We all look forward to a day off, or at least a day where there’s nothing to worry about, no where to rush to… thus is the perfect fresh pasta making day. There’s something very zen about waking up and just wanting to put your hands to some hard work and good use for something other than our daily jobs. Making fresh pasta, like ravioli or tortelloni, certainly takes up a great majority of the day, but the payoff is gratifying! It’s a great chance to spend time and energy focusing on something so tangible, delicate, age-old. You’ll have plenty to eat that day and so much left to freeze to make is many dishes to come.
I never grew up making pasta, unfortunately. The first time I ever attempted was in Italy at the culinary program I was in, and making it could not have felt more foreign to me. How the heck is this mound of flour with an egg or 2 in front of me supposed to become a smooth dough? I’d knead and knead and it would get tougher and tougher and it felt like my arms would fall off. It wasn’t developing gluten properly like I always read and saw on shows and things. It was tiring and frustrating. My professora Claudia explained to me that it’s the kind of touch and feel of moisture and balance that will be learned as I make it time and time again. You learn to add some water here, more oil there, and by looking at the egg before you start will tell you if you need 2 or 3. So for a first time pasta maker, it can be frustrating. But don’t get discouraged!
I’ve made pasta about a dozen times by now, and each is still a trial and error process. One time it was too thick and gummy and just tasted of a pasty, floury mess. Another time it had absolutely no salt so it was just tasteless. Tried with just semolina flour and it was very coarse and chewy. And finally, on this one day, I got it. I was so scared of straying from the pasta dough recipe I learned in Italy. I don’t know what I was doing wrong, but I’ve realized that the things that were remarkably memorable in Italy are shamefully mediocre here. So I turned to my faithful idol, Giada, for help. Heck, she wrote an entire cookbook on pasta recipes, and her grandfather taught her how to make it so I gave it a shot. I’m FLOORED by how great this pasta turned out. So delicate, so texturally spot on. Thank you, Giada. There’s a reason why I heart you so much! <3
Here’s Giada’s recipe for pasta dough from her Everyday Pasta cookbook. The only change I made was to use 00 flour instead of all-purpose. The “00” refers to the level of how finely ground the wheat is—in this case very,very finely. It’s so powdery and light but yet still carries a high amount of protein in order to develop the gluten necessary to create the dough. Also, her recipe is made in the food processor, which works really well; however I prefer to make it on a wooden cutting board, creating a well in the center of the flour and adding the other ingredients slowly. Either way works just fine, but here are the steps for the food processor.
: Fresh Pasta :
• 3 cups 00 flour
• 4 large eggs
• 1 tbsp salt
• 1 tbsp olive oil
Put flour in the bowl of a food processor. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the salt and olive oil. Add the egg mixture to the food processor with the flour and pulse to combine, scraping the bowl once or twice. Continue running the machine until the liquids are evenly distributed, about 1 minute. The dough should stick together if pinched between your fingers. The dough will clump but won’t form a complete ball, so turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Gather the dough into a ball and knead gently until the dough is smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes before rolling and shaping as desired.
This time of year I LOVE roasted butternut squash anything, especially with pasta. If I see any menu listed with butternut squash ravioli with butter and sage, I always order it. So it’s safe to say I’ve had tons of all types of this filling, and Giada’s is seriously the best ever. I don’t know if it’s the savory caramelized squash mixed with nutmeg and amarretti cookies in it, or just cause it’s homemade all around. Either way, it’s SO unbelievable. I made both ravioli shaped and tortelloni shaped pasta using the filling below. Top it off with some simple browned butter and sage, or if you feel like making a creamy bechamel infused with sage, it becomes even more luxurious and ridiculously comforting. There will be plenty left over to freeze, and you will be craving these again and again and have the most satisfying dish on demand.
: Roasted Butternut Squash filling :
• 1 butternut squash, approximately 2 lbs, peeled and cubed
• 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tsp herbs de Provence
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1/4 tsp pepper
• 2 large shallots
• 2 garlic cloves, finley minced
• 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
• 4 small amaretti cookies, finely crushed
• 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a foil lined baking sheet, toss together the butternut squash, 2 tbsp olive oil, herbs de Provence, salt and pepper. Bake until soft and golden, about 25 minutes. When the squash is almost done, heat the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil in a small saute pan over medium heat. Cook the shallots and garlic until lightly golden, about 3 minutes.
In a food processor, combine the roasted squash, shallot mixture, and the ricotta cheese and pulse a few times to blend. Add the crushed amaretti cookies and the nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper. Pulse until smooth. Filling can be made one day ahead.
: Tip : When done filling the ravioli, lay on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Do not let them overlap or stack them on top of one another—they’ll end up sticking together! Instead, let the single layer of ravioli freeze up for about 30 minutes before transferring into a sealed plastic bag.
To cook the pasta, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a handful of salt. Cook ravioli until they float, 3-5 minutes. To make a sauce, heat a couple of tablespoons of butter over medium heat to melt. Add a few sage leaves and let it sit over medium heat until butter browns, almost 10 minutes. Swirl the pan every few minutes or so to even out the browning. Transfer ravioli with a slotted spoon to the butter and sage pan. Serve with lots of freshly grated parmesan or pecorino.
I want to try to make a rolled lasagna version of this dish with a sage infused bechamel sauce. It would make for an amaaazing side dish to pork or even Thanksgiving (one day it will be my Thanksgiving staple side dish!) Here’s the bechamel recipe (thanks again Giada).
: Tip : When making bechamel: 1) Always make sure to heat the milk before you add it, and add slowly. Lots of cold milk at one time makes lumpy bechamel! Heat it in a small saucepan and have it on standby. 2) Be patient when you cook the butter and flour, otherwise the whole thing tastes like raw flour. 3) SLOWLY add milk and incorporate a little at a time. Always use a whisk or else you’ll get lumps. Switch to a wooden spoon only after adding all the milk, and stir constantly.
: Bechamel Sauce infused with Sage :
• 5 tbsp butter
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 4 cups warm whole milk
• 6 fresh sage leaves
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
• pinch freshly grated nutmeg
In a small sauce pan, heat milk over medium-low heat with the sage leaves until heated throughIn a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the warmed milk, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thick, smooth, and creamy, about 10 minutes. Don’t let it come to a boil though! Remove from the heat and add salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Sage is optional—Recipe can be made without it for other dishes, but squash and sage are BFFs.