Root Vegetable Ravioli with Parmigiano Reggiano & Chopped Sage

A filling of pureed potato, parnips, turnips, parm & sageAs you can probably tell, the Nella Pasta blog has taken on a cooking theme. We’ll be sure to keep you updated on the logistics of the business when we have more information, but for now, a detailed view into the minds (and mixing bowls) of the cooks…

Which brings me to yesterday’s creation: a big-boy ravioli made with traditional egg pasta dough and filled with pureed parsnips, turnips, potato, parmigiano reggiano and chopped sage. The inspiration for this pierogi-type ravioli came from a combination of a family tradition of adding turnips to to our mashed potatoes, and a rendition of Gourmet Magazines “Parsnip Parmesan Ravioli with Mushroom Ragu” from January 2006. I wanted to make a filling that was not cheese based, but had more of a bite than a simple mashed potato filling. The result was a silky filling with a spicy bite from both the parsnips and the wintery sage. I chose a larger shape (an upside down cup measurement served as my stand-in cutting device) to let the creamy texture of the puree prevail over the actual pasta dough. While I cannot say that I have cooked the ravioli yet (my refrigerator is packed– push everything back, quickly close the door and run away with your fingers crossed that it will not open and spill out half its contents– packed), these giant, pillowy raviolis are safe and sound in both my freezer and those of a couple neighbors with strict instruction to enjoy and report back. Reviews are on the way….

Fresh Pasta, Egg Free

Fresh Egg-free pasta specked with black peppercorns and air driedIn each of our previous posts, we have preached the simplicity of the ingredients that go into our fresh pasta: flour & eggs. Well, believe it or not, it can actually be simpler– fresh pasta, made without the eggs. It started as a gift idea. Rachel wanted to give away a batch of pasta as a Christmas gift, but wanted a product with a longer shelf life that could be decoratively packaged and stored without refrigeration. To do this, she substituted a combination of water and extra virgin olive for the eggs (both variations make up the liquid portion of the pasta), and used the same measurements of all-purpose and semolina flour (the dry). I happen to be a huge fan of the eggs in pasta– the way the yolks add a beautiful yellow tint, the added protein, and the rich, authentic taste– but after Rachel’s success and the suggestion of a mom whose daughter has an egg allergy, I thought I would give this egg-less pasta a shot. I mixed the dough with part white whole wheat flour, part semolina, tepid water, extra virgin olive oil and a large pinch of kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper. Thanks to the rich yellow-green hue of the olive oil, the color of the dough looked much like its egg-added counterpart. It also added a wonderful “sitting at an al fresco table on the cliffs of Cinque Terra savoring  freshly baked foccacia” aroma (read: smelled great). After rolling out the dough as I would with any pasta recipe, I simply laid the individual strands flat across my kitchen table and left them to dry. Several hours later, the pasta curled slightly, but was perfectlly dry and ready to store. A fun advantage to egg-free pasta? You can taste test it right out of the roller, no cooking needed. Check out the photos below to see how flour and water can truly be transformed into an italian delicacy.

Mmm Mmm Chocolate

A fork-full of heavenCraving chocolate, anyone? We have the perfect treat… A pasta dough made with part all-purpose flour, part semolina, a nice hefty scoop of cocoa powder, sugar, eggs and vanilla all kneaded together in a beautiful dark brown, rich chocolaty dough. It even smelled incredible, lying there in a mound on my table. The concept was simple– turn a classic stuffed pasta from a savory treat to sweet decadence– the dough transformed with the addition of cocoa and sugar, and the filling a simple ricotta sweetened with honey. We boiled these raviolis, added them to a pan with a small amount of melted, browing butter and sugar and let them carmelize for about a minute. Served with a sprinkle of toasted hazelnuts, rasberries, a sprinkle of powdered sugar and a few shavings of Lake Champlain Chocolate…mmmmmm. I believe these chocolate treats will have a permanent spot on the Nella menu.

It's Official!

