Pasta Fest

I haven’t posted in over a week, but it isn’t because I went away.  It was because I was vigorously preparing for the biggest (and by far my favorite) Catie Cooks project since I started this blog three months ago.  This occurred on Sunday evening, but I have been spending this whole week making sure I get this post just right.  I have had a long week at work, and it has been hard to focus on my writing, but I have gotten some done every day until the final product was ready.  I am tired, but this post means a lot to me.  I hope you all enjoy my hard work.

I organized a dinner party for Sunday that I dubbed “Pasta Fest” and invited a group of my friends here in the DC area over for a fantastic dinner.  In total, I fed 20 people a feast full of pasta.  Here is the kicker though: it was all handmade!  I hand-rolled six types of pasta and made three sauces (and don’t forget the homemade meatballs).  It was surely a night to remember.

I started preparing for this event two months ago.  I wanted to develop a well-crafted menu that was both delicious and a perfect celebration of the fall season (my favorite season).  This was also the first time I have ever made homemade ravioli (aside from participating in a team effort at the Hill Center where I took a demo class).  I wanted to make sure that I left in some buffer time in case I was really bad at using the pasta roller.

Fortunately, I was a natural at making pasta.  This whole pasta thing might really be running in my Italian blood.  I’ve made gnocchi before, and I knew I could do that well.  No one has ever had my gnocchi and not been impressed.  I was, however, worried about the ravioli.  I desperately wanted them to turn out well, and for the most part, they really did.  I’m convinced I was blessed with the ravioli magic in part because I was using my great grandmother’s ravioli cutters that my aunt gifted me earlier this year.

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Now that is a family heirloom!

In typical Catie fashion, I spent the whole first hour or so of the party in the kitchen cooking the pasta while everyone snacked on bread and wine.  I was really focused on getting a nice finished product and getting it on the table for everyone to eat.  People always think I am not enjoying the party when I do this.  The truth is that is where I feel at home, in the kitchen.  I am a terrible party attendee because I don’t know what to do.  I am not good at small talk, and large groups make me anxious.  I feel so much more comfortable in the kitchen doing what I do best.

I also just love feeding people and making them happy with my food.  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.  Last night was a particularly good example of that.  I was so anxious about everything tasting okay, so I was not quite expecting the amazing reaction I got.  Everyone loved the food.  I could tell I had done a good job just looking at their faces as they tried everything.

The food also flew off the table.  I was only left with a bowl or two of gnocchi and a small container of sauce.  This was after 30+ meatballs, roughly 180 ravioli, and however many gnocchi are in three batches.  There was barely anything left.  That is a sign of happy dinner guests.  It made me feel so elated and fulfilled to be surrounded by my friends while I share my passion with them, especially when they loved what I made!

This event was also a great excuse for me to get my apartment all cleaned up and ready for fall.  I went to Target to try and find a few festive things to decorate the table.  I really don’t have fall decorations.  I found a few things that stood out, including a light up pumpkin.  So, the table was decorated for fall, while my island counter was decorated for the theme of Italy.

I also had to pick up some serving bowls when I was in in Target.  I had wanted to find something fall festive, but I really couldn’t find anything that wasn’t a serving tray.  I went with a set of white bowls.  I really like the way food looks in white bowls.  It makes for good pictures on Instagram.  The funny thing is that I picked out these bowls because they seemed to be the closest thing I could find to serving bowls that would bit pasta.  When I was doing dishes on Sunday, however, I realized that on the back of these bowls it says, “pasta serving bowl.”  I guess my instincts were spot on!  These bowls were just the perfect size to serve pasta, though one of my friends commented that they could be individual eating bowls.

I feel so proud of how the whole night turned out, especially knowing that I spent hours and hours hand-making all this pasta.  I wouldn’t say that everything was perfect, but my two hands made all this great food.  That in itself is pretty marvelous.

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One of my ravioli types had some structural issues, but given this was my first try at ravioli, I think I did a bang up job.  I really can’t wait to keep experimenting and developing recipes.

Speaking of recipes, I am going to share my recipes and cooking process with you.  This is like a 10 in 1 recipe post.  I am sharing so much Italian food goodness that you now can make, too!

