I tried to steal spaghetti from the shop, but the female guard saw me, and I couldn't get pasta.
Believe it or not, Masai Graham's piece of hilarity was voted the funniest joke at the year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It did two things for me. Firstly, I found it a depressingly sad reflection of the state of British comedy and of our society at the moment. But secondly, to look on the bright side, it gave me the inspiration for this week's column.
Pasta is a staple in our house, usually in the form of spaghetti. Most busy houses have a small range of go to dishes, ones which can be churned out without thinking. With Casa Johnston no longer falling into the busy category, there really isn't an excuse for that. In my defence, not only is there something comforting about a great steaming bowl of pasta, if you're in a hurry, you can have a sauce made from scratch in not much longer than it takes the pasta to cook.
That's the dried stuff, of course. Chatting to folk about food, as I do a lot, I think it's fair to say that many have never made their own pasta from scratch. That probably also applies to at least 50% of the people who own a pasta machine. Why not dig the box out of the cupboard, set it up and have a go this weekend. You'll be pleasantly surprised how easy it is.
I have made it all by hand, mixing egg into a volcano of flour on a board, then painstakingly rolling it out, but I can't recommend it, when you have a food processor and your shiny unused pasta maker. In short, it's a real faff.
A couple of years ago I wrote a brace of articles about pasta making generally and about the joys of ravioli and tortellini in particular. Today, therefore, just a quick recap. You need the very strong 00 flour and eggs. Some add a pinch of salt, some don't. One egg for every 100g of flour. Chuck into your food processor, and your dough appears. I would still knead it a wee bit more. Then wrap it up and pop it in the fridge for an hour. Make your filling. Remember that pasta is just the same as pastry. (In Italy they use the same word for both.) That means the filling must be cold before you stuff your ravioli.
When the filling is ready, start rolling out your pasta for your ravioli. Take a chunk of the dough, and set the roller to the widest setting. Sprinkle with a little floor. Roll the dough once (You might have to squish it down for the first manoeuvre.) Repeat. Then adjust the roller to the next setting and roll again. Keep doing this, narrowing the roller setting each time. If your ribbon of dough is becoming unwieldy, cut it in half and have two lots on the go. You want your pasta so thin you can see your hand through it.
Traditionally ravioli were small and rectangular. That's less wasteful as you can have two rectangular strips of pasta and put the filling at regular intervals on the lower one. Doing it this way, you would brush the gaps between the filling with water, lay the other sheet on top and press down.
The modern fashion is for larger round ones. Easier to do, though you do lose a bit of your pasta. Either employ a round cutter, or use a ramekin as a template and cut round. Either way, it's very important that you seal them well, working round the filling to try to ensure there are no air bubbles. These may well cause your ravioli to burst. Remember to flour them well to prevent sticking, and cover with a damp cloth to stop them drying out too much. There are a few recipe ideas in the older column. Today's is an interesting one I came on with a nice mix of textures.
For the pasta
200g 00 flour; 2 eggs; pinch of salt (optional).
For the filling
1 small red onion, finely chopped; 1 small red pepper, seeded and finely chopped; ½ small carrot, grated and well drained; 60g walnuts, chopped (by hand, not by machine);120g ricotta; 30g freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving; 1 - 2 tsp freshly chopped basil; olive oil; s & p; melted butter or olive oil to serve; ripped sage leaves (optional).
The order you do this in is up to you but don't forget the basic rules, ie make sure the filling is cold, and don't let your pasta either dry out or stick. Squeeze the carrots dry with a tea towel. Soften the onion, pepper and carrot in some olive oil for about 5 minutes. You want them still to have a little bite. Allow them to cool, then in a separate bowl, mix in the ricotta, Parmesan, nuts, basil and lots of s & p.
Make your ravioli and stuff them. See above. Some books would tell you to pop them back in the fridge to dry out. I still have nightmares about failing adequately to flour a batch which had taken me hours to make (they had an oxtail filling, aaargh!) and having to chuck the whole lot out. Listen and learn.
Cook the ravioli in salted simmering water. They will need 3 - 5 minutes depending on size. To serve, drizzle with warm melted butter, which you may or may not want to infuse with sage. Or, alternatively drizzle with good olive oil. Either way, sprinkle with more grated Parmesan, and extra pepper if you like.