Tag Archives: pasta

Practice makes … Pasta?

As you might have noticed, once an idea gets planted in my head – it’s hard to shake it free. For example, take this butternut squash:

Doesn’t it just scream autumn? I had been waiting eight months for this butternut squash. Last winter I went to visit my friend Jenny in Chicago to help her find a wedding dress and to learn how to make chocolates. While I was there, we went to Cafe Spiaggia (the restaurant where the wedding will be) and I had the most delicious butternut squash ravioli. Seriously – I am still thinking about it nearly a year later.

Previously, I had tried to make ravioli using wonton wrappers and it’s just not the same as fresh pasta. I knew this time I wanted to make them right – no shortcuts. I scoured the Uptown area for some fresh pasta sheets and then searched some more with no luck. Out of options, I decided to try my hand at pasta making, I mean, how hard could it be? Apparently no shortcuts means no shortcuts. So I announced my pasta-making intentions over lunch and was immediately offered the use of a pasta roller (Thanks Pete!). I was good to go.

Here’s what I found out: pasta dough is amazingly simple but in no way easy.

Two ingredients, that’s all, two ingredients! Flour, eggs (and I suppose a little water) and a LOT of elbow grease. Only pennies to make, which is kind of absurd.

I most anticipated the rolling part. After the first pass through the roller, I thought I had failed miserably. The dough was dry and somewhat crumbly. Not a pretty sight and did nothing to boost my kitchen ego.

But I kept going (if graduate school teaches you anything – it’s perseverance). Rolling the dough, folding the dough and re-rolling the dough. And at some point, something magical happens and the dough becomes soft and silky and recognizable as pasta.

I was completely enchanted.

Look Ma at what I can do!

That moment – that magical moment when the pasta dough becomes pasta – is utterly addicting and makes the whole process worth it. That is, if it is a Sunday afternoon and you are in no rush to make dinner…

Now, back to the butternut squash. I roasted it, added some ginger, parmesan cheese and finely ground hazelnuts and wrapped it in a ~3 inch square of pasta. First folding the dough in half to make a triangle and then bringing two points together to make a little “hats” (or cappellacci).

Add a little browned butter, sage and toasted hazelnuts … not bad for a Sunday afternoon.

Butternut Squash Cappellacci with Browned Butter, Sage and Hazelnuts
**********
Pasta Dough
2 cups flour
2 large eggs
water
 
Butternut Squash Filling
1 medium butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup finely ground hazelnuts
 
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cups sage leaves, chopped
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts
**********

1. Mound flour on countertop with a well in the middle. Add eggs to well. With a fork, break up the eggs and start to incorporate the flour. Add water as needed to bring dough together.

2. Once dough is formed, wrap in a kitchen towel and let sit for about an hour.

3. Divide dough in fourths. Flatten dough into a rectangle and feed it through a pasta roller, set at the widest setting. (My dough was very piece-y after the first pass through). Gather dough together and repeat until a sheet forms. Fold pasta sheet in half and continue rolling it until it becomes soft and silky, occasionally adjusting the roller setting to narrower setting. Keep pasta sheets wrapped in a kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out.

4. Halve the butternut squash and remove the seeds. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 350º for about an hour. Scoop flesh into a medium bowl.

5. Stir in ginger, parmesan cheese and ground hazelnuts.

6. Cut pasta dough into 3-inch squares. Scoop about a tablespoon of filling into the center of each square. Fold dough in half to make a triangle, pinching edges together. Bring two points of the triangle together to form the “hat.”

7. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta for about 6-8 minutes and very carefully remove/drain.

8. Cook butter in a skillet over medium heat until it starts to brown, 3-4 minutes. Add sage, toasted hazelnuts and cook for an additional minute or two. Add pasta and toss to coat.

Lemon Broccoli Pasta

Everybody has a go-to recipe. There are some nights that you just don’t want to have to think about what to cook for dinner. And so you need a meal that, without fail, is quick, simple and delicious. One of mine is lemon broccoli pasta. I like it because it bright and fresh and I usually have the ingredients for it in my cupboards and refrigerator. You can add chicken to it, if you’d like – but I prefer the vegetarian form.

Lemon Broccoli Pasta

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add about 1/2 pound of linguine.

 

Chop a few cloves of garlic. I am a garlic fiend, so I use 3 or 4.

 

And I use a vegetable chopper. It may be one of my favorite kitchen tools – especially for chopping garlic.

 

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a deep-sided frying pan. Add the chopped garlic and cook for a couple of minutes.

 

Add ~1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes and cook for about a minute.

 

Now take some broccoli …

 

… chop it up and add it to the frying pan.

 

Cover with a lid and let the broccoli cook for a few minutes. I prefer my broccoli slightly crunchy, so I tend to undercook mine.

 

Add the cooked linguine to the garlic-red pepper flake-broccoli mix.

 

Meanwhile, juice and zest a lemon.

 

Add lemon juice and zest to pasta.

 

Oh yeah, and toss in a good portion of freshly grated parmesan cheese (because it’s not a pasta dish without it). Heat until the cheese melts.

 

Plate and top with some toasted walnuts (pine nuts are also a great choice).

 

It really is a no-brainer. Part of the reason I have this blog is to have an online archive of my most favorite dishes so that when I am old and have lost my memory (you know, probably sometime next year) I can go back and see what I did, whether it be simple or complex. This just happens to fall in the “stupidly easy and delicious” category.

 

Mac and Cheese

Arg.

Winter is not over. I thought it might be but I was mislead.

It looks like we’ve already had about 7 inches of snow fall today … and it shows no signs of stopping.  Some reports are predicting up to 15 inches. It will likely be the snowiest winter since 1891. Whoa. And I decided to live here for it. What was I thinking?

(Good thing I have another trip to Florida next weekend)

So it’s back to my comfort food.

Ultra-cheesy carbohydrates aka Mac and Cheese. Perhaps my favorite dish ever (this time I mean it).

This time I made it with three cheeses: Cheddar, Gruyere and Asiago.

I mean how could this not make you feel better?

This recipe is almost exactly how I learned it from my mother when I was young. I’ve modified it slightly with the addition of garlic salt and cayenne pepper and sometimes different combinations of cheese.

Best Mac and Cheese Ever

Start by melting 3 tablespoons butter in a pot over medium-low heat. (What I love about this recipe is that the sauce is super easy to scale: equal parts butter and flour (in tablespoons) and the equivalent number of cups of milk).

Whisk in 3 tablespoons of flour.

Now season with some garlic salt.

And a dash of cayenne pepper.

Whisk in 3 cups milk.

And cook until sauce thickens.

Add about 3/4 of ALL the shredded cheese. (I really have no idea how much cheese this is in total – see photo above.)

The cheddar.

The gruyere.

And the asiago.

Make sure you leave a little so you can top off you dish.

Take off the heat and stir to melt the cheese.

Now, drain your cooked elbow macaroni noodles (about 1/2 a pound).

And put in an oven-proof casserole dish.  Add the cheese sauce.

And top with remaining cheese.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

I think I make this at least 2 or 3 times a month …