Oscar Sunday. I told myself I would keep this simple so I could enjoy the red carpet. Scanning the book backwards and forwards and for some reason, I keep going back to page 224, Sliced Pasta Roll with Spinach and Ham filling. For visual purposes, a jelly roll of pasta filled with ricotta, spinach and ham, also known as Rotolo. The problem with this meal…I would have to make my own pasta. I had never done this before.
Reasons this would be a pain in the ass.
- I don’t own a pasta maker. Which means hand-rolling. But you have to have a thin rolling pin for this, specifically 1 1/2” in diameter and 32” in length. These usually do not exist outside of Emilia-Romagna. Not even the whole country of Italy. But an extremely specific region. Then I realize, my dad is in possession of his grandmothers rolling pin. So I try to bargain. Not so much. But there is a glimmer of hope. Ms. Hazan suggests the possibility of creating your own from a dowel rod at the hardware store. I teeter in consideration. A week goes by. I’m at home depot Saturday afternoon.
- I don’t have a solid wood countertop. It’s granite, well, I think laminate. It falls under the category of “cold” which makes the dough inelastic and therefore invalid. Options? Dining room table. It is solid wood. It’s also over a rug and home to our “office” and a plethora of other items. Last resort? Breakfast room table. Coming in at a staggering 28 1/2” inches off the ground, I would be preparing myself for backache. Was I ready for this?
Apparently the grand Italian cook inside of me was because before I knew it, I was banking on hand rolling pasta and turning out either a “slap your mamma” meal or…cereal.
So much for watching the red carpet.
Any of you out there avoid white flour? I used to. Whole wheat all the time, even whole wheat pasta. White flour was for special occasions only. Then I started working at a bakery and white flour became my daily diet. Yesterday, was not a wheat flour day.
Early to rise after four and a half hours of sleep, do in part to (possible) anticipation of greatness, but mostly to someone crawling into bed really late, laying on top of me and snoring. I attempted to channel nonnas everywhere with a breakfast of Ciambella (baked the night before) and a latte, hoping to strum up the spirits of those who came before me, successfully plowing into flour and eggs and creating magic.
The same individual who decided to fall asleep on top of me and snore had plans to go to brunch at one of our favorite spots, so I knew I needed to get a head start. Technically, that head start began the night before when, once my headache had ceased, I decided (at 10pm) that simultaneously baking a Ciambulla and Galette’s would be a great idea. C loves his pepper biscuits, they’re in the book and it is noted they make a great apertif. Perfect! Appetizer is done.
Gallette - Salt and Pepper Biscuits
Sliced Pasta Roll with Spinach and Ham Filling
Mangoes and Strawberries in Sweet White Wine
(You know those obnxious ads on the sides of webpages that say “Ask me how you can lose 10lbs in one week”? Mine would be “Ask me how you can distract yourself for 20 minutes”. I have no clue how I just got up and ended up with costumes and wigs in my hands.)
Recently purchasing some delicious olive oil and discovering the Gallette recipe calls for oil (not butter) I decided why not. It’s only 10pm. These were also a lesson in dough and the rolling pin. This area is not my strongest. Drop biscuits over rolled and scooped cookies over the cutter kind, for some damn reason, the dough is uneven or over-rolled.
The dough started out really, really sticky and moist and I became concerned. Recipe says “roll to no more than 1/4 inch thick”. 1/4 inch isn’t much at all. So a toss of flour and I dive right in.
Gallettes are pretty straightforward and the final product yielded a light little biscuit, full of fragrant olive oil and a snap of black pepper. The only thing I would do differently in the future, is give them a quick sprinkle of cracked pepper over the egg wash.
And now…the magic begins.
We begin with our tomato sauce. What you see is what you get. Seriously, the easiest thing there ever was. 45 minutes on the stove and done. Set aside.
The recipe calls for two pounds of spinach. Of course I didn’t take the time to weigh the spinach, thinking, this looks like alot. Right? These two together only weighted 12 ounces (yeah kitchen scale…boo return trip to grocery). I used five bunches of spinach in all.
