A winning edge - or Pasta, part II

You've got the dough down to a fine art. Now comes the joy of rolling and filling your pasta.

pasta 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
pasta 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Homemade fresh pasta has a winning selling point: you can dream up any shape-filling-sauce combination you want. Your culinary imagination is the limit. And don't forget, once you get through a short learning period, your homemade pasta dished will surpass anything bought by light-years. The only sensible way to make fresh pasta is with a pasta machine. Reasonable quality machines are readily available online and elsewhere in Israel for less than NIS 200. I wouldn't bother with any of the accessories; they cost a lot and provide little benefit. You could, if you want to make life easier, get a ravioli tray (about NIS 90) or a ravioli stamp-type maker (about NIS 10). ROLLING OUT FRESH PASTA 4 Fasten the pasta machine tightly to the work area. You must be able to crank away without having the dough go everywhere. 4 Make sure you have a long, clean work space. The pasta sheet can get extremely lengthy as you roll it out. 4 Start out with a small lump of the fresh pasta dough, about the size of a large walnut. You can work your way to bigger lumps every time you feel confident enough. 4 Flatten it out with a rolling pin. All you want to do is get the dough flat enough to fit the widest setting of your pasta machine comfortably. 4 Set the pasta maker to the widest setting. Pass the dough through once, fold it over as if closing a book, and pass it through again. Repeat once more. 4 Reduce the setting by one notch, and pass the sheet through. Go down one setting at a time, as you pass the dough through. As you start to sequentially reduce the settings, the fresh pasta sheet will get longer and thinner. Let the sheet hang on your right hand and arm like a waiter's towel. Feed the machine, and turn the handle slowly with your left hand. As the sheet passes through, let it slip gently off your right arm. 4 The pasta sheet, thinner and longer, will start piling up on the other side. Every once in a while, spread it out. If the sheet gets too long to handle, cut it in half, and work on one half at a time. It will take a few goes before you feel competent doing this. I guarantee that you'll start feeling like a Tai Chi master soon enough. 4 Cut the sheets into a uniform, manageable size - 40 centimeters or so. Flour very generously with plain white flour and stack while you continue making more sheets. Be very generous with the flour as it will make handling the sheets so much easier and save you from having to start all over again if they stick to each other. SHAPING LONG PASTA - FETTUCCINI, PAPPARDELLE, TAGLIATELLE These are as easy as it gets - and some of my favorite ways to eat straightforward pasta. The technique is the same for all the long shapes - the strip thickness is the only difference. 1. On a floured work surface, stack 3 to 6 sheets - depending on how confident you are with a knife. Flour each sheet very generously as you stack them. 2. Gently roll up the stack lengthwise, so you end up with a roulade or cylinder. The roulade shouldn't be tight. 3. With a very sharp knife, slice the roulade, using only a little downwards pressure, and a smooth back or forwards movement. 4. To make fettuccini slice 1 cm. wide strips, for pappardelle: 2 to 3 cm., tagliatelle: 4 cm. 5. Gently toss everything around to loosen and separate the strips. You can cook immediately, store for a few hours, covered, on a well floured surface, or hang up to dry. 6. Cook in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes (no more). FILLED PASTA Few things are more imaginative for a chef than creating a pasta filling. The idea is to create a little pocket of tactfully bursting flavor. The building blocks to do so are just endless. Nevertheless, it's important to remember that the filling should be fully cooked when stuffed, and that the filling should be wet and runny - any kind of liquid is out. MAKING RAVIOLI 1. Cut the pasta sheets into small squares. Spoon the filling into the center. Make sure the filling leaves a good margin of dough on the sides. 2. Brush the margins with a little water. Make sure the dough is moistened, but not flooded with water. Ensure that there are no dry gaps. 3. Cover with another square, and gently press down to take out as much air as possible. Use the palm of your hand to press down on the margins and create a firm seal. Set aside to adhere for at least 10 minutes. 4. Cook in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes. MAKING TORTELLINI 1. Follow the instructions for ravioli making up to step 3. 2. You'll be facing a square, with filling in the middle (margins lightly brushed with water). Fold one corner to its opposite corner, creating a triangle. Fold the two corners at the base of the triangle forward, and press them together - creating a semicircle. BUTTERNUT SQUASH, PARMESAN AND PINE NUTS RAVIOLI Serves 6 4 350 gr. pasta dough, rolled out into sheets 4 350 gr. butternut squash ("Dalorit" in Hebrew), skin removed, roughly cut into 5-6 cm. pieces 4 1 Tbsp. olive oil 4 100 gr. butter 4 50 gr. pine nuts - lightly toasted in a skillet 4 50 gr. high quality Parmesan (or other hard, fragrant cheese), grated 4 Salt and freshly ground pepper 1. Preheat the oven to medium-high - 220ºC. 2. Combine the squash and the olive oil in a bowl. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Toss well to coat the squash completely with the oil and the spices. Place in a baking dish and bake, covered, for about 30 minutes or until soft. Remove cover and roast for 5-10 minutes more, avoiding any kind of scorching. 3. Return the squash into the bowl and add the butter. Mash well with a fork or a potato masher (or puree in a food processor). Mix in the Parmesan and pine nuts and season to taste. 4. Let the filling cool and then proceed to make the ravioli as described. 5. Serve with a light buttery or creamy sauce. CREAMY BLUE CHEESE TORTELLINI Serves 6 4 350 gr. pasta dough, rolled out into sheets 4 300 gr. tasty blue cheese (can substitute other rich, piquant cheeses), crumbled 4 100 gr. cream cheese 4 3 Tbsp. chopped chives 4 1 small garlic clove, chopped finely 4 Salt and freshly ground pepper 1. Combine blue and cream cheese in a bowl, add the chives and garlic and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 2. Make the tortellini as described. 3. Serve with a smooth and refined tomato sauce.