Monday, November 30, 2009

The Bicoastal Chefs present... Homemade Pumpkin Ravioli

Looking for a good challenge during our reunion, the Bicoastal Chefs decided to combine their skills and tackle homemade pasta.
And if ever there was a dish requiring all four hands, making pasta is it. It turns out kneading and rolling pasta dough is way tougher than you think. But, side by side, the Bicoastal Chefs are unstoppable.

We settled on making a pumpkin ravioli topped with a balsamic-sage brown butter. We started cooking around 7:30, figuring we would be done by 8:30. We did not eat until 11. But it did not matter at all: the fresh made pasta was absolutely delicious. Store bought pasta doesn't even compare. So, yes, fresh made pasta requires a lot of work, but it is well worth it.

So, here's how we made. We decided to use Jamie Oliver's recipe from 'Cook with Jamie', because there were step by step directions and pictures (always a bonus when taking on an epic dish).

The dough itself is very simple: flour and eggs. That's it. So, first pour your flour onto your counter.
Make a well in the middle of the flour.
Then, crack 6 eggs into that well.
Next, whisk up the eggs.
Now, for one of the first challenges. You are, slowly but surely, going to mix the flour into the eggs. You can't mix all the flour in at once; you just mix the edges in bit by bit.
The dough is incredibly sticky, but it eventually comes together.
Once you have a ball of dough, you have to knead that dough until it is smooth and silky. Warning: this takes a long time and is incredibly difficult. It will make you wish you lifted weights. We took turns for about 20 minutes, stretching, punching (not recommended), rolling, and folding. Once it is silky-smooth, pop it into the frig for 30 minutes to rest.
After 30 minutes, it is time to roll it out. This also takes a surprising amount of effort. Since we were making ravioli, we rolled out two large sheets of pasta. You know if it thin enough when you can see through it (when it has that 'window-pane' effect).
But, what about the filling, you ask? We settled on pumpkin.
So, cut the pumpkin in half, seed it, and brush it with olive oil.

Roast the pumpkin for an hour.
Once the pumpkin is done, scoop out the flesh into a cheese or terry cloth.
Then squeeze all the liquid out. You will be amazed at how much comes out.
For the filling, you are supposed to add amaretti cookies, which we could not find, so we substituted some almonds and brown sugar. It came out just fine.
For the rest of the filling, add in shallots, nutmeg, salt, pepper, the pumpkin, egg, ricotta, and parmesan.
And, voila, absolutely gorgeous pumpkin filling.
Now, to make the ravioli, place about 1 tablespoon of filling 3 inches apart on the sheets. Note that if we had to do this again, we would place the filling a little closer together (maybe every 2 inches?) to increase the filling to pasta ratio...
Brush water around the filling.
And place the other sheet on top. Press around the filling, to seal the ravioli.
In order to avoid air bubbles, it's better to start sealing the pasta from the middle - out. We learned the hard way: Time to cut it up!
And, at long last, the ravioli is ready to be cooked.
Once your water is boiling, plop the ravioli in.
And, at the same time, get your brown butter going.
Once the butter is brown, you add in the sage, take it off the heat, and stir in some balsamic.
When that is done, toss it with your drained ravioli. Be sure to do this in the pan your cooked the ravioli or brown butter in because the heat will help the ravioli absorb the sauce. We tried it in the saute pan first, but it was too small, so we threw everything in the pot we boiled the ravioli in.
Once the ravioli are coated, plate it up.
Grate some parmesan over it. And there you have it, Bicoastal-Chefs-made ravioli.
Buon Appetito!

Fresh Egg Pasta Dough
(from Cooking with Jamie)
serves 4

5 cups (1 lb 6 oz) tipo OO or pasta flour (we just used all-purpose flour)
6 large free-range or organic eggs or 12 yolks (we used 6 eggs)

Place the flour on a board or in a bowl. Make a well in the center and crack the eggs into it. Beat the eggs with a fork until smooth. Using the tips of your fingers, mix the eggs with the flour, incorporating a little at a time, until everything is combined. Knead the pieces of dough together- with a bit of work and some love and attention they'll all bind together to give you one big, smooth lump of dough!

