Pots clank as steam rises from large vessels on the stove of the massive commercial kitchen. Bags of flour and cartons of eggs are laid out on work tables along with an array of pasta; beautiful handmade pasta in numerous shapes and forms.
Executive Chef Ivano Centemeri of The Row in Reno, Nev., greets the small group of people invited to learn the art of pasta in the main kitchen of Eldorado Casino Resort. Centemeri moved to the states from Italy in 1995; he was recruited by Eldorado founder Don Carano. He shares his passion for cooking and creating in his master class series, as well as overseeing 24 restaurants, convention services and special events.
Ten forks spring on the tender bites of pasta and we pop the savory morsels into our mouths, relishing the fruits of our efforts.
A warm and effusive man, he has a twinkle in his eye and lively smile; his thick Italian accent makes crafting homemade pasta all the more authentic. We gather around the tables and Centemeri offer his wisdom on the art of making traditional Italian pasta from scratch. I tie my apron around my waist and with a glass of red wine in hand listen with rapt attention.
He speaks about growing up in Italy, his family meals and recipes with quality ingredients and the different pasta sauces.
“It all begins with the flour,” he said, pointing to the 50-pound bag of “00” Caputo Flour from Italy.
He shows us the different varieties of pasta: fettuccine, pappardelle, tagliarini and pasta sheets for cannelloni, ravioli and tortelli. Making pasta takes time and patience, according to Centemeri, and he suggests making big batches and freezing extra pasta.
The first lesson was making gnocchi, a potato, egg and flour dough that is a bit like a dumpling. Centemeri suggests using russet or Yukon Gold potatoes and recommends steaming the potatoes whole. Once cooked, peel them immediately and press the cooked potato through a food mill. Put that into the refrigerator for one night.
Eggs and flour are added to the milled potato and mixed into a dough. He warns us not to handle it too much or the dough will become sticky. We then learn how to roll gnocchi.
We’re given a mound of dough, and with our palms we create a long cylinder.
“The key is the pressure, starting from the center,” Centemeri says as he shows us his technique. After a few attempts, Centemeri gives me a nod of approval and a knife to cut the dough into small pieces. He throws them into a large vat of boiling water.
“How do you know when gnocchi are cooked?” someone asks.
“It floats to the top,” he said, rescuing the cooked ones and placing them on a platter.
He adds a bit of sage butter to the gnocchi and lays them out on the table. Ten forks spring on the tender bites of pasta and we pop the savory morsels into our mouths, relishing the fruits of our efforts. The sage butter was the perfect vehicle for the gnocchi. The room descends into moans of food ecstasy.
Next, Centemeri shows us how to make pasta dough.
He runs the pasta dough through an industrial pasta maker deftly catching the sheets and laying them on the table for the next lesson. We cut it up and make ravioli with a butternut squash stuffing and a mushroom stuffing. We also make tortellini with a spinach and cheese stuffing. “Don’t be afraid of it, own it,” he says as we attempt to perfect our pasta shapes.
“If you want to freeze fresh pasta, you must first blanch it in salted water before freezing,” he explains.
We cook, eat and drink Italian wine while learning how to make pasta dough. The master class was fun and delicious. I loved learning from Centemeri; he is a truly an amazing person and creates magic in the kitchen.
Centemeri Ivano’s Pasta Dough
1 lb. “00” Flour
4 whole eggs, slightly beaten
4 egg yolks
Salt, as needed
Water, as needed
In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour and salt. Create a well in the flour and add the eggs. If needed, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for about 3 to 4 minutes. Use a pasta machine or cut the pasta to desired width. Boil and eat or blanch and freeze.
Serve with your favorite sauce.