Knead to Know!

 The Highs & Lows of Making Fresh Pasta

The thought of making pasta from scratch, has always been a daunting one to me! The first hurdle being the machine, the second, making it produce something that vaguely resembles the texture & taste of the Italian staple….Well, for £20 I invested in a very smart looking Kitchen Craft Pasta Machine and it was not only simple to put together (with no instructions might I add) but also looks pretty damn professional too.

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I had it stuck in my mind to make a bright pink, beetroot ravioli for my dinner party, given the Valentine’s theme and the seasonality of the vegetable. A starter that I thought could be impressive and delicious. I have never made pasta before and so a little practice was necessary. Two days before the dinner party, I asked the chef in the restaurant I work what the best recipe would be for beetroot ravioli, to which he replied;

“Go with tagliatelle! Ravioli is going to really stress you out… it takes practice. Trust me.”

– needless to say, I didn’t listen. Stubborn as a mule, I decided I WOULD make ravioli and it WOULD be successful.

I finished work that night at 1am and unable to sleep (riddled with anxiety over this promise to myself) I make 3 batches of ravioli until 3:30 in the morning. “Madness!” I hear you say, but at least by the next day I felt much more confident in what I was doing and relaxed into the idea a whole lot more.

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I googled and googled prior to this, to see what the easiest recipe was out there. Increased desperation as I failed to find one that I thought was suitable;

“How to make fresh pasta?”

“How to make fresh beetroot pasta?”

“How to make fresh, beetroot ravioli?”

“When to add the beetroot in, when making fresh ravioli?”

“What is the best filling for beetroot ravioli?”

….endless! I became crazed with it, until finally, I ended up combining 3 different recipes. One was by Valentine Warner whose filling of beetroot, nutmeg and ricotta (with a sage butter sauce) was by far the simplest and most delicious sounding. Martha Stewart helped with the ‘when to add the beetroot’ part of the process and I used the measurements and technique given on an Italian Housewife’s blog (the Underdog prevailed!)

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The batches I made that night were rolled out, trimmed into rectangles and covered tightly in cling film ready to be put through the machine, fill and cook the next day- the final test!

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Beginners luck?

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So far, so good!

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What a joy to have in front of me a successful trial of ravioli making. I popped them into the water and there was none of the potential ‘explosion’ when they hit the boiling water. The filling stayed tightly in the pocket and colour stayed bright and vibrant.

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They even tasted pretty good too with the basic ricotta filling that I was using for these guinea pigs. This however, is as far as this success story goes…

The Chef is Always Right…

Morning of the dinner party and I follow the exact same steps. I make the pasta dough, cover in cling film and return it to fridge and get on with making the filling. Following Valentine’s recipe, I made sure to drain the ricotta well and the grated beetroot, aware that any excess water could cause damage to the pasta dough.

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At 5pm I start putting the doughy rectangles through the machine but I notice that one of them has formed a slightly hard skin… OH NO!!!  There was a small air hole in the cling film. Exposing the dough to air is a total no-no, you simply cannot work with it when it is dried out. I learnt this the hard way, I rolled it through the machine several times but it looked more and more like crusty playdough, with cracks all over it (I had a habit of not putting the lids on my playdough as a child incidentally so am all too familiar with this texture!) Not ideal. Luckily I had the other two batches and so feeling panicked, I hurriedly starting winding it through and thankfully it looked just as it had the day before.

For some reason, I had rolled the dough far too thin however (I am guessing you do not need to go to the smallest settings on the machine when rolling for ravioli?) so it was much harder to handle and kept sticking. I used flour where possible to help prevent total ruination and kept going. Roll out, fill, brush with water around the edges and fold. I was getting into a pickle because time was ticking… One hour later, I had 3 trays of ravioli’s that looked….well, not at all like they had when I tried it the first time. I decided I would remain optimistic,  put them back in the fridge (VERY tightly covered in cling film) and start to clean up the bright pink mess.

Friends arrive and feeling very anxious about the bloody Ravioli I start apologising in advance. Patiently they all waited at the table while I boiled 3 at a time (now worried they would explode or stick together). I could see the filling through the pasta on some of the rogue ‘thin’ pieces and because some of the water HAD leaked through, they were also sticky! Concurrently, I melted the butter in the frying pan in order to brown the sage leaves and yes, Chef was right, I was stressed! Finally, after 18 beetroot & ricotta Ravioli’s had gone to the table, in all of their flawed glory… the final two batches turned out perfectly. Lucky Emily and Skippy, the last to be served!

My friends all very politely told me that they tasted delicious and so with that boost of confidence (legitimate or not), I shall definitely be giving it another go. It is really fun when you take it slowly and when you get it right, it tastes far superior to anything you could buy in the shops.

There are a couple of lessons here for me though: either I cook better in the middle of the night and should only do so in future or I handle everything with a little more care and precision, check for air pockets, get a much drier filling and try not to lose my cool over the stove. The latter being the likely answer.

Click  here for the simple pasta recipe I used- https://shuffleinthepantry.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/767/
 
Why don’t you give it a try and let me know how your pasta turns out! 
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