Disclosure: We were invited to attend the Olivigna masterclass and lunch.
This post is a collaboration between Rob (from Eat Melbourne), who’s done the words, and I’m so Hungree, who’s done the pictures!
Stepping out of the house on an icy cold winter morning in Melbourne, breath condensing into clouds of vapour, it was hard to imagine that less than an hour later we would be standing on a terracotta dotted patio, bordered by regimental cypress trees, watching the sun melt the frost from the olive groves in the distance. Rob (from Eat Melbourne) and I had been invited to learn the art of making pasta at Olivigna estate, and while emerging from the warm comforts of bed on a frosty Sunday morning might not have been the the most appealing thought at the time, stepping into this slice of Italy just 15 minutes from home (with Sunday morning traffic) made it all worthwhile.
Built by Anna Gallo and husband John Di Peitro, Olivigna captures the heart of the Amalfi region, where Anna was born, with only the mob of kangaroos lounging around in the morning sun to remind you that you are on the other side of the world. Surrounded by eight hectares of orchard, vineyard, olive groves and gardens, the passion for the freshest produce is instantly visible. Their own wine, olive oil, herbs and vegetables appear throughout the menu at the estate's restaurant La Sala, as well in their providore to take home.
Before we could settle in to enjoy a lazy Sunday lunch, there was the small matter of making it. Led by the estate's pasta maker Piera Benini, who hails from Bologna and was more recently the pasta zia ('auntie') at Ladro, the pasta masterclass is one of series of hands-on classes run by Olivigna (there are salami and dessert classes also). Nestled into a corner of the restaurant, with full-length windows overlooking the lush rolling hills of Warrandyte, we gathered around a rustic butcher's block table.
This is not one of those classes where you sit in an auditorium watching a tiny figure on stage with video screen close-ups of hands, pans and chopping; there is rolling up of sleeves, clouds of flour and dough-covered hands. Starting out with a basic pasta dough, swirling flour into a pool of egg, while trying to avoid the crater wall collapsing, it is not long until you have a rough, knobbly dough to work. Not very experienced with making pasta myself, it was a good learning experience kneading the dough by hand; there is something oddly therapeutic about transforming the flaky, dry dough into the silky end result.
Having never actually made pasta myself before, the class is taught so that there is something for beginners as well as those who might have dabbled before. I was quite surprised at how easy it appeared to be, having no trouble getting the dough to the consistency I needed.
After making the dough, it was all about rolling, cutting, shaping and filling. Sheets of glorious dough sliced into thick pappardelle ribbons - one the easiest pastas to make if you do not have a pasta roller and/or cutters at home.
Then paper-thin ravioli filled with broad (fava) beans and pecorino cheese. With the final moments of the class, Piera nimbly showed off the various filled pasta shapes that can easily be made by hand; tortellini, tortelloni, agnolotti, cappelletti, crimped, hat-shaped, rolled, domed, the combinations are endless. Yet it was not the process of making it that was so engaging but the stories that Piera told of her family and life in Bologna; growing up making pasta with her nonna, frying scraps of pasta in butter and dusting them in sugar as an after school treat. It is stories like these and the genuine passion behind the love of food that transforms an experience into something special.
While we wandered the garden to pick parsley and radicchio for lunch, the kitchen, led by head chef Colin Swalwell, cooked up the pasta we had prepared. Where the La Sala restaurant combines modern and traditional Italian influences in its decor, the private dining room transports you to another world. The imposing wooden doors open to a low-lit but inviting space, equal measures Game of Thrones and cellar, with a beautiful long dining table, wine barrels stacked around the room and wrought iron candle holders. We immediately thought how perfect a space it would be for a medieval banquet of roasted game and red wine, but today it was a bountiful lunch of the Italian persuasion.
House made bread and fresh olive oil, antipasti platters scattered with translucent prosciutto, bowls of warmed olives from the estate's own groves set the scene, matched with Olivigna wine.
Our pappardelle was served all'amatriciana, a hearty garlicky tomato sugo with pancetta and a kick of chilli; and the broad bean and pecorino stuffed pillows were matched with a smoky eggplant sauce. One of the highlights was the scialatielli alle frutti di mare, ragged strips of pasta with tender, juicy clams and zucchini. Scialatielli (pronounced shah-lah-TEE’EHL-lee) is an unusual pasta, first made on the Amalfi coast, with the name coming from the Neapolitan word sciglià ('to tousle', someone's hair), which is a dough made with milk, giving it a soft texture.
While it is usually something eaten at the start of the meal to waken up the taste buds, we finished the meal with immaculately thin slices of lemon from the orchards, lightly sprinkled with salt. These are not the viciously bitter lemons we tend to find in most shops in Australia, they were lusciously sweet with a gentle acidity. With that we took our content selves, as well as our ball of pasta dough homework, for one last stroll across the sun drenched terrace before leaving this Italian oasis behind.
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