3 May 2009

the dough must go on

My problem with homemade pasta is psychological: I always, every time, bury deep within me and ignore the fact that I have to roll out the dough using my deranged pasta machine and the traumatic act of doing so will render me too sweaty and exhausted and emotionally fragile to properly enjoy the finished product. Every time.

I think even if I had a pasta machine that didn't emit high pitched death-squeals, and that didn't change from setting 1 to setting 6 without warning, and whose handle wouldn't fall off every thirty seconds, it is still the sort of thing that shouldn't be undertaken in a kitchen such as ours.

To wit:


This is, more or less, the kitchen in my flat. It measures 3 1/2 metres by 2 1/2 metres, and I know, that sounds pretty spacious. But within that space, as well as what you see above, is a table, two fridges, a washing machine, a three-tier plastic rack which holds various things - spices, the tinfoil, our collection of plastic bags - and an entirely superfluous sink in the corner that doesn't work and which serves as storage space for various cooking implements. This image above was taken for a photo essay I did last year, so be assured that while the spatula indeed was on the floor because of natural causes (ie, someone dropped it there and didn't pick it up) it has since been moved. All that aside, can you imagine trying to make pasta in this space? It's not exactly the spacious, sun-warmed cobbles of Tuscany or the spacious, granite-topped stainless-steel abode of Nigella Lawson. If one person turns the handle of the pasta machine, the other person feeding the lump of dough in and out of the roller ends up standing in the hallway, clutching the ever-thinning sheet of pasta, weeping softly as flour gets trampled permanently into the carpet.

Such is the power of an evocative cookbook - in this case, Italian Comfort Food by the Scotto Family of New York. It has a recommendation on the front cover from Regis Philbin so, you know, it must be good. It is filled with family photos - the Scotto family all glowing and gorgeously Italian - and anecdotes of famous customers to their cafe, Fresco (did you know Jennifer Aniston likes their tuna salad? Giuliani was a regular? And my favourite, Bill Clinton once ate seven ice cream sandwiches meant for his dinner guests, while they sat there watching politely?) It is one of the few American cookbooks that has instantly appealed to me (I know you're the leaders of the free world but till you stop measuring butter in cups and sticks I remain unimpressed) and every single recipe gives me that feeling of kitcheny anticipation.

One such recipe was for ravioli with black truffles and red beets (or beetroot as we say here, and as I will from now on), which is the reason for my whole aforementioned rant about the Jeckyll-and-Hyde nature of my pasta machine and the lamentably tiny size of my kitchen. The recipe stuck in my head though and not only am I a sucker for beetroot, I also thought I could make use of this bottle of white truffle oil that I bought ages ago and have barely used since.



Perception is a funny thing though. Ravioli sounds pretty easy - lay out a sheet of pasta, make small piles of mixture, fold over your pasta, cut...but for me it was a classic case of easier said than done. After taking the above photo, I ended up individually wrapping the dough around the filling, pressing the edges together haphazardly and, towards the end, somewhat maniacally. I did about four or five ravioli at a time before heading back to the pasta machine to roll out another lump of dough. This was not a swift process, the dough would tear and refuse to stick to itself, and the beetroot would just...spread. Nevertheless, the finished product was utterly delicious, so if you want to recreate this emotional mess in your own kitchen, follow my lead.

I was pleased to see that the Scotto family recipe for pasta seemed to echo Nigella Lawson's - one egg per 100g flour, which kneaded together equals one serving. None of this Jamie Oliver/Gordon Ramsey business where it seems as though they're in silent competition with each other, trying to see who can have the most audacious number of egg yolks in their recipe. I'm not saying their pasta wouldn't be delicious, or that they don't know what they're doing, just...three words: current economic climate..

For the filling I deviated from the delicious sounding recipe to accomodate what I had in my fridge. This is what happened: I roasted two foil wrapped beetroot for an hour, till a cake tester could be plunged into them without resistance. They were then mashed roughly (and I should have whizzed them in the food processer but was too lazy, don't be like me) with 125mls sour cream, some chopped garlic, a few drops of white truffle oil, and some crumbled feta cheese. Once this was haphazardly and hamfistedly turned into ravioli, I cooked them in rapidly boiling, heavily salted water for about 1 minute.

And despite being the most woeful-looking, irregularly shaped ravioli to the point where it is almost an insult to Italy to name them as such, they tasted utterly marvelous.



So good I can almost forgive my pasta machine, even though I'm scared it might stab me in my sleep.
As you can see, beetroot isn't the most well-behaved of vegetables and its deep crimson juice seeped into the pasta dough, creating a marbled pink surface on the cooked pasta which wasn't really the least bit attractive. To serve, I tossed them in a little melted butter and sprinkled them with mint and parmesan. Despite appearances they really were good - the deep-toned creaminess of the sour cream mingling pleasingly with the sweetness of the beetroot and the almost terrifying pungency of the truffle oil, which made itself felt even in the tiny quantities that I used.

Tim and I went to a play last night, because we cultured like buttermilk. The play was God of Carnage, it's very recent and currently lighting up Broadway and starring James Gandolfini, Jeff Daniels and Marcia Gay Harden. It is a French play but originated in English on the West End and starred the ridiculously cool Janet McTeer and Tamsin Grieg, plus the moderately cool Ralph Fiennes. With that alone in mind, it's quite exciting that someone in New Zealand managed to secure the rights to stage it so soon. The play itself was hilarious, but rather excruciatingly so, as the four characters onstage slowly became less and less able to maintain their social graces and good manners with each other.

