I have been vigorously preparing for the biggest (and by far my favorite) Catie Cooks project since I started this blog. On Sunday evening, I organized a dinner party I dubbed “Pasta Fest” and invited 20 of my friends over for a fantastic dinner, probably the biggest I have ever prepared.
On the menu was: potato gnocchi and meat ravioli, both served in a traditional tomato sauce; ricotta gnocchi and cheese ravioli, both served in vodka cream sauce; pumpkin gnocchi and chicken pesto ravioli, both served in brown butter sage sauce; and a double batch of my homemade meatballs.
I was nervous I had bitten off more than I could chew. This was my first time making pasta dough on my own. Fortunately, it came naturally; must be all that Italian blood running through my veins. Or perhaps I had help from my great grandmother’s ravioli cutters from Italy.
What a fantastic night of feeding people. There are very few things that make me feel as good as I feel when I watch people enjoy my food. I could live off of that feeling forever. I am such a tough critic of my food, but the looks on my friends’ faces told me I need not worry about my pasta skills.
The food flew off the table. I was only left with a small bowl or two of gnocchi and a little bit of sauce. That is a sign of happy dinner guests. I felt so elated and fulfilled to be surrounded by my friends while I share my passion with them, especially when they loved what I made.
I have been experimenting with my meatball recipe for awhile. I have been eating meatballs my whole life, so I better make good ones. I am still working on coming up with the best recipe, but each time I make them, I am more and more pleased with myself. No matter how you make your meatballs, I recommend using a mix of ground meats, either ground beef and ground pork or adding in ground veal. This will make the meat irresistibly juicy. My double batch of meatballs disappeared before I could even finish getting all the pasta plated.
The first set of ravioli was made with a standard egg pasta dough. For the filling I mixed together ricotta cheese, an Italian shredded cheese blend, chopped parsley and a little bit of olive oil. These ravioli are little pockets of fluffy, cheesy goodness. I paired these with the vodka sauce (tomato sauce with pancetta, cream, vodka, and basil). This was a delightful dish that pleased the crowd. You can never go wrong with a simple cheese ravioli.
For a meat ravioli, I chose to make a filling similar to my meatballs, using ground beef, pork, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, egg, and herbs. I ground everything together using the food processor to get all the ingredients to bind together. This is a heavier filling, making it easier to overfill. Two thin sheets of pasta cannot hold as much as this filling than the cheese filling. I learned this the hard way, as a number of the ravioli burst during cooking. Even though the turned turned out a bit a of sloppy mess, these ravioli tasted great. Such a classical pairing of meat filling with traditional tomato sauce.
Chicken Pesto Ravioli
I wanted to add a different type of pasta dough into the rotation. I added frozen spinach to my pasta dough to make a green pasta. For the filling, I came up with a chicken pesto filling using chicken breast, ricotta cheese, egg, and pesto, again combined using the food processor. These ravioli were finished in a brown butter sage sauce. This creation was deemed a fan favorite of the night.
My first set of gnocchi is a pasta that means a lot to me. These potato gnocchi come from my great grandmother’s recipe. My great grandmother, my grandmother, my aunt, and now me have made this recipe. The recipe may be older than that, but if you go back further it wouldn’t have been written in English, if written down at all. This is a recipe I have been eating my entire life. I paired these gnocchi with my traditional tomato sauce. Potato gnocchi are dense and heavy. A small serving will fill your stomach. My dad said he loves the way they sink into your stomach. I love the way these heavy little dumplings still have such a fluffy texture.
Whenever I am craving a lighter feeling gnocchi, I turn to Geoffrey Zakarian’s recipe for ricotta gnocchi. The are so light and silky; they practically melt in your mouth. I find these gnocchi to be irresistibly good, but some prefer the heartier potato gnocchi. These delicate little pillows paired wonderfully with the heavier vodka sauce.
I couldn’t host a dinner party in the fall without leaning into some autumnal flavors. For my final dish, I prepared my version of pumpkin gnocchi. Instead of potato or ricotta, I mix pumpkin puree with flour, egg, nutmeg, and allspice. This dish just calls for that brown butter sage sauce. The nutty sauce perfectly complements the pumpkin and warm spices. This is a meal that will give your body a big hug as you dig in. This final dish was also listed as a favorite of the night.
I was overall very pleased with all my pasta dishes. The final verdict from my friends was that I should open an Italian restaurant. While that is likely not in my future, I may become a novice pasta maker.