LUCY’S RECIPE PAGE
Pasta: the product of a simple and wonderful chemical reaction between egg and flour. It has vast culinary potential, accommodating both delicately refined flavours and bold, rustic sauces. It can be a warm and homely meal in itself, or an elegant, tantalising starter. Choose a shape to fit your mood, a sauce for your temperament. Made well, it is delicious, and surely one of the most joyfully simple and satisfying foods. Made badly, it becomes gelatinous, limp, and reminiscent of school dinners thrown under the table or infuriating restaurant experiences which make you wonder why you bother eating out at all. It is the basis of Italian family cooking and eating, and a staple that has been around for centuries. It is the student’s refuge from baked beans on toast, the athlete’s energy-fuelled sustenance or the foodie’s mopping fodder for a delicious lobster bisque.
As a cook, you surely can’t help feeling smug as you say,
“Sure, I make my own pasta.”
“Without a pasta machine?”
“I like a challenge.”
N.B. This exact scenario hasn’t yet presented itself to me, but I look forward to its arrival with glee. It must be said that making pasta for the first time is an important step in your culinary life, and is something to which you will be able to return again and again, in ever varying forms. It is a rewarding and enjoyably hands on process, and an example of one the most basic, yet somehow miraculous chemical reactions between two basic ingredients.
I am not going to pretend that this recipe is quick. But it is relatively simple, and incredibly cheap to prepare. Not to mention IMPRESSIVE (and what else matters?) Be prepared to get messy, medieval, and a little bit hot and sweaty. An apron is essential, and it’s probably not a good idea to have anyone too OCD around, as flour will, inevitably, get everywhere.
Roasted butternut squash ravioli with sage butter
For the filling
A whole butternut squash, halved and deseeded
A mixture of herbs
Several cloves of garlic
2/3 tablespoons mascarpone
For the pasta
600g Tipo “00” flour (or plain, if you can’t get it)
6 large egg yolks, beaten
One egg, beaten, for sticking the ravioli
For the sage butter
50g unsalted butter
A handful of fresh sage leaves
1. First, put the squash into a 180 degree preheated oven to bake. Season with salt, pepper, olive oil, herbs (sage/basil/rosemary) and put some whole garlic cloves in the seed cavity. Cook for 40 minutes, or until really soft and tender.
2. For the pasta: start by heaping the flour onto a large, clean worktop space. Make a little well in the middle, and pour in some of the egg yolk. Your aim is to slowly combine all the yolk mixture with the flour, little by little, well by well. Use the tips of your fingers to mix the flour and egg, and as you create the little balls of dough, separate these from the rest of the flour, so you can create a new well and add some more egg. You should have just enough egg to get through the whole pile of flour.
3. Combine all the pieces of dough into one big lump, using your hands to bind all of the sections together into one, smooth whole.
4. Now comes the workout – KNEADING. Ideal for help with anger management, pent up aggression, tension, bingo wings, inadequate biceps and basketball training. Be as inventive as you like – throw it, squeeze it, beat it, fist it, maybe even chuck it a wall or two for good measure (make sure you throw it hard enough that it STICKS to the wall and doesn’t fall onto the floor. Maybe clean the floor first in case). Technically speaking, you’re trying to develop the gluten in the flour, which is what should give the finished pasta its al dente elasticity. You will feel a difference in the dough when it’s “done”; instead of feeling floury and stiff, it will become very soft and pliable. A bit like silly putty. Next, wrap up the dough tightly in cling film, and leave it to rest in the fridge for half an hour or so.
Essential listening: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CVJFQkPkCg
5. Once your squash is cooked, peel off the skin and the garlic cloves, and use a fork to mash it all into a paste. Add a knob of butter, a good grating of nutmeg, a couple of tablespoons of mascarpone and more seasoning to taste.
6. When you are ready to roll out your pasta, lightly flour a large area of your worktop. If you’re rolling it by hand, you’ll need to do it in several batches, taking a roughly orange-sized ball each time. Now, this takes patience. For ravioli, the pasta should be especially thin – so much so that you should be able to see through it. Keep turning the dough and re-flowering the surface so it doesn’t stick. The raw dough has an amazing elastic quality – even when it is paper thin, it will hold together without tearing, so you don’t need to be too careful with it. After several turns and much sweat over the rolling pin, you should have a nice, thin sheet of pasta, ready to cut into your desired shape. Unfortunately, pasta dries out extremely fast, so you need to cut it as quickly as possible, to keep it from shrinking up. I didn’t know the trick at the time (hence why our little parcels nay have been SLIGHTLY thicker than desired), but if you keep a damp tea towel over the pasta sheets before you cook them this will help maintain moisture.
7. Use a small, sharp knife to cut your sheet of dough into a grid of squares (roughly 6 x 6cm). Place a teaspoon full of the squash mixture onto one of the squares, then dab some beaten egg mixture all the way around the edge. Take another square of the same size, and, placing it on top of the filling, working from the inside out and trying to avoid trapping any air inside the parcel, seal the square tightly on all sides. If you can squeeze all of the air out, this really helps things along in the cooking process; any pockets of air will only expand once you boil the pasta, causing all manner of explosions and lost fillings. Place the finished parcels on grease-proof paper, and under a damp tea towel. Around the edges of your rolled out sheets, you might find that circular moulds fit better, or lead to less wastage. Feel free to be creative with your ravioli shapes – nobody likes a square. By all means keep the scrappy off-cuts cook them up with everything else at the end.
Keep repeating this process until you have worked your way through all the dough. These quantities should give you enough to feed about six people.
8. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Gently place the ravioli in the water, bring back to the boil and then simmer gently for about 6 minutes, or until tender (the cooking time will depend on how thinly you managed to roll your dough…prizes to the fastest cooking .
9. While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a small frying pan, and when it is hot, throw in the sage leaves to make them nice and crispy. Remove the ravioli from the pan using a slotted spoon. To serve, pour the sage butter, with leaves, over the pasta, and supply a generous helping of sea salt, ground black pepper and grated parmesan.