trying so hard to learn everything.ReplyCancel

  • Susan Cooper - Fail or not, it does look like you had a blast. I would love to do that with my husband one day, who LOVES to cook too. It would be a dream come true. 🙂ReplyCancel

    • sandra - It was dream come true and worth every penny. Do it Susan. You’re such an inventive cook, you’d have a ball. And Giuliano is the real deal. He knows his stuff. My husband was a taster and photographer and loved every minute. I have friends who have taken the class two and three times.ReplyCancel

  • Susannah - LOVE this!!! More cooking stories please…great photos, writing, the recipe, your humor. Perfecto!!ReplyCancel

  • sandra - Susannah, I’m so glad you liked this. You know I never did make the Duck Lasagne at home. Want to help me????ReplyCancel

  • Amy - Wow! That looks amazing! I sometimes ruin pasta from box, so I can’t imagine trying to make it for real. It does not look easy, but it does look like you had a great time. 🙂ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Ha! Yes, it truly was memorable experience. Loved it all! Enjoyed the photos on your blog.ReplyCancel

  • Miche - Hello Sandra,

    Lovely documentation of the process of pasta making! And cool photos. It’s always hard to make it by hand. Thanks for sharing!ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Now, I just buy handmade pasta. Have not attempted the Duck Lasagna. But I have cooked other recipes from his class that I was a success making.ReplyCancel

  • Natalie the Singingfool - Um, you lived my dream. I scrolled through these photos twice. MAKING PASTA AND OTHER YUMMIES IN ITALY. I just…I have no words.ReplyCancel

    • sandra - It’s a wonderful dream to have and hope your dream comes true.ReplyCancel

  • Roshni - I’m such a non-cook that I’m not even going to read the delicious recipe! Totally commiserate about the pasta because it would have been much worse if it had been me up there!ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Aw, but you can make complicated Indian food. So we’re even.ReplyCancel

  • Kate - Come cook for me please!ReplyCancel

    • sandra - My pleasure. We could talk, blogs, writing, Julie and a glass of wine. Anytime you would like.ReplyCancel

  • kathy - Strangely, I prefer dry pasta to homemade. I sometimes find the homemade a bit “eggy” and soft. How do you think the duck sauce would be over dried pasta, like a rigatoni or something?ReplyCancel

    • sandra - Kathy- Go for it. I loved the lightness of the home made pasta. Remember, So this would have asimilar it also included a bechamel sauce with it. Nothing was over sauced. I mean how bad can duck sauce, bechamel and pasta be? We all said it was the best lasgna we had ever tasted.

      But I also remember having Boar ragu in Italy over dried pasta. That was superb also.I would think that this would be remeniscent of it.ReplyCancel

  • Tamara Woods - I loved this! One of my secret dreams is to learn how to cook authentic Italian food in Italy. I think I’ll probably have your knack for things. Thanks for commenting on my blog the other day, I left a comment response for you. I’m not sure if CommentLuv let’s people know if there’s a response, but just so you know…


    • sandra - Ciao bella. Thank you for letting me know that you answered my questions. It’s shame that CommnetLuv doesn’t let you know there is a response. I appreciate your help. Cooking in Italy is definitely worth the dreaming. But these days I do buy the pasta at the grocery store.ReplyCancel

  • julia hallingby - Sandy, I do remember the pasta difficulties… and your prowess at parsley!
    It was all great fun – should really return at some point.

    Glad to hear you are well and very busy…Bob, too.


    • sandra - Thanks Julia, You were one of the pros. You did everything so beautifully. Giiulianon aloud you to work on your own. That’s quite the compliment. And you looked beautiful doing it!

      Thanks for visiting.ReplyCancel

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