A week after coming back from a long weekend in Florence in January, and I was already nostalgic. Rather than go through photos or finish unpacking(!), I preferred to eat my memories. We’d eaten incredible handmade pasta all over the city – with ragu of rabbit, wild boar, or beef shin, and with mushrooms, squash and burnt onions. Without the equipment or expertise to recreate any one of those dishes exactly, we made this instead: egg-yellow envelopes of ravoli, filled with sweet, silky pumpkin puree, with a touch of brown butter and garnished with cubes of salami and chives.
Making pasta at home is not difficult, although I admit it’s a bit of a faff. But it’s completely worth it. I wish that it wasn’t the case, and that supermarket fresh egg pasta was indistinguishably similar, but it isn’t – and the difference is enough to justify the extra effort – although in my case, the effort is mostly outsourced to the machine (the Kenwood food mixer, not the husband). Realistically, I’m not sure it’s very doable otherwise, but I think hand-cranked pasta rollers aren’t particularly expensive (although since I need two hands to feed the pasta sheets in, I think you’d need at least three hands in total). For me, the food mixer does double duty here – kneading the dough, and rolling it out with the pasta attachment. I don’t have the ravioli attachment or any of the cutters, so when we make pasta it’s in sheets which we use for lasagne, or cut into wide pappardelle (with ragu made of leftover lamb, beef or pork, or else with meatballs), square-ish handkerchiefs made on the thinnest setting which are lovely with fresh basil pesto, or in this case, cut into rectangles along the width of the sheet, filled with a teaspoon of pumpkin puree and sealed into large ravioli (raviolo?).
If Florence showed me how excellent fresh pasta can be*, school taught me how it can also be truly, truly, awful. Not the version my Food Tech teacher made – that was delicious. The version I was inspired to make, which I mention here to explain why I don’t recommend using whole wheat flour (it turns into grey gum) or not waiting for your turn on the pasta machine and rolling it out by hand (I concede, robot overlords, show me leniency when you seize control). I’ve made lots of versions since then, using a range of recipes (including smitten kitchen’s seven-yolk pasta dough, but I honestly don’t think the extra yolks are neccessary, and mixing it by hand – very messy with no discernible difference in outcome) – most follow these basic ratios and method.
Prepare your filling first, and make sure it is fully cooled.
Recipe: Roasted Pumpkin Puree
I used a compact pale green pumpkin, because that’s what was in season, but a butternut squash or orange pumpkin would work just as well. Any extra freezes well, or added to fresh pasta and rich meat ragu it provides an amazing sweetness and light.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
- Halve the pumpkin/squash and scoop out the seeds. Rub the cut halves with a small amount of olive oil and grind over some salt to taste.
- Roast for 40 mins until soft.
- Scoop the soft flesh into a food processor and blitz until completely smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Leave to fully cool.
Recipe: Fresh Egg Pasta
Serves 2 (scales up or down easily, 100g and one egg per person)
2 medium eggs
200g strong white flour
1 Tbsp olive oil
- Put the flour and eggs into the bowl of the food mixer, and make a well in the centre. Crack the eggs into the hollow, and add the olive oil.
- Using the dough hook, knead on a slow setting until fully combined and smooth – at least 10 minutes. It’s possible to do this by hand, like kneading dough – or apparently you can do the initial blitz in a food processor.
- When the dough is silky and elastic, wrap tightly in cling film and leave in the fridge for 30-60 mins (don’t be tempted to skip this – it allows the gluten to develop otherwise the dough can’t be rolled out).
- Clear a good amount of counter space, and get your filling ready and a small bowl of water.
- Take a quarter of the dough and rewrap the remainder tightly in cling film so that it doesn’t dry out or discolour. Using a rolling pin, and dusting with extra flour if necessary, roll the small piece of dough into a rough rectangle no wider than the pasta roller, about 0.7cm thick.
- Roll the pasta through the machine’s widest setting, then through each setting, getting thinner each time. Fold the dough into thirds, and roll through all the settings again, from widest to narrowest.
- Working quickly so that the pasta doesn’t dry out, cut a slice off the end of the pasta – about half as tall as it is wide. Place a scant teaspoon or so of the filling into the centre of one half of the rectangle, making sure not to get any filling on the edges otherwise they won’t seal. Dip your finger in the water and run it around the edge of the rectangle, and press the edges together tightly to seal – try to avoid getting any air trapped inside. You should end up with a square ravioli, half as wide as your sheet of pasta. Place the ravioli on a single layer on a sheet of flour-dusted clingfilm.
Repeat with the other three quarter-pieces of the pasta (don’t roll them out before filling them, otherwise the pasta will dry out and won’t be easy to fill).
To cook the pasta and assemble the dish:
Small amount of salami – e.g. 2 slices per person (you really don’t need much meat – it’s basically there for seasoning)
Small bunch of chives
Couple of teaspoons butter
- Dice the salami (or other cured meat goodness – paper thin slices of prosciutto crisped in a pan and crumbled up, would be amazing) and finely chop the chives.
- Put a large saucepan of salted water on a medium/high heat. When it reaches a boil, add the ravioli and use a wooden spoon to gently separate them and ensure they don’t stick.
- When the water comes back to a boil, let the ravioli cook for 2-3 minutes until tender but still al dente.
- Drain the pasta – if you pour the hot water into the plates you’re going to eat off, it heats them nicely.
- Melt the butter over a medium/high heat in the empty saucepan until it bubbles and slightly browns, turning fragrant.
- Turn off the heat and carefully add the pasta and the salami back into the saucepan, gently coating it in the butter. Empty the hot water from the pasta dishes, add the pasta/salami and sprinkle the chives over the top.
- Mushroom filling
- blitz an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic in a food processor until finely chopped but not pureed. Gently saute in butter until translucent but not browned. Meanwhile dice/food process about 300g mushrooms into 3mm cubes (ideally a mixture of chestnut, oyster, chanterelle – Morrisons sell mixed mushrooms which are perfect for this). Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until the liquid they have given off has evaporated. Allow to cool, season with salt and pepper and fresh thyme (optional). Combine the cooled mushroom mixture with just enough cream cheese to bind.
- with meatballs
- with ragu made from leftover roast lamb, pork or beef. Chop the leftover meat into 1.5cm cubes and brown in a hot pan. Set aside. Finely dice some onions and garlic and soften in the pan (with the leftover fat from the meat, plus some extra butter if necessary). Pour in any leftover red/white wine if you have it and boil rapidly until reduced by half. Add a tin of tomatoes, a squeeze of tomato paste and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and bring to the boil before adding the browned meat. Simmer uncovered until the sauce is rich and dark, and the meat has collapsed into shreds.
*Fresh egg ravioli in Florence – with rabbit ragu and with sage and brown butter. Good times…