Ravioli with Tomato and Garlic Gravy

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Today was ravioli day.  Making homemade pasta is fun and rewarding and homemade tastes so much better.  Years ago I was a guest in the home of a first generation Italian family in Toronto.  Not being Italian I was unfamiliar with the number of courses that constituted a typical Italian meal.  We all sat around a table in a small dining room where the table and the fabric upholstered seats were all covered in heavy plastic.  The first course consisted of antipasto, a beautiful salad and lots of crusty bread.  The leftovers were cleared from the table and the homemade pasta arrived.  Spaghetti with a meat sauce.  And more bread.  It was wonderful.  I cleaned my plate and felt very satisfied and pretty full.  The table was cleared and in came the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and more bread.  It was all I could do to eat a few more bites and listened to everyone say, “What’s the matter?  You don’t like the chicken?”  Who knew the pasta was an appetizer.  But I’m a quick study.  I learned to take much smaller portions.  And to never wear a skirt when the chairs are covered in plastic.

Today our ravioli was the entree.

The first step is making the pasta dough.

Ingredients:

2 cups of AP flour

2 large eggs

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I used a food processor.  Put the flour in and pulse it a few times. Whisk the eggs and slowly add them in with the processor running on low.

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The dough should come together in a ball.  If it looks like small pebbles add 1 tsp of water at a time.  If it is too wet and the dough is sticking to the sides add flour 1 T at a time.  Once the dough has come together in a ball remove it to a lightly floured work surface and knead it by hand until the dough is smooth, a couple minutes.  Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for at least 15 minutes.

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While the dough is resting prepare the filling.

Ingredients:

2 T olive oil

2-3 cloves of garlic minced

1/2 cup sweet onion in a fine dice

1 cup mushrooms diced

2 cups fresh spinach chopped

1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes diced

1 1/2 cups grated Asiago and Paramesan cheese

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In a heavy skillet heat the olive oil over medium high heat and sauté the garlic, onion and mushroom just until tender and fragrant.  Add the spinach and stir until wilted.  Remove from the heat.

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Stir in the diced sun dried tomatoes and the cheeses and your filling is ready to go.

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Divide the dough into six pieces.  Flatten into a disk and run through the pasta machine rollers.  Continue folding and running through the rollers until the dough is thin and shiny.  If, at any time, the dough is too sticky dust it lightly with flour.

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Stretch the dough over the ravioli form.   Fill each indentation with about 1-2 tsp of filling.  Do not over fill.

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Put a second piece of dough over the filling and run a rolling pin over the top.  Invert and remove the ravioli.

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Cover the ravioli with a clean dish towel and prepare the sauce.

Ingredients:

2 T olive oil

7-8 cloves of garlic chopped

28 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 pint diced tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes

salt to taste

fresh basil

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In a Dutch oven heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic until fragrant and tender.  Don’t brown the garlic.  Stir in the diced tomatoes and sun dried tomatoes.

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Stir in crushed tomatoes and basil.  Reduce heat and simmer.

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Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the ravioli until tender.  Approximately 5 minutes.

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Use a slotted spoon to remove the ravioli to a serving dish.  Ladle sauce over the pasta and serve with grated cheese.

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Enjoy!

NOTE:  You can fill your ravioli with a meat or a cheese filling.  You are only limited by your imagination.  I made 48 ravioli and froze half of them.  I put them in the freezer on a pizza tray and, once frozen, dropped them in a freezer bag for another day.  You don’t really need a ravioli form but I do think you need a pasta maker to roll the dough out properly.  I had extra dough and made linguini with it.

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Shrimp Scampi with Homemade Fettuccine

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Sunday my friend and I had a great time making homemade pasta together.  Tonight I used some of the pasta and made shrimp scampi for dinner.  Lots of garlic, oil and butter.  Probably not high on the healthy, low calorie meal pyramid.  Definitely not a dish I grew up eating.  As I think about it, I don’t recall ever eating shrimp or other shellfish as a child.  We ate a lot of fresh water fish but no shellfish or ocean fish except an occasional cod filet at a Friday fish fry.  I remember one time when my parents went out to dinner for what must have been a special occasion.  One of them had ordered lobster for dinner and they brought home the lobster shell to show us.  I remember being fascinated and a little repulsed and wondered how someone could possibly eat that creature!

Scampi is an easy dish to prepare and it doesn’t take a lot of time.  Even if you didn’t make your own pasta I hope you’ll try this.

Ingredients:

1 pound of uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 cup olive oil

5 T unsalted butter

4 cloves of garlic, pressed or minced

2 shallots finedly diced

juice and zest of one lemon

1/4 cup of minced parsley

1/2 cup white wine (or chicken broth)

red pepper flakes

salt to taste

pasta of your choosing

fresh grated asiago or parmesan cheese for serving

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This dish comes together pretty quickly so prepping all the ingredients before hand is important.  Press or mince the garlic and dice the shallots.

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Juice and zest the lemon.  Mince the parsley.