Italian Meatballs

First, I will share my meatball recipe, and you are in for a treat.  My meatballs are definitely something worth calling home about.  This is a recipe I have been tweaking more since I moved to my new place in May.  I love meatballs, like a lot!  Spaghetti and meatballs night was one of my favorite meals growing up because I am a good Italian American.  It also occurred like once a week.  I loved when my parents made meatballs, and I am carrying that on through my own cooking.  I will always make my own meatballs.  I just can’t have it any other way.

The key to a good meatball is seasoning and texture.  It should pop with flavor like a bomb in your mouth, and it should retain its moisture during cooking.  You do not want to have a dry meatball.  That is never fun.  To keep moisture in my meatballs, I use half beef and half pork, instead of just beef.  This results in a juicy, flavorful, dare I say moist meatball.

The other key is to get a sear on the meatballs so they get a nice crust.  You really don’t want to skip this step.  You can sear the meatballs on the stove (my preferred method) or you can get the same effect from searing them in the oven.

Ingredients

  • one pound ground beef
  • one pound ground pork
  • two eggs
  • one cup breadcrumbs (I used Italian breadcrumbs because I already had them; regular are just fine because you can put more herbs and seasoning the meatballs)
  • one teaspoon seasoned salt (regular salt would be fine)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  1. If you are going to sear your meatballs in the oven, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Add all ingredients to a bowl and combine with your hands.  You want all ingredients to be well-incorporated so that all the seasoning, eggs, and breadcrumbs are evenly dispersed in the meat.
  3. Roll out meatballs and place on a baking sheet.  I like to make medium sized, roughly one inch meatballs for pasta, especially when I am cooking for a large group.  I wanted to have enough meatballs for everyone to at least try one.
  4. Next, you will sear your meatballs to get a browned crust.  I typically like to pan sear my meatballs, but all of my burners were in use, and I had way too many to do that anyway.  Searing meatballs in the oven works just fine.  Make sure to evenly space the meatballs on the baking sheet.  I wound up with two baking sheets with roughly 15-18 meatballs per tray.  Bake for 8-10 minutes or pan sear until brown with a nice crust.
  5. Add seared meatballs to sauce to pan to braise for at least 15 minutes (but can be as long as until ready to serve).  Don’t be worried about over-cooking your meatballs in the sauce.  That is really hard to do.

With two main sauces going, I put half of my meatballs in the tomato sauce and half in the vodka sauce.  I wanted to present two different flavors for tasting the meatballs.  I did snap a picture of both, but I must have moved away on the picture of the vodka sauce meatballs, because it was so blurry.  The tomato sauce shot turned out much better.

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These meatballs were some of the best I have ever made.  They were juicy bursts of meat flavor in my mouth.  I tried the meatballs in both sauces, and they went well with both.  Each sauce brought a different level of flavor to the meat.  I am generally a traditional tomato sauce with meatballs, but I recently had vodka sauce meatballs at a wedding and loved them.  I certainly know that both were tasty because they disappeared like hot cakes.

Sauces

Now for the sauces.  I made three different sauces, each sauce being used for two different pastas.  Two of them were meant to be made at least a couple hours in advance and simmer until the event.  Unfortunately, my can opener had other plans.

Right as I began making my sauces, my can open decided to malfunction.  It just was like, nah, I’m done being useful.  I was already on edge, anxiously working on last minute cleaning and cooking.  This just put me into slight freak out mode.

Fortunately, I have an awesome best friend who arrived an hour early with a can opener so I could get my sauces going before everyone arrived.  If I haven’t mentioned this enough already, let me say it again.  I have an amazing best friend.  He is a reliable support, who always comes through when I need him.  He saved the sauce that night.  Thanks, Chris.  Thanks to my three other friends, who were also willing to come early in the car pool.  At least you got first access to the wine!

