Shaping Tortellini

The First One

I’ve been making a lot of pasta of late in preparation for an upcoming class and I thought I’d give you a glimpse at what I worked on yesterday afternoon.

I was shaping tortellini, which is an interesting process.  I made the pasta dough on Sunday and put it in the refrigerator.  Just before I left for work late yesterday morning I took the dough out of the fridge so it would come to room temperature by the time I arrived home in the afternoon.  My timing was just right – by the time I got home the pasta was perfectly pliable.

I started by dividing the ball of dough into 6 pieces and, working with one piece at a time, I began rolling the sheets of pasta that would be cut into pieces for tortellini.  I rolled each piece of dough two times on each of the settings 1 through 6 on the pasta machine, for a total of 12 passes through the pasta machine.  This resulted in a very thin, very pliable dough.

Pasta Maker

Ready for Action

 

The First Pass

The Second Time on Number 6

Next, using a pizza cutter, I cut each of the sheets into 2.5″ strips (one was wide enough to cut into two 2.5″ strips, but the others allowed for only one strip).

Cut to 2.5 Inches Wide

Then I cut the strips into squares.

Cut into Squares

Cutting into Squares

For the next step, using clean fingers instead of a small brush (one less thing to wash), I “painted” two of the edges with water, which acts like glue to hold the filling inside the tortellini.  Then I placed a small dollop of filling in the center of each pasta square.

Water to Glue Edges

With a Dollop of Filling

Tortellini FillingFolding was next.  First, I folded the “dry edges” over the “wet edges” and I used my pastry scraper to gently press the edges together to seal them. The next fold was to take the point of the triangle and fold it so that it slightly overlapped the longest edge of the triangle.

Folded Into a Triangle

Pressing the Edges to Seal

Point Folded into Center of Triangle

The final fold required the pointer finger to act as a spacer.  The way I did it was to hold the pasta between my thumb and pointer finger of my left hand with the point closest to my pointer finger.  Then I used my right hand to shape the pasta around my finger. I took one end around to the nail side of my pointer finger and then did the same with other side so the points overlapped.  Then I pressed the ends together and tucked them under, doing a final press to make sure they were sealed.

Pinching the Ends

Tucking & Pinching the Edge

After each tortellini was formed, I put it onto a sheet tray that ultimately went into the freezer until the tortellini were firm, after which I put them into a zip top bag and stored them in the freezer.

Note: I ended up with a lot of “scrap” dough (not unusual), which I never scrap.  I cut it into pieces and will cook it when I’m looking for a fast dinner.  Yesterday, I played a little with the scraps and made some farfalle or bow-tie pasta.

Farfalle

 

The Finished Product

Mmm mmm mmm!  Happy tortellini’ing!

Have you ever made homemade tortellini?  How’d they turn out?  What did you fill them with?

Monday Recipe Love MMM Your Review Leftovers

I know it sounds confusing……but it’s really not.  It’s a Monday Mmm Mmm Mmm, Recipe Review and Love Your Leftovers post all rolled into one!!! Except….oh, no….the holiday weekend has messed me up…..Jeff just reminded me, IT’S NOT MONDAY.  Ugh….Ok, so it’s a Tuesday Mmm Mmm Mmm, Recipe Review and Love Your Leftovers post!!!

Coming up with new and creative ideas for dinner can be just as difficult for someone with a passion for cooking, eating and entertaining as it is for the Average Jane or Average Joe.  Sometimes the creativity just isn’t there and/or sometimes you just don’t feel like cooking.  But when you’ve got leftovers on hand and you’ve just tried a RRREEEAAALLLYYY good recipe, it’s a bit easier.

On Sunday Jeff and I went the home of our friends Lu and Mark for a cookout.  A bunch of folks gathered for an impromptu celebration of Mark’s birthday. And of course, when friends get together you can count on two things – at least with our group of friends – lots of laughs and some darn good food.

