Destinations, Emilia Romagna Tourism Board, Featured Partners, Food in Italy, Italy

Traditions of the Land: Food in Italy Part IV

June 1, 2012

Italian Origami: Handmade Pasta at Casa Artusi

This post is dedicated to my dear friend, Sara B. She’s an Italian by birth and a genius in the kitchen by passion and practice. She’s been inspiring me since grade school, and it’ll be a fun day when we reunite in Oregon for an Italian feast.

Homemade pasta is to Italy what chocolate chip cookies are to America.

Everyone makes or knows someone who makes the best, every gourmet has their secret trick, and no one chooses a plastic package when grandma’s making a fresh batch.

Once you’ve eaten a steaming plate of fresh pasta, you’ll forever be ruined for the substitute.

But who keeps track of all the grandma’s-favorite recipes in the world? Who carries on traditions and passes them to the next generation?

What if I told you there’s a town in Italy devoted entirely to the legacy and preservation of authentic Italian cooking? A place where home chefs rate as high as pros and family kitchen secrets are shared with eager students. A place where each year the city renames the streets after vegetables, spices, gelato, coffee, and more for their festival of wine and food. A place where Slow Food values are taught to visitors and celebrated by locals.

What if I told you that Pellegrino isn’t a green bottle of Nestle-owned fizzy water but an Italian hero of the culinary arts whose self-published cookbook changed the Italian foodscape?

When Ted and I arrived in Forlimpopoli, Italy, we didn’t completely understand what to expect. As we approached town, our friend Nick from the Emilia-Romagna Tourism Board pointed out the window at a tall bronze replica of a man with top hat and cane: “Pellegrino Artusi.”

“Wait. I don’t get it. Who is this character? And why is there a statue of him in the roundabout?”

We parked the van, tumbled out, and walked past the old town fortress and into the main square…

Our guide, Susy, greeted us warmly and began sharing the story of Forlimpopoli and its famed character. The city itself was founded by Romans in the 2nd century B.C. along the Via Emilia and utilized as a hub for salt harvest and distribution in ancient times. It’s located twenty minutes from the Adriatic seaside and 99 kilometers from Florence.

In 1820, one Pellegrino Artusi was born in Forlimpopoli, and his love of food left a permanent mark on the city.

Turns out, this Pellegrino Artusi fellow was a spice and silk importer by day and a passionate gourmand by night. After amassing wealth in business, he retired to devote attention to his hobby and assembled the very first cookbook of Italian cuisine in a time when the concept of “Italian Food” did not exist.

In his honor, the ancient Chiesa die Servi church complex in central Forlimpopoli has been renovated to house Casa Artusi, a living museum complete with restaurant, cookery school, wine cellar, museum, event center, and the most beautiful collection of cookbooks and tomes on Italian gastronomy that you’ve ever laid eyes on…

Susy showed ushered us indoors and began to show off the incredible 45,000 title library comprised of the Folimpopoli Council Library the Artusi Collection and the Italian Gastronomy Collection.

All of this has grown from Pellegrino Artusi’s original passion for food and his 1891 self-published collection of 475 recipes from home cooks across Italy: La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well).

Until 1861, the Italian boot was a fragmented collection of states. Local cuisine was known simply by its regional identity: Roman, Ligurian, Neapolitan, Milanese, Bolognese.

Artusi’s collection of authentic recipes from home cooks around the new-old country is said to have unified fragmented Italy more than any political stunt of the era.

His unexpected success resulted in 15 editions over the next 20 years, with his final 1911 version including 790 recipes in total ranging from Scicilian pasta to Roman gnocchi to Florentine pot roast and passatelli from his native Emilia-Romagna.

This place was pure inspiration.

I kept imagining Lynne Rossetto Casper walking through the door.

I kept wishing I could whisk my Italian friend Sara B. over to join us; she’d be in heaven, since this is truly the only cookbook collection I’ve ever encountered that genuinely rivals the one she’s been curating since we were kids.

Pellegrino’s artful teaching manual has been translated into English, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese. Artusi’s recipes are straightforward and practical, his pages filled with anecdotes and short stories to complement fine ingredients.

Cooking is a troublesome sprite. Often it may drive you to despair. Yet it is also very rewarding, for when you do succeed, or overcome a difficulty in doing so, you feel the satisfaction of great triumph.

Beware of books that deal with this art: most of them are inaccurate or incomprehensible, especially the Italian ones. The French are a little better. But from either, the very most you will glean are a few notions, useful only if you already know the art.

If you do not aspire to become a premier cook, you need not have been born with a pan on your head to become a good one. Passion, care, and precision of method will certainly suffice; then, of course, you must choose the finest ingredients as your raw materials, for these will make you shine.

The best teacher is experience, under an adept’s watchful eye. Yet even lacking this, with a guide such as mine, and devotion to your labors, you should be able, I hope, to put something decent together…

Finally, I should not like my interest in gastronomy to give me the reputation of a gourmet or a glutton. I object to any such dishonorable imputation, for I am neither. I love the good and the beautiful wherever I find them, and hate to see anyone squander, as they say, God’s bounty. Amen.

-Pellegrino Artusi, Preface from Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well


All good teachers relay wisdom in addition to craft…

So what about the homemade pasta?

Not the box of brown straw sticks, but soft and tender sheets of clear yellow made from finely ground flour mixed with egg and rolled thin to perfection.  Light-as-air layers, cut to ribbons, pinched to bow-ties, rolled to cylinders, or folded as edible Italian origami: the base layer for many a fine meal, and the center of gastronomic heritage in this part of the world.

