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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pasta Fresca

I remembered the time that my family and I lived in Mandaluyong, and there was this neighborhood bar/café along Boni Avenue called Henry's.  The name referred to the owner/chef Henry Canoy who operates it with his wife Virgie.  If I recall well, Chef Henry set up that small place shortly after leaving Hyatt Hotel in Manila to start out on his own.  Anyway, his bar/café is no longer existing, but his personal attention to his customers lingers.  One instance was when I had this craving for Pasta Carbonara for my dinner, and despite his insistence that I try out some other dish he has prepared for that day, I gently stood my ground and told him I have been looking forward to having his carbonara sauce all day.
And so he obliged.  Normally, it would only take him a few minutes to serve me this pasta dish, but I noticed that it has already been around 20 minutes and I still don't have my dinner.  I snuck a peak into his small kitchen and caught him making fettuccini from scratch, and was just finishing his final roll from the pasta maker he had.  A few more minutes later, a forkful of the freshest and creamiest of ingredients assailed my taste buds. 
Fresh pasta gives a different texture than dried ones.  Some may think that fresh pasta is superior to dried but really, I think it's all a matter of what kind of dish you want to prepare. Plus, in restaurants that serve this, fresh pasta tend to be more expensive because of the amount of labor put in by the cook or kitchen staff.
So having had a few hours free time in the afternoon, I thought of trying out my hand in making my own ravioli pasta.  I gathered all my references on pasta making and decided to mix and match recipes.  While there are some who recommend the use of '00' flour or pasta flour (can be bought at Rustan's supermarkets), I found that all-purpose flour is also a good ingredient to work with.  I preferred mixing the flour with the eggs in a big glass bowl since I found it easier to work it into a dough with a silicon knife and without getting my hands messy early on in the process.  However, using your own hands from the start is also good. 
The filling recipe I used was one using butternut squash that I found in a magazine clipping I collected several years ago.  I never had ravioli with squash before so this was a good occasion to try it out.  It turned out sweet, which is inherent in the squash, and savory from the nutmeg and pepper, with the saltiness coming from the grated parmesan cheese incorporated in the blend. 
At the end of it all, I was quite happy with the result.  There's something in knowing that you made everything you ate in that one dish.

The Recipe

For the pasta:

200 grams '00' flour (alternatively, all-purpose flour), plus additional for dusting
2 medium sized eggs
water, when needed

1.  Pour flour into a flat surface or into a bowl and a make a well in the center of the mound.  Crack eggs into the well.

2.  Using a knife, gradually mix the egg with the flour.  Keep mixing until you have a thick paste.  At this point, use one hand to incorporate the rest of the flour.  The dough should form a soft but firm and flexible ball.  If the dough sticks to your hand, add a little flour.  If the dough is too dry and/or has cracks in it, add water only a little until you get just the right consistency.

3.  Knead the past for 5-10 minutes, or until dough is elastic (dough springs back when pressed by fingertip).  Leave the dough to rest on a floured surface covered by a bowl.  Alternatively, you can lightly dust the dough with flour all over and wrap with cling wrap.  Rest should be for 20 minutes. 

4.  When ready, halve the dough ball into 2, continue to wrap the portion not yet to be used.  The other half may now be placed onto a clean, floured work surface and rolled out with a floured rolling pin into a rectangle shape until the dough is 1 mm thick.  Your dough should measure around 4 inches crosswise.

5.  Spoon squash filling (1 teaspoon) onto the bottom portion of the flat dough with a margin of around 1 inch on the left and bottom.  Repeat with the remaining space.  Lift the upper portion of the dough and cover the filling, making sure that the upper rim reaches the lower rim.  Press dough in between the filling to secure.

6.  Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut pasta sheet into squares, in between the filling and set aside.  Repeat the process of rolling out and putting the filling with the remaining half of the dough.  At this point you can refrigerate the ravioli if cooking this is planned for later.  Overnight refrigeration still makes the pasta good, as long as certain layers of the pasta are kept in between sheets of wax paper and inside a food container, not out in the open on a tray.

7.  When ready to cook the pasta, cook the sauce to be used first, while setting the water for the pasta to boil with rock salt.  Immerse ravioli squares into boiling water until al dente, or as soon as the pasta squares are floating on top of the water.  Collect with a slotted spoon and apply the sauce.  (In my case, I prepared brown butter sauce with sage.)  Serve immediately.

Butternut Squash Filling:

3 1/2 cups butternut squash, cubed
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
4 Tbsp. butter
Salt to taste
pinch of nutmeg
1 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. black pepper

1.  Place squash in a microwavable bowl , sprinkle a little water and nuke for 15 minutes or until soft enough when pressed with a fork.

2.  In a food processor, pulse the softened squash with the rest of the ingredients, except parmesan cheese and pepper, until creamy.  Transfer contents into  a bowl and fold in the cheese and pepper until well blended.  Cover the bowl with cling film and keep in the refrigerator.  Use as directed when no longer warm.

Browned Butter Sauce

1 bar (225 grams) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 Tbsp. fresh sage, or 1/4 tsp. dried
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt

1.  Heat butter in a saucepan until melted. 

2.  Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to stir until butter is turning brown.  Take away from heat source and set aside until ready to serve the pasta.

Buon apetito!

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