As I looked around today, there was a lot of orange about … it is Halloween after all, even here in Italy where the occasion was never celebrated by children in weird costume and get-ups until relatively recently (20 years ago, something like that?). And yes it has become a consumerist bonanza here as elsewhere but how can one resist the whole idea of “trick or treat” ?
It’s a bit like Christmas presents … as long as Father Christmas/Santa is about, then presents are not a ‘reward’ for which one must say “thank you” and be fake-grateful for. Santa Claus is ‘magic’ and he and and his elves like to give children presents ‘just because’ … Don’t get me wrong, I love good manners and I think that keeping a grateful outlook on life is good for one’s health (seriously, there has been a lot of research in this field). But ‘having to be grateful’ for a present that is a reward for good behaviou is very very different from receiving a super present for no reason whatsoever ! Think about it.
I used to absolutely loooove Yuletide and all that that entailed, when our kids were little and still believed in Father Christmas. My husband and I went to great lengths to dissimulate participation in the parcels that arrived after dinner on Christmas Eve as we all sat and mooched around the table after a special dinner. At length, the door bell would ring (finally!); one of the dinner party who had to leave the room unnoticed, and never my husband or I, would do this as stealthily as possible after having arranged all the boxes and parcels on the stairs to our front door … and our kids would rush to open the door in eager not to mention frantic anticipation and take in the bounty. Oh the excitement ! As they grew older, their spoil-sport contemporaries did all they could to disavow them of the magic; didn’t they know, they would proclaim and insist, that Father Christmas did not exist?, that it was the parents who bought all the presents? No way, our kids would answer … “Our parents couldn’t possibly afford all these presents”. Sweet. More about our family’s Christmas stories another time.
And so … there was I last Sunday, at home, on my own, after having worked non-stop from 10:20 a.m. to about 3 p.m . with a group of tourists. I had showed them around town, recounting some of its history (quite a lot of history to Frascati, you’d be surprised), and then we went to the winery (Minardi Winery) where we walked around the vineyard; and then I sat them down to a nice lunch. We wine and dine ’em, and tell stories, that’s what we do chez Minardi. And nearly everyone who comes along is in a good frame of mind, either on holday and visiting Italy, or living in Rome and wanting to escape for the day to somewhere more bucolic, to Rome’s nearby countryside. So the atomosphere is always a jolly one. But it is still ‘work’ for me, and requires that I keep a sharp look-out on things, making sure that everyone is okay and well fed and that glasses are replenished. Am I grateful for this job? Of course I am. Do I like it? Of course I do. Is it also tiring? … Next question. You have to give it your all to make it work, and that’s all I’m saying.
Last Sunday, I don’t know what got into me once I got home … I became all wistful. Christmas came to mind. The fact that our son lives in Milan came to mind. That my husband had been away down in Puglia for nearly a week. Came to mind. That both my sisters live in England (i.e. far away) came to mind. That our daughter was very busy and I hadn’t seen her in a good while. Came to mind. I was sliding down the slippery slope of self pity, wallowing in feelings that never lead to anywhere positive.
What to do, what to do? My recourse? Cooking.
I decided to make home made pasta. Not just that. A pasta recipe that no one in my family likes, because no one in my family likes pumpkin. Everything from scratch. I patted myself on my back metaphorically speaking when I got around to eating it. There IS compensation in food and eating. Usually, my joy in cooking derives from cooking for others. Last Sunday … it was about me. It was for me.
If you, unlike the rest of my family, like pumpkin/squash and fresh pasta … do please take a look at this recipe. There are lots of ‘steps’ … but none of them difficult or overly fussy. I don’t ‘do’ fussy.
FOR THE PASTA: 2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk plus 200g of flour. I used 100g of Italy’s famed 00 wheat flour, and 100g of durum wheat, also known as semolina flour. Extra flour to dust on the work surface/countertop.
FOR THE FILLING: Some pumpkin that needs to be cooked. You could steam it too I suppose but I baked it in the oven.
Wait for it to cool. It’s not a bad idea to cook it the day before. Which is exactly what I did.
Also required are:
Mostarda di Cremona – maybe orange marmalade might do instead of this? If you can’t get hold of mostarda that is. Parmesan cheese. Freshly grated nutmeg. Fresh sage leaves. Crushed amaretto biscuits. Grated parmesan.
For the sauce to cook the ravioli in: cream, sausage, fresh sage
Mostarda is basically all about candied fruit. Sometimes this mostarda comes in spicy mode – something akin to wasabi or horseradish.
Pear mostarda is the best choice for this recipe but I just used what I found in the store-cupboard.
Chop it up.
Process the cooked pumpkin.Add salt and pepper and plenty of freshly grated nutmeg.
These are amaretto biscuits – made with bitter almonds. Very crisp and just the business and TOTALLY called for in this recipe.
Bash the biscuits to pulverise them.
Add them to the mix.
Add some fresh sage – sliced up.
Put it in the fridge. The firmer the mixture the better and the easier to stuff the ravioli later on. You could, indeed, make this stuffing the day before.
MAKING THE PASTA
Once you’ve made the fresh pasta, let it rest in a bowl for about half an hour to one hour, covered with a tea towel. Allowing it to ‘rest’ will make it a lot easier to stretch it with the rolling pin later on. The resting time makes it more elastic.
I love how my pasta sheet got so big, I had to ‘dangle’ it over the edge of my countertop.
Use a glass to cut out some circles. Discs. Whatever you want to call ’em. You could use a cookie-cutter if you preferred.Fun, hey? And what a lovely color the pasta is.
Out comes the filling, out of the fridge. Use two spoons .. and spoon the mixture into the middle of the discs. Then fold them in half. The shape will now be a half-moon. Join the corners of the half moon together and fold the edge over.
And this is what you end up with. YOU might end up with somethine prettier than this. I was happy enough with what I managed that evening.
MAKING THE SAUCE
Olive oil in the saucepan, a sausage taken out of its casing … some fresh sage … half a glass of wine.
Hubble bubble … toil and … add some tomato sauce. Even out of a tube. Mine was home-made.
Taste and add some salt and pepper, as required.
A splash of fresh cream and a good dollop of butter. Butter always helps. It brings everything together. The Italians use the word ‘legare’ for this, and ‘legare’ means to tie together. Butter helps to ‘tie together’ the sauce.
COOKING THE RAVIOLI
Cook the ravioli in boiling salted water – only a few minutes, since this is fresh pasta we are talking about.
Then drain the ravioli straight into the saucepan with the simmering sauce.
We are talking about a minute or two to reach perfection.
Plate up. Spray with freshly milled pepper. Some parmesan.
I can’t tell you just how good these ravioli are … they are redolent of a medieval cuisine when sweet and savoury were part and parcel of the same food course. There was no distinction as such in those days. Yet there IS a distinction in this mix – and that’s what makes this a choice for a sophisticated palate.
Deeply, deeply yummy.
Comfort food in the extreme.