This past Saturday morning when I awoke, after going through the routine, 'What time is it? What day is it? Who am I?', line of self-questioning, I wondered what I would make for Saturday night's 'Date Night At Home'. Geri, my sister, had messaged me the other night recommending a red wine from the Italian region they had just returned from vacationing in and I was more than a little curious to test out her recommendation. Thinking of the wine and where it was from very much put me in the mood for pasta. With over 18 different types of pasta to chose from, I narrowed down my options: spaghetti, linguine, fettucine, lasagna, ravioli. I had made pasta dishes using linguine and fettucine in the not too distant past, so they were out. While I make a pretty darn good lasagna if I do say so myself, (and apparently I just did), my husband is not a fan of lasagna for whatever reason. (He likes the sauce, he likes the pasta, he likes the cheese and spinach, he just doesn't like it all together like a casserole - go figure. We all have our preferences though right?). I seriously considered spaghetti for a few minutes but then my thoughts were interupted with images of Lady and Tramp sucking back on a spaghetti noodle with 'Bella Notte' playing in the background and the whole spaghetti idea bubble just went 'pop!', just like that. Don't get me wrong...spaghetti with meatballs is a fantastic meal. I love it. But it just didn't quite fit what I was going for when it came to Date Night at Home.
That left me with ravioli. Ravioli...hmmmm. For Date Night at Home, I try to cook a meal that aids in infusing a little romance into our otherwise hectic life. The other end of that spectrum is, I try to avoid making foods that could conceivably lull my husband into a comatose-like sleep by being too heavy. Three or four pillowly ravioli, with a light filling, bathed in an airy sauce seemed like the perfect choice. The only problem was, although I could get store bought ravioli, the filling wouldn't be mine, and I wanted to do my own filling. So I thought, 'I'll just make my own pasta. How hard can it be?'. So what if I never made pasta before and in fact, didn't own a pasta making machine? Minor hurdles! I remained undaunted! I figured, 'nothing ventured, nothing gained'. Hopping out of bed, I logged on to my computer to see where I could get a pasta maker and how much it was going to set me back before going any further with this whole 'make your own pasta' brainstorm. While I was pretty excited to try my hand at making homemade pasta, I wasn't prepared to invest more than 50 bucks on a machine that I might fail miserably at using. I checked out my usual sources for kitchen and cooking ware and to my wonderful surprise, Stokes, a Canadian kitchen and tableware store, had a Remy Olivier Pasta Machine with pasta bike for rolling ravioli included, regular price $49.99, on sale for $19.99! I did a quick review search and overall the concensus was, 'not a bad little machine for the money and most people who buy it are generally happy with it. Complaints have more to do with the lack of experience in making pasta other than the machine itself'. Heck...if it worked at all, that would be money well spent so I had nothing to lose.
When I got home from shopping for the ingredients I needed and my new pasta maker, and let me just say the fact that it's red makes me almost giddy with delight, I couldn't wait to get started. But having our meal ready to eat by 3 in the afternoon wasn't going to work so I had to figure out my 'timeline': 20 minutes to make the dough, 1 hour for it to rest in the refrigerator, 20 minutes to make the ravioli, 3-4 minutes to cook Despite being really, really excited to try out my new pasta maker, I had plenty of time to clean the house, tackle the laundry that had piled up over the week and then do a little self-pampering and preening before the official commencement of Date Night at Home.
Two hours before mealtime, I couldn't wait any longer! First, I made my pasta dough: 3 and 3/4 cup all purpose flour, 5 eggs, 3-4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a little freshly ground sea salt. I poured the flour out on to my pastry mat, made a well in the middle, cracked the eggs right into the well, and then added the olive oil and salt. Using a fork, a whisked the eggs, salt and olive oil and gradually pulled in the flour until the dough could be formed into a ball. I then kneaded my dough with the heels of my hands, pushing it away from me, folding it over and pushing it away again, until the dough was subtle and smooth, about 15 minutes. I then wrapped the ball of dough in plastic wrap and placed it in the refrigerator to rest for an hour. Next I made my filling which was a mixture of 2 cups of ricotta, 1/3 cup grated provolone, 1/3 cup grated fontina, 1/3 cup grated asiago, 1/3 cup grated parmagiano reggiano, 3 eggs, 1/4 cup of chopped fresh Italian parsley and freshly groud sea salt to taste. I covered the mixture with plastic wrap and placed it too in the refrigerator until I was ready to fill my ravioli.
