Pizza and Pasta Master Class at Parma

Eat, Restaurants, Sydney / 12 September 2012

Pasta is something I have wanted to conquer for quite some time. Conceptually I’m fine with it, but it’s the process of working the dough into beautiful thin ribbons, with arguably the world’s shakiest hands, that has consistently scared me off.  But like they say, it’s always best to face your fears head on and when I was invited to Parma for a pizza and pasta making lunch I decided it was time to finally bury the hatchet.
I think one would be hard pressed to find a better place to do so than at Parma, Surry Hills’ hot new Italian joint. Parma offers a delicious range of modern Italian dishes inspired by the fresh produce from the ‘food heart’ of Italy – Parma.  On the corner of Crown and Campbell Streets, the 120 seat restaurant is the perfect spot for a quick pizza at lunch, an after work aperitivo or a lavish dinner.
Head chef Alessandro Vinci-Cannava, formerly of Establishment and the Pymble Golf Club, brings his relaxed Italian style of cooking and personality to the venue. In his words: “Parma is all about creating a comfortable environment for diners to sit back, relax and enjoy some really good Italian food and wine. I’m always on hand to talk about the food and produce, and have even been known to share a recipe or two!”
And didn’t he just. I was joined by fellow food bloggers on Sunday afternoon for the master of all master classes with Alessandro, followed by a delicious carbohydrate rich feast sure to cure any sore heads floating around the kitchen.
With the 7 of us, plus chefs producing regular lunch service, there was hardly enough space for all the cameras that were furiously snapping pics. I can’t imagine working in a commercial kitchen at rush hour.
While we did start by making a basic pizza dough, the master class largely focused on pasta which suited my quest just fine. We learnt far more by having Alessandro guide us through the process than we would from a recipe. I’m going to share some of the tips and tricks he bestowed upon us. You’ll have to excuse a few hazy details. When you’re standing in a commercial kitchen in the middle of lunch service it’s hard not to get distracted, especially by the ‘Spaghetti al Sugo di Granchio’ (Spaghetti with a mud crab and saffron sugo served with heirloom cherry tomatoes and peas), or the ‘Torta Caprese’ (Traditional Italian flourless chocolate cake, whipped cream and strawberries).

Torta Caprese

You’re distracted already aren’t you, thinking about how good that looks, now do you feel my pain?! Anyway… down to cooking business.
Basic pizza dough:
1kg flour
500mL warm water (45 – 50°C)
8 grams fresh yeast
30 mL extra virgin olive oil
25 grams salt

  • Dissolve yeast in warm water using a whisk and put aside, let it settle until it becomes frothy.
  • Gradually add yeast mixture to flour whilst mixing and then add salt and oil, continuing to mix until it becomes smooth.
  • Set dough aside in a warm place, covered with plastic film and a tea towel until it has doubled in size. Around 30 minutes.
  • Cut into smaller pieces and set aside again as above to proof, until each ball has doubled in size.
  • Once dough is ready, keep balls covered and roll only as required.

Cooking the pizza:
While we didn’t have much time to run through cooking pizza in any depth, here are some tips I picked up:

  • Preparing: The dough can be prepared beforehand and left to proof slowly in an airtight container. This will take at least 4 hours. If the dough is left overnight it is recommended to reform balls and let them reproof in a warm place until doubled in size again.
  • Toppings: Alessandro is all for traditional simplicity and I agree. Choose a few ingredients and let them be the hero, none of this Supreme business. Also try and get some traditional Italian ingredients. My personal favourite is the IGA, Haberfield (155 Ramsay Rd). It’s filled with loud Italian families on Saturday mornings, which makes my heart sing.
  • Oven: For us home cooks, no need to fret if you don’t a) have a woodfired oven (props to you if you do) or b) have a pizza stone. You can cook your pizza on a terracotta tile. Put the tile, clean and hopefully not just ripped off your roof, into a cold oven, let it warm up so that by the time you put your pizza on it it’s piping hot. This results in a crispy base that almost rivals a woodfired pizza.

Basic pasta:
200 grams plain flour
50 grams semolina or durum wheat flour (adds texture)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 egg yolks
10 grams salt
Warm water, as required to form dough

  • Mix all ingredients, bar the water, in a bowl until it reaches a crumbly texture. It is best to use your hands.
  • Gradually add water until it becomes an uneven slightly dry dough. Don’t overwork the pasta. If it is lumpy, add a bit more water and knead a bit further. As soon as it is smooth, stop.
  • Wrap the dough tightly with cling film and let it rest in the fridge for 10-20 minutes.