You can also make your dough in a food processor if you've got one. Just bung everything in, whiz until the flour looks like breadcrumbs, then tip the mixture on to your work surface and bring the dough together into one lump, using your hands.

Once you've made your dough you need to knead and work it with your hands to develop the gluten in the flour, otherwise your pasta will be flabby and soft when you cook it, instead of springy and al dente.

There's no secret to kneading. You just have to bash the dough about a bit with your hands, squashing it into the table, reshaping it, pulling it, stretching it, squashing it again. It's quite hard work, and after a few minutes it's easy to see why the average Italian grandmother has arms like Frank Bruno! You'll know when to stop- it's when your pasta starts to feel smooth and silk instead of rough and floury. Then all you need to do it wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour before you use it. Make sure the plastic wrap covers it well or it will dry out and go crust around the edges (this will give you crust lumps through your pasta when you roll it out, and nobody likes crusty lumps!)

How to roll your pasta:
First of all, if you haven't got a pasta machine it's not the end of the world! All the mammas I met while traveling round Italy rolled pasta with their trusty rolling pins and they wouldn't even consider having a pasta machine in the house! When it comes to rolling, the main problem you'll have is getting the pasta thin enough to work with. It's quite difficult to get a big lump of dough rolled out into one piece, and you need a very long rolling pin to do the job properly. The way around this is to roll lots of small pieces of pasta rather than a few big ones.

Dust your work surface with some flour, take a lump of pasta dough the size of a large orange and press it with your fingertips.

Then... roll.

Whether you're rolling by hand or by machine you'll need to know when to stop. If you're making a pasta like tagliatelli, lasagne, or stracchi, you'll need to roll the pasta down to between the thickness of a beer may and a playing card; if you're making a stuffed pasta like ravioli or tortellini, you'll need to roll it down slightly thinner or to the point where you can clearly see your hand or lines of newspaper print through it.

Once you've rolled your pasta the way you want it, you need to shape or cut it right away. Pasta dried much quicker than you think, so whatever recipe you're doing, don't leave it more than a minute or two before cutting and shaping it. You can lay over it a damp clean tea towel which will stop it from drying.

Pumpkin Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter (adapted from a recipe)

1 3-pound sugar pumpkin or butternut squash
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons light-brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup Locatelli cheese*
3 large or 6 small amaretti cookies, curshed**
2 tablespoons fresh ricotta cheese
1 tsp shallots, chopped
Pinch of nutmeg
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh pasta
1 tablespoon semolina flour***
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon freshly chopped sage
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a work surface, cut pumpkin in half lengthwise. Scoop out seeds (save to roast!). Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil evenly over insides of pumpkin halves; rub 1/2 tsp brown sugar into each. Roast, cut-side down, until pumpkin is easily pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. Let cool.

When cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh with a spoon. You'll need 1 1/2 cups of puree. Transfer flesh to a clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth; wring excess liquid into a bowl. Place flesh in the bowl of a food processor, along with eggs, Locatelli, amaretti, ricotta, shallot, and nutmeg. Process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Lay 1 pasta sheet on work surface. Place 1 tablespoon filling every 3 inches. Brush water around filling. Place another sheet on top, pressing around filling to seal.**** Using a fluted pastry wheel (knife, or pizza cutter), cut each ravioli into a 3-by-3 inch square. Repeat with remaining pasta sheets and filling. Transfer ravioli to a parchment-lined baking sheet sprinkle with semolina; freeze for at least 30 minutes.*****

Bring a large pot of water to boil; season with salt. Add ravioli. Cook until it just floats, 3 to 4 minutes.

In a large saute pan, melt butter over high heat. Add sage; cook until butter begin to brown and sizzle, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat; whisk in balsamic. Using a slotted spoon, transfer ravioli to pan, tossing to combine. Serve immediately with Parmesan cheese.

*We used Parmesan
**Although amaretti cookies may seem strange to us, they are a traditional ingredient. We substituted almonds and 2 tbs of brown sugar
***We used all-purpose
****Start pressing from the middle and working outwards, to try and avoid air bubbles. If you do have air bubbles, just work them out.
*****We skipped this step because we let the dough rest in the frig.

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