Italian mothers must either really love their families or else hold them in the highest contempt. I say this after a loooong afternoon of rolling out pasta for homemade ravioli. granted there are pasta machines, highly recommended and granted i was only making enough pasta for two people, main course and dessert. the physical effort that goes into making pasta by hand is, to say the least, back breaking. i woke up this morning with a sore back and tender shoulders. in order to get the pasta rolled out to the proper thinness, it took quite a bit of bearing down with all my weight, rotate and repeat. rotate and repeat. ad nauseum. i have a high level of respect for those that make it for an entire family on a regular basis. for me, i’m glad its an occassional thing and in limited amounts. don’t get me wrong, i consider it very worthwhile to take the time to do but the amount of effort makes it something that i will not do that often.
this week i decided to go with an italian theme, based around homemade ravioli. i opted to make a main course pasta stuffed with portabella mushrooms topped with a white asiago/proscuitto sauce and a fried dessert pasta with marscapone cheese and hazelnuts drizzled with honey. for the side, i went with pan grilled asparagus served simply with freshly shaved parmesan cheese. it was a bit extraneous with the starch of the pasta but i have been on a bread baking kick as of late so i threw together a basil and olive loaf. Eddie brought over a black bean hummus and a nice bottle of red, altogether a well-rounded meal, quite pleasant and without much complication.
When i am in the kitchen, i feel that i cannot relax enough to have an adult beverage until the cooking is progressed to the point that the outcome is no longer in question. once i have everything rolling, i usually crack a beer or make a mixed drink, my way of relaxing after whatever frantic actions that went into the days meal. some days it’s not until the food is plated and on the table that i feel comfortable to the point of getting that first beverage. other days, like today, things go incredibly well and i am way ahead of schedule. although dinner wasn’t served until 5:30 by one o’clock i was basically done with the exception of the just in time things that shouldn’t or couldn’t be started ahead. and so, my reward, a nice healthy white russian made with smirnoff vanilla vodka. quite tasty.
because of the prep time needed for the pasta, i started working at around 11:30 in the morning. the pasta itself is easy to make, take 2 cups of flour, pour onto a flat work surface and form a mound. dig a crater in the center of the mound and add 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks. mix from the inside to incorporate as much of the flour as possible. the dough will be extremely stiff and hard to work with. thats normal. halve the dough and form into two balls. working with one at a time, roll out the dough with a rolling pin until you have a flat sheet around 14 inches by 8 inches. yeah, its easy to type that in a recipe but understand that it will take considerable effort and time to do it by hand. that’s ok, just do it. if you have a pasta machine by all means, now is the time to use it.
at some point during this process, you want to make the filling for the savory pasta. in a startling development, this began with 1/2 an onion and 3 cloves of garlic sweated down in a bit of olive oil. you want them finely minced so that they will be nice and smooth in the filling. while they are cooking down, mince one large portabella mushroom, one hot pepper and four or five basil leaves. add these to the ingredients in the pan and cook until soft. season with salt, pepper, oregano, whatever else tickles your fancy. transfer to a bowl and cool in the fridge until you are ready to form the pasta.
ok, take one of the sheets of pasta and cut off any ragged edges so you have a fairly uniform rectangle. with the short side towards you, drop about a tablespoon of the filling onto the pasta at regular intervals on the left hand side. leave enough space in between to seal the raviolis. using the egg whites that you separated when making the pasta do (you didn’t throw them away did you?) do some finger painting along the edges of the pasta and in between each pocket of filling. fold over the right hand side to cover the filling and gently press the dough around the filling, trying to get a much air out of the ravioli as possible. air pockets + boiling water = exploding pasta. you aren’t sealing them yet, just forming them. once you have them formed, cut them apart with your chef’s knife or a pizza cutter if that suits you better. working with each pasta in turn, seal all the edges with the tines of a fork, making sure to get a much air out as possible. place the formed pastas on a plate and freeze until ready to boil. the freezing makes them easier to work with and more likely to keep their shape.
For the dessert pasta, i took about 4 heaping tbsps of marscapone and worked in a small packet of chopped hazelnuts. season with cinammon. i would also, in retrospect, add a bit of honey or a bit of milk chocolate to the mixture as well. use this mixture and the second sheet of pasta as detailed above. freeze until you are ready to serve dinner.
i went with a very basic bread recipe, my go to recipe when i just want some bread. i’m not sure where i picked up these proportions but they are the ones that stick in my head and are pretty reliable. 3 1/2 cups of flour in a bowl, make a well in the center and add 2 tbsps yeast. around the outer edge, drizzle a bit of olive oil, a couple twists of salt and 2 or 3 pinches of sugar. pour 1 1/4 cups of warm water around and mix until it comes together in the bowl. turn out onto a floured surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic, around five minutes. pour some olive oil into the bowl you were using and swirl to coat the bottom and sides. place the dough ball in the bowl, turning to cover all the surfaces with oil. cover with a towel and place on top of your oven, turning the oven on to 325 degrees. wait an hour or so until the dough is doubled in size. turn it out onto a floured surface, punch it down and place whatever mix-ins you want on top of the dough. i went with some diced black olives, a handful of chopped basil, a handful of mozzarella cheese and a scant amount of crushed red pepper for accent. press these ingredients into the dough and then knead to evenly distribute the ingredients. form into whatever shape you want for the bread and place on a oiled pizza pan, cover with a towel and let rise again for a minimum of an hour. don’t touch it again when you are ready to bake it, straight into the oven for about 15 – 20 minutes at 325 and serve immediately.
the asparagus is so simple its another one of those dishes that i am reluctant to even describe. trim the woody ends off the asparagus and toss in some olive oil. season with salt and pepper. heat up a cast iron skillet to medium-high. add the asparagus in a single layer and cook until slightly blackened, turning to ensure all sides and nicely done. grate some parmesan cheese over top and serve.
the savory pasta was boiled for about 5 – 8 minutes. drop them in the boiling water and when they float to the top, they are ready to roll. i made a simple white sauce to spoon over them, starting with a basic bechamel, which is my absolute favorite basic sauce (a stick of butter melted in a saucepan, 2 tbsps of flour added to make a roux and about 1 1/2 cups of milk stirred in, cook to thicken) and adding 1/4 lb of chopped proscuitto, 4 oz of grated asiago and salt/pepper to taste.
for the dessert pasta, take them out of the freezer before you serve up dinner so that they can come a little closer to room temperature. heat up some canola oil in a pan, around 2 inches deep. dip the pasta in a bit of beaten egg and then roll in panko bread crumbs. fry in the oil until golden on both sides. drain and serve with a bit of honey drizzled over.
the meal turned out great with a nice balance of flavors throughout. my only regret is that the dessert pastas were not as sweet as they should have been, the preparation and methodology was good but the filling should have been a little more dessert-like. overall, decent result with a nice level of effort.
next week we will be conducting cooking class in the dorm room. i will leave it at that for now.