So far so good, the shaky hands have not yet gotten the better of me. But when it was time to roll I start to panic. Pasta machines seem cumbersome and scary, like their rollers are going to eat my little fingers up. I let go of my fears and had a go.

While Alessandro did help me juggle the pasta going in and the beautiful ribbons coming out, on a whole it is fairly easy to use.

It gets a bit more difficult when it starts getting longer and you have to pass it though, but like anything practice makes perfect. (As a side note, I literally just purchased my first pasta machine online. It mustn’t be that hard if I’ve got myself going back for more!)

We didn’t use any cutting attachments on the machine, but once beautiful and thin, the pasta is ready to be cut. We made three kinds of pasta: ravioli, tagliatelle and casarecci.

I was partly responsible for the ravioli and although I nearly drowned them in flour at the end they were a raging success and by far my favourite dish of the day.
Filling –
Fresh ricotta
Lemon zest
Finely chopped parsely
Grated parmesan
Salt and pepper, to season

  • Mix filling ingredients together to your taste. To bind ingredients together in the cooking process you can add a small amount of egg white, although this is not necessary.
  • Lay pasta sheet out and use a medium-large round cutter to cut out a circle.
  • Dollop a small amount of filling into the centre of the pasta. It is important not to overfill the ravioli or it may burst whilst cooking.
  • Brush one half of the circle with egg and fold ravioli creating a half moon shape. You can take this one step further by using a scalloped cutter to pretty the edges or even fold it on itself to create a tortellini. Fancy!
  • Sprinkle with a little (!!) bit of flour to stop them from drying out before cooking.

The raviolis are now ready to be cooked. Because the pasta is fresh they only require a short time submerged in boiling water. For raviolis this size cook them for around 2 minutes.
Perfect sauce accompaniment: Burnt Butter & Sage.
Put a decent amount of clarified butter in a pan, add sage leaves, a few capers and (the secret ingredient) white anchovy. Bring up to heat. Continue to cook on a medium heat until butter turns a lovely caramelised colour.  Add to cooked ravioli. Top with shaved parmesan and micro herbs, if you choose. Serve.

Burnt Butter & Sage Sauce

The finished product

Other groups worked on casarecci, short lengths of rolled and twisted Italian pasta. While I didn’t physically roll one myself it is apparently quite easy. Cut into rectangular sections and roll them in the palm of your hands. These are best served with rich sauces and Alessandro whipped up a ‘Swordfish Puttanesca’ in no time at all.

Swordfish Puttanesca in the making

One last, and very impressive, pasta dish I want to leave you with is something I am boringly naming ‘pasta filled eggplant’. More innovative name suggestions are welcome. Cook any long pasta in a tomato-based sauce of your choosing. Alessandro used tagliatelle and cooked it in a basic Napoli sauce with basil, goats cheese and peas. Then lie 2 slices of grilled eggplant on the bench with the smallest end of the eggplant overlapping. Place some pasta in the middle and roll it up. Top with some mozzarella and cook in the oven until the cheese is melted. Serve topped with some fresh basil and a drizzle of olive oil.

Oven bake until cheese melts

Two final things:

  • To cook coloured pastas: add 10 grams of blended spinach (green), 10 grams tomato paste (red), dissolve 1 gram saffron in some water (yellow) or 1 tablespoon squid ink (black).
  • Remember: fresh pasta doesn’t take long to cook. For regular ribbon pasta a fresh portion will only take 30 – 90 seconds in boiling water to be al dente.

After watching food being made for over 2 hours it was now our turn to sit down to a delicious feast. It was especially gratifying knowing that we had some hand in it’s production. Here’s a few pics of our lunch that will get you salivating:

Swordfish puttanesca with casarecci

Tagliatelle filled eggplant

Traditional margherita pizza

Capricciosa pizza - Parma style

Grilled vegetable pizza

Lemon polenta cake

A big thank you to Parma, especially Alessandro for spending his day off teaching us how to cook. We hope that you get some use out of the tips and tricks I’ve tried to relay here. If it gets all too much you could always just head down to Parma instead….

285A Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2010
(02) 9332 4974
Open Tuesday – Sunday, Lunch and Dinner.