In which I cook for myself, and then for my parents, and it doesn’t totally work either time…

There was a Sunday a while back that had me in the mood for cooking. That happens a lot, but I am not always as productive as I managed to be this particular Sunday. It was a while ago, so I don’t actually remember the particular circumstances, but pancakes and homemade pasta are a great day, no matter the circumstances. 

Perhaps you remember these… 



I also had these…  

...and the gang


Maybe Shimeji and the Gang will be the name of a band I start someday when I learn how to sing or play a musical instrument.  

I decided to use my surplus of mushrooms and a fennel bulb that I had lying around to make a ravioli filling. I wanted to use a butternut squash that I also had lying around with it as well, but I wasn’t sure how to convert the butternut squash to a sauce. I suppose I could have made what was essentially a butternut squash soup and use that, but I was averse to that idea for some reason, and I also think I didn’t have any cream at home, and I was able to do this whole dish without going to the store. That almost never happens, so I was making it work come hell or high water. I diced the squash in small enough cubes that I could pan cook them and I had some ricotta, so I figured if I sprinkled the ravioli with the squash, and then finished it with a quenelle of ricotta and some shaved parmesan, that perhaps it would make it cohesive enough that I wouldn’t miss a sauce. I wasn’t exactly right.  

I started with the pasta making, and again, didn’t take pictures this time (though when I made this for my parents I did, stay tuned, photos below.) While the pasta dough was resting, I diced the mushrooms and fennel pretty finely, and sautéed them over medium heat with some thyme and sage until the mushrooms released their liquid and fennel became soft.  

step one, we can have lots of fun


Then I cooked the cubes of squash in a combination of olive oil and butter until they were soft and cooked through, and they had browned a bit.  

step two, there's so much we can do


And while good things were happening to the squash, I rolled out the invisible pasta dough into sheets, mounded the cooked mushroom mixture on one sheet, covered it with another sheet of pasta, and used my ravioli cutter to make pretty little squares.  

step three, it's just you for me


Then the final steps, pasta went into the boiling water until it was cooked through, drained and then plated, I spooned the squash on top of it, put a quenelle of ricotta right in the middle, and then shaved parmesan on the top.  

step four, I could give you more


It looked so pretty, and the flavors were great, and I wouldn’t exactly call it “dry” but it needed a sauce.  But it was a start, and I would not be cowed, so I thought I would try again at some point and see if I could improve it. The chance came when I was home at my parents’ over Thanksgiving. It was Saturday night and the rest of the siblings had already left, and I decided to cook. This time I thought I would add some pasta water to the squash at the end of cooking, hoping that it would emulsify with the butter and oil and create more of a sauce. It didn’t, but I didn’t know that until the end, and there were some other fun things going on for this attempt so I am sharing anyway.  

The first thing I did this time, was make pasta again, and I DID take pictures. This is what the dough looks like in the food processor, remember how I couldn’t describe it the last time I talked about it?  

in the processor


The other day I thought of  a good word to describe what this looks like, but now I forget. Once it comes out of the processor, you knead it for ten minutes. I even got a shot of that part.  

an action shot: stand back.

Then while the pasta rested this time, I added another awesome step: I made ricotta cheese for the top. I got the idea from here. This actually could not be easier, and it makes you feel kind of awesome, because when you tell someone you made ricotta cheese they look at you like you might be a crazy person. Plus it tastes delicious and is nice and creamy. The components are these: 

dairy and acid

Did you notice the change in scenery? That lovely window there is located in my mom and dad’s kitchen. The only thing missing from this photo is the pinch of salt, so four ingredients is all it takes. Boil together a quart of milk and a cup of heavy cream with a pinch of kosher salt. 

the boil

Add two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, turn the heat to low, stir for two minutes until it curdles. 

the curdle

Pour it through a colander lined with cheese cloth and let it drain. 

the drain

And that’s all it takes. You’ve got yourself some ricotta cheese. 

the cheese

Pardon that picture, it’s not a great one. 

So while the ricotta was draining, I did the mushroom and squash thing again. The mushrooms this time were button and cremini. The squash was still butternut. The mushrooms went in the pan with butter, shallot and fennel again, and oh, another thing I did differently was to keep the mushrooms in larger pieces and run the mixture through the food processor after it was cooked. Turns out I don’t have a preference which method to use. 

the 'shrooms

And the squash went into the pan with olive oil and butter again. 

the squash

Note to self, pick up one of those All-Clad french saute pans or whatever they are called. They are nice. 

The pasta got rolled out again, though this time I was using my dad’s pasta machine, and for some reason, it and I don’t get along. We were able to mostly put aside our differences for the sake of the meal, but I haven’t quite forgiven or forgotten. 

more action

This time, I just put the mushrooms on the top half of a sheet of pasta I laid out, and folded it over on itself. Easier and I wasted way less dough. 

another terrible, but illustrative photo

And here they are. 


The rest of the process was the same, as I cooked and plated the ravioli, I sloshed some pasta water into the squash pan in the hopes that it would saucify. It didn’t really. AND I undercooked the pasta. Which stunk, because it actually turned out not as good the second time. But the ricotta was delicious. And the flavors were good. And it was not totally a lost cause. And I will rise again. 

take two

Oh yeah, the ricotta didn’t quenelle, because I drained it for a while, and the texture was more like goat cheese than cream cheese, but it did not make one iota of difference, and I think it looked prettier this way anyway. 

So that was my tale of two pastas. I am not giving up, and some day I will return to this blog triumphant in victory and ready to share a recipe that accomplishes what I am going for. I imagine you can’t wait.

PS WordPress wanted me to spell “step” “steppe” as you would. And it is giving me serious agita with the formatting. If there is anyone out there that is an expert, I implore you for your help in this matter.

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