NellaRachel & I officially own the rights to Nella!  On a positive note, we were not turned away to spend weeks on end thinking of a new name. What does it really mean? Taxes (we’ll get there next year around this time– we’re too excited to think about it now!). For the next 3 months or so, we will be operating as a General Partnership while we finalize all other aspects of the business (insurance, pH testing, labeling, etc.). After that point, we will convert into an LLC.

With the registration complete, its time to turn to our product. While Rachel and I are both avid pasta makers, (believe it or not) we have never made it together! We’ll be spending the next week or so (after a sunny getaway for Rachel– jealous) mixing, rolling, measuring and tasting to find the perfect balance of all-purpose flour, semolina, eggs and salt. Once we agree on a recipe, its your turn— we need input! To test our recipes, we are planning to host an all-out pasta tasting extravaganza. If you are interested in being part of the tasting, let us know. All you need is a hefty appetite and some elastic-waist pants. We will be serving samples from each of our main cateories: traditional pasta, whole wheat pasta, tortellini, ravioli, and special pasta dessert. We can’t wait to hear what you think!

Cooking ADD

Potato Gnocchi with brussel sprouts, pancetta and sage in a light cream sauceMy initial plan: a healthy dinner of a simple, pan-friend chicken breast with a side of brussel sprouts. I wasn’t even hungry. After snacking just minutes earlier, I really had no right to be. But then it happened….. cooking ADD.

The chicken I cooked and left alone. The brussel sprouts, however, just weren’t cutting it. To rectify the “way too healthy” situation, I heated a small pat of butter in my trusty Le Creuset stock pot, added some diced pancetta (yes, I added bacon to butter, what of it??), a clove of garlic and some chopped sage. When the pancetta was browned, I added the steamed, halved brussel sprouts back into pan and let them brown. This would have been a perfect stopping point….I continued. I then glanced at the sorry chicken breast laying on my cutting board. Was I really going to jazz up my veggies with 2 different fats, herbs and garlic and leave the poor chicken hoplessly bland and boring? Oooh no, not in my kitchen. The chicken was sliced, added to the pot of brussels and showered with a splash of white wine. You can probably guess where I’m going from here… it is a blog about pasta, afterall. And what’s been keeping me busy all week? — gnocchi. I let the chicken/ brussel mixture sit on the stove under a low flame while I quickly filled a small pot to boil water for the potato gnocchi I had made the day before. While I waited for the water to boil, I again turned to my stock pot (note here that I am now giggling to myself, see my pug Finn staring at me giggling to myself, and laugh even harder). I’m reminded of one of the most popular pasta dishes at Campiello Ristorante in Naples– a pasta served in a cream sauce with gorganzola, chicken and spinach. Needless to say I have now added a splash of cream and a hefty dusting of pecorino romano. The gnocchi float, they are added to the stock pot and voila!….(20 minutes, 4 different dinner ideas, and a smoke-filled studio apartment later) Dinner! I do realize I have a tendency to make a short story longer, but this dish deserves all 400 some-odd words devoted to it. The nutmeg in the gnocchi paired beautifully with the rich leafy brussel sprouts and pancetta. The often boring chicken breast was transformed by the slight hint of cream and cheese. Put it all together… a delicious dinner, complete in 20 minutes (A.D.D and all).

Conquering Gnocchi

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with a brown butter sage sauceAfter 4 years of making traditional homemade pasta, it’s surprising that I have never attempted to make gnocchi (ok- slight lie. I made a potato-less, flour-less, ricotta “low carb” gnocchi in high school….read: awful, mushy, boring disaster). This past weekend, I deemed it time to try my hands in this Italian favorite. Originally, my plan was to make 2 batches of gnocchi- one traditional made with Yukon potatoes, Parmesan, flour and eggs and the other, a healthier version with sweet potato, ricotta, and whole wheat flour. Thanks to a margarita bowl the night before, patience was not on my side, so I went for a combination of the two instead.

