Everyone knows an Italian grandmother will keep your plate full — but she can also be trusted for some much-needed wisdom. That’s why we've asked Italy’s renowned pasta queen and Airbnb Experiences host, Nonna Nerina, her advice on everything from holiday hosting to ghosting to all the ways you’re ruining your pasta. Buona lettura!
It was about three years ago when I began welcoming travelers into my home to teach them how to make homemade pasta. Along with my granddaughter, Chiara, I run a popular class through Airbnb Experiences from our small village of Palombara Sabina, just west of Rome, where visitors get to learn how to make (and eat) three different kinds of pasta by hand. Just as I take care of my children and grandchildren, I’m here to guide them — particularly when it comes to the dos and don’ts of all things pasta.
Fortunately, a trip to Italy is not necessary to learn a few best practices that come from generations of my family’s pasta-making tradition. In my experience, particularly when traveling to other parts of the world, there are quite a few mistakes I see over and over. Below, I’m helping you fix seven of the most common.
You’re buying it from the box.
Part of the great pleasure of pasta-making is starting from scratch — using pasta from a box takes half the joy out of the experience! With fresh pasta, you also know what ingredients are inside. And like any product that comes boxed or bagged, there’s always more mystery about the exact quality of ingredients you’re putting into your body.
You’re using too many ingredients.
I believe that great, homemade pasta only needs eggs and flour — why add more? The most important thing is to buy organic and local ingredients with no preservatives inside. Also, the flour should be double zero or zero; it’s flour that’s not processed.
When it comes to sauce, don't overcomplicate it, and be sure to choose what is fresh and seasonal. I love fettuccine with mushrooms and peas. If you have the space, time, and green thumb, the best would be to grow a small garden for yourself.
You’re relying on fancy machines.
We teach everyone to make pasta by hand during our Airbnb Experience. This is an ancient technique that produces a better taste. You do not press the pasta as you would with a machine — you stretch it with your hands so there is air inside. It’s thinner, lighter, and the taste is completely different.
Of course, if you prefer it, not every pasta shape needs to be prepared entirely by hand. A machine that rolls and presses the pasta can help you in the beginning for the filled pastas, like ravioli, so it has no holes and has the same thickness throughout.
There are hundreds of shapes of pasta to make. For beginners, I suggest you start with a flatter shape, such as fettuccine, tagliatelle, or spaghetti. They all require the same work when making the dough: Stretch it and cut.
The filled pastas — ravioli and cannelloni, for example — can be a bit more complex and time-consuming, but the key to mastering any of the shapes has less to do with skill as it has to do with slowing down and allowing the pasta to rest between steps. In reality it’s not that it’s more difficult to make one shape than another, it's just that you need to allow for time and, more importantly, calmness.
My mama, and her's before her, used to handmake make pasta early in the morning on Sundays. I love sharing this family ritual, and passing it down to younger generations as well — it's a tradition that we should continue.
You’re not watching the pot.
It’s simple: Bring water to boil. Salt the water. Add fresh pasta. Then, you must pay attention because fresh pasta cooks much faster than boxed pasta. For fettuccine, that’s only about two minutes. A typical rule is that when the handmade pasta floats, it’s done.
You’re using the wrong utensils.
After you put so much attention into your beautiful meal, take care when serving and plating so that you don’t make a mess of your hard work. I use wood utensils to turn the noodles in the bowl so they will not break.
You’re not stopping to breathe.
Now that it’s time to eat, I fill my plate and usually add some extra sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. To eat something like fettuccine, you just need to twirl it on your fork, no special technique necessary. Then breathe deeply to stretch your stomach to create a little extra space. Buon appetito!