Wednesday, December 11, 2013

half moons on a half moon

A long time ago, in the hills above Greve in Chianti, was a little restaurant.  It was, in reality, a social club that provided a communal space for a village that consisted of a cluster of buildings clinging to one turn in the road. The building that held the restaurant also had a cafe~bar that served pastry brought up from the big town at the bottom of the hill;  short dark, creamy coffees; and a glass of something necessary on a cold winters night.  Between the cafe~bar and the little trattoria was a makeshift ballroom where they held dances every other Saturday night.

Every weekend both the restaurant and cafe~bar were open.  Friday night through Sunday night.  In the trattoria was a woodfired, beehive oven.  In the oven, the two cooks, a mother and daughter, made pizzas as thin as sheets of music; they roasted birds of every kind, and maybe the shoulder or leg of a pig; and they boiled water for the weekend's special pasta. The pasta would get made on Thursday nights, late after everyone had gotten home from work, dinner had been cooked, eaten, and put away, and the children sent to bed.  In the home kitchen in one of the houses on the hill above the trattoria, the pasta dough would be mixed and rolled in the quiet of the night.  Little shapes would be cut out of thin and perfectly integrated dough with the lip of a juice glass, then stuffed and sealed for the next evening's offereings.  More could be made on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning.  When the work was done, the night would be finished with a tin cup of latte macchiato, milk warmed on the stove a stained with just a little bit of very strong coffee, the effects of the coffee completely canceled out by the comforts of the milk.

This is how I learned to make ravioli on a cold autumn into winter night with only stars and big half moon hanging in the sky, and a warm fire to accompany us.

For the pasta dough:
3/4 cup flour
1 egg
a few drops of water-dependent on egg and flour
big pinch of salt

Mix all together first with a fork then your hands bringing the flour and egg together just enough to stay together.  Only add the drops of water as needed for additional moisture.  The dough should be moist and ragged, but not wet or sticky.  Let rest for at least twenty minutes before rolling out.

To roll out, flour your surface well, and keep flouring as you go along.  Always roll from the center out.  Flip the dough and flour your surface.  Roll out until the dough is silky and supple and thin.  Begin cutting circles with your juice glass until you've taken everything you can from the sheet of dough.  Take the remainder of dough and make a ball, let rest while you fill your ravioli.

Then take your left over ball of dough, roll out as above until you have your sheet of dough.  Cut shapes, fill and seal.  Keep doing this process until you no longer have any dough left.

The filling you use for your ravioli is up to you.  Ricotta-based fillings are always nice as are pumpkin or spiced winter squash. Place your filling slightly off-center, and fold the dough over so that the circle makes a half moon.  Seal the edges of the dough together with your fingers.  Finish by an extra and decorative seal with the flat side of the tines of fork.

Lately, we've been making a filling of fresh ricotta mixed with a puree of Asian pear and seasoned to taste with salt, pepper, cinnammon, and just a bit of nutmeg.  Mix just enough of the pear sauce into the ricotta for taste and texture.

When you cook the fresh pasta (you can freeze them or let them dry for a day), they are ready when the ravioli float to the top of the boiling water.  We like to let them go just a little longer until the edges of the pasta feel a little soft.

A simple sauce of warmed butter and fresh sage is always perfect.  Heat the butter and sage with salt and pepper to taste, heated enough to release the essential oils of the herb; the edition of a grated parmigiana or grana and/or a slivered and warmed prociutto or pancetta makes a very nice and flavorful addition.


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