Monday, 14 March 2011

Butternut squash, pine nut and sage ravioli

A few weeks ago, as I mentioned in a previous post, my partner was in Athens for business, and I was left alone in London craving souvlaki, Greek pizza and everything else that he was posting in facebook as a status update with the words "I am eating Greek X now...yuuummm". However, to make it up to me (all those hours of suffering looking at facebook photos with my friends...grrr...) he was contracted to carry back a suitcaseful of Greek treats, plus the greatest (and heaviest) of them all, my mom's ancient pasta maker.

This little gem, a Marcato Ampia, was bought sometime in the 1980s by my mom who thought it would be a trendy item of kitchenalia (things imported from Italy were a big deal at the time in the Greek culinary gadget world!), plus it might at some point help her in making filo. Yes, filo. Now, anyone who knows what filo is can guess that the experiment failed miserably, and the pasta maker (clue, the suggested use is "in the NAME" μαμά!) stayed stacked in a cupboard, miserably gathering dust over the years, as my mom proclaimed "this metal thing is rubbish, all dough stick and do not clean!" (forgive the stereotypical Greek "translation"). After having gone through dozens of cookbooks, online recipes, and Italian friends' stories, I realised that making your own fresh pasta is not a scary task, and remembered the poor old Marcato, and resuscitated it finally!

My partner might have grumbled about carrying all that weight (mom had persuaded me it weighed only 1 kilo - more like 4 that is...), but in the long term he has come to terms with the "inconvenience", as the pasta this machine makes is AMAZING! And since I paid nothing for an "antique" item, I can't even complain about the investment. Plus there's something essentially romantic about kitchen bits and pieces being passed down from generation to generation (even the unused ones!), that makes me a bit sentimental.

Anyways, so pasta machine in hand (or rather on counter - it's too heavy to carry around purposelessly) I was ready for experimentation. And what would be the first recipe? Lasagne, tagliatelle, linguine? Nah, I need more challenging stuff, with filling! Quick search in my head, quick search on the internet, and definitely butternut squash overpowered all other options. I absolutely love ravioli di zucca al burro e salvia (pumpkin and sage ravioli) and as I had some butternut squash and pine nuts, I went for a classic recipe by Rick Stein, changing a few things along the way, and getting a few invaluable tips from Italian friends.

The ravioli turned out amazing, the filling was the best one I've had (up to now my favourite shop-bought ones were the award-winning Tesco Finest Pumpkin Ravioli) and definitely was beyond compare with even the Tesco ones! If you don't have a pasta machine it's still possible to make homemade pasta, but much more effortful, and since you can buy one not too expensively, it's highly recommended. You know what goes in your pasta, it can be as fresh as your eggs, and you will choose your filling, amount of salt and everything else (I actually didn't need to put any salt at all, the parmesan is enough, which is an extra bonus!)

Butternut squash, pine nut and sage ravioli
Source: Dough by my Italian friend's mom and filling inspired by Rick Stein

Serves 2

For the pasta

  • 100g "00" flour
  • 1 egg
  • Big pinch of salt

For the filling

  • 200g butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • A big pinch of crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 25g grated parmesan cheese
  • A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2-3 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce

  • 40g butter
  • 1 tbsp crushed dried sage leaves
  • A few parmesan shavings for topping 
  • 1 tbsp toasted pine nuts for topping
  • Freshly ground mixed peppercorns

Put the cubed butternut squash in an overproof dish, toss with the olive oil, the fennel seeds and some black pepper and roast for 30 minutes at 220°C until tender and caramelised. Cool slightly and mash with a potato masher.

Pour the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Break the egg in a separate bowl, beat well and pour into the centre of the flour "well". With a fork fold in the flour gradually from the outside of the egg towards the centre, mixing well constantly until it's all incorporated, then dig in with your hands and knead until you have a smooth soft ball. If it's too sticky add a bit more flour, if it's too dry add a bit of water, but if your egg is medium sized it should all work perfectly fine. Wrap the ball of dough with cling-film and leave in the fridge to rest for at least 15 minutes.