Lu made an appetizer platter with a few new-to-her recipes including Pickled Deviled Eggs and Pickled Brussel Sprouts – both mmm mmm mmm.  I made an Ina Garten / Barefoot Contessa recipe that I recently wrote about when our friends Barb and Scott invited us to their lovely home for dinner.  The recipe is Crostini with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes…….I raved about it when Barb made it and my friends raved about it when I did too!

crostiniLu and Mark also grilled hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, Maureen and Andy brought their yummy mac and cheese, Ev and Jeff brought peach cobbler, and Tim and Jack ran out for glazed donuts when everyone was talking about the Luther Burger craze.  Luther Burgers are allegedly named for Luther Vandross and are cheeseburgers served on sliced glazed donuts.

Well, my assessment of the Luther Burger – five M’s – MMMMM!

But I digress……

Tonight I was stumped about what to make for dinner, so I did what all self-respecting cooks do when they don’t know what to make….I stood in front of the open fridge hoping inspiration would jump out at me….and it did. I spied the container with the leftover whipped feta, a package of chicken, the leftover marinated tomatoes and a head of broccoli Jeff picked from the garden yesterday.

Here’s what I did:

1. I cut the chicken into cutlets – with my palm on top of the chicken piece and my knife parallel to the cutting board I cut on a very slightly downward angle (to avoid the knife going into my hand).  Then I pounded the cutlets, breaded them (first in seasoned flour, then in egg wash, and finally in seasoned bread crumbs), shallow fried them and set them on paper towels to drain.

2. I ran out to the garden to pick a few extra tomatoes and followed Ina’s recipe to make some extra marinated tomatoes.

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3. I made the pesto with some arugula, spinach, the broccoli, lemon juice, lemon zest, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  I tasted it for seasoning and then set a pot of water on the stove to boil so I could cook the pasta.

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4. While the water boiled and the pasta cooked, I spread the remaining whipped feta onto the cooked chicken cutlets and placed them in a 250 degree F oven to stay warm and for the cheese to soften.

Chicken with Whipped Feta

Just after I drained the pasta and mixed in the pesto, I heard the garage door go up.  Jeff’s timing is exceptional – particularly when food is involved!  While he changed, I plated our food – the pesto pasta next to the feta smeared chicken, which I topped with the marinated tomatoes.  We both raved dinner and Jeff complimented me on taking Ina’s Crostini recipe and adapting it for a main course.

Chicken with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes

As far as the recipe goes, Barefoot Contessa’s Crostini with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes gets 5 M’s out of 5!


It is easy to make, takes only a few ingredients, yields incredible flavor, pleases a crowd, adapts well to other preparations and holds well for leftovers!!!  So, whether it’s Monday or Tuesday, I hope you love your leftovers, try a new recipe and end up with an MmmMmmMmm!!!!!

 

Dinner Mmm

Barefoot Contessa Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta

Ingredients

  • 6oz good feta cheese (crumbled)
  • 2oz cream cheese (at room temperature)
  • 2/3 cups good olive oil (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed (I also used the zest of one whole lemon))
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons shallots (minced (2 shallots))
  • 2 teaspoons garlic (minced (2 cloves))
  • 2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
  • 2lb ripe heirloom or cherry tomatoes (1/2 inch dice)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves (julienned)
  • 20 - 25 diagonal baguette slices (toasted)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (toasted)

Directions

1. For the whipped feta, place the feta and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until the cheeses are mixed.
2. Add 1/3 cup of the olive oil, the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and process until smooth.
3. For the tomatoes, up to an hour before you're serving, combine the shallots, garlic, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes.
4. Whisk in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
5. Add the tomatoes, stir gently, and set aside for 10 minutes.
6. Stir in the basil and taste for seasonings.
7. To assemble the crostini, spread each slice of bread with a generous amount of whipped feta. With a slotted spoon, place the tomatoes on top. Put the crostini on plates and scatter with the pine nuts. Sprinkle with extra basil and serve.

An Old Favorite

On the way home from church this afternoon, I got a craving for an old favorite.  A really old favorite.  When Jeff and I were first married, I made this recipe quite a bit and I haven’t made it for years.