Ted and I walked just a few dozen steps down the hallway to the Casa Artusi Cookery School, a place open to “all food lovers wanting to improve cooking abilities and pros looking to better skills in specific areas of catering.”

Here, a group of 140 men and women known as The Associazione delle Mariette promote home cookery and popular gastronomic traditions of Italy, taking turns drawing on their own home kitchen and professional experiences to organize study courses and workshops, conferences, exhibitions, and most importantly to pass traditions on by working alongside and sharing hand-to-hand.

On our visit, we received a pasta-making walk through from chef Carla, then joined our own “Mariette” for hands-on lessons from a true Italian mama.

“Always choose the finest ingredients, this will make a good impression”
-Pellegrino Artusi

Flour + eggs + fingers.

We weren’t given a recipe, we were shown a method.

It was all about diving in and learning through first-hand trial and error. {see the video!}

“The best teacher is practice”
-Pellegrino Artusi

A little encouragement from someone who already knows how, a little pointer here and there, and we were off and rolling.

The ultimate lessons of pasta making? (And Italian cooking in general)
Connect ingredients + experience. Recipes are more than numbers. Use your hands!

Remember those little cuties from the top of the post? The garganelli, farfalle, pappardelle, quadratini, tagliolini, ravioli, cappelletti, cappelletti finti, maltagliati, and tagliatelle?

All made from the same sheet of rolled flour and eggs.

Turns out, the art of Italian origami is not quite as intimidating as it seems.

Demystifying the kitchen and freeing learners to love the art of cooking; I think this is what Mr. Artusi was getting at.

By the end of the pasta making session, I’d wager to say the craft might be as easy as whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies…and they’re handing out certificates!

Want to learn how to make delicious Italian food? Don’t be intimidated. There will always be secret family recipes and mysterious culinary tricks, but the basics begin with a hunger for flavor and an appreciation for craft.

“I practice using this manual,” wrote Artusi, “one simply needs how to hold a ladle.”

So, head to the library, grab a cookbook (or better yet, grab a kitchen-loving friend!), go pick up that ladle (or rolling pin) and give it a try!

And yes, when I get home, it’s Pasta Party time with Sara and the gang.

Casa Artusi
via Costa, 27
47034 Forlimpopoli (Fc), Italy

Festa Artusinana
16th Annual: June 16th-24th, 2012, 7pm-midnight
The old town center turns into “A City to Taste” as the courtyards, streets, alleys and squares come alive in the tradition of the Artusian Manual.

La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene
Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well

Related Posts:
Traditions of the Land: Food in Italy Part I
(Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese & Spigaroli Culatello Ham)

Traditions of the Land: Food in Italy Part II

(Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena)
Traditions of the Land: Food in Italy Part III
(Albana Wine at Celli Vini)

This post is part of a series from Emilia-Romagna: A region of Northern Italy ripe for exploration. Artisan Local Foods (tortellini, lasagne, pancetta, traditional balsamic vinegar, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to name a few!), Historical Cities (Modena, Ferrara, Bologna, Rimini, and more), and Beautiful Natural Areas (the Po River Delta, the Apennine Mountains, and the green, green farmland in between).

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  • Reply Stephanie - The Travel Chica June 1, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    This man deserves a dozen monuments. Nothing better than excellent homemade pasta.

    • Reply twoOregonians June 3, 2012 at 10:24 am

      Such a great story – I love that his best life’s work was born out of devotion to his hobby and that it benefited his nation and the world!

  • Reply Cindy Buck June 2, 2012 at 3:13 am

    Goodness. . . Smiles, smiles, smiles :)

    • Reply twoOregonians June 3, 2012 at 10:25 am

      Tell the truth…you’re smiling at the hair nets ; )

  • Reply Paula Feldman June 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    every time I read your posts from Emilia and thereabouts I get a lump in my throat thinking about the terrible earthquake which hit the area a few weeks ago…they are putting their world back together. I’m so glad that you were able to experience the beauty and the joyfulness of Emilia before the disaster which M.Nature decided on…

    • Reply twoOregonians June 3, 2012 at 10:31 am

      Yes Paula, I know what you mean. It brings flashbacks to all of the terrible New Zealand earthquakes that have tormented another part of the world that we love.

      It’s been frustrating to hear the reports each time another quake hits in Italy. Thankfully, our contacts in the region have been safe, but it’s so sad to know that there are families mourning the loss of loved ones and there are businesses and homes that will need major reconstruction. We’ll continue to hold Emilia-Romagna close to our hearts and pray for a safe and speedy rebuilding.

  • Reply Heather Espana June 2, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Yum, yum, and YUM.

    • Reply twoOregonians June 3, 2012 at 10:45 am

      I just loved learning how to make all the adorable little pasta shapes! Now, to find a good gluten-free recipe to make for friends who would appreciate the option ; )

  • Reply Andi of My Beautiful Adventures June 3, 2012 at 3:06 am

    There is seriously nothing better than handmade pasta!

    • Reply twoOregonians June 3, 2012 at 10:45 am

      You said it! : )

  • Reply Traditions of the Land: Food in Italy Part III - twoOregonians June 11, 2012 at 7:55 am

    […] Post navigation ← Previous Next → […]

  • Reply Private Cooking Class and Farmhouse Experience in Italy June 11, 2012 at 8:09 am

    […] similar fashion to our pasta making session at Casa Artusi, we dove right in, learning by doing, picking up tricks by observing a master, and gaining […]

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