Traditional Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • two Tbs tomato paste
  • one large yellow onion, diced
  • half a head of garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • olive oil
  • one Tbs sugar
  • one teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • dash or two of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • one teaspoon salt and pepper
  1. Heat roughly three tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat.  Add onions and garlic and sauté until translucent, roughly 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add whole peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste and stir to combine.  With wooden spoon, work on crushing down the whole tomatoes as the sauce comes to a bubble.
  3. Add red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper, and Italian parsley.  Reduce heat to simmer.  Allow to simmer for anywhere from a half hour to two hours.  The longer the sauce simmers, the more the flavors will develop.  If you are doing a quicker sauce, keep the heat closer to medium to allow the tomatoes to break down and for the flavors to develop.
  4. At this point, I knew I didn’t have enough time for everything to break down, so I broke out the immersion blender.  This is a great way to get a smoother sauce.  I  prefer this to a regular blender, because I still like some body to my sauce.  I prefer a chunkier sauce to a fully pulverized sauce.  The immersion blender allowed me to get those whole tomatoes to incorporate into the sauce.
  5. I added one tablespoon of sugar to cut through the acid.  This won’t make the sauce sweet.  It will just make it so you don’t get punched in the face with acid.  I hate sweet tomato sauce, and I wouldn’t lead you astray with the sugar.
  6. Then, I let it continue to simmer until I was ready to start cooking my pasta.
  7. While the pasta was cooking, I left the sauce on the lowest heat to keep it hot.

A classic tomato sauce will always be my preferred pasta sauce.  It is what I grew up on.  I have so many good memories of my dad making sauce all day on a Saturday in a large batch to put in our basement freezer.  The house smelled so good, and I knew that meant more saucy goodness in my future.

My sauce is not necessarily what my dad would make, but I can remember some of the things I’d watch him do.  It is nice to develop my own flavors and techniques that build upon my memories.  Trust me, you’ll love this sauce if you try it.

Vodka Cream Sauce

Ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • one large yellow onion, diced
  • half a head of garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 pound to 1/2 pound deli pancetta, sliced in thin one inch pieces
  • one teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • dash or two of cayenne pepper
  • one tablespoon sugar
  • 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • two Tbs tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup to 2/3 cup vodka
  • 1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
  • one cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • one teaspoon salt and pepper
  1. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat.  Once hot, add onion, garlic, and pancetta and sauté until onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add whole peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste.  Stir to combine.  With wooden spoon, work on crushing down those whole tomatoes as the sauce comes to a bubble.
  3. Add red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper.  Reduce heat to simmer.  Allow to simmer for anywhere from a half hour to two hours.  If you are doing a quicker sauce, keep the heat closer to medium to allow the tomatoes to break down and for the flavors to develop.
  4. After simmering for awhile, add vodka, balsamic vinegar, and sugar and continue to simmer.  Similarly to the tomato sauce, I realized I needed to blend this sauce to get the tomatoes to break down, so I did.  Again, I wanted some chunks in the sauce to give it some body.
  5. Shortly before ready to use, stir in heavy cream.  Then, stir in basil and parmesan cheese.  With this sauce, you are going to have a beautiful presentation if you have some basil shavings and parmesan to garnish.

I don’t know if I have ever really made my own vodka sauce from scratch, but I am so glad I did.  Vodka sauce is so rich and creamy.  I think it goes great with some penne and chicken.  One of my favorite dishes is penne a la vodka.  I was very pleased with the recipe I came up with, and I would definitely use it again.

Brown Butter Sauce

This is seriously the easiest pasta sauce you’ll ever make, and I swear you can’t mess it up.  Well, I guess you could burn the butter.  Just make sure to not turn the heat up too high.

This is a recipe I got from Food & Wine.  I knew I wanted a brown butter sauce for two of my pastas, but I wanted the right flavors and consistency that would go with both pastas.  So, I went on a web search and probably looked at 10 recipes before choosing this one.

I absolutely love the simplicity of this sauce.  This is a sauce that dresses your pasta in a velvety hug of butter without taking away from the pasta.  The sage also felt like the perfect flavor for fall.

Since I was using homemade pasta, I knew it wouldn’t take very long to boil.  I started the sauce not long after I dropped the pasta.  It only takes three minutes to develop, so if you are using dry pasta, you might want to wait until closer until the pasta is done.

This sauce was perfect for my pasta.  It added a smooth finish to this glorious pasta, and it was so easy.  This is making me reconsider my pasta preparations.  I should use this method more often.

Pastas

Now for the six handmade pastas.  I am beyond proud of the menu I crafted, especially of the recipes I created myself.  Each pasta brought something beautiful and delicious to the table.  I still can’t believe I made so much pasta from scratch.  It was quite and accomplishment.

Freezer Tip:  Any of these pastas recipes are ready for cooking same day.  Just place in boiling water to cook.  Fresh ravioli take 5-7 minutes, while gnocchi should only take a 3-4 minutes.  You know the pasta is done when it floats to the top.

