I received a cryptic message from my Aunt Sandy just before Christmas. “I’ve gotten you something,” she wrote, “It’s not a Christmas present, the timing is just coincidental. All I’m telling you is: it’s shiny, and it’s for your kitchen.”
When I arrived for Christmas dinner, I could barely contain my excitement when I opened up the bag she handed me to find…
A pasta roller!
“I don’t know if it’s any good,” she said, ever the humble soul “I saw it at the thrift store for ten bucks and thought you might be able to use it”
It is indeed shiny, and in mint condition. It was probably made in the 60’s. There was even a recipe written out by someone’s Nonna in the bottom of the well-worn box, instructions for “spgattii make”. Later on, a quick googling revealed that the Imperia Noodle Chef pasta roller, made in Italy, is still manufactured today and is sold at Williams-Sonoma for about $70.
I was a little nervous about making my own pasta. I have never tried it before. Well, there was the time I made quail egg ravioli, but I took a shortcut and used wonton wrappers, which I was not so impressed with.
A confession: I am not a perfect cook. There I said it. I know, you’re shocked. But it’s true. Sometimes when I try to do something new in the kitchen and it doesn’t work out, I get really mad. I mutter atrocious insults at the food, I crash, I stomp. I have been known to throw a full-out tantrum if something goes really wrong. Poor Cheesler has learned to recognize the warning signs, and knows the only thing he can do is collect the dog and slink into the basement to wait out the storm as though weathering a tornado.
I had an ominous feeling that this might happen with home-made pasta. But it didn’t! There, aren’t you relieved? Everything went swimmingly, actually. I was rather surprised at how easy it was and how delicious it turned out.
I started with ravioli, because even though the stuffing part can be time-consuming, I figured it was the easiest type of pasta to roll. A long, flat sheet could not be too difficult.
I used my food processor to form the dough, made from all -purpose flour. I want to get to the market soon to get some nice semolina flour for next time.
The recipe called for two whole eggs plus three egg yolks. I saved the egg whites to add to the filling, which was sweet italian sausage with fennel from The Sausage King at St. Lawrence Market, extra fennel, shallots, and parmesan cheese. As you’ll recall, I hate wasting anything, egg whites included.
Immediately after forming the dough (which required a few drops of water to come together), I floured it up and tried cramming it through the pasta roller on the widest setting. It did nothing but bunch up above the roller, and the parts that got through looked like stretched out lace, full of holes. Rage simmered on the horizon. “Just try again, Sophie”, I muttered to myself. “It’s got to be the dough, to dough is too tough”. I added a tiny bit more flour and tried again. The same result. I anxiously checked the recipe, which in my haste to “get things rolling”, I had completely ignored, especially the part about letting the dough rest for 30 minutes after forming. Sheepishly, I covered it and set it aside while I made the filling.
After 30 minutes, the relaxed dough eased through the rollers like butter. I breathed a sigh of relief while Cheesler crept back up the stairs with the dog in tow.
I soon contracted Cheesler for his hand-modelling services again. I think he should consider a second career. Those hands could be famous!
After the pasta sheets were rolled out, my filling had cooled sufficiently to stuff the ravioli. The Imperia did not come with a ravioli attachment, so I would be stuffing the cutting them by hand. Luckily, I had also recently been gifted some vintage kitchen tools to do just that. I decided to employ the use of the “French Garnishing Cutter” to get a frilly edge.
So, I laid the pasta sheets out, and placed a teaspoon or so of the filling in even spaces along the bottom edge. For the first sheet, I used the paper towel as a guide to delineate the middle of the sheet, but later realised I could just eyeball it. Ravioli shaping is not an exact science, after all.
Using a bit of water, I moistened the edges of the sheet and a line in between each mound of filling. Then, I folded the sheet over the filling, and pressed down on the moistened lines in between the mounds, working out any trapped air toward the still-open side of the sheet. Then I sealed of the long bottom edge of the sheet. Using the garnishing cutter, I cut the bottom and side edges, and in between the filling mounds, forming individual raviolis. I left the folded edge flat, just cause that’s how I roll, alright?
Soon, I had lots of raviolis laid out on floured cutting boards across the kitchen. Once finished, I got to work on my simple tomato sauce.
Since its winter and fresh tomatoes are kind of ghastly, I used a bottle of Passata, simmered for a full hour with white wine, shallots, garlic, basil and oregano. Before serving, I tossed in a couple tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese. You can’t see the cheese in the sauce but the flavour is enriched ever so slightly.
And finally, I cooked the ravioli for 3 minutes in boiling, salted and lightly oiled water. They stood up amazingly! Not a single one burst or fell apart. They were perfect. I shall now retract my earlier admission.
The pasta truly does taste better when it is made fresh and cooked properly. And the long-simmered tomato sauce was bright, rich and full of flavour.
I can’t wait to try making it as the Italian purists do: with semolina flour and farm-fresh eggs.
I think, my next pasta project will be penne.
Mmmm, I love a nice italian sausage with lots of fennel. Here’s the recipes!Fresh Pasta Dough Sophie’s Simple Tomato Sauce Sweet Sausage Ravioli Filling