Making Pasta at Casa Toscana

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Last Saturday morning I found myself covered in flour and rolling out pasta dough with seven strangers. This hands-on approach to cooking is Casa Toscana owner Sandra Stefani's teaching method. Basically, it's sink or swim at these cooking classes. After all, how are you going to replicate the perfect consistency of pasta dough at home if you have never touched it? Beginners should not be intimidated by Sandra's aggressive style, because she assigns tasks to everyone, whether you can barely boil water or know how to debone a duck.

Each Saturday (call in advance to book a spot; these classes sell out quickly) a maximum of eight students meet at 10 a.m. for a quick cappuccino and a chance to review the menu. Generally, Sandra has five items for the class to prepare, including dessert. The recipes are Tuscan-inspired and are meant to be rustic. Often they are from her restaurant, which serves dinner six nights a week. Don't be surprised if Stefani changes, adds or subtracts an ingredient during the cooking process. I carry a pen with me, so that I can mark down her culinary shortcuts and musings.

The most recent menu included grilled zucchini and spicy shrimp purses; quadrucci with creamy gorgonzola and sage sauce; seared duck breast with wine-grape sauce; mixed caramelized root vegetables; and chocolate truffle cake. For most first-timers, the joy of making fresh pasta is unbeatable. In this case, quadrucci are squares of thinly rolled-out pasta. Not only was the accompanying Gorgonzola sauce a breeze to make, but once the pasta had been cut, it cooked in literally two minutes. Since Sandra is a firm believer in having your mise en place ready beforehand, we prepared this seemingly complex dish last.

Sandra, a breast-cancer survivor, is acerbic, patient and funny. She clearly loves to pass down her family recipes. All of this results in an anything-goes environment, where she refers to her female students as "Pantry Bitches" and teases the men, too. By the end of the class, everyone is mingling, joking and chowing down on their tasty creations. Thankfully, after all that prep-work, the meal is accompanied by bottles of amazing wine. For $60, you'll learn about the history of Tuscan cooking, where to buy restaurant-quality pots and pans cheaply, become a pasta aficionado and seriously carb-out. It's an afternoon well spent, especially considering that the competing cooking classes in town are overpriced much higher.

Casa Toscana
7001 Biscayne Blvd.

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