I’m not sure what even made me think of it on the short ride from Daybreak to home; but the heart (or in this case, the stomach) wants what the heart (stomach) wants!  And since I had to be in the kitchen working on a recipe anyway, I set about making this old friend – Dilled Tuna Pasta Salad.

A quick word on the tuna.  A few months ago, I decided to try some different brands of tuna than the usual grocery store brands.  And I decided to try a few imported brands to see if there really is a difference.  The two I tried today were worlds better than your average tuna from the grocery store.  They were both packed in oil, which absolutely makes for a richer tuna experience; but the flavors were infinitely different from grocery store tuna as well.  It really is worth the extra money when tuna is one of the stars of the show!

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Love Your Leftovers

I LOVE LEFTOVERS!  I know there are people out there that subscribe to the “I don’t eat leftovers” way of thinking, but I am not one of them.  I don’t even pretend to understand people who don’t like leftovers! I believe that most foods get better when they have time for the flavors to meld; therefore I think leftovers are often better than the original meal.  Combine my love of leftovers with my love of COLD leftovers and my distaste for sweet breakfast, and you’ll often find me eating last night’s food for breakfast – straight from the container.

Love Your Leftovers 2

I also enjoy the challenge of what I call “kitchen sink cooking.”  You’ve been there – it’s when you clean out your fridge…you know, the multitude of little containers of items from previous meals or items that didn’t get used…and make a meal from what’s there.  Last night was one of my “kitchen sink” nights.  The results were soooo good that I couldn’t resist letting you in on my “recipe.”

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A Peek at Pasta

Ravioli with Brown Butter and SageThe week that straddled February and March brought with it more pasta making than I’ve done in the last year.  And I am somewhat ashamed.  You see, my grandmother made pasta quite frequently – to her it was not an occasion, but rather a chore that happened along with many others on any given day.

And between the demonization of carbohydrates and gluten and the availability of good, imported pastas, I’ve either shied away from eating pasta for fear of being shunned or I’ve used dried pasta when I do make it.

But I’m getting back to my roots – and of course putting my twist on things.

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A Rare Treat

I had a rare treat on Tuesday….lunch with my husband on a weekday!  It wasn’t planned, which made it even better.

Jeff needed to pick up his car and asked if I could give him a ride.  As I was on the way to his office, I called him to let him know I’d be arriving soon. While on the phone, I teasingly asked if he’d be taking me to lunch as payment for the ride.  I was taken aback when he said, “yes!”  I expected him to reply with some sassy comment, putting me in my place for even suggesting that he had to pay for the ride!  Sometimes he knows how to render me speechless – not an easy feat!

On the remainder of the ride to his office, I thought about the different places we could go – some of our favorites…but as soon as he got into the car and I asked him if he had any ideas; he gave the exact right answer…Alvaro Bread and Pastry Shoppe.  Immediately my mouth started to water.  Everything there is homemade – bread, pasta, sauce, pastries, gelato…..oh, the possibilities were endless.

When we arrived I was comforted by the homey interior – exposed brick, terra cotta colored paint on the walls, and framed photos of the owners’ travels to Italy.  And the cases lined with pastries and cookies reminded me of trays of cookies at weddings in my family.  All lovingly made and beautifully decorated.  When we looked at the offerings of the day, I immediately knew what I would be ordering.  Deciding took only as long as it took me to read the words, “tortellini with rolled eggplant.”  They had me hook, line and sinker!  As we waited in line to order I found myself muttering a silent prayer that they wouldn’t run out of the eggplant before I got to the counter!  You see, the folks at Alvaro’s make the best eggplant rollatini I’ve ever had.

The eggplant is sliced as thin as humanly possible, breaded so lightly you’d swear that angels blew the breadcrumbs onto the slices, and fried so gently.  The result is not greasy at all, but tender on the inside and crispy on the outside.  The base of the filling is the freshest ricotta you’ve ever tasted! Mmm mmm mmm!

