Pleased by the positive results with my sourdough bread, tonight I thought I'd build on my knowledge of dealing with dry flour in Colorado and tackle something I've had a lot of trouble with of late - homemade pasta.
A little background info on tonight's meal: believe it or not, we still have winter squash left from our fall CSA. I can't bring myself to eat any more squash soup or roasted squash. I guess I need to put in a little more thought as to what to do with the last few. Then I remembered ... why hadn't I thought of this before? I LOVE butternut squash ravioli, and I've never tried to make it. The butternut squash are long gone, but acorn squash will probably taste almost as good.
I started looking for a recipe. NONE of my many cookbooks has a recipe for butternut squash ravioli, not even any of my five trusty Jamie Oliver books (Ok, I like him, but not that much - two of them were gifts). Next I looked online. Sure enough, I found a pretty good recipe on epicurious. If you haven't used epicurious before, I'd highly recommend it. I've had pretty good luck with most of the recipes I've tried.
So now I've got a plan for the filling, which brings us back to the problem of the pasta. I got a pasta maker about 6 years ago. For the first few years, I used it quite a bit, as you do, and I could do no wrong. It must have been beginner's luck. After a while, my pasta started getting worse and worse - tough, chewy (not in a pleasant way) and dry. I've tried a few different recipes, but always with the same result.
I've already learned some this weekend about holding back flour while paying attention to a recipe's instructions for how the dough should feel. I thought I'd try to apply this idea to pasta, going back to the first recipe I ever tried, from Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef. I'll write more on him another time, as he deserves an entire entry. But here is the short version of the recipe.
- 1 lb bread flour (3 1/2 to 4 c)
- 5 fresh, large eggs (preferably organic)
- semolina flour for dusting
Let dough rest in the fridge 1 hour.
Divide the dough into 4 balls, then use a pasta maker or rolling pin to roll each ball into a sheet. From there cut it or shape it as you want.
I decided to hold back about 25% of the flour. After that I paid close attention to adding only enough flour to keep the dough from getting sticky as I kneaded it.
Success! When I rolled it out in the pasta maker, the dough felt soft, tender and elastic, not tough as it has in my last attempts. In the end, I kept back about 1/3 of the suggested flour amount.
Here is a VERY important tip for those of you that are still with me... after rolling out each sheet, you need somewhere to put it. Jamie always shows beautiful sheets hanging on the backs of chairs in his books, but don't try this unless you want to eat one giant chair shaped noodle. It is way too dry in Colorado - the pasta dries in position almost immediately. Instead I lay the pasta flat in sheets covered in (very wrung out) damp dish towels. Here is the important part, dust flour very generously between each sheet, including under the bottom one. Otherwise, they stick together, which is a nightmare if you're trying to make ravioli, as you don't want any holes. Semolina is the best flour for dusting, by the way, as it is course, almost like sand, and doesn't get absorbed by the pasta.
Now on to the filling. I pretty much followed the filling part of the recipe exactly, except for using the acorn squash. I also followed a few of the review suggestions and subbed fresh sage and goat cheese, the delicious local Haystack Mountain Chevre.
I am really lazy when shaping the ravioli. I saw a Good Eats episode once where Alton measured each ravioli to perfection using a ruler. Where is the fun in that? Mine are much more "artistic."
Ok, instructions: lay out one sheet of pasta and then put scoops of ravioli down about 1 to 1 1/2 inches apart. How big should the scoops be? Use your best judgement. Put the line of scoops slightly off the center line. Flatten each scoop so that the top layer of pasta doesn't have to stretch far to touch the bottom layer. Then gently brush water on the pasta around each scoop.
Finally, fold the other half of the sheet over the tops of the scoops. You want to do this slowly, cupping your hand around the back of each scoop then rolling the cup of your hand over the scoop to the other side. You're trying to force out any air bubbles before making the final outer connection between the layers, as air will expand during cooking and possibly pop the pasta open. I wish I'd taken a picture of this step, but I was in a little bit of a panic due to the aforementioned sticky sheet hole problem. Cut between each covered scoop into individual raviolis.
Oh yea, put a big pot of water on to boil about ten minutes ago. Once boiling, lower the heat to a bare simmer.
To cook the pasta, gently place about 7 or 8 raviolis into the water at a time. Don't let the water come back to a boil or it will break up the raviolis. I cooked them until al dente, about 4 minutes. Drain the water from the raviolis gently, then immediately coat them in either olive oil or whatever sauce you're making.
Which brings us to the sauce. I was really lazy with the sauce... basically I threw a few tablespoons of butter in a saute pan on medium low heat with a handful each of walnuts and fresh sage leaves and a pinch of salt. I let it cook gently for about 5 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the butter, the nuts and the sage were all browned and toasty. Then pour over the ravioli.