I will share a secret with you; I absolutely love pasta. Actually, this might not really be such a big secret. The evidence: I think the Atkins diet is a travesty. My best-loved restaurants are Italian. At any given time my pantry contains pastas of various shapes and sizes, and in the past I used to keep jars and jars of pasta sauce on hand. I enjoyed everything from roasted garlic to arrabiata to kalamata olive and onion, my selection knew no bounds. Now, I only keep fresh or frozen stocks of my favorite homemade sauce based on an absolutely mouthwatering family recipe. Really, you would want to eat this sauce with a spoon, it is that good. In any case, this love of pasta goodness had me eating the stuff at least 2-3 times a week for a while.
Over time, my proficiency in the kitchen expanded, as did my tastebuds. I allowed more time for cooking at home, and created a larger variety of more exotic dishes. Consequently, my nights of pedestrian carbohydrate consumption dwindled drastically and I began to appreciate the finer aspects of quality Italian food. Around this time, I traveled to Italy where I feasted on freshly prepared pasta. Ah… a culinary revelation! Although I am not an Italian grandmother, I obviously needed to attempt to prepare this deliciousness at home. I sensed a pasta maker in my future…
I feel ashamed to admit this, but that shiny new pasta maker came into my life almost two years ago; sadly, it sat there on my shelf and became unshiny and was unused. Recently, I was inspired to let the pasta maker see the light of day. One of my good friends had recounted her success with homemade pasta and my past yearnings were reawakened. It was fate: I set a date with my friends Jenn and Jill to take the pasta maker out for its maiden voyage. The fettuccini noodles that we made were so tender and light, and so easy, it was like a dream come true. We ate them with my homemade sauce (which we really did end up eating with a spoon), and still managed to find a tiny corner of our already overstuffed stomachs to fit some of Jill’s dense, gooey brownies.
The same basic pasta recipe we used for fettuccini can be applied to making almost anything (noodles, lasagna, raviolis), including the pansottis that I made here. Right after making the fettuccini, I saw a commercial for Olive Garden's new Pansottis (ah, light bulb goes on over head!). I guessed you could adapt any ravioli recipe to make these, and fortunately my guess was right. These little tents of pasta are so cute and delicious, and the flavor of the filling is excellent. When you have freshly prepared pasta like this, you don’t need more than olive oil and some fresh herbs to dress the dish. Plus, who wants to hide their handiwork with a heavy sauce? If you have never had the pleasure of eating or making fresh pasta, go find your inner Italian grandmother and give this a try. I promise, you will not regret it.
Spinach Ricotta Pansottis
I had so much fun making these pansottis with my friend Steph. For one thing in particular, I have to credit her husband Craig. His boss has about a dozen happy chickens running around his yard; Craig was able to get us some freshly laid eggs to use for making the perfect pasta dough. His boss's chickens are truly “free range” and these eggs were beautiful.
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting and kneading
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 beaten eggs
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon olive oil or cooking oil
Spinach Ricotta Filling:
1 pound fresh spinach (alternatively, frozen spinach)
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound ricotta
2 tablespoons heavy cream
4 tablespoons grated Parmesean cheese 4 tablespoons grated Parmesean cheese
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch black pepper
Basil infused olive oil, or good quality extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons grated Parmesean cheese, plus extra for serving
4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Freshly ground black pepper
Begin by making the pasta dough. In a small bowl, mix together the beaten eggs with the water and oil. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and the salt, and form a well in the center of the mixture. Add the egg mixture to the flour and mix well. To knead dough, sprinkle a clean surface or board with about two handfuls of flour. Knead the dough until it is smooth and pliable (at least 5 minutes), adding more flour to the surface as needed. Form the dough into a ball and cover with a towel to rest for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, divide the dough ball into four portions and flatten each out into a thick square. If you do not plan to use a pasta maker, roll each square out into a sheet approximately 1/16 inch thick. If using a pasta maker, pass the dough square though the rollers at the largest opening size first, progressively adjusting the size until dough sheets are 1/16 inch thick. Let pasta sheets rest for 20 mintues, uncovered.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Cook spinach in a large pot of salted boiling water. Once leaves are tender, drain and let the leaves cool for about 5 minutes. You need to remove almost all the water from the spinach; the easiest way to do this is to transfer the leaves to a towel and wring or squeeze until the water is removed. Roughly chop the spinach, and add to a mixing bowl along with salt, ricotta, egg, heavy cream, Parmesean and nutmeg. Mix well, and season with salt and pepper as desired.
Finally, assemble and cook pansottis. Cut sheets of pasta into approximately 3 inch squares and place 1-1 1/2 teaspoons of filling in the center of each square. Fold the corners of the pasta square together in the center, pinching pasta closed, and sealing closed along each fold to completely encase filling (see photo). Repeat for each pansotti.**
Boil pansottis for 3-5 minutes; they are cooked through when they float to the surface. Remove and drain pansottis, and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with 3-4 tablespoons of the basil oil, chopped basil, Parmesean and ground pepper. Serve with additional Parmesean if desired.
**To make traditional raviolis, take one pasta sheet, and spoon 1 teaspoon of filling at 1 inch intervals to cover the sheet. Take a second sheet, and cover the first sheet. Use a finger to seal lightly around each mound of filling, then use a knife to cut out each ravioli. Seal edges tightly with fingers or a fork.