However, if you are making ahead of time, you can freeze all of these.  That is how I did it, because there was no way I could make all that pasta in one day.   If you aren’t going to be using the pasta within a couple hours, it is actually best to freeze, because it won’t last long in the fridge.  To freeze fresh pasta, place on a floured baking sheet and place in the freezer for at least one hour until the pasta is hard.  Then place in a freezer-safe bag in the freezer.  The pasta should keep well in the freezer for roughly 1-2 months.

General Pasta Dough Recipe

This recipe can be used to make dough for ravioli, fettuccine, spaghetti, etc.  For ravioli, once I got a hang of things I was getting roughly 20 ravioli per batch.  In total, I made three batches of each pasta dough for each type of ravioli.  Depending on how much you want to make, you can decide how many batches of dough to make.

Ingredients

  • one cup of flour
  • two eggs
  • one teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons olive oil
  1. Add flour, eggs, salt, and olive oil to a medium mixing bowl.
  2. Take your index and middle fingers and gently start mixing the eggs and oil into the flour.  Once the flour is mostly incorporated, take both hands and form a ball with the dough, picking up any excess flour with the ball.  The dough should be somewhat sticky.
  3. Set the dough ball on a lightly floured surface and kneed for roughly 10 minutes.
  4. Divide the ball into 2-4 smaller balls.  I found dividing it into 4 balls was best.  If the dough balls were too big, I had trouble both holding the dough and feeding it through the machine, as it got too long.  However, if you have help, it is a lot easier.  Let rest for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Repeat entire process depending on how many batches of dough you need to make. (I actually found it best to make only one batch of dough at a time.  One batch made a perfect amount of ravioli to fit on one baking sheet, so I would make one batch place them in the freezer and then begin working on a new batch while the first ravioli were freezing.
  6. To roll out the dough work each dough ball into the floured surface and flatten so it can be sent through the pasta maker.
  7. Start with the pasta roller on the lowest setting (the one with the largest gap).  Run the dough through the pasta roller.  If still very sticky, sprinkle it with more flour.  Then fold the dough in three like you would fold a letter to stick in an envelope.  Take the folded dough and send it through the pasta roller again.  Repeat the fold and roll step several times until the dough is very smooth.  If you think it is good, go ahead and fold and roll it a couple more times before moving on.  During this step, if the dough remains too sticky, keep dusting it with more flour.  You don’t want it to get stuck in the machine.  However, be careful not to add too much flour as an over-floured pasta dough will result in a tough texture once cooked.
  8. Now, you will roll your pasta sheet just once through each additional setting on the pasta roller, going from largest to smallest.  Take the pasta sheet as is and roll it on number two.  If you think it needs more flour, dust it.  If not, roll it on number 3, etc.  On each additional turn of the dial, your pasta sheet should get longer and thinner.  Once you have carefully rolled the dough through each level, you are ready to cut it into whichever pasta you choose.  For ravioli, that means you are ready to fill the dough and cut out your ravioli.

Cheese Ravioli

Ingredients:

  • at least one batch of pasta dough
  • one 15 oz container ricotta cheese
  • 2 cup package Italian cheese blend, shredded
  • two Tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Tip:  If you are only making 1 or 2 batches, you might want to cut the filling measurements in half.  However, you can always freeze extra filling or use it in another dish.

  1. Combine ricotta, cheese blend, olive oil, and salt and pepper in a bowl.
  2. Roll out pasta into long thing sheets.  When ready to fill, place on a lightly floured surface so the pasta doesn’t stick to the counter.
  3. Evenly space one teaspoon (no more) of the cheese mixture on the pasta sheet and then fold over the pasta to cover the mixture.  Be careful not to overfill the ravioli or it might break when you boil them.  Also don’t put the filling too close together.
  4. Before cutting the ravioli, carefully seal all parts of the pasta sheet to make sure the filling is completely covered and there are no holes for them to escape.
  5. Using a knife or ravioli cutter, cut your ravioli and place each individual ravioli on a baking sheet dusted with flour.  Again, make sure there are no holes and seal any that are there.
  6. Once you have a full tray of ravioli, you can either cook them in boiling water for 5-7 minutes.  You could also freeze them for later (see freezer tip above).   If you freeze them, add a couple minutes to the cook time.
  7. Once ready to serve, pull ravioli out of boiling water with a slotted spoon and plate with sauce.  Alternatively, you can do what I did and pull out the ravioli a minute or so early and place them in the sauce pot to finish cooking.

