My neighbor Irène is a meticulous cook and a great traveller.
When these two passions collide, her friends reap the benefits, and that was the case last week when she returned from a trip to Italy, after taking a pasta cooking class in Bologna. She made dumplings galore with her newly acquired knowledge and skills.
The instructor was passionate about his subject; in one instance, when the ravioli finished cooking before the class was ready to eat it, she insisted they all stop in their tracks and dig in to make sure the pasta was eaten to perfection absolute. She also authoritatively informed them that lasagne bolognese should be made with spinach pasta, and if it’s not green, then it’s inauthentic.
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Rules aside, Irene came back eager to share, and who was I to nullify that motivation?
The butternut squash ravioli was delicious, a perfect fall supper, and we’re ready to continue tasting her creations as she explores the full canon of pasta shapes and flavors and perfects her art.
The technique described for the dough below is more of a guide than a recipe. It details how to make the pasta, can be enlarged according to your crowd, and can also be cut as desired.
If you prefer to make lasagna, just use the leaves. Papardella? Just cut the leaves into ribbons. And if you want to make ravioli, the recipe for a perfect fall filling of butternut squash and sage butter sauce appears below. Eat!
A note about flour: 00 flour is a finely ground Italian flour used in pasta. It is available in many supermarkets, specialty stores and online. The quantity below is an approximation; the conversion of the metric system, as well as the variation in the size of the eggs will generate some inconsistency, so it is necessary to measure the flour according to the feeling. It shouldn’t be too sticky, should roll out nicely, the shapes should hold together, and once laid out should start to dry.
Another note on the process: Irene described a huge wooden board and huge wooden rolling pin that the “profesora” used to demonstrate the technique. Most American kitchens are not equipped with such equipment, nor would they have space to store them. Upon her return, Irene ordered a dough hook and pasta roller for her mixer and said they work “like a charm”.
Fill 1½ cup flour 00
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk at room temperature
½ teaspoon finely ground table salt
On a large board or clean work surface, combine flour and salt and shape into a volcano shape.
In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and yolk, and pour them into the center of the flour mixture. Using a fork, gradually incorporate the eggs into the flour. When a dough begins to form, drop the fork and start pressing the dough. If the dough is sticky, add more flour in small amounts. Knead the dough for 10 minutes; it should be smooth and not sticky. Cover or wrap the dough and let it rest on the counter for at least 30 minutes, or wrap it and refrigerate it overnight.
When you’re ready to move on to the next step, cut ¼ of the dough from the ball and leave the rest of the dough covered. Flatten the piece of dough, dust it with a little flour and press it through the rolling pins (or roll it by hand with a rolling pin).
If using the roller, start with setting 1. Continue to work the dough through the roller, decreasing the setting each time. Ravioli should reach setting #6.
When the sheets are done, place them on a floured surface to prevent them from sticking, and repeat this step with the remaining pasta. When the pasta is all rolled out to the desired thinness, cut it as desired; for papardelle or fettuccine, a pizza cutter is handy for slicing the long ribbons. For the ravioli, you can cut out the shapes by hand with a cookie cutter or use a mold. (Irene suggested a YouTube video by “pasta grannies” to demonstrate this process most effectively.) For lasagna, cut squares to fit the pan and layer as desired.
Note on cooking: Authenticity calls for large pots of generously salted boiling water to cook the pasta. For stuffed pasta such as ravioli, the boil should be gentle to prevent the delicate ravioli or tortellini from breaking. Ribbon or unfilled pasta cooks much faster, but Irene has also learned that the old “when it floats, it’s done” convention isn’t accurate. The Profesora advised cooks to remove a piece of the pan and continue to check for al dente cooking. It seems to be both an art and a science!
Butternut Squash Filling
That’s more than enough ravioli for two; use the surplus as a side dish.
1 butternut squash or 2 honey squash
Oil for coating
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
A generous pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat your oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut the squash in half vertically and remove the seeds. Lightly coat the squash with oil and roast, cut side up, for about 45 minutes until tender. Take the flesh and mash it with the rest of the ingredients.
Fill the pasta with this mixture as desired and cook as directed above.
Sage sauce/brown butter
¼ stick of butter
A handful of fresh sage leaves
In a large skillet, melt the butter and stir in the sage leaves. Let the butter coat the leaves and slightly crisp.
When the pasta is cooked, carefully place it in the pan with the sage and butter. Add a little or two of the pasta cooking water to spread the buttery sauce.
Serve the pasta with generous scoops of additional grated cheese. PJC
Keri White writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliate publication where this first appeared.