The pasta making was to commence at approximately 12:30pm. Unfortunately, I’ve inherited an absolute inability to be on time, from both of my parents, I think, who are salespeople and work according to their own schedules. In any case, I tried to cram a swim at the YMCA, shower, grocery shopping, lunch and gas into too few morning hours, and ended up running around Sturgeon Bay, quite late, in search of fresh sage.
The pasta making actually began a little after 1pm and continued well into the evening. I should relate that I was making pasta with my boyfriend’s mother, Julia, who owns her own cooking shop, The Main Course, in Fish Creek. I’m no chef, and have only been cooking, or attempting to learn to cook, for the past couple of months. I used to believe that a fresh salad was the only thing a person needed to survive. Since then I’ve changed my tune a bit. It gets a slightly repetitive always bringing a fresh salad to a potluck, regardless of all the variations, and people start to think you’re just not creative. Only ever making one for dinner, especially in the throes of winter, simply doesn’t suffice. Besides, expanding my horizons in the kitchen doesn’t mean I can’t pair a salad with whatever delicious new thing it is I’m learning to cook that night. So, during my last road trip, we stopped off in Ashland, Oregon for two weeks, and that’s when I took it upon myself to open the cookbook and expand my mind (thank you Ashland Co op for all your wonderful ingredients).
Since our return, my boyfriend has talked up my cooking skills a great deal, and I was nervous. I was nervous about my recipe’s quailty, picked from my new favorite website (http://www.tastespotting.com/), my ability to make pasta, to follow a recipe (not always as easy as it seems) and the fact that my parents were coming to dinner for our very first dinner party as one big unit…so everyone would be sampling and commenting on my skills…or lack thereof.
In any case, the pasta story starts with a flour volcano, into which you pour 4 large eggs, and attempt to scramble them, adding flour, without any of the eggs escaping the walls of the volcano and erupting on the table. Julia made it sound as though this would be easy. She read the directions, nodding, and went to work. I was immediately nervous. Flour walls are not as sturdy as, say, ancient volcanic rock walls. They are much more likely to buckle under pressure, and it’s not so much about movement of plate tectonics beneath the earths surface as a steady hand. Julia’s egg was the first to escape. It went sliding down the flour volcano, and landed, yoke unbroken, on the table. Ah ha ha! My eggs were still nestled safely. Now I was ahead of the game. It only took Julia a moment to scoop the eggs up and back in, somewhat effortlessly. As I tried to slowly mix flour into the eggs, my defenses weakened and egg began to drizzle down, slowly at first but then faster…and faster…pouring onto the table. It was a mess. I began to try tossing flour onto the egg puddle to soak it up since Julia’s scooping method wasn’t working for me. My volcano quickly disintegrated into a mess of flour and egg. I took solace in the fact that neither of us had done it perfectly. Needless to say, next time we’ll just use a bowl.
I continued to salvage my floury mess, added some more egg and mixed it with my hands. Soon we were kneading the dough, and then we let it sit for a half hour, during which time we made our respective filling. I went with a sausage, sage, onion ravioli: http://food.meltingonline.com/2009/06/25/sausage-ravioli-with-sage-brown-butter/
Julia chose a lemon, fresh herb and goat cheese ravioli. After preparing our fillings, it was back to the pasta dough, and we began the process of feeding it through the pasta machine.
There was definitely a learning curve, and it took us some time to figure out how to get the pasta strips into long rectangles, as wide as the pasta machine, and squared off at the edges. Eventually we found that you’ve got to shape the dough a little bit before you feed it into the machine the first time, and you’ve also got to feed it into the machine perpendicular to the fold.
Once you’ve sent the chunk of pasta through, you fold it into thirds. From there you feed it into the machine.
After that, it was just a matter of thinning it down. You must send the dough through every setting, being careful not to skip ahead. Julia’s machine occasionally tried to sabotage us by jumping forward of its own accord, but luckily we outsmarted the crafty thing. We thinned it until the third to last setting (5, on our machine), because we worried that the ravioli would be too thin, and the innards would bust through upon boiling. As a result, ours were definitely on the thick side, so I would recommend thinning it until the second to last setting.
It’s important to make sure that you put Ceran wrap on top of whichever pieces of pasta you finish, because they tend to dry out fast. When we had thinned all our pasta strips, we simply stuffed the ravioli, taking care not to over stuff them. This was when we decided it was necessary to pour ourselves a glass of wine, which we continued to drink throughout the rest of the ravioli adventure. Some effort also needs to be expended trying to eliminate air pockets, which tend to pop up around the filling and make the ravioli look like some sort of mutant life form, especially after boiling. Or maybe that was just ours.
The pasta’s thickness plus too little filling equaled a dough bomb. I would suggest making a concentrated effort to create smaller ravioli with more filling. Most recipes warn against over filling the ravioli, but you don’t want a lot of pasta surrounding a teeny bit of stuffing, either. That’s certainly not how the Italians did it, as Julia’s husband, David, informed us when he got home. He vividly remembered his very Italian grandmother making ravioli, which were packed to the brim with meat filling.
Once everyone had arrived, and we’d began to brown our butter sauce, we set about boiling the ravioli. Because ours were larger, with thicker pasta, it took closer to ten minutes to fully cook them (as compared to the recommended 3 – 5 min.).
Though we had a few minor incidents (the raviolis became very slippery after we added the butter sauce, and so there were a few casualties), all in all the dinner came together remarkably well. Libations are the key to any dinner party, so we paired the meal with a flavorful, crisp – but not too sweet – Chenin Blanc. We also added an arugula salad with a light, garlic balsamic dressing.
Family, generally speaking, make for a wonderful audience of not-so-critical eaters. The wonderful, lemony, and fresh goat cheese ravioli with asparagus complimented the spicy Italian sausage with sage and pancetta. We ate, the wine flowed freely…seconds were served. And the meal was completed with chocolate covered strawberries. Bon appetit!
And so, in all ways that matter, it was a great success. There are few things that bring more joy than good food, eaten in good company, with lively conversation. Pasta making, to be sure, is the most fun when done with friends, and could easily become laborious if done alone. To make life simpler, you could always make the raviolis the day before and refrigerate them, or you can make a huge batch and freeze them for up to a month. It doesn’t need to be a day long affair, but if you have time, it’s great fun to do it all at once, and that much more rewarding at the end.