Recipes for This Story
Gnocchi with Aromatic Herb Pesto
Spinach Fettuccine with Chanterelles, Spring Peas, and Prosciutto
Cavatappi al Forno with Sausage-Tomato Sauce
Linguini fra Diavolo with Lobster
Written and produced by Stephen Exel
Photographs by Bill Bettencort
Federico Fellini quipped, "Life is a combination of magic and pasta." Surely, the master filmmaker was having a prophetic vision of Eataly, the 40,000-square-foot Italian food emporium cofounded by culinary powerhouses Lidia Bastianich, son Joe Bastianich, Chef Mario Batali, and Oscar Farinetti, who established Eataly's Italian outposts.
Located in the landmark Toy Building in New York City's Flatiron District, Eataly exemplifies the magic of the Italian table with a slate of artisanal producers of pastas, pizzas, breads, salumi, cheeses, beers, and wines. There are also boutique eateries, vegetable purveyors, butchers, and bakers.
Lidia's exclusive domain is La Scuola di Eataly, the School at Eataly, tucked in a corner behind the butcher. Traditional Home's former master chef-there are plenty of other credits to her name: author, Emmy nominee and James Beard Foundation winner, winemaker, restaurateur-made a commitment early in the planning stages to include education on Eataly's menu. Lidia serves as dean of the school and several times a year steps into the role of instructor. I attended a class covering the latter half of Fellini's equation: spring pastas.
La Scuola's intimate space accommodates 20 students. Classes, averaging $125, occur almost daily and are taught by staff experts and guest chefs, as well as Lidia and Chef Batali. Topics range from wine-tastings to regional culinary tours.
We are seated at small marble-top tables facing a demonstration kitchen made cozy with a wall of kitchen supplies. "While the school is small," Lidia explains, "it has enormous impact. It encourages people to shop for the recipes they've learned and re-create them at home."
Assisted by Alex Pilas, Eataly's executive chef, Lidia starts class by explaining how the shape and texture of different pastas contribute to a successful dish and the distinction between fresh and dried varieties. (Don't despair if you prefer to open a box.)
"Dried pasta should be uniform in color," Lidia says. "A rough, floury texture is best for grabbing the sauce. Fresh pasta should be soft and porous so it takes on the sauce and is well-coated."
Lidia illustrates the point by demonstrating how to make gnocchi (small potato dumplings). Rolling the small balls of dough off the tines of a fork to create the gnocchi takes practice; Lidia patiently directs students in the technique.
When the gnocchi have finished cooking, they are drained and tossed with an aromatic spring pesto of fresh basil, flat-leaf parsley, mint, and sage.
Eataly wine director Dan Amatuzzi steps up to pair a lovely Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc-Picolit blend from the Friuli region with the gnocchi. (Most classes include wine pairings.) "With Italian foods, the weight of the food dictates the weight of the wine," Dan explains.
Other class recipes include a luxurious, spicy Lobster Fra Diavolo and an impressive Cavatappi al Forno, a casserole of epic proportions packed with sweet Italian sausage, three cheeses, and Italian plum tomatoes. "These sexy little tomatoes yield a rich, fruity sauce," Lidia says. "They are thin- skinned with lots of pulp and few seeds."
To prepare spinach fettuccine with chanterelles, spring peas, and prosciutto we make long strands of fettuccine from scratch. "Italians never break their pasta," Lidia says. As she serves the pasta, Lidia makes a perfectly curled nest in the center of the plate.
"Everyone wants to know how to do that," she says. "It's simple: Turn the plate."
Dan pours a wine with each recipe, including unexpected combinations such as a Rosato with the lobster. It's magic and pasta. Somewhere, Fellini is smiling.