Wednesday, April 29, 2009


My excitement of moving to Italy for a year had the added bonus of Bologna's reputation as la Grassa, the fat one, the 'delicatessen of Italy'. I was ready to experience Italian cuisine first hand, and come home every few months with a ben curato Italian stomach. Bologna is most famous for its delicate little tortellini, made carefully around one's little finger and otherwise known as 'Venus' navel'. Having tasted these tiny morsels of delicious meat filled pasta, and arriving at that time of year when inside becomes far more inviting than out, I was desperate to bring them home to enjoy in the comfort of Via del Carro, 5. On a student budget, yet in the realms of rather beautiful and expensive market streets stocked up with best autumnal produce, my ever precious Euro was sadly to be spent elsewhere. So, instead, I was to go back to the beginning, and head home with bags laden with eggs and flour.

Two simple ingredients. One and a half hours of hard labour. One ounce of patience. The afternoon that I expected to be simple and therapeutic turned out to be more like aCheck Spellingn exercise work out. Perhaps finishing off a bottle of red wine to liberate the bottle as a rolling pin was not the way forward? Nonetheless, after pushing through the pain, folding, stretching, pulling, and rolling, the end product looked convincing enough. Thus began the folding. Despite having very small hands - I had been told that the best tortellini are wrapped around the tip of a little finger - my creations, stuffed with an untraditional yet seasonal filing of pumpkin and parmigiana, were worryingly dissimilar to the navel of any goddess. Although giving up is not usually my thing, I am a keen believer in practice makes perfect - so having attempted this 'harder than it looks' recipe, I thought it better to leave the idea on the shelf, and try again another time before serving it to hungry flatmates.

With the rest of the dough, so not to waste, I put half in the freezer for my next attempt of tortellini production, and the other half, cut in to 5x3 cm rectangles to cook up a more achievable dish of ravioli di zucca, pumpkin ravioli. Using the previously made, cooled filling I dropped a small amount in the centre of a rectangle, and covered it with another identical piece. Pressing down the edges around the filling, and ensuring there were no gaps, they were ready to place into boiling water. The end result was so scrumptiously worth it that all hard work had been put to good use.

A delicious and HUGELY satisfying dish - despite the rash, but perhaps wise decision to move away from tortellini...

BASIC FRESH PASTA RECIPE: ingredients. 600g/1lb 6oz flour (Some suggest Tipo ‘00’). 6 large free-range eggs or 12 yolks.

Place the sifted flour in large bowl, and make a well in the centre for the eggs. Beat the eggs, and using fingers mix together the two ingredients until it reaches a dough consistency. Knead the dough - patience and stamina needed - until smooth and combined, and the gluten in the flour has developed enough to create a springy and flexible texture when cooked. When the mixture is sufficiently kneaded, wrap in clingfilm and place it in the fridge for a while before rolling.

So to make life a little easier, separate the dough into a few parts so that rolling is more manageable. The best advice is to use a long, wooden rolling pin and NOT an empty wine bottle! The thinner the pasta becomes the more likely it is to stick to the table, and the harder it is to pull off, so make sure to cover the surface in flour before rolling, and add more to each side of the pasta when necessary. When the dough is rolled thinly, fold over again, roll and repeat 8 times. This is to ensure you have the best texture at the end. For both ravioli and tortellini the optimum result is to have the dough thin enough so that it has an almost transparent appearance.

Cut the dough into the shape desired - for ravioli I do 5x3 cm rectangles. This process needs to be speedy as the pasta is susceptible to drying out. If this occurs, use a damp tea towel to keep the dough cool and moist. (Here is when to add the filling if recipe needs it.)

If you use a pasta machine, work through all the settings until you reach number 1 setting. If you are keen on following the less hassle route, use a food processor for combining the dough.

PUMPKIN & PARMIGIANA RAVIOLI FILLING:ingredients. one small pumpkin, de-seeded and diced. 1 tbsp olive oil. 60g/ 2.11oz. Parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve. salt and black pepper. 75g/ 2.64oz. butter, chopped (for the sauce).

I find the best way to cook pumpkin is to roast it in the oven on baking tray drizzled with olive oil. This should take around 30 minutes with the oven at 190 degrees C. When the pumpkin is soft, take it out of the oven and, in a bowl, mash it together with the cheese and olive oil into a smooth paste. Season with the salt and pepper. Make sure this is relatively cool and dry before filling the pasta.

Place the filled ravioli in salted, boiling water for 2 minutes or until al dente. Meanwhile melt the butter in a saucepan.

When the pasta is ready, drain, serve on a warm plate and pour the melted butter over. Sprinkle with the left over Parmesan.


Basic Fresh Pasta Recipe based on Jamie Oliver's 'a basic recipe for fresh egg pasta':

For a more experienced and insightful instruction for making tortellini, I found this link rather good:


Looking out through the open shutters of my Bolognese top floor apartment, with the single-glazed windows very much shut, I try to escape the fact that April showers, even in Italy, are no match for a picnic in the sun. In fact, the thought of a downpour ruining a lovingly made hamper of homemade hummus, prosciutto cotto, and freshly baked bread seems far too sad to swallow. In spite of my well-known optimism when it comes to weather, especially when it involves food, today the rain has beaten me down to, 'perhaps let's have a picnic inside...' This, however, with a little bit of imagination and good company, can be just as fun as the real thing.

Many may go against this and say that a picnic isn't a picnic if it isn't al fresco, but if you have all the necessary ingredients, not just the food, then it can work brilliantly.

Step one, choose a room with lots of light.

Step two, lay out a large and colourful rug in the middle of the floor.

Step three, put on a Cd of rare birdsong of England - and you are there!

No. Really, there is a much more stylish and convenient side to all of this. The ease of being close to the kitchen sink, evading gusts of wind that may tip over the soup-filled thermos, or stray dogs polishing off your favourite pork and apple sausages makes fun of the old and lets on to a new love for the home front.

Now, the definition of PICNIC by tells us this:

pic·nic (piknik)
1. a pleasure outing at which a meal is eaten outdoors
2. a shoulder cut of pork, cured like ham
also picnic ham or picnic shoulder
or Slang
3. a pleasant experience
4. an easy task

I think this description is almost accurate...By all means I prefer the outdoor picnic - the fresh air, the rosy glow, the green trees and Frisbee - but when the heavens open, where is the fun in soggy bread and finding shelter under dripping leaves? Inside there are no weather restrictions and you could, if desired, have a breakfast, lunch and dinner picnic. If it's the outdoors you love, head out for a wet and windy walk to ease off the 'pleasant experience' of 'a meal eaten [indoors]'...