Alio: Pasta Making Class

2 July 2010
by Phuoc

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.

Eggs and flour is all you need (although I was surprised that a little olive oil was added); Ashley kneading and rolling out the pasta dough; several pasta types made (linguine, tortellini, pappardelle, ravioli and fettucine (both not shown)).

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!

Massaging the herbs and olive oil into the focaccia dough, drizzling liquid gold onto the freshly baked focaccia, rolling the rotolo and plating the cooked rotolo

Clockwise from top left: Hand rolled grissini, pan-fried olives, freshly baked focaccia, rocket and parmesan salad, lovely glass of moscato, tomato and mozzarella salad

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.

Ricotta, spinach and mushroom rotolo with a sage and chestnut butter sauce

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.

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19 Comments

  1. billy@a table for two

    Damn now I am inspired by the rotolo. I have the itch to get myself a pasta machine now…..

  2. Sarah @ For the Love of Food

    Like you I haven’t made pasta before but all around me are great pasta makers so I really must borrow a machine and give it a go. A masterclass like this could either be inspiring or intimidating but what a lovely experience.

  3. Richard Elliot

    Sounds wonderful. I’m looking forward to the lunch invite when you cook the dishes at home! ;-)

    I’d forgotten the delights of beautiful fresh focaccia until you mentioned it in your post. There are so many mass produced and dreadful breads out there. A freshly baked focaccia is bready heaven.

  4. Thang

    Hey Phuoc, welcome back, the pasta looks sooo good… wish I could cook!

  5. RIchard

    Yummy. Oh and I love your pictures, you are like food photojournalist.

  6. Maria

    This is very interesting! Would love to do a class like this!

  7. SarahVino

    Wow, love that rotolo, and everything else. Delish!

  8. Phuoc

    Billy: You know.. you could use pre-made fresh pasta sheets if you really want to try this dish.

    Sarah: I don’t think the class could be intimidating, I think the point of everyone doing the class is to learn something new. I hope you have a go at making pasta soon :)

    Richard: Buy me a pasta machine and I’ll think about it :P I would love to master the art of bread making, but unfortunately I have a funny relationship with yeast.. It sometimes works; I think I might need to look into buy live yeast instead.

    Thang: Thank you. I think it is an important skill for everyone to have, book yourself in some cooking classes and you’ll never know; you might end up enjoying it and becoming the next Masterchef :P

    Richard: Thanks, it means alot coming from a pro photographer like you :)

    Maria: It was heaps fun, hope you get to do this class next time.

    Sarah: That was a pretty amazing dish; so good!

  9. betty

    would’ve been good to be hands on but oh wells, a good experience nonethelss :O)

  10. Vid

    Nice work. Good site!

  11. angie

    Wow, you did a better recount of it than I did, was kind of overwhelmed by the whole experience, thank goodness for photos! =) So when will we bump into each other again hey? ;)

  12. tangerine eats

    The rotolo looks beautiful. It’s cooked in a really interesting way. Looks like you had fun :)

  13. Phuoc

    Betty: When I get a pasta machine I will hopefully attempt it soon :)

    Vid: You are too funny dude!

    Angie: Thanks! Your recap was pretty good, I don’t know what you are talking about. Yeah I took a lot of photos that day; about 190 (Yes I know, I am trigger happy). Next outing? I don’t know.. We’ll see :)

    Tangerine: The more I think about it, the more I want it again. It’s so simple but taste so damn good!

  14. Gourmantic

    Looks like quite an appetising dish, the kind to make you want to go out, buy a pasta machine and experiment!

  15. Thang @ noodlies.com

    So envious that you can also cook.. I’m more of an eater I’m afraid!

  16. Trissa

    I’d love to try and make the rotolo – recipe please!

  17. Phuoc

    Gourmantic: Oh it was delicious! If you can’t be bothered with the pasta machine. Buy good quality fresh pasta sheets and add any filling you want :)

    Thang: Don’t get me wrong, I am an eater as well but I find cooking/baking very therapeutic.. You’ll cook one day, you have to get Walter to get you more involved in the kitchen :)

    Trissa: The rotolo recipe is the one from the River cafe

  18. Bav

    Hi,
    Does anyone remember the brand the pasta machine used in Alio?
    Thanks
    Bav

  19. Phuoc

    Bav: Sorry, not too sure.

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