I’m aware that I’m straying quite regularly from the Catalan brief implied in the title of my blog but I’ll excuse myself on the grounds that Barcelona’s a fairly cosmopolitan place and food’s too interesting and too international to bury in dull regional coffins.
I first learned to cook in Italy — but not in the sense of being trained there, unfortunately. I simply found myself in Tuscany as a young man with six people to feed, plus often just as many guests, three times a day for six months. I had very little idea how to go about it. An airmail copy of Delia Smith’s “Complete Cookery Course” plus some gesticulation-heavy conversations with the stall-holders at the local market set me on the right track — or at least some kind of track.
Perhaps as a result of this, or perhaps as a result of the enormous influence Italian food had on the UK in the nineties when I started to learn to know my cipolle, a lot of my fallback recipes are Italian in inspiration, if not always strictly in execution.
Today’s a case in point. It’s the last day of the long puente, a 5 day public holiday designed apparently to stoke the furnaces of pre-Christmas consumerism. This is fine by me but only works if a) shops stay open, which many small ones don’t and b) one can be bothered going out.
So, with tumbleweeds blowing through my fridge, my wife asleep on the sofa and my daughter out with her tia, what could I make for supper?
Flour? Check. Eggs? Check.
Pasta it is, then.
I don’t claim to be a great or even good maker of pasta. The Imperia pasta-maker only comes out about 4 or 5 times a year but the process isn’t exactly complicated and it’s always a family pleaser.
First, make your pasta. Come on, Google it. You don’t need me to tell you how to mix flour and eggs. I have been known to muck about with semolina flours, ratios and Italian 00 but for this sort of hack job Gallo Harina de Reposteria is perfectly adequate.
While it’s resting…
…open some wine. It’s a bank holiday, dammit. Then make some filling for the ravioli. I had some fresh basil left over and some queso fresco which is just as good as ricotta for these purposes. Chop it all up, separate an egg, add the yolk and keep the white for later.
The question of what to have with the ravioli was a tricky one. I had no piñones (pine nuts) and my sage plant on the balcony has been plundered to the point of only being useful for garnishes or finishing touches. I decided to coat the ravioli in butter and parmesan and serve a small amount of tomato sauce alongside.
Peeling tomatoes the usual way — boiling water, plunge, cool, skin off etc — can be a pain in the culo and sometimes a reason to open a tin instead. The Catalans, however, have a nifty trick: half your tomato, scoop out the seeds then press the cut side against a box grater and shave off the flesh. That’s the tomato’s flesh, by the way; this blog takes no responsibility for flayed fingertips. If you’re careful, though, you can have some de-skinned tomatoes in a minute or two without having to boil a pan of water.
Add a generous dash of balsamic, some good olive oil, some seasoning and allow to reduce slowly until it’s deeply-flavoured and intense.
At about this point I had the brainwave that at least one local shop might be a) open and b) stocking pine nuts. And so it was: grooving to the strains of Bollywood I returned to the flat and toasted them, ready to add when the dish was finished.
When it was time to eat I rolled out the pasta. My Imperia pasta maker has a ravioli attachment but it’s completely useless. It makes silly little squares the size of postage stamps and is an expensive waste of cupboard space. On the other hand, my pasta tree is a marvel of modern engineering for those of us with limited shelf space.
As I’ve said, I’m no expert when it comes to making pasta but a little trick that works for me when cutting for ravioli is to split the strips that come out of the pasta maker 60/40 instead of 50/50 to compensate for one “half” having to go over the filling.
The thing you see in the top right is a scone cutter and it’s just the job for pasta. Ravioli cutters? Pah.
Anyway, none of this is complicated. Divide the filling, brush around with the egg white left from earlier, fold, make little parcels, seal.
Then use your scone cutter. You might want to give the egg some time to seal before you drop the pasta into the salted, boiling water.
They’re not wafer-thin visions of cheffy dexterity but they’ll do for a Wednesday supper. When cooked, serve them up así but remember to add the freshly-grated parmesan before taking the photo for your food blog…
A doughy feast for the undemanding but also genuinely delicious. Visca Italia!