Thursday 16 October 2008

Recipe: Ravioli with Parsley Stuffing

My favourite new pasta dish - and one for which I don't in the least understand its obscurity. I've yet to come across parsley-stuffed ravioli on a restaurant menu anywhere in Italy, and yet the flavour is great and the preparation couldn't be simpler. Maybe it's another of those things where its simplicity has meant that people have come to disregard it, and along the way they stopped noticing how good it actually is...

So much about cooking is efficient time-management. About ten days ago, the Brancolis came to dinner, in advance of us all going to the final concert in this year's Anima Mundi Cycle, in the Duomo (Arvo Part's Cantus for Benjamin Britten, and Renaud Capucon playing Brahms' Violin Concerto - both of which were truly excellent...). The fact that we lingered longer than intended over pre-dinner fizzy wine, and that the concert was going to start at 9.00 come-what-may, conspired to mean suddenly we were pressed for time....and from the moment of starting to roll the pasta dough to the point when bowls of steaming ravioli were placed on the table took exactly 30 minutes. Doubtless, some weather-beaten Nonna would have been able to do it in half the time....but I thought it wasn't a bad effort for a mere novice.

For Four*.

Ingredients: Pasta dough, made with 3 medium eggs and 2 cups of '00' flour, plus a generous pinch of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil(optional: you can also ad a sachet of squid ink if you want black pasta, and a slightly fishy taste to your ravioli) ; 250g ricotta; 1 cup loosely-packed fresh parsley; 1 piece of hard parmesan, about 1.5" cube, cut into small pieces; 1 egg; large pinch of Nutmeg; salt & pepper to taste.


1. Process all of the pasta dough ingredients together for thirty seconds,to give you a homogenous lump, that is not sticky to the touch.Let this rest in the fridge for half an hour

2.Place the parsley and pieces of parmesan in the food processor bowl and process for ten seconds or so, until decently broken down, and then add all the remaining ingredients and process further to make a thick paste. Check and adjust the seasoning as necessary.

3. Once rested, divide the pasta dough into quarters, and quickly roll each quarter ten times at the broadest setting on your pasta machine, turning and folding the strips as you go. Then, cut each quarter in half; cover the remaining pieces of pasta to stop them drying out, and take each of the eight pieces of dough through the six-stage rolling process, reducing the thickness between the rollers with each stage.

4. Once each strip of pasta has finished its sixth roll, lay it on a floured cloth and place a row of teaspoons of filling (five or six, depending upon the exact length of the pasta strip) along the centre of the strip. Fold the strip over on itself, and use a pasta wheel seal the length of the folded strip and to cut between the spoonfuls of filling, to create square ravioli about and inch and a half square.

5. Repeat with the remaining pasta and filing (I generally find I run out of filling while I still have some pasta dough left - enough for a fettucine starter the following day). Cook for about three minutes in a large pan of boiling, salted water.

6. To serve: melt a couple of ounces of butter in a small saucepan, and add to this a half cup of double cream. Heat through for about a minute, to thicken slightly, as the pasta cooks, and then use gently to coat the ravioli once they've been drained.

Sunday 12 October 2008

Home & Hearth... a very welcome concept after a couple of weeks of practically non-stop travelling. Airports and planes, and poor (if not non-existent) internet connections...and hotel breakfasts (I don't normally have breakfast, but somehow business trips exist on an alternative plane, and all usual reference points count for nothing...) and early morning alarm calls....and endless, endless, endless hours of CNN reports on the global financial meltdown! I watched Lehmann Bros go bust in Mumbai, George W's bailout plan be given the bum's rush in Athens, and Fortis go belly-up in Munich! I'm hugely relieved to be back now in a blissfully TV-free environment, and able to ignore the whole damned thing....

I have to say that in all of that peripatation, there was little of note to report on the culinary front. There was one memorable Coffee Parfait in The Grande Bretagne in Athens, served with the merest drizzle of an exquisite Hazelnut Sauce ....which was (apparently) simple, and unarguably sublime....and a soup in The Lenbach restaurant in Munich which was worthy of serious analysis - Lobster and Saffron bisque, I think, in which floated delicious chunks of red mullet and artichoke heart. Beyond that, though, airline food never rises above the pitifully poor, and the culinary offerings of neither Greece nor Germany are ever likely to set the gastronomic pulses racing....

In fact, it was a complete delight to get back to my own kitchen, roll up my sleeves and get life back on a sensible footing . As ever, October in Tuscany is quite wonderful....the days still and clear, which start with bright morning sunshine, and a light mist rising over the garden; by midday, the heat is quite intense, and as the evening draws in, the chill in the air suddenly prompts sweaters and closed windows and the uncorking of bottles of hearty super-tuscans. This is the season when the wall-mounted barbecue in the kitchen comes into its own, and all of the atavistic home-and-hearth impulses rise to the surface. Yesterday, for the first time since April, I dusted off the barbecue - which can't be used in summer months as it throws out far too much heat for comfort - and watched with atavistic pleasure as one of Padre Pio's chickens rotated gracefully before the flames, and was roast to a satisfyingly succulent crispness. (Not the real Padre Pio, but our Pisan poulterer, who used to be an avid follower of the beatified cleric)

The garden behaves so well at this time of year: late roses on the south pergola, the surface of the lily pond a mass of white water-hyacinth flowers , and the house pergola a fantastic combination of jasmine blossom (jasminum angulare) against the bulls-blood red of the autumnal hue of the creeper. Yesterday, I threw caution and workload to the winds and sat under the Caci tree in the midday sunshine, with a glass of chilled vernacchio di San G, and the fifth of this year's Booker shortlist - Amitav Ghosh's 'Sea of Poppies'. Good book, but absolutely lousy shortlist.....despite which, half an hour of midday sunshine in the middle of the garden was still spectacular.

Tonight's Dinner:

Seppie, con Piselli e Pomodoro

Pepper, Parmesan and Veal 'Hamburger'; Borlotti Beans alla trippa

Crepes Suzettes