Monday, February 7, 2011

Mangia la pasta? Produca pasta.

Pasta Dough in the making
Nick is noodle obsessed. He would eat noodles or pasta of some kind just about every day if he had his druthers. We've become pasta snobs; only ordering pasta at joints that make their own in-house rather than using dried pasta. Pasta, after all is about the pasta itself: the chewy, nutty, al dente goodness that fills your belly with complex carbohydrates.

For Nick's Christmas present, I purchased him an Imperia pasta roller, pasta drying rack and signed us up for pasta-making classes at Cook's World behind U-Village. He was like an excited little boy when he tore open the gift wrap and excitedly realized he had gotten a new toy!

A ravioli made in class
We donned aprons and took a few hours of a Thursday evening learning the ins and outs of making pasta from scratch. The pasta making course was taught by the executive chef at Serafina and its new Mediterranean spin-off, Cicchetti. There, we learned the ins and outs of making:
• A wetter pasta dough for a filled pasta, specifically ravioli

• Gnocchi - literally meaning pillows. Pillows of amazing goodness that is.

Fabio from Top Chef: "They are like little pillows!"
• A pepper and lemon-infused black pepper linguine

The class was fun albeit a bit slow in pacing. The chef made everything in the center with the class watching on and volunteering to participate (probably with Nick and I doing the lion's share since the class was shy). I would have preferred either a faster class or one where each group got to be hands on cooking something along with the chef. Regardless, we learned some important tricks:

• You can always add more flour to pasta dough but you can't add more liquid. If your dough is too dry, you'll need to scrap it and start all over again.

• We learned how to fold the dough up in thirds in order to roll it and what consistency it should be before you narrowed the roller opening and smoothed the dough further.

• Note: knead dough and lay it on a wood surface. (It's an Italian grandma thing that you have to roll it out on wood). Use lots of flour to keep the dough from sticking.

• Apparently 00 Flour is the best flour to use to make pasta which just means the flour is really fine but you want unbleached flour since the protein content is better. Bob's Red Mill all-purpose is great, which is what we used. You can use any all-purpose flour or a whole wheat substitute but should look at other specific recipes for semolina or other types of flour since the protein and gluten content is different and the liquids you add is different.
The Lab and Experimentation

Rolling out our dough

What's the use of taking a class and not putting your skills to the test? The next weekend, Nick and I experimented with our newfound knowledge and made ravioli. We got a bit of aggression out of pounding a bunch of dough into a slab of wood and rolling out sheets and sheets of pasta into perfect, soft yellowy pieces and cook up a storm of delicious fillings.
A long pasta sheet

Nick took a twist on his buccatini with Dungeness crab, chili and mint concoction into a ravioli filled with crab, jalapenos and mint. These were delicious but I personally prefer his original recipe since the crab was more distributed rather than concentrated in the middle of the pasta.

Nick's crab ravioli

Fresh, seasonal ingredients
Stealing from a restaurant emperor and the next Tom Douglas, I used the Ethan Stowell cookbook to make a ricotta and Swiss chard ravioli filled with egg so when you speared the ravioli with a fork, you'd get melty, bleeding yolky goodness: my favorite sauce. Ethan's original recipe called for duck eggs but we used normal eggs and only made two of these heaping raviolis (very carefully). After all, how many eggs can you eat?

Giant ravioli with egg yolk inside
I also did a sautéed mushroom ravioli with walnuts, and sage and tossed in a bit of truffle oil; these were nutty, earthy and delicious. I made up this recipe but it was tasty and probably the best ones that would hold up frozen.

Crab Ravioli

The results? We did a great job except that we rolled out the dough a little too thick; we should have taken the dough through a thinner setting on the pasta maker. It was hard to gauge until we cooked up the ravioli and ate it since it didn't seem thick at first except it took longer to cook than we had expected. Still, the end results were delicious. It was a fun way to spend an evening, make a mess, grate up tons of parmesan on the new microplane and eat way too much.

Nick really REALLY loves pasta

My ravioli is bleeding yolk

Chard, ricotta and egg ravioli with more reveal

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