The tortellini – of course, homemade – is fantastic.  The pasta is incredibly smooth and just thick enough that it doesn’t tear when it’s rolled into the tortellini shape.  The filling is light and flavorful.  And the sauce – oh, the sauce – is perfection!  It’s just the right combination of fresh tomato sauce and cream.  You’d expect it to be heavy, as many cream-based sauces are; but it is silky and light with fresh tomato flavor.  Jeff also ordered the tortellini, but he ordered the Italian sausage rather than the eggplant.  Normally I would ask for a taste, but I was so engrossed in my food – trying so hard to pace myself that I’d have some to take home – that by the time I thought to ask, he was finished!

It is almost impossible to leave Alvaro’s without some kind of sweet treat.  When you look into the cases lined with cakes and cookies and pastries and homemade gelato, you’d swear the dessert gnomes were whispering, “Try me, try me!”  But we steeled our resolve and left without dessert…..but not without a loaf of rosemary bread!

If you are looking for a warm, homemade, filling lunch – the kind after which you probably need a nap – I’d give Alvaro’s Bread and Pastry Shoppe 6 forks out of 5!!!!  And no, there’s nothing wrong with your eyes or my math!!!

Leftovers

Unlike many people, I like leftovers – especially when the meal the night before was wonderful. I know this is going to sound strange, but my favorite meal of the year is Christmas morning – leftovers from Christmas Eve dinner!  But when I have a day where time won’t allow me to cook, I RRREEEAAALLLLLLYYY appreciate leftovers.

Today is one of those days.  Not only was the day busy, but I’ll be at my Bible study this evening so dinner is either leftovers, fast food, or something way too late in the day.  And today is one of those lucky days where the leftovers are from a wonderful meal – stuffed shells.

Jeff and I worked together to make them and they turned out great.  The filling included: ricotta cheese, spinach from our garden, parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg, fresh parsley, and some sauteed onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

When we make a dish that requires tomato sauce, I am so glad that Jeff roasts and cans tomatoes when they are plentiful in the garden!  We sauteed onions, carrots, green peppers, zucchini, garlic and red pepper flakes until they were soft, added some tomato paste, and cooked it until it had a chance to caramelize.  We then whizzed it up in the food processor (allowing it to remain a bit chunky) and added it to a jar of Jeff’s roasted summer tomatoes.  Finally we added some fresh oregano and parsley and the juice and zest of one lemon and allowed it to cook until all the flavors melded together. Mmm mmm mmm!

While the sauce cooked, we cooked the pasta and filled a pastry bag with the filling.  Although you can fill the shells using a spoon, I find using a pastry bag to be more efficient and less messy. I put a layer of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish and filled the shells, nestling them tightly in the dish.  When all the shells were filled, I topped them with sauce and then some parmesan and mozzarella.

 

The finished product was a warm, gooey, delicious pasta treat with a summer-fresh tomato sauce.  It was great the first night and I’m sure it will be even better tonight!!!!

Rules are Meant to Be Broken

There was so much activity in our vacation kitchen that my smile was an accessory to EVERY outfit I wore!  But two things in particular stand out to me as outside the norm.

The first is that I got to cook with my dad.  Not since (1) the days of scrambled egg hoagies when I was young and my mom worked in the evenings or (2) the days of ordering so much pizza from Pizza Village in Bethlehem, PA when I was a teen and my sister was away at college and my mom worked evenings that the Italian guys knew us by phone number have my dad and I spent time in the kitchen together “creating” (or phoning in) a dinner.  But my mom was under the weather on this trip and my dad and I were determined to still serve her fabulous grilled clam pasta; so we set to work shoulder to shoulder under my mom’s direction!

Together we chopped and grated and zested and sautéed and grilled the necessary ingredients to end up with a fabulous, if a bit too spicy but just sassy enough, pasta!

First we cooked the bacon to crispy perfection and removed it from the pan to get crisp on paper towels.  We poured off all but a bit of the bacon grease.  In the remaining bacon grease we sautéed red onion until it was beautifully translucent and the bottom of the pan was a gorgeous chestnut brown.

