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An Italian Thanksgiving Feast
Make fresh ravioli the star of your holiday table - and score with your relatives and friends
When my editor asked me to come up with a column that connected Italy to Thanksgiving, I was thrown for a loop. Thanksgiving could not be more American. What does it have to do with Italy? But the key ingredient to a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday is food - and no one does food quite like Italy. That's when I started thinking about my own Thanksgiving, which always includes turkey and lasagna. Or turkey and linguini con le vongole. It's never just turkey. Turkey, in fact, is a sideshow in our Thanksgiving. And I decided it was time to go all out and make a quintessential, special Italian dish for Thanksgiving. That's when I tried my hand at fresh, homemade ravioli for the first time.
What a trip! I've made fresh pasta before and I'm a pro at gnocchi, thanks to my ability to follow careful instructions from Lidia Bastianich. But ravioli was new territory. Knowing my interest in Italian cuisine, my boyfriend Antonio searched high and low for the perfect pasta machine, which he gave me as a gift during his last visit. It's the gift that would keep on giving to him - and his belly. This article was the perfect excuse to take the ravioli attachment for a test drive.
I followed the recipe for the dough that comes from the machine's instruction manual - a delicate combination of flour, eggs, salt, and olive oil. Then, I made a well inside a bowl with the flour and salt and put the wet ingredients at the center. I mixed and mixed without forcing all the flour to join the dough. Then, I made the dough into a pancake shape, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and waited an hour.
In the meantime, I decided what kind of filling I'd like to try. I chose a basic filling with about one cup of ricotta, two tablespoons of Reggiano Parmigiano, salt, pepper, and fresh parsley chopped. To add some Thanksgiving flair to the ravioli, I made a second filling inspired by an old Sandra Lee recipe for wonton ravioli. The ingredients are half a can of pumpkin filling, half a packet of onion soup mix, and vegetable broth. You heat that up until it gets a bit drier and more manageable. Then, you add a bit of ricotta, Reggiano Parmigiano, salt, pepper, and a dash of fresh nutmeg.
By the time the filling was done an hour had passed, and I could focus on the pasta again. Following the instructions, I started passing the flat-as-a-pancake dough through the pasta machine to make a long, thin strip - but not too thin because it has to be thick enough to hold the filling. Then, I folded the strip in half and hung it over the wood dowels on the ravioli attachment. At the center, where the two halves meet, I added the filling, and then I started hand rolling with the crank.
There was filling everywhere. My kitchen table looked like it was the center of a ravioli. It took me about four tries to actually get it right. In the end I managed to salvage an entire bowl of ravioli with both ricotta and pumpkin filling. But I should have boiled the ravioli for a few more minutes. Unfortunately, I followed the directions and pulled the ravioli from the boiling water as soon as they surfaced on the top of the pot. It was too soon. They were far too al dente. I ate them with just a dash of olive oil, so I could really feel the texture of the fresh pasta and get a taste for the filling. I wanted to taste the flavors, so when I make it for Thanksgiving, I'll do a better job.
What I found is that the ravioli attachment is convenient and easy to use once you get the hang of it. But it makes for little, tiny ravioli and that means very little filling in each bite. If you want bigger ravioli, you'll have to make them completely by hand after you've rolled out the dough with your machine. Make sure to boil them for a few minutes longer once they've surfaced at the top and taste them before you pull them from the water. Practice making fresh pasta and ravioli as much as you can before the big day. Use the manual that comes with your pasta machine as a guide and not a bible. Make adjustments as you see fit.
I have decided that when I serve the ravioli for real, I will use a simple tomato sauce for the ricotta filled ravioli and a brown butter and sage topping for the pumpkin ravioli (also a Sandra Lee suggestion). Fresh ravioli - when done right - has the power to overshadow the big turkey on your table, especially if your house is filled with Italians. Buon Thanksgiving!
For more information on all things Italian, including a photo tour of Di Meglio trying her hand at fresh ravioli, visit www.francescadimeglio.com
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