Circle Bistro
Las Margaritas Bar and Grill

Roberto Donna's Cooking Classes

Long_pasta_doughBack in August, Amy bought tickets for Roberto Donna's Stuffed Pasta Cooking Class at Laboratorio del Galileo as an anniversary gift for me. Ever since, I've been counting down the days, anticipating making brilliantly stuffed raviolis and moon-shaped pasta. Finally, after a month of anticipation, the day of the class came last Saturday and I was ready to cook.

We arrived a few fashionable minutes late and everyone was seated at a large table in the Laboratorio eating chocolate pastries and drinking sparkling water and French-pressed coffee. The cooking class started at 10:30 AM, and not long after I ate my first chocolate pastry, Roberto called everyone up to the cooking area and the class started.

There were basically four people there, including a waiter, assistant chef, assistant-to-the-assistant chef, and Roberto himself. All of the staff were scurrying around, fetching ingredients for Roberto and us while we were cooking. Every once in a while, one of Roberto's assistants would mess up and forget to get him something on time, and Roberto would start chewing them out in Italian.

At about 11:30 AM, the waiter started pouring us glasses of Chardonnay, and they were pouring glasses for Amy as well, which I didn't mind much. She would take a few sips and then pass the glass over to me to finish off. Cooking over open flames and alcohol -- what a wonderful combination!

Roberto_donnaThe first thing we did was make the pasta. Well, let me correct myself and say that we watched Roberto make the pasta, but it was fun anyway. I never realized how easy making pasta is! Some flour, an egg or two, water, salt, olive oil and voila! Pasta dough. Oh, and when you see those sadists on the Food Network who like to put a pile of flour on the counter, crack some eggs in the middle and stir it with a fork to make the pasta dough, just think about how Roberto pulled out a Cuisinart, dumped all the ingredients in and hit the blend button. It came out just as good and it was done in less than a minute!

When it came time for us to actually cook, it was usually to make sauces or fill the pasta. We made some general red sauces with some plum tomatoes, salt, pepper, garlic, fresh basil, and crushed red pepper. It was very simple but while everyone was cooking it over the stove, the room smelled intoxicating.

Grouper_ravioliThere were five recipes in all. Three were variations on ravioli: a basic one filled with ricotta and topped with meat sauce; another made with unbleached flour and warm water and filled with grouper and mixed greens; and a half-mooned shaped one filled with pureed beets and ricotta and then topped with a butter poppy seed sauce. The last was the best ravioli by far in my opinion.

Another dish, which I definitely plan to make on my own, was a stuffed shell dish. The filling was fairly simple with parsley and fresh ricotta, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. What made the dish more complex was that we stuffed the shells with the filling, placed them face down in the pan, and then topped each one with a slice of fresh mozzarella and half a cup of the sauce we'd made. Roberto's assistants then baked them for about 15 minutes until the cheese was melted and shells cooked all the way through.

TimballoThe last but not-to-be-forgotten dish was the Timballo Di Cannelloni. I could spend a couple paragraphs talking about this dish, but instead, I'll just put a couple pictures here. This was the king of all dishes we made, but I'll never have the patience to make this on my own. It took literally the entire class to make this dish between the rolling and stuffing of the cannelloni and making the pasta and sauce.

Me_making_cannelloniAs we created the Timballo in an assembly-line-esque manner, Roberto acted as the coach and shouting to us "Let's go people! Faster, faster. This Timballo isn't going to make itself!" At one point, I put too much filling on one of the cannelloni and Roberto shouted "NO NO NO! Too much filling!" I replied with a wimpering, "Sorry."

Once we were done cooking, we sat back down at the large table, and Roberto and his two assistants prepared all of our plates with the food we (or Roberto and his assistants) had cooked. With the lunch we had a red wine which I thought I spotted as the house Cabernet (even the house wine at Galileo is about $12 a glass), and the waiter was very generous. If you emptied your glass, he filled it. Between the Chardonnay we drank while we were cooking and the Cabernet with the food, I probably had five or six glasses.

Timballo_sliceI didn't hear any complaints from the people eating -- they all tasted wonderful and like we were eating at Galileo itself. The best by far was the Timballo di Cannelloni, which would make sense because it took the longest to make. We were even given dessert -- a chocolatey slice of tiramisu that hit the spot rather nicely after all the pasta.

At some point someone shouted the inevitable, "My compliments to the chef" to the waiter. I'm sure he's never heard that one before. :)

At $100 a person, I thought that the class was a complete bargain. You'd probably spend the same, if not more, for an equal amount of food and wine at Galileo, and you get to have fun and meet Roberto at the same time. I wish I'd actually gotten to make a little more of the food myself, but I have this feeling the class would've taken twice as long if everything was made by the people taking the class.

For more information on Chef Roberto Donna's Cooking Classes, go to his web site and you can see the full schedule of classes.



Thanks so much for this post--I've been waiting to hear a firsthand opinion of the "Roberto Donna experience." Now I definitely want to go to a class!


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