Then we deglazed the pan with about a cup of Pinot Grigio and let it cook until most of the wine evaporated.  We added the juice of two lemons and let that cook a bit longer.  We added olive oil and chopped garlic, a few too many hot pepper flakes, the zest of two lemons, some cracked black pepper and one or two ladles of the salted water in which the pasta was cooking.  We let that get nice and mellow and put the cleaned, fresh clams on the grill.

 

 

 

 

The clams cooked until they had absorbed the taste of the fire and smoke.  When they opened we put them in a large foil pan and tossed them with the pasta, crisp bacon, oil mixture, zest of two lemons, and some chopped fresh parsley.  The whole, delicious dish was served with grilled Italian bread, some fresh made seasoned bread crumbs for sprinkling over the pasta, and a bit of parmesan cheese.

Which brings me to the second thing that struck me as outside the norm in our vacation kitchen.  Fish with cheese!  Horror of horrors!  Sins against food and man!

I have watched enough episodes of Chopped on the Food Network to hear Scott Conant say at least a gazillion times that it’s just not done.  You don’t serve fish with cheese. It’s not the Italian way.

Well I stick out my tongue and give the raspberries to that sentiment!

As far as I am concerned, if we (cooks everywhere – whether home cooks or Michelin starred chefs) hadn’t pushed the proverbial envelope in the kitchen and broken a few rules along the way, we would still be eating exactly what our ancestors ate thousands of years ago exactly how they ate it!  AND there would be no cooking shows like Chopped on television – Chopped, which judges food based upon CREATIVITY, taste and presentation – not on tradition and rules.  How can we be creative if we do what we’ve always done?  In fact, isn’t the definition of insanity “doing what you’ve always done and expecting a different result?”

Sorry for the rant, but I REALLY had to get that out of my system!

This turned out to be a great meal because I got to cook with my dad, I got to eat the freshest clams I’ve eaten in I don’t know how long, and I got to break a few rules.  So I say eat what tastes good, cook with the people you love, and be innovative in the kitchen.  After all, as Thomas Edison once said, “There are no rules here — we are trying to accomplish something!”

It’s the Simple Things

I had a crazy busy day yesterday.  The kind where you don’t sit down from the time you wake up at 7:00 a.m. until you go to bed at 10:30 p.m.  And I did not feel 100% today.  And I was on my own for dinner. And I was too tired to cook, but neither a frozen meal nor a sandwich would cut it.

All these things factored together make it the perfect night to bust out some comfort food!  Normally I would want something gooey or chocolaty, but not tonight.  Tonight it was the simple things and just a few of them! If you use really good ingredients, you don’t need lots of them.

So here’s the formula:

Imported pasta + a small pat of butter + freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano + cracked black pepper = heaven!

Let’s analyze the ingredients.

1. Imported pasta – I know there are people out there who cannot possibly fathom paying more than $1.00 for pasta.  They are couponers who believe all dried pastas are the same.  NOT TRUE!  I guess growing up on handmade pasta has made me a little fussy (or a lot fussy) about the kind of pasta I eat.  My favorite brand is La Fabbrica Della Pasta.  It has a great flavor and a comforting starchy goodness.  The sauce (if you’re having it) adheres nicely to it – it doesn’t slip off!

2. Butter – Less is more, but some it good!

3. Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano – NO, I am not referring to the junk in the green can.  I am talking about the nutty, salty real deal – the cheese that if I could only eat one food for the rest of my life would be my choice.  I give it a coarse grate and sprinkle it over the hot buttered pasta.

4. Cracked black pepper – I like it cracked or ground coarsely, but I use a gentle hand when adding it.  You’re food shouldn’t taste like pepper, it should taste like what you are making; but I love how it creates a spark on the tip of my tongue.

For me, the pasta was heaven.  It gave me the comfort I was craving, the illusion of having a home cooked meal (I can hardly say I cooked when all I did was boil water), and the easy clean up I love.  It was exactly the kind of pasta Jeff wouldn’t appreciate because he likes his pasta like he likes his women – saucy!