Italian Easter

Good news. The National Weather Service just updated the 2009 hurricane season forecast and dropped the number of hurricanes they anticipate. The reason for the drop is that the waters of the ocean have cooled. Hmmmmmmmmmm. Since it’s easy to measure surface water temp accurately, I have no reason to doubt the ocean has cooled. I know the lake cooled. Whether or not this will result in fewer hurricanes is anybody’s guess.
I can also believe the ocean has cooled since on April 8 I had to cover the garden on a frost warning. Frost in April? What’s that all about. This global warming sure is strange.
Back when we lived in Utah and Chris still lived at home, he and I used to make home made pasta a few times a month. We had a great pasta machine and made the dough using a food processor. We had it all down to a science and could whip up a batch of great fettucine or linquine in under 30 minutes. We made spinach pasta, carrot pasta, tomatoe pasta – basically anything that grew in the garden was cooked and tossed into the food processor along with the flour and eggs. Alas, he went off to school and with just the two of us at home, the pasta making stopped. When we moved from Utah, Nancy sold the pasta machine, unbeknownst to me, in a garage sale – officially ending my promising career as a pasta master. Then for my last birthday, Chris got me a new pasta machine. I loved it but still, without him to help, it sat unused all this time.

Fast forward to Easter and it was our turn to have a big family dinner. We started discussing the menu a month prior to the event and it became obvious that we were on two different pages as to what an Easter dinner should be. In my family and since we were married, Easter was always a baked ham, potato or macaroni salad, baked beans and a green salad. Hard rolls and cheese so you could make great ham sandwiches. Basically a cold meal. Nancy’s family had a hot meal – ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole. So she started polling the kids as to what they wanted for Easter and it was ending up to be a combination of lots of things. Out of the blue, Nancy said we should maybe really go back in time when my Mom and grandmom made ravioli for Easter. It was an all day meal prep with hours spent just making the pasta dough- prefood processor. We broke out the food processor and the new pasta machine and whipped up a spaghetti dinner to see if we had what it took to pull off a big ravioli feast for 10 – 15 people. It went so smooth that we agreed this was a good course to pursue.

So we understood all the mechanics but weren’t sure on the proportions – how many ravioli do you make for that many people and how does that roll back to flour, eggs, ricotta and mozzerela cheese. Each batch of dough is 2 cups of flour, 2 eggs, some salt, olive oil, and water. In our experimental cooking we determined that one batch fed the two of us with enough left over for a big lunch for me the next day. So it made sense that if one batch was plenty for two, then 6 batches would cover a dozen or so. So how much cheese do you need to fill that much pasta dough. We guessed that three 2 pound containers of ricotta and 2 one pound packages of mozzerella would do just fine. Since the weight of all that approached 10 pounds, I had a nagging feeling that we were making way too much food. But nothing is better than day old pasta so the worst that could happen was plenty of leftovers.

We started Saturday morning about 10AM and by noon had constructed 90 or so ravioli and still had some of the filling left over. We speculated that we had enough filling for 100 but decided not to make any more dough – just chuck the left over cheese. We set aside some to freeze for a future meal, some for the neighbors, some for my sister and settled on cooking 50. With a dozen eaters that’s 4 per person which sounded about right. Along with the ravioli, there was a few pounds of Italian Sausage, a couple pounds of pork short ribs, a big antipasto salad and Italian bread. The logistics of cooking 50 ravioli was a bit more than we had planned but we put on three big pots of boiling water and put about 10 in each to start. We guessed the cooking time at 10 minutes in boiling water and as we removed the cooked ravioli, we replaced them with the second batch. So it took 2 cycles with 3 pots going. As it turned out, there were leftovers from the first batch so the whole second pass was excess. We all ate till we could hardly walk and still ended up with plenty of leftovers. But at least now we understand the process quite a bit better and will tone it down a bit next time.

For anybody who wants to try to make the food processor pasta dough, it’s way easier than the traditional method with kneading and rolling dough. You just put in all the ingredients except the water and turn the machine on. The trick is adding the water. You put in a couple of tablespoons and then wait a minute or so. Another tablespoon and wait. The water interacts slowly with the other ingredients and then all of a sudden it reaches the critical point and the dough forms a big ball and starts shaking the hell out of the food processor. If you overshoot on the water, the dough will be too wet and sticky. At that point you add more flour. So you can bounce back and forth between adding water and adding flour until you get it right.

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