Making and rolling out fresh pasta dough is one of my all-time favorite things to do.
If you’ve never made it yourself, it’s really quite simple in concept, it just takes a bit of practice to get it down. My family gets out the pasta roller at least once a year to make ravioli for Christmas. It’s one of my favorite days of the year, honestly I might like it better than Christmas day itself. We do it all, make the dough, roll it out, stuff it with a ricotta cheese mixture, trip the ravioli, and freeze them for our Christmas dinner.
So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that the Charlotte Food Bloggers had been invited to Aria Tuscan Grill to make (and eat!) pasta with Chef Chris Bateman. Chris, along with a few other members of the team, took a trip to Italy where he was able to take an immersive pasta-making course, sparking his interest in making all of Aria’s pasta in-house.
I’ll be honest that scratch-made pasta made fresh is what I look for when I consider a good Italian restaurant, and the pasta at Aria definitely met my admittedly high standards. As a group we rolled out a simple dough of semolina flour, water, and eggs that was used to make spring pea ravioli, a bright and seasonal mixture of ricotta, spring peas, lemon, and mint. I was quite pleased to see that we fill and fold the pasta in the same way as Chef Chris when we make our Christmas ravioli!
After some hard work making ravioli we enjoyed a family style dinner at the private table that is actually within the kitchen. It was so neat to see everyone working on the line while we talked and ate, mostly ate! I also appreciated that this meal was served family style, my favorite way to eat, in which large dishes are served to the table for passing. I think family style creates a sense of togetherness that plated meals just don’t seem to do, I guess that’s why they call it family style.
We snacked on fresh bread with an olive oil and white bean dip to start, because carbs is always a good idea before more carbs. Then began with an antipasto of bruschetta topped with an eggplant caponata, a savory, briny, almost chutney-like spread that was so so good. For the main event we ate:
Our spring pea ravioli that we made with local UAV ricotta (I love a good local ingredient!), prosecution, swiss chard, and a butter sauce
Pappardelle rosso, which means red pappardelle (a thick cut noodle) because Chef Chris used red wine in the dough, with beef cheek and ricotta salata
Pasta al Nero with lumb crab, mussels, shrimp, and a spicy arriabiata, a tomato-based sauce, all over fresh squid-ink linguine
and Strozzapreti, a fun short noodle, with arugula pesto, sun dried tomatoes, potatoes, and a good helping of Parmigiano cheese.
There was no consensus on a favorite dish but I’ll have to give it to the pasta al nero, it was spicy, cozy, complex, and just completely full of different flavors and textures of the seafood. I could eat a giant bowl of that and be so very happy.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Italian family style meal without dessert and we finished our evening with cannoli dipped in chocolate and pistachios and topped with candied orange slices. This was such a memory-triggering treat for me as my favorite cannoli of all time was a chocolate and orange cannoli that I ate while in Florence with my best friend.
Good Italian food just has that way about it, to trigger memories, feelings of warmth, and connection. Dining at Aria certainly created that experience for me and it’s always a pleasure to have several of the Charlotte Food Bloggers as dinner companions.