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Put a pot of salted water on the stove and bring it to a boil for cooking your pasta.  Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat.  When the oil starts to shimmer cook your shrimp.   Cook in batches to avoid crowding them in your pan.  Cook the shrimp until they start to turn pink, then turn them.  Once cooked, they only take a minute, set them aside on a plate.

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Add the garlic, shallots, and red pepper flake to the oil.  Cook for 1 minute.  Stir in the white wine or broth.  Simmer for 2 minutes.

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Add the butter until it melts into the garlic and shallot oil.

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Once the butter has melted stir in the parsley, lemon juice and zest, and return the shrimp to the skillet.  Remove from the heat and set aside until the pasta has finished cooking.

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Cook the pasta until it is al dente.  Reserve some of the pasta water before draining in a colander.

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Return the pasta to the kettle or put it into a large serving bowl.  Add the shrimp scampi to the pasta and gently toss.  If additional liquid is necessary add in some of the reserved pasta water.  Serve immediately with some fresh grated cheese.

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Serve with a salad and a nice glass of wine.  If you’d prefer skip the pasta and serve the scampi with a baked potato and a vegetable.

NOTE:  I cooked the shrimp in a cast iron pan and there was a lot of oil splatter on my stove.  I’m not a big fan of cleaning greasy messes so next time I will do the scampi in my dutch oven.  A deeper dish will help to minimize the splatter.  It’s also important to pat the shrimp dry with paper towel before frying.

Pasta Dough

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It was a Sunday of dueling pasta machines!  My dear friend Jane and I decided to make homemade pasta.  We both have pasta machines but are both seriously amateur pasta makers.  We made three different pasta dough recipes and decided on a favorite.  They all tasted great.  One was just a little easier to work with.  It’s a messy job for sure and you have to be patient.  We had flour everywhere and little bits of pasta all over the floor but toward the end of the day we were feeling a real sense of mastery!  We made ravioli and had them for dinner.  It was amazing if I say so myself.

I’ll share a couple of the recipes.  The one we used for our ravioli and the one that was our favorite.  The two main ingredients in every recipe are flour and eggs.

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Ravoili Pasta Ingredients:

2 cups AP flour

1 tsp salt

3 large eggs plus 1 egg for egg wash

2 T olive oil

We used a mixer with a dough hook for this recipe.  Mix the flour and the salt.  With the mixer running add the eggs, one at a time.  Slowly add 1 T of the olive oil and continue to combine until the dough forms a ball.  Knead the dough on a floured surface until it becomes smooth and elastic.  About ten minues.  Divide into two balls and brush the surface of each ball with the remaining 1 T of olive oil.  Wrap in plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for at least thirty minutes.

Once the dough has rested start working your pasta machine.  The dough has to be run through nearly a dozen times.  Until it is nearly paper thin.

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Filling Ingredients:

1/2 cup spinach wilted in a little olive oil over medium heat

1/2 cup ricotta cheese

1/2 cup fresh grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

lemon zest

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Allow the spinach to cool.  Blend the ingredients together in a food processor.  Put heaping teaspoons of filling about two inches apart on half a sheet of dough that has been brushed with an egg wash.  Fold the second half of the dough over like a blanket.  Using a pie crimper and a fork (it’s all we had) cut and seal each ravioli.  Put the completed ravioli on a baking sheet covered in parchment and lightly dusted with flour.  Set aside and allow them to dry slightly before cooking.

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Bring a pot of salted water to a slow boil.  Cook the ravioli for a couple minutes after they float to the top.  If you have to cook in batches to prevent overcrowding keep the first batch warm.  Drizzle with a little olive oil and serve with the sauce of your choice.

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We served ours with a red sauce with spinach and sweet Italian sausage.  It was amazing.

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The second pasta dough recipe called for cake flour.  Interesting.  We made fettuccine and spaghetti noodles with this dough.  It was the easiest dough to work with.  It had more elasticity and went through the pasta machine with less difficulty.  Or maybe we were just getting a little better at the whole process.

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups AP flour

1/2 cup cake flour

1 tsp salt

5 eggs

1 T olive oil

We prepared this dough in the food processor.

Pulse the dry ingredients together to combine.  Whisk the eggs and olive oil together.  While the processor is running slowly add the eggs to the dry ingredients and continue running until the dough forms a ball.  Remove the dough to a floured surface and knead it for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.  Divide the dough into quarters and wrap each in plastic wrap.  Allow the dough to rest at least 15 minutes before running it through the pasta maker.

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Run the dough through the pasta maker 10-12 times dusting the dough with flour and folding each time.  Adjust the thickness down every couple of passes.  We decided to make spaghetti and fettuccine so after allowing the sheets to rest for 30 minutes we ran them through the cutting attachment.  Hang the pasta on a drying rack or cook immediately.  We had already enjoyed a dinner of ravioli so we dried our pasta.  That drying rack in the laundry room now has a second function!

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Pasta making 101.  We learned a lot!  And we had an absolutely wonderful time doing it.  We are no longer amateurs.  We are now pasta mavens!