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This is a simple ravioli filling, but who doesn’t love little pockets of cheesy goodness.  This was the first dish I put on the table, and they disappeared rapidly.  I think my friends must have enjoyed them. 🙂

I paired these with the vodka cream sauce, but they would also be good with the traditional tomato sauce.  I just had other plans for the tomato sauce.

I felt that these ones stayed together fairly well.  There were a couple that had sealing issues, but over all, these were distinctly ravioli.  The filling was light and cheesy.  I could serious knock out a bowl of these ravioli.

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Meat Ravioli

For the meat ravioli, I wasn’t quite sure what I want to do for the filling.  I thought it might be best and consult some experts.  So I looked at a couple meat ravioli recipes online and took elements that I liked to create a filling for these ravioli.

Ingredients:

  • at least one batch of pasta dough
  • one pound ground beef
  • one pound ground pork
  • 2 eggs
  • 15 oz container ricotta
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 2-3 Tbs freshly chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. To make the filling, drizzle the olive oil in a medium to large frying pan.  Once hot, add the beef and pork and cook until well browned.  Set the meat aside on a paper towel to drain and allow to cool a bit.
  2. Once the meat cools a little, add it to a mixing bowl and add in parsley, two eggs (beat first), ricotta, parmesan, and salt.  Add pepper to taste.  Mix everything together to it is more or less incorporated.
  3. Add the mixture to a food processor and pulse until the mixture is fine.  Place filling in the fridge to cool before using.
  4. Roll out pasta into long thing sheets.  When ready to fill, place the sheets on a lightly floured surface so they don’t stick to the counter.
  5. Evenly space one teaspoon (no more) of the meat mixture on the pasta sheet and then fold over the pasta to cover the mixture.  Be careful not to overfill the ravioli or it might break when you boil them.
  6. Before cutting the ravioli, carefully seal all parts of the pasta sheet to make sure the filling is completely covered and there are no holes for them to escape.
  7. Using a knife or ravioli cutter, cut your ravioli and place each individual ravioli on a baking sheet dusted with flour.  Again, make sure there are no holes and seal any that are there.
  8. Once you have a full tray of ravioli, you can either cook them in boiling water for 5-7 minutes.  You could also freeze them for later (see freezer tip above).   If you freeze them, add a couple minutes to the cook time.
  9. Once ready to serve, pull ravioli out of boiling water with a slotted spoon and plate with sauce.  Alternatively, you can do what I did and pull out the ravioli a minute or so early and place them in the sauce pot to finish cooking.

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A few notes about this recipe.  I will probably be adapting it in the future because the filling was heavy and hard to be supported by the pasta dough.  This was especially difficult with the ravioli cutter I chose to use.  I used the round one that is like a cookie cutter rather than the roller.  Given the heaviness of the meat filling, this was just not a good idea.  Even after trying to reseal and freeze, many of these ravioli fell apart during cooking.  I still think they tasted good, so I will just have to do a few adaptations.

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Chicken Pesto Ravioli

This is another original recipe, and one that I think I was most proud of.  The pasta dough was a borrowed recipe, but the filling was my own creation.  I really had no idea what I was going to do to make chicken pesto ravioli, but It felt like something cool to try, so I just did what came to me.

I decided I wanted to do a different color pasta dough for this one.  Green felt like the perfect thing given that this is a pesto recipe.  I decided to do a spinach pasta dough.  I wanted to research some techniques, and I found a recipe from The Spruce Eats that looked simple and elegant.

This involved taking a package of frozen spinach (thawed) and combining it in a food processor with eggs.  Then, you incorporate this mixture into a bowl of flour and salt.  It was easy to put together and quite fun to look at it as the flour changed color.

By following this recipe and using the whole thing of spinach, you will end up with  a TON of pasta dough, so keep that in mind.  I was able to make three large batches of ravioli, and I still had dough left over.  Given that it was approaching 9:30/10:00 pm on Saturday night and I hadn’t eaten dinner yet, I whipped myself up some fettuccine with the extra dough and had a nice bowl of spinach pasta while my ravioli were freezing.  I dressed the cooked pasta with some olive oil and Italian herbs.  That was a well-earned and much enjoyed bowl of pasta after standing in my kitchen and rolling pasta for hours and hours.

