Archive for the 'pasta' Category

Swiss Chard & Ricotta Tortelli

tortelli 4

I may be spoiled for pasta now.

On the first morning of our first day in Italy, we walked to the Academia Barilla, an institute in Parma dedicated to the preservation of Italian food culture. (And to that end, the Academia Barilla Gastronomic Library houses a collection of over 11,000 cookbooks dating back to the 16th century – it’s open to the public and can be accessed online. More on that later, because WOW.)

making pasta

We were set up with little piles of flour and dark-yolked eggs, and mixed up dough the way you see them do it on TV – not in a bowl, but by making a little volcano out of the flour and cracking the eggs in, then stirring/corralling the eggs as they try to escape from ditches in the flour until it all comes together into a smooth, yellow dough that’s oh-so satisfying to run through a pasta machine into smooth, thin sheets, then cut into piles of ribbons or fill with chard and ricotta.

A twentysomething journalist from Brazil was in our group, and reminisced about his Italian Grandmother’s kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, when they would all gather around the table and assemble whatever shape of pasta was on the menu for Sunday lunch, which lasted until dinnertime.

Tortelli Collage

They talked and caught up around the table, as we got to know each other around ours. It’s fascinating to me that it’s not unusual there to begin dinner by cracking eggs into a pile of flour, much like we might truss a chicken or mix up a meatloaf; fresh pasta is quick, inexpensive and simple, not a special weekend project like it most often is here. In creative English, a local chef told us that tortelli – called ravioli everywhere but in Parma – was a great way to use up scraps of leftovers and veggies that were starting to wilt and might otherwise wind up in the compost bin.

Tortelli 1

It was the first of many plates of tortelli – interestingly, no matter where we went, most of them were stuffed with ricotta and chard, tossed in butter and doused in grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. (Natch.)

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Tortelli Collage

I love how the stuffed, uncooked tortelli look like little planets.

And what better side for fresh pasta than more pasta? (Apologies for the artificial light here.)

Tortelli 3

I also kind of love that this recipe is delivered with the presumption that the reader has a basic knowledge of cooking. I left it as-is, except for the pasta dough instructions, which were originally merely “mix flour with the egg”. If you don’t have a ravioli pan, which are inexpensive at most Italian markets, you can fill them flat on the counter, then cut in between. Just make sure you squeeze out any air pockets as you seal them, lest they wind up their own wee floatation devices in the pot.

Swiss Chard & Ricotta Tortelli

via Academia Barilla

Fresh pasta dough:
300 g all-purpose flour
3 large eggs

250 g fresh ricotta
300 g Swiss chard
150 g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
100 g butter
salt, to taste
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

Place the flour in a pile on your work surface. Make a well in the top and crack in the eggs. Stir gently with a fork, then continue to blend, using your hands, until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic or cover with a towel and let rest for 30 minutes.

Wash and clean the Swiss chard; cook in salted boiling water. Drain, squeeze and finely mince.

Mix the Swiss chard with ricotta, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and 3/4 of the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Roll out the pasta dough with a pasta machine in order to obtain a sheet.

Place some filling on one half of the sheet; fold the other half on top.

Seal properly with your hands and, using a pasta cutter, cut the tortelli.

Cook in salted boiling water, drain them and sauté them in melted butter.

Sprinkle with the rest of the Parmigiano and serve.

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June 24 2014 | one dish and pasta | 6 Comments »

Slow Cooker Mac & Cheese

slow cooker mac & cheese 1

We’re taking turns catching colds around here. As I write this I’m wrapped in a blanket with a stiff neck (my mom keeps telling me to wrap a wool sock around it, like my grandad did, and I just might) and a mug of warm lemonade (yes!), sneezing approximately every 3 minutes, my face fixed with that expression you get when you’re just about to sneeze. (This cold is such a cliché.) We’re anticipating a high of -19 tomorrow, not that we’ll likely leave the house anyway after getting up at 5 to watch the gold medal hockey game. My ambitious plan is to make doughnuts and bellinis – or perhaps fizzy wine smoothies – and plenty of coffee. But later in the day, when everyone is cold and sleepy and huddled on the couch to catch the last of the Olympics, a batch of mac & cheese will be in the slow cooker. Oh yes it will. I wish it was in there now.

Slow cooker mac collage 1

The first time I made this was back in late December, when some friends threw a house party and asked me to bring slow cooker mac & cheese. I have not had good experience with slow cooker mac & cheese in the past, and I debated cheating and making a regular batch of mac & cheese and bringing it in a slow cooker to keep warm. But I love the idea of a gooey, extra cheesy mac & cheese done in the slow cooker – it’s something that should work well, and there should be no need to have to precook the pasta – its starch should contribute to the thickening of the sauce and all that. It should work. And its success should not rely on a can of condensed cheddar cheese soup.

Also: I need crispy bits.

slow cooker mac collage 2

Mostly when I make mac & cheese I cook the noodles while simultaneously turning butter and flour into a paste to which I add milk and cook to thicken (or if you want to get fancy about it, make béchamel with a roux) and add big handfuls of grated old cheddar to melt. But this macaroni with lots of cheese went about things differently, amalgamating pasta, butter, milk and cheese into one delicious unit, rather than dousing cooked noodles with cheese sauce. A variation worked in the slow cooker – huzzah! I used up half a cheese ball from our Christmas party, which was really just grated cheese and cream cheese anyway, but if you don’t happen to have half a leftover cheese ball, cream cheese will work just fine. And there will be crispy bits aplenty.

slow cooker mac & cheese 6

And while it was meant for the kids at the aforementioned party, the adults devoured it and asked for the recipe, and I’ve made it twice since. Soon to be three times.

Slow Cooker Mac & Cheese

1 lb (450 g) elbow macaroni, uncooked (41/2 cups)
1 – 1½ lb (454-750 g) old cheddar cheese, grated
one 8oz (250 g) pkg cream cheese, cut into chunks
4 cups (1 L) 2 % milk
salt and pepper
pinch freshly grated nutmeg (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a slow cooker; cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours, removing the lid to give it a stir about once an hour.

Serve warm. Serves 8-10.

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February 22 2014 | one dish and pasta and slow cooker | 33 Comments »

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