 

Chicken Cacciatore

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I recently picked up a Step by Step Italian Recipes magazine by America’s Test Kitchen and came upon a recipe for Chicken Cacciatore. Prepared the proper Italian way. I’ve made Chicken Cacciatore for years and years but a bit differently than the Test Kitchens. So I thought I’d try their recipe to see which we liked better. I’m always about changing things up.

Ingredients:

6-8 bone in chicken thighs (I used 2 thighs, 2 legs)

salt and pepper

1 tsp olive oil

1 onion chopped

3 portobello mushroom caps cubed (I used baby Bellas)

4 garlic cloves

1 1/2 T AP flour

1 1/2 cups dry red wine

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes drained

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 Parmesan cheese rind

2 tsp minced fresh thyme and 2 tsp minced fresh sage (I used basil)

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Heat oil in a Dutch oven to shimmering. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook, skin side down, until browned. About 4 minutes per side.

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Remove the chicken to a plate and drain off all but about a tablespoon of the drippings. Add the vegetables and cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender. (I also added a sweet orange bell pepper.). Season with salt.

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Add minced garlic and cook another minute until fragrant. Stir in the flour and cook for one minute stirring constantly.

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Add the wine scraping up browned bits. Stir in tomatoes and broth. Season with salt and pepper.

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Remove the skin from the chicken and submerge the chicken into the gravy as well as the Parmesan rind. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer 45-60 minutes.

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Discard the rind before serving. Taste the gravy and season to taste. Serve over the pasta of your choosing.

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I served it over spaghetti with grated asiago. It was good. But the consensus at our house was the not-authentic cacciatore is better. Sorry Test Kitchen.

Cook the chicken the same as referenced above. The way I’ve always made the gravy for cacciatore begins with dicing 5-6 slices of bacon. I cook the bacon until most of the fat is rendered but the bacon isn’t crisp. Drain off most of the fat and cook the vegetables (mushrooms, onion, and peppers) until tender.  Add the garlic and basil.  Cook until fragrant. Stir in 1 T of tomato paste. Stir in 1/2 cup of dry red wine scraping up any browned bits.  Stir in 1 quart of tomatoes. Add the bacon, Parmesan rind, and submerge the chicken into the gravy. Cook 45-60 minutes.   Serve over the pasta of your choosing.

You see the difference. A lot more tomato, a lot less wine. And bacon. My daughter says everything is better with bacon. And in this recipe I agree.

Try it both ways. Try it somewhere in between. Cooking is all about experimenting with recipes until you find something that tastes great to you.

Let me know what you think.

Asparagus and Garlic Pasta

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On one of our weekly shopping expeditions my friend and I discovered the most awesome pasta made in Grand Rapids Michigan by the Local Epicurean. The box says it is “hand made pasta by passionate artisans.”  I believe them. There are numerous combinations including lemon dill, asiago oregano, portobello Parmesan, red beet, asparagus garlic and several others. I’ve purchased and cooked many different pastas that purport to contain various vegetables but they seem to only be colored pastas. The Local Epicurean pastas actually taste like the ingredients they are infused with. Each package has cooking instructions and a recipe. This is the recipe, slightly modified, for the asparagus garlic pasta.

Ingredients:

4 T olive oil

1 cup asparagus cut into approximately 1″ pieces

1 cup grape tomatoes halved

1 cup of sweet yellow peppers rough chopped

1 cup mini portobellos

4-5 cloves of garlic minced

1/4 cup shallots sliced

1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

1 package asparagus garlic pasta

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Put up a large kettle of salted water for the pasta and bring it to a boil. This pasta cooks very quickly, 4-6 minutes.

Prep all of the vegetables.

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Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add all of the vegetables stirring occasionally. Cook 5-6 minutes until vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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While the vegetables are cooking grate a generous cup of parmigiana reggiano.

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Once the pasta is cooked drain but do not rinse.

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Add the pasta, cheese, and about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking liquid to the vegetables.

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Toss until well combined and serve.  Enjoy every bite.

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You can add shrimp, scallops, or thinly sliced chicken breast but I served it as a vegetarian meal. It could also be garnished with some fresh parsley or basil. Serve with a nice salad and some good bread and you have a meal that you’d be proud to serve any guest. And how easy was that!  If you cannot find this particular pasta the recipe would still make a very tasty dish.

I was recently at Eataly in Chicago with my daughter and was inspired to make my own pasta. I haven’t made pasta in a very long time. Years and years. I just think it would be great fun especially if I can talk someone into doing it with me. Maybe that will be one of my next blogs. We’ll see.

Pesto

A good friend gave me a beautiful bouquet of fresh basil from her garden.

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I find my salad spinner to be the best tool for washing fresh herbs.

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Once the basil is clean and dry it goes into the food processor:
2 cups of packed basil leaves
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts
and pulse until leaves are finely chopped. With food processor running on low add in a slow, steady stream:
1/2 cup good olive oil

Add salt and pepper to taste.

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If you’re going to use immediately stir in:
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

I froze mine using a silicone ice cube tray. Cover tightly before putting in the freezer. I will add my Parmesan when I’m ready to use the pesto.

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Now all we need is some pasta.