What Wikipedia can't tell you however, is that at the age of 23 I managed to book tickets online for - how do I explain this - what I thought was the 2nd of May, but was actually the 1st. So, we had tickets for Friday night but I thought they were for Saturday night, and when we showed up to Circa Theatre on Saturday night wearing arty theatre-going clothes and anticipating an evening of light entertainment, the woman at the box office gave me a blank stare and said that we couldn't go in. Mercifully, after a stomach-clenching wait wherein I was able to contemplate my own debilitating uselessness, we were told that there were two free seats - not together, but whatevs - that we could take. My peevish hatred for the box office lady who laughed at my predicament softened into the deepest gratitude. All of which seemed to heighten the awkwardness that the characters on the stage portrayed. A particular treat was that it starred the brilliant Jeffrey Thomas, who I recognised instantly from one of his more recent roles as irrepressible hippie commune polygamist Vern in Outrageous Fortune, and whose rich, mellifluous voice is a delight to the ears.

Afterwards we decided to have a debrief over a drink (or, as I used to say before I started working full-time in an office, "a conversation") and found this delightful, utterly gorgeous place called Duke Carvell's, off Cuba Street. It was so lovely that afterwards I wondered if I dreamed the whole thing. We went on a whim - after aimlessly walking up Cuba, not being able to settle on anywhere, it appeared out of nowhere, tucked down Swan Lane, which is really an abandoned parking lot and therefore not as charming as it sounds. Duke Carvell's is quiet from the outside and softly lit with fairy lights - oh, I'm a sucker for fairly lights - and inside mismatched chandeliers and candles illuminate paintings of various sizes and the books and trinkets artfully laden upon the wall-mounted shelves.

Our dapper friend Scotty joined us for a drink, which was lovely, and then without warning a full-on brass band burst through the doors, circled the room playing their music, before leaving as swiftly and mysteriously as they came. I have no idea if the band were in cahoots with the owners of the place or if they were as bewildered as the rest of us, but it certainly added a delightfully surreal touch to the night. The drinks, however, are eyebrow-raisingly expensive, as though there's a $2 surcharge for the ambience...
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Overheard In Our Kitchen

Laura: Man, that Duke Carvell's place was cool. Really gorgeous. I'm glad we found it.
Tim: Yep.
Laura: But so expensive. Like they had a $2 surcharge for the ambience or something.
Tim: Sure.
Laura: Heh. Surcharge for the ambience. I'm gonna use that in my blog.
Tim: Okay...
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What came on shuffle while I was writing this:

1: Another Year: A Short History of Almost Something by Amanda Palmer, from Who Killed Amanda Palmer?
2: I Will Never Leave You, by Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley, from the 52nd Tony Awards performance
3: El Paso, by Marty Robbins, from Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs

Next time: Lamb shanks with Marsala. That's if the photos turn out pretty, difficult with braisy-stewy-casseroly type dishes...

Finally: Addicted to Twitter like I am? Thought so! Follow me by clicking these hyperlinked words!

8 comments:

  1. They look awesome!

    Haha Bill Clinton. I love ice-cream sandwiches!

    xox Sarah

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  2. Delightful as ever Laura. Love the titles. Fancy that - a brass band in the middle of the night - who would have guessed!!

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  3. Laura, your blog is always so entertaining. I had to laugh at the mental picture you painted of two people using the pasta machine, especially of the person in the hallway clutching the sheet of pasta, weeping while flour was "trampled permanently into the carpet". I'm sure although it sounds very amusing and creates a funny mental picture, it is actually not that funny if you are one of the two people using the pasta machine. In spite of how difficult it sounds to make pasta using your machine, I am still intrigued by home-made pasta and still want to make it some day! (am I crazy?) Thanks for the recipe, it does sound delicious!

    Glad you had a good night at the play. Sounds like something worth seeing!

    Thanks for a good read as always :). You are certainly a talented writer.

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  4. In the eloquent simplicity of Homer Simpson, "Doh!"

    And in the somewhat lengthier eloquence of your great grandmother, (regarding the "sight" rather than the "taste" of your pasta....) "A blind man on a galloping horse wouldn't notice the difference."

    I love the thought of a random brass band turning up and then disappearing.

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  5. Laughing at that picture of your kitchen - similar to mine! That beetroot ravioli looks sensational though.

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  6. Sarah: So did he apparently :)

    Viv: Thanks! And I know - bizarre!

    Hayley: Thank you :) what an ego boost, so nice to read.

    Mum: D'oh indeed, especially when I had to clean up afterwards...

    GourmetChick: Nooo someone out there with a kitchen as terrible as mine...

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  7. Sorry late in reading this one. Seemed that everytime the page loaded my phone would go off, or class was about to start or a tribe of muscular tanned Brazillian boys would carry me away or some scuh fantasy. Nice ravioli, you really do have a weakness for the "red beets." 'Twas lovely to see you two on Sat, Duke's is such a nice place! See you this Saturday for more good times!
    Scotty x

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  8. I think the pink marbled seepage is really pretty! The flavours sound magic.

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