I had my first taste of making and eating fresh pasta a few years back when I was making gnocchi with Ant’s mum. The soft pillows of fluffy potatoey goodness paired with a simple (but tasty) ragu served with slowly cooked ribs still sends my mouth watering today. I actually haven’t made pasta from home yet but I know it is fairly easy to make (if you have a pasta machine). Unfortunately I do not have an italian nonna to teach me how to make pasta but was fortunate to be chosen to attend a Pasta Masterclass held at Alio Restaurant and Bar.
On a very cold Sunday morning, my friend Jenny and I made our way into Surry Hills for what promises to be a fun and educational day filled with great food. Before the class started, we had a coffee and talked briefly to Tracey (the co-owner and sister of head chef Ashley Hughes at Alio). She tells us that these classes are currently offered to corporate companies but will soon be offered to the public in August.
I initially thought that we were actually going to have hands-on practice making gnocchi and roasted pumpkin ravioli as advertised but the class turned out to be a demonstration of Ashley making rotolo and various types of pasta along with making fresh herb-studded focaccia and a few side dishes for us have at lunch. There was about 10 of us and the demonstration went on for about 2 hours. Ashley starts off by making the pasta dough (made daily since the opening of the restaurant) and it rests at room temperature for about 20 minutes before it’s rolled out to sheets. He makes it all seem so easy with the speed that he cranks the pasta machine; which no doubt comes from the years of experience that he has had. Besides rotolo, he shows us how to make various pasta types for example linguine, pappardelle, fettucine, ravioli and tortellini. When making filled pasta, air is not your friend; make sure you have no air pockets in your pasta otherwise it will fall apart when you cook your pasta.
During the time that we were waiting for the pasta dough to rest Ashley makes up a filling for the rotolo. Rotolo is a versatile pasta dish where sheets of pasta are rolled with various fillings (think of a Swiss roll). Today’s rotolo filling was spinach and ricotta with mushrooms. Ashley sautes chopped mushrooms in butter and the smells of buttery mushrooms send me to heaven. I love mushrooms, especially when they are simply sauteed in butter! Then he briefly cooks baby spinach until they are warm to touch (it is better to under-cook than overcook them at this stage because the rotolo would be cooked for 20 minutes). The spinach is then drained, roughly chopped and added to a mixture of ricotta and various hard cheeses. The reason why this dish is so versatile is because you can use any filling you have on hand for this dish; the options are endless. Just keep in mind that it is ideal to cool off the fillings before rolling them up in the pasta.
Once the fillings are cooled, he lines the pasta sheets to cover a cloth and spreads the ricotta and spinach mixture over the top, leaving a 2cm border around the edges and lines the mushroom mixture on one side of the rotolo (so that they are in the centre of the roll when served). Then it’s a matter of bringing the cloth up towards you gently and letting the rotolo roll itself. The ends are tied with kitchen string and cooked in a fish kettle (an elongated pot) for 20 minutes and it is as simple as that.
Also in the meantime, Ashley shows us how he makes the focaccia that they make daily at the restaurant. As he was kneading and shaping the dough I couldn’t help but think how wonderfully soft the dough looked. He filled the baking tray with the dough, massaged a mixture of rosemary and thyme, salt and olive oil onto the dough, let it rise and massaged all the delicious topping into the dough by pinching pocketfuls of dough. After 20 minutes of baking, he opens up the oven door and the aroma of freshly baked bread suddenly fills the room. Then it is a matter of drizzling more olive oil over the top; which is fantastic because the pockets in the dough collect all the olive oil. YUM!
For our lunch banquet, Ashley makes up a few side dishes for us to have with our rotolo. These included a simple rocket and parmesan salad, a tomato and mozzarella salad drizzled with a 25 year old balsamic vinegar and pan fried olives with garlic, chili, bay leaf and rosemary. We also had hand rolled grissini (thin bread sticks) that are made fresh at Alio. I could imagine myself snacking on those with some prosciutto (ahh… the simple pleasures in life). I LOVED the pan-fried olives; I was so tempted to finish off the entire plate! I wished there was more of a chili kick to it though but I guess Ashley had to keep it mild just in case the others couldn’t handle it. The freshly made focaccia was heavenly; nothing beats soft, fluffy bread straight out of the oven drizzled with copious amounts of good quality olive oil. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about it was that I only had one piece of it! The tomato and mozzarella salad and rocket and parmesan salad were simple and tasty. All this was served with a nice glass of moscato which was lightly bubbled and not too sweet.
And now for the main star of the show; the rotolo. The pasta was silky smooth and the filling was wonderfully seasoned. The butter sauce provided a slightly nutty taste to the dish. Surprisingly, the meal left me satisfied considering the fact that there was no meat served what so ever. This was worth getting up for so early on a cold Sunday morning. Overall, I enjoyed my experience at Alio and will definitely have to come back to dine here soon.
At the moment, Alio are celebrating their 10th year in business. They are hosting a 10 course degustation of their 10 signature dishes over the decade. This event has been extended to the end of July due to popular demand. Tracey informs me that there will be two types of classes offered; hands on (4-5 hours) and demonstration (2-3 hours), with lunch concluding the class. So if you want to learn how to make pasta and have a feast afterwards, visit the Alio website or contact Tracey to register your interest.
I would like to thank Ashley and Tracey for having us at Alio.
Phuoc attended The Pasta Masterclass demonstration held at Alio Restaurant and Bar, thanks to George of Wasamedia.