When the hour was up, I cut the ball of dough into thirds before rolling each third out with a rolling pin just until it was thin enough to insert into the pasta maker to be rolled out. To assemble the pasta maker, I only had to attach the handle, clamp it to my work surface and adjust the rollers to their widest setting. After running my dough through a couple of times, I lowered the settings, ran it through each setting twice before adjusting again, and when I got down to the 2nd setting, my dough was read to fill. I brushed a little water along the edge closest to me, added a small spoonful of the filling about 3 inches apart, folded the dough over so that the edges met, pressed out any air, pressed all around the mounds of filling to seal it in place and cut my ravioli to the size I wanted. I placed the uncooked ravioli onto a baking sheet sprinkled with semolina until it was time to cook them in boiling water. Here is my premiere step by step video to guide you:
My ravioli would only take 3-4 minutes to cook, so I let them rest on the baking sheet while I made my antipasto, or 'before the meal', course. Once again, I didn't want anything heavy and I certainly didn't want anything complicated - making homemade pasta was the maximum level of difficulty I was willig to go. (Date Night is supposed to be relaxing and soothing for BOTH of us and cooking a labor intensive meal would totally defeat the purpose!). I decided to make some oven toasted Garlic Bread with Pancetta and 'Insalata Caprese', aka Caprese Salad. I sliced a loaf of asiago cheese bread, drizzled the slices with olive oil and topped each slice with freshly grated parmagiano reggiano and some finely diced pancetta. I baked the garlic bread on a baking sheet in a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven for 15 minutes. While my bread was baking, I put together my salad, Insalata Caprese! I sliced two Roma plum tomatoes, some bocconcini, (which is unripened semi-soft mozzarella that originates from Naples and at one time was made only from the fresh milk of water buffalo. It is still sometimes referred to as Buffalo Mozzarella), and fresh basil leaves. To make a Caprese Salad, simply layer slices of tomato, then basil leaf, then sliced bocconcini, and repeat, and then drizzle it all with extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. I also garnish my salad with rinsed capers and kalamata olives but that's completely optional. Insalata Caprese/Caprese Salad is proof positive that it doesn't have to be complicated to be good!
My husband opened the Talamonti Montepulciano d'Abruzzo my sister recommended for us to sip on while we enjoyed our antipasti. This wine, according to it's descripton on the web, has 'violet undertones with an intense bouquet of ripe red fruit, lively and finely framed by oak spices'. Also of note, it has been certified a DOC wine. Doc, Denominazione di Origine Controllata, means the wine is certified as being produced in a specific, well-defined region, according to specific rules designed to preserve the traditional wine-making practices of the individual regions. The purpose of the designation is to distinguish between wines made from grapes of the same vineyard that are produced and bottled elsewhere other than the originating region and therefore may not be quite up to the standard of that particular region. To further complicate the issue, really fine Italian wines are often given a DOCG designation which is similar to DOC but with more stringent guidelines. DOCG wines are from grapes from vineyards with generally lower allowable yields and the wine must pass an evaluation by a testing committee before it can be bottled. Clear as mud right? Suffice to say that Talamonti Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is a beautiful red wine that cost less that $14.00 CA per bottle and that is truly from the Abruzzo region, grown, produced and bottled there, which makes it pretty darn authentic! Both Stephen ad I really enjoyed this wine and thankfully, I had the forethought to buy three bottles: one for our meal, one in case we wanted more and one for the wine rack!
After we finished our antipasto, my husband joined me in the kitchen while I made our main course, Ricotta and Four Cheese Ravioli in Wild Mushroom and Pancetta Sauce. This dish literally only takes minutes to put together. First I filled a large pot with water, salted it with freshly ground sea salt and heated it on high to boil. While waiting for the water to boil for my ravioli, I drizzled some extra virgin olive oil into a large skillet and heated it on medium high heat. When the oil was hot, I added 1/2 cup pancetta and 3 cloves of smashed garlic. When the garlic was brown and fragrant, I removed it from the skillet and discarded it. I then added one cup of each oyster, shitake and cremini mushrooms, sliced. I sautted the mushrooms until they were soft and wilted, about 5 minutes. By this time, I added my ravioli to the boiling water. When my mushrooms were soft, I added 1 and 1/2 cup of low sodium chicken broth to the skillet and let it reduce by half. I then added 4 Tablespoons of unsalted butter and stirred. When my sauce was thickened and velvety in appearance, I added my cooked ravioli pasta and swirled them around to coat. I placed four ravioli on each place, topped with some mushrooms and sauce, and then grated some parmagiano reggiano on top and sprinkled on some finely chopped fresh chives.
First of all, let me just say the warm, earthy and soothing aroma this dish puts forth is magnificent! Light ravioli pillows filled with cheese were the perfect compliment to the deep earthiness of the wild mushrooms, while the saltiness of the pancetta and parmagiano rounded out the overal flavour profiles. I can say with absolute certainty that we will be having this dish again but perhaps my greatest achievement here wasn't the flavours but the pasta itself. I can't tell you how proud I am of myself for making my own pasta and now that I know how relatively painless and easy it is, I am at a loss as to explain why I haven't done it sooner!
Date Night at Home with antipasti of toasted Garlic Bread with Pancetta, Insalata Capresse and Ricotta and Four Cheese Ravioli in Wild Mushroom and Pancetta Sauce, all paired with a beautiful bottle of Talamonti Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, DOC.....easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!