All fresh pasta starts with a mound of flour, a well and eggs dropped inside. You mix the eggs like you would for scrambled eggs and slowly incorporate the flour until you can start for form a ball shape with the dough. None of this happened while I was attempting to mix. Maybe the eggs were too big, my well not deep enough, but three people stood around a table, one mixing (well, scrambling) another reading aloud from the book and a third staring. Hot mess would be a good description. My little hands struggling to work the flour in front of me while chasing after egg whites, running loose on the table, a slew of school children off in different directions. While searching for images of a beautiful well and eggs for you
I came across this lovely little video - http://www.povitaly.com/POVitaly/FOOD/Entries/2010/2/3_Aunt_Ritas_Homemade_Pasta.html
Had I only watched Aunt Rita in action, I would have been a little more at ease diving into my foray of what could be that make or break confirmation of how truly Italian I am.
You can stop at the 4:50 mark. Mine wasn’t as pretty, but it is with sheer delight that I can confirm I did it right! The slight puckering of Aunt Ritas dough, which is desired, had me a bit nervous. Now knowing my attempt was correct, I could have gone a little further in rolling the dough and thinning out the outer circle.
The sequence that follows is a series of dough ball, expertly self-timed action shots and a velvety ball of dough. What you miss is the in-between. Rolling the dough out and the filling application. Please accept my sincerest apologies. I’ll make sure C stays by my side next time and plays the roll of photog more than once.
What lies below not only includes spinach, ricotta and proscuitto, but an elevated body temp, burning triceps, tension in the lower back and a major sigh of relief. I did it!
The rotolo now has to be wrapped in cheesecloth as the next step requires boiling in salted water for 20 minutes.
At this point in the meal, I am absolutely giddy with anticipation. The end result will be great for all around the table, but the beauty of this dish is seen in layers. A flower, closed for the evening, slowly unraveling it’s bloom to the morning sun. So much work (almost five hours start to finish) and so many steps and I have absolutely no clue if it will truly be a success.
So with twenty minutes of boiling time, I sit down with my Negroni to watch a little bit of the red carpet and shed a lemon of its peel for dessert.
Twenty minutes later, I extract the rotolo from boiling water, C picks up the camera (yeah!!) and with fingers burning, I peel away the cheesecloth from the mass.
The tight quarters caused a clean break, but fear not! We are not done yet!!! The process of unwrapping gives way to this thick shell of pasta and looks very much like a tamale freshly unwrapped from the husk.
The next step is almost evil. Slicing the rotolo into 3/4 inch thick slices and layering them, shingle-like, in a baking dish.
Ridiculous, I know. Filled to the brim with spinach, I pulled the same move any smart person making slice and bake cookies does. Cut an odd piece off the end. Not having to contain my excitement like Colin Firth, I immediately began dancing around the kitchen! The light is at the end of the tunnel and this meal is going to be AMAZING!!!
One last step. The tomato sauce has been mixed with a bechamel, a small amount ladled on the bottom, the remaining on top along with some freshly grated parmiggiano-reggiano and into the oven for ten minutes. TEN MINUTES! It seems like forever but I could wait. I got to work on dessert.
Dinner is served.
The pasta, soft and tender, creates this intense barrier, three sheets thick around an intense mixture. But the sheer amount of spinach keeps this meal in check. Not once do you feel overwhelmed or overstuffed. Your brain is spinning, dizzy from the flavors, so perfect, so seemingly simple. It cries out for more, never wanting this moment to end. But alas…it must.
Following that grand display would be difficult for just about any item. Considering the complexity of the main course process, the Finocchio Salad - Sliced fennel bulb, extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper - seemed most appropriate for follow up.
Palette cleansing and a digestive aid, the crisp flavor of the fennel paved the way for an equally simple, but delicious dessert.
Not sure what to serve, I came across Mangoes and Strawberries in Sweet White Wine. Having both already in the fridge, it was a no-brainer. Fruit, sugar, lemon peel and Moscato. The recipe did not specify if lemon peel should be left in large pieces to impart flavor or to be finely chopped and included with each bite. I went for the chop. It’s an odd thing to be munching on lemon peel, but the effervescence elevated every bite to perfection and really helped to open up the wine’s fruitful bouquet.
As mangoes do not grow in Italy, peaches are the recommended fruit, but only at the height of their ripeness. Finish the fruit and sip the wine. This one is perfect for a summer day.
Palo Alto Sauvignon Blanc - Chile 2009
Castello del Poggio - Moscato
I don’t know how else to end this intense meal other than MANGIA!!!!