In the meantime prepare the filling by mixing the mashed butternut squash with the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Once the pasta has had its rest, divide it into two bits and pass each one through a pasta machine, finishing with setting No 7 (the thinnest in my pasta machine). Lay one sheet of pasta on the counter, and place small spoonfuls of the filling in regular intervals, making sure to leave some space between them for the dough to stick. Wet the dough by dipping your finger in a glass of water and rubbing "water lines" between the filling and on the edges. Cover with the second sheet of pasta, pressing down to close and stick, and then cut with a pasta cutter between the ravioli, or if you don't have one you can use a pizza wheel (that's what I did!) or a knife. Trim the ravioli if some are too big and boil for a good 6 minutes (try them to make sure they're not undercooked, it will all depend on the thickness of your pasta sheets) in well-salted water.

Melt the butter with the sage leaves in a small saucepan, drain the pasta and toss in the melted butter, topping with lots of parmesan and some black pepper.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Lemon, lime and lavender cupcakes

Sometimes I bake because it makes me happy, but most of the times I bake as it makes other people happy too. If I ate everything I make solely myself, my ass would be the size of China by now, so happily sharing my love of food with others serves three purposes: I get happy, they get happy, ass stays smallish.

The first sign of slight springiness came yesterday, when I managed to arrive home and it was still daylight, something which hadn't happened since last autumn, and which made me so happy that I decided to bake something to celebrate. My partner having been away for business for the week (in Athens nevertheless, which was unusually snowy but still full of my friends and family that HE was having fun with!) I was in food-smell-welcoming mood, so I decided to go for something he would prefer, and as he's a lemon nut (lemon cake, lemon meringue pie, lemon tart anyone?) I decided to make some lemon cupcakes. As our downstairs neighbour had given us some limes (she works in various events around London, and this week they were promoting, well... of all of things, limes...!) I decided to try a twist on the traditional, and I also added some lavender for good measure, making this the "triple L cupcakes" - Lemon, lime and lavender all in one!

I got inspired by this recipe from James Martin, who is a chef I really like, he's such an amicable guy and always makes me laugh with his additions of endless butter in Saturday Kitchen, and his usual "and if I was a Michelin star chef I would do this little thing with the spoon like that" (at which he does a fancy swirl/splat in the plate, which actually ends up looking pretty Michelin-star-chefy!). I found it bizarrely ironic that the recipe doesn't have butter (how on earth can it be a James Martin recipe? I was so shocked I almost went and licked a stick of butter!) but oil instead, and went for it... The house smelt lovely when the other half arrived, and the cupcakes were quite cute, although they got hard quite quickly. I think next time I'll substitute the oil with butter, (or even better, swede!) but for the time being, here's my adapted recipe, and the first sprigs of spring!

Lemon, lime and lavender cupcakes
Source: James Martin

Makes 12

  • 2 eggs
  • 85g caster sugar
  • 240ml milk
  • 100ml vegetable oil
  • 300g plain flour, sifted
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 lemons, zest only
  • 1 lime, zest only
  • 1 tbsp dried lavender flowers

For the icing

  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1 lemon, juice only
  • a few dried lavender flowers to garnish

Preheat the oven to 200°C, and put some paper cupcake cases in a 12-muffin/cupcake tin. Mix the eggs with the sugar until light and fluffy, then add the milk and oil and combine well. Gradually add the flour mixed with the baking powder, salt, lemon zest and lime zest. Spoon the mixture into the cupcakes cases and bake for 25-30 minutes.

In the meantime make the lemon icing by mixing the sugar with the lemon juice quickly with a wooden spoon. Cool in the fridge until the cupcakes are out of the oven and totally cooled. Spread the icing over the cooled cupcakes and decorate with the lavender flowers.
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