While my parents were in DC a few weeks ago, I was tasked with watching Penelope, the familial springer spaniel.  She’s a very cute critter, and last summer she stayed with me for a time at the House in Indiana.  She served as my amanuensis, and even took dogtation.

Penny averages 120 wpm (woofs per minute).  Yes, I've got the leash around my foot.

She’s very smart.

Anyway, I was dog-sitting in the suburbs for a week – my fabulous job (as a game-writer, not a professional tweeter) permits me to work from anywhere with an Internet connection.  My girlfriend, Carolyn, came to stay for the weekend, and that Saturday, we went garage saling, where we found some TREASURE.

  • Two unused yoga mats in a carrying case: $7
  • One bamboo jewelry-organizer: $2
  • Some lovely wrist bangles for Carolyn, including a chunky brass one that will be All The Rage next season (so she claims.  I think it makes her look like Wonder Woman.  No complaints there.): $10 or so
  • A lovely green glass vase, which was: $free
  • A never-before-used Krups Butcher Shop, still in its taped-up box: $5

And

LA MACCHINA,

which is what I have taken to calling this gorgeous Marcato Atlas pasta maker, which goes online for €51 (about $73 USD), which Carolyn and I acquired for … yes.  Five dollars.

LOOK AT IT.

CUE HEAVENLY CHORUS

Ah! Che bella macchina!  I behold you and I hear the swelling chorus of a Morricone score.

Carolyn and I looked at each other.  There was no way we couldn’t make pasta for dinner.  I had to know if it was hard to do; I’d tried to make pasta without a machine a few years prior, and I had a hell of a time (using a rolling pin) getting it thin enough without tearing.  It was also obnoxious to cut the pasta into fettucine with a knife, because it wasn’t thin or straight enough, and I didn’t have a food-safe ruler to use as a straight edge.  (And frankly, the idea of rubbing a metal ruler against one of my knives makes me cringe a bit.)

I’m not a food gadgety person.  It’s taken me a long time to embrace Carolyn’s strawberry huller, her cherry pitter, and her totally adorable water-carbonator, but I knew I would love LA MACCHINA immediately.  It had such a handsome shine!  It clipped to the table!  It could roll and cut pasta to even thicknesses and dimensions!  I was in love.  (For the record, it only took me three dates to embrace Carolyn herself, who is cuter than a water-carbonating device.)

But while I do love some gadgets, I’m also frugal (or a skinflint.  you decide), and although a new handcranked pasta machine certainly won’t break the bank, I guarantee you can find an unwanted pasta machine no matter where you are.  A pasta machine is just the sort of thing a couple might receive for their wedding, regardless of whether or not they put it on their registry.  Where there are garage sales, you will find pasta machines at reasonable prices.  And even if you did buy a new one: in the past two weeks, I’ve already created enough pasta to exceed its retail price – three different ravioli dishes, enough to serve four, assuming an average restaurant price of $14 per plate comes to (3 x 4 x 14) $168.  And that’s not counting the other pastas I’ve made.

We decided we would make ravioli, and so I decided to do what I generally do when I’m staying at my parents’ house: mount raids on the freezer, the pantry, and the liquor cabinet.  I found a pound of frozen, uncooked shrimp, a can of tomatoes, and a handle of Stolichnaya vodka.

“Carolyn?” I hollered up the basement stairs, “Do you like vodka sauce?”

I couldn’t find a recipe for shrimp ravioli in my parents’ capacious cookbook library, but I found and tweaked a basic recipe for pasta dough from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian CookingThen I hunted around on the internet, and found this recipe for shrimp ravioli in a vodka sauce, which I have slightly adapted, defatted, and seriously copy-edited.

This recipe has a lot of steps, but isn’t altogether that complicated.  You can make the filling and the sauce well ahead of time, but the dough should probably be made the day you intend to assemble the ravioli.  However, they freeze beautifully, and we’ll get to that later.

Let’s get started!

Ravioli/Tortellini di Gamberi alla Vodka

The Vodka Sauce

The Setup

Ingredients:

  • 1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes in puree
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1/4 cup basil, ribbon-cut (chiffonade)

The Heist

  1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, and lightly fry the garlic until fragrant.  Kill the heat.
  2. Add the vodka.  You don’t want to add liquor to a pot over a live flame because there could always be a wayward splash, a sudden flare-up, and then it’s goodbye, eyebrows (and possibly goodbye, face).  Bring the vodka to a bare simmer and let it cook over low to medium heat for about five minutes.
  3. Add in the tomatoes, bring back to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add in the cream, bring to the very barest of simmers, and stir.  It should get somewhat thicker after a few minutes.  At this point, add the basil and kill the heat.

What a pleasant color.

Pasta Dough (for Ravioli)

makes enough for about 50 ravioli or so
The Setup

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tsp milk or cream

(So, one half-cup of flour and one teaspoon of milk per egg)

The Heist
Put the flour in a mixing bowl, and make a little well with your fingers, or a fork.

  1. Crack the eggs into the well, and pour in the cream.
    Well, well, well, my pretties.
  2. With a fork, beat the eggs and the cream, first into one another, and then gradually begin introducing the flour into the egg mixture, until it’s fully incorporated.It's the world's tastiest vortex.
  3. Clean off the fork and begin kneading the dough with your hands until it has picked up most of the flour and is relatively unsticky. Pad the dough into a flattish round, and perhaps cut it into thirds or quarters with a knife or dough scraper.  Put another half cup of flour into the mixing bowl, because you’ll be using it later to dust the pasta.
    This might warrant a little more kneading - you can see how it looks a little rough at the right edge; it should be smooth all over.
  4. Cover the dough with a towel and let it hang out while you make…

The Shrimp Filling

The Setup

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb shrimp, defrosted, peeled, and deveined*
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp parmesan cheese
  • a generous handful of parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper

* Save those shrimp shells for a shrimp velouté for your SQUIZZA!  Or, if you like, incorporate them into the vodka sauce with the garlic – but be sure to strain out the shells before serving.