The resulting recipe: roasted, mashed sweet potato seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg, semolina flour, whole wheat flour, 1 egg, ricotta and Parmesan. After incorporating all the ingredients, form into a ball and knead gently. Cut off one small section of the dough and roll into a ball, then roll under finger tips to form a long, 3/4-1″ wide rope. Slice rope into small pieces and place on a floured platter. Repeat with remaining dough. When finished, cook in a large pot of rapidly boiling, salted water until gnocchi float, about 3-4 minutes. When cooked through, add gnocchi to a pan with melted, browned butter, a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg, chopped sage and a teaspoon or two of Vermont Maple Syrup. Toss gnocchi in brown butter mixture until slightly browned on each side and serve with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan. These gnocchi were a bit firm (the result of semolina… I would use very little next time), but nevertheless, delicious. Pair gnocchi with a tomato salad and your best friend and I’m sure you’ll agree.

Savory vs. Sweet Tortellini

Some call it over-kill, I say heaven… A dinner of savory ricotta and goat cheese tortellini in an herbed butter followed by a decadent dessert of Nutella Tortellini (a chocolate hazelnut spread famous in Italy) served with caramelized banana and strawberries. No one said starting a business is easy, but boy has this been worth every last buttery calorie!  I figured this go around I’d let the pictures speak for themselves.

Mint Ravioli and the Trials and Tribulations of Semolina

Half-Moon Shaped Ravioli, Ready to be CookedBefore I met Rachel, I made my pasta the novice way– all purpose flour and eggs. The dough was easy to work with despite its tendency to stick (if not into the freezer within minutes, the whole platter of pasta would turn into a large gooey ball) and pretty tasty. Then I was introduced to the word of Semolina- a fine grain wheat product that increases the gluten in the pasta, resulting in that perfectly cooked “al dente” texture with a taste that brings you straight to a cafe in an Italian Piazza. Taste- to die for. Easy to work with?- lets just say my arms are so sore from rolling out a double batch today that I can barely lift them high enough to type. I’ll admit I was probably not in an ideal pasta-making atmosphere. I am in Florida afterall, and what’s a trip to Florida without getting tan? Hence my outdoor pasta making factory– a parchment lined table, cutting boards, balls of mint pasta dough, a bowl full of ricotta and goat cheese filling and a whole lot of flour sprinkled over the whole set-up (not to mention, me). If semolina didn’t make a dough tough enough on its own, the sun shining directly on my moc-pasta making factory did. And so I spent the majority of the afternoon (over 3 hours, to be exact) putting every ounce of my post-pneumonia, starting-to-atrophy muscles into rolling out the pasta for a variation of Martha’s Mint Ravioli Stuffed with Goat Cheese. While my dough dried up too quickly for me to form tortellinis, the resulting half-moon shaped raviolis were well worth the (exhaustive) effort. Cook these half moon raviolis for 2-3 minutes in salted, boiling water, add to a pan with brown butter  and garnish with lemon zest, basil, hot pepper flakes and a shaving of pecorino romano cheese  and I assure you, the taste is worth giving up arm function any day. 

As for a Nella business update, we are thrilled to start working at the end of the month. We have toured the kitchen facility, submitted an application, and will follow up with various inspections, design elements and registrations over the next 1 to 2 months. Check back soon for updates!

Christmas Clambones

For as long as I can remember my family has warded off vampires on Christmas Eve. Not that we are superstitious or nostalgic of Halloween, we just eat garlic, and a lot of it. On the menu: Fettuccine with white clam sauce, garlic bread, and Caesar salad with homemade dressing and croutons. All in all the meal uses over 1 bulb of garlic, and we gobble up of every last garlicy morsel. It was only fitting that we continue with our ‘Garlic Bonanza’ tradition this year but add a new ingredient– fresh, homemade Fettuccine made with part white flour, part whole wheat, semolina and some freshly cracked pepper. For the sauce, we turn to “The Classic Italian Cookbook” by Marcella Hazan (copyright 1973!), but any recipe will do ….when it comes to freshly grated Parmesan, butter and homemade pasta, you can do no wrong.

Buon Natale!

Some Preliminary Photos…

Thanks to Taylor Robinson for these great pics of the pasta-making process (and to Hanna & Alexandra for stepping in to make these delicious raviolis!)