Sunday, March 15, 2009
I love noodles. I know that many of you will join me in this love.
I really love making homemade stuffed noodles of various styles. Gyoza (asian dumplings), ravioli, tortellini, and piroghies (polish potato dumplings) all come and go in my freezer at home. I feel rich eating a few handmade stuffed noodles with very simple accompaniment. I am not at all rich in the traditional sense, but things like a few piroghies with steamed vegetables and a lovely mashed steamed garlic and olive oil dressing, or ravioli filled with mushrooms and walnuts accompanied by a nice glass of wine makes me feel pretty fancy.
Actually, I am not particularly fancy. My style is usually pretty simple, and I love to let the natural essence of the foods I choose show through. The word "noodle" is not very fancy, but it is fun to say, and whatever you call it, noodle, pasta, whatever, it is wonderful to eat.
I've looked at a number of recipes for pasta dough, (or as Ken often quotes me saying, "noodle dough"). Generally speaking, the consistant formula is:
3 eggs (room temp is best)
2 cups flour (all-purpose, semolina, or whole wheat)
Just like pie dough, have a little water on hand if the dough seems dry. Unlike with pie dough, the water should be room temperature, or even a little warm. Also, I have substituted a couple of tablespoons of water for one of the eggs a number of times with no difference in quality. Some recipes add salt, or even a little olive oil. I've decided neither is necessary. If I'm making dough for asian dumplings, or for pieroghies, I usually use just high gluten bread flour and enough water to make the dough.
As far as kneading the dough is concerned, I like to really work it by hand. I knead it until it is very smooth, sometimes as long as 15 minutes worth of work.
Something I've learned about fresh pasta dough-- my least successful attempts (dough too soft, for example) have been absolutely delicious. As with any dough, experience teaches what is too wet, too dry, just right. And also, as with many doughs, success does not mean that the learning process is over.
The filling that I have pictured here is a mixture of crimini mushrooms (baby portabellas), spinach (I used frozen, squeezed to a dry consistency), shallots, garlic, carrot, celery. walnuts, ricotta salata cheese (crumbled), and parmesan, with some black and ground hot red pepper.
Sautee the shallot, garlic, celery, and carrot (in that order), add the walnuts to get them toasty, then the mushrooms. Let cool some, then process until evenly chopped and fine. Transfer to a bowl, and process spinach separately. (It helps to roughly chop it before adding to food processor, then add to bowl with the mushroom- walnut mixture. Add the cheeses and spices, mix, and taste for salt. Easy! Try your own combination! If the mixture seems a bit wet then add some cracker or bread crumbs, some finely ground oatmeal, or finely ground seeds or nuts. Too dry? Add some ricotta cheese, or canned tomato product. I made a nice one recently with a jar of commercial bruschetta topping that I had in the cupboard. I've never made bruschetta in my life, but I bought it because it was a nice looking tomato and artichoke sauce that seemed pretty natural, was on sale, and seemed destined to come in handy. We all have these sorts of products around; this is a perfect way to use them!
The dough gets rolled out at some point. If you've just made it, let it rest for a while-- let's say an hour or two. I often make it the night before, to fit the process of making ravioli (as I did in this example this example) into my daily schedule. I often cut the rested dough into small rectangles before rolling them into long tongue-shaped ovals. With a machine, roll each bit out on progressively thinner settings, starting with one, and ending up on 3 or 4 (as you prefer). It's good to do a small batch at a time, letting them rest slightly between settings to let the gluten in the dough relax slightly. If you are rolling by hand, the same rings true, don't go for the desired thickness all at once, as it will start shrinking up on you. Do a few, fill them, then do a few more. Use a pan or a clean countertop sprinkled with flour as your work area. Sprinkle your pasta machine with flour before you start rolling as well.
The ravioli making process I use is a bit crude. I blob little bits along one of the strips of dough, take a small clean brush, moisten the edges and between the blobs slightly, then fold and shape the whole piece into a strip of ravioli to be cut apart. Don't use too much water, and don't forget to press out the air that gets trapped before sealing the dough around the filling. Then take a knife and cut apart, trimming them a bit if you wish. You can cook the odd little bits of pasta too, they're quite nice.
The ravioli cookies were made with the Basic Rolled Cookie dough, and iced with lemon/powdered sugar icing (see Lemon Cookie recipe). The mushrooms were tinted with cocoa in the icing. The filling for this strange cookie was walnuts chopped with semi-sweet chocolate and a touch of cinnamon.
The featured cookie assortment represents mushroom, asparagus, roasted garlic cloves, with a sprinkling of pine nuts (yeah, those are real).
Well, I have a backlog of stories to tell in Strange Cookie form, so I'll be back soon!