The shrimp don’t need to be big, or even that attractive-looking; they’re going to be minced into tiny little pieces anyhow.  Ah-ha-ha-ha.  But seriously, the part of this dish that looks good isn’t the shrimp filling; nobody can see that bit.

The Heist

1. Heat 1 tbsp butter in a pan, and gently cook the garlic until pleasantly scented, about 30 seconds to a minute.
These shrimp were already somewhat pink just due to their natural color, which was a little alarming to me.
2. Drop the shrimp in, and sauté until the shrimp curl up (which they do because of proteins contracting during cooking.  Shrimp cocktail pro-tip: if you want to prevent shrimp from curling, make little slits on the ventral side of the shrimp; it’ll hamstring that muscle and curtail the curling.

Of course, we don't care whether or not the shrimp curl up, now do we?  We're making a ravioli filling; the shrimp are invisible.

3. Remove from heat, and either mince the shrimp finely, or quickly pulverize in a food processor.  Move the shrimp to a mixing bowl and add the ricotta, the eggs, the cheese, and the parsley.  Season to taste (yes, I know there’s raw egg in there.  It won’t kill you.).

Much.
Making the Ravioli

4.  Pass a chunk of your pasta dough through the machine, on its widest setting.  Fold it into thirds, rotate it 90 degrees, and repeat two or three more times, until the dough is glossy, pliant, and cheerful.Yes, friends, it's The Thin Pasta, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy!

5. Begin passing the dough through the rollers at increasingly thinner settings – just once through on each setting will do.  I tend to stop at the penultimate thinness.

6. High five your significant other, for finding a pasta maker. *

7. Lay out a sheet of dough on your work surface – maybe one foot long by six inches wide (depending on how wide your rollers are).  Lay out another piece with similar dimensions beside it.

8. Take a 1/2 teaspoon measure and dollop out the filling onto one of the sheets, about an inch and a half away from each other, and from the edge.  This means that if your sheet is 6 inches wide, place one dollop at 1.5 inches, the next at 3 inches, and the third at 4.5 inches.

9. Wet a finger or a pastry brush with water or egg wash and brush down every part of the dough that doesn’t have filling on it.  Lay the other piece of dough on top of it, and crimp the dough around the filling.  Then press everything down so that the dough fuses together.  You can see Carolyn and I were doing something slightly differently, and making tortellini andravioli, but mostly because we weren’t sure exactly how to do either, at first.

Who knows!  There's no effin' rules, dude.  I mean, yes there are, but we don't follow them.

10.  Take a knife, or, if you have it, a scalloped pasta roller (I don’t have one yet, but I think I’d like one.  They can’t be hard to find) and cut the ravioli close enough so that you’re not just eating a sheet of dough, but not so close that you expose the filling, either.  Recover the dough, ball it up, and put it aside – you can mix it with the remaining dough to make the rest of the ravioli.

11. Sidenote 1: as you cut each raviolo free, dunk it in flour and shake off the excess; you don’t want them to stick to each other as you prep them for cooking – trying to separate stuck-on ravioli will rip their skins and expose the filling, which will cause you to curse assiduously.

12.  Sidenote 2: if you wish to freeze the ravioli, line a baking pan with parchment or wax paper, and plop the floured ravioli on as you complete them – let them sit in the freezer for at least 40 minutes before removing them from the sheet, putting them in a freezer bag, and throwing them back in cold storage.
These are not quite done!

13.  Bring salted water to a rolling boil and cook the ravioli until they float, and the filling is hot throughout, about 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size, quantity, and thickness of ravioli.  Frozen ravioli take 4 to 6 minutes to cook, on average.

That's what they look like when they float.  And when they're tortellini.

14.  Toss lightly with sauce, and serve.

Tadahhh.

* Just so you know, from now on, Step Six is always going to be “Give the person you’re cooking with a high five.”  I jokingly put in the original step six when I was writing out this recipe to myself in an email, while Carolyn read over my shoulder.  Now, whenever we reach Step 6 in a recipe, we high-five.  We have even gotten to the point where we refer to high-fiving as “step six”.

Sure, it’s ridiculous, but I think it’s also important, in a way: cooking is always more fun with others, and it’s important to acknowledge your co-chef now and again.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Never high-five your co-chef while holding a sharp object.

Contra odii (a note to the haters):

I am aware that the images in the photos above do not depict ravioli, but rather tortellini.  Yes, they are not square.  Yes, they’re somewhat ring-shaped.  I got better at making them; more photos to come.

For additional guidance on making ravioli, I refer you to this video featuring Sergio Maria Teutonica (which is a pretty excellent name) making shrimp ravioli and a ragù di mare (a sauce of the sea – here grape tomatoes, shrimp, pine nuts, and basil).  It is, unsurprisingly, entirely in Italian, which I do not speak, but the technique is pretty self-explanatory.

I’m just starting to get into pasta; we’ll see where this takes us.  Probably weirder places than this – just warning you.  (I see more squid in my future.)

Enjoy, and happy cooking!

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