Ingredients

  • a batch of spinach pasta dough from recipe tagged above
  • two chicken breasts (or roughly one pound or so of chicken)
  • roughly 3/4 cup of ricotta
  • one 6 oz. jar of basil pesto

Recipe Tip:  It is okay to season the chicken with a little bit of salt and pepper before cooking, but I am telling you don’t add salt to this ravioli filling.  I did not, as I felt I wouldn’t need it.  Both ricotta and pesto are rather salty, and if you add salt, you will be left with an overly salty dish.

On another note, I decided to go with store-bought pesto.  Sure, I could have made my own pesto, but I was making SO MUCH food that it felt not worth it to make my own pesto, so I got a jar of it from Whole Foods.  Another way to control the sodium content of this dish would be to make your own pesto.

  1. Heat some oil in a pan and add chicken breasts once hot.  I found it easiest to cut the chicken into one inch pieces, so it would cook faster and be easier to stick into the food processor.  Once cooked, let sit for five minutes or so to slightly cool.
  2. In the food processor, add cooked chicken, about a 1/2 cup of ricotta, and a few spoonfuls of pesto.  Run the food processor until well-combined and taste.  I personally wanted a very creamy mixture that really tasted like pesto, so I ended up adding about a 1/4 cup more of ricotta and the remaining jar of pesto.
  3. Put the mixture in a covered bowl or Tupperware and allow to cool in the fridge.
  4. Roll out pasta into long thin sheets.  When ready to fill, place pasta sheets on a slightly floured surface so they don’t stick to the counter.
  5. Evenly space one teaspoon (no more) of the filling on the pasta sheet and then fold over the pasta to cover the mixture.  Be careful not to overfill the ravioli or it might break when you boil them.
  6. Before cutting the ravioli, carefully seal all parts of the pasta sheet to make sure the filling is completely covered and there are no holes for them to escape.
  7. Using a knife or ravioli cutter, cut your ravioli and place each individual ravioli on a baking sheet dusted with flour.  Again, make sure there are no holes and seal any that are there.
  8. Once you have a full tray of ravioli, you can either cook them in boiling water for 5-7 minutes.  You could also freeze them for later (see freezer tip above).   If you freeze them, add a couple minutes to the cook time.
  9. Once ready to serve, pull ravioli out of boiling water with a slotted spoon and plate with sauce.  Alternatively, you can do what I did and pull out the ravioli a minute or so early and place them in the sauce pot to finish cooking.

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I paired these with the brown butter sauce, so I transferred the cooked pasta to the frying pan with the butter sauce and tossed it around for a minute or so before serving.

This was by far my favorite of the ravioli.  I loved the spinach dough.  It had a great texture, and the filling was divine.  I mean I could seriously hear the angels singing when I bit into these ravioli.  I really think I created a winner with this one.

The filling was so creamy.  It was almost had the consistency of like a chicken pesto mousse.  I can’t tell you if this is the best way to do this, but these certainly were loved.  This was the last dish to be served, and they disappeared.  At that point, everyone was pretty stuffed with pasta, so the fact that these all got eaten must be a good sign.

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Traditional Potato Gnocchi 

This is the first homemade pasta I ever learned how to make.  My great grandmother had a recipe for gnocchi that has been passed down at least three generations after her, and I don’t know if it went back even further than that.

I have so many fond memories of my aunt making gnocchi and meatballs the night before Thanksgiving as an Italian celebration before the big holiday.   It was one year during college that I had the chance to make them with her for the first time.  That was the beginning of my gnocchi obsession.

I love making gnocchi.  The whole process just excites me, and getting to eat the final product is just an amazing experience.  Gnocchi are like little pockets of pure heaven.  They just melt in your mouth like a dream.  There is just nothing quite like homemade gnocchi.  I am smiling just thinking about it now.  You almost have to experience it to understand.  I really hope you’ve had your own gnocchi experience.  If not, I really suggest you change that.  It just made change your life.

I feel weird posting the recipe for this gnocchi online because person the recipe came from is not here to give permission to do so.  In fact, she never lived to see a the world of social media, having passed in 1995.  I will just say that the recipe is a pretty traditional recipe, so if you look up potato gnocchi online, you’ll probably find something similar.

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What I love about potato gnocchi is that they are both dense and light at the same time.  I don’t mean this is a light dish.  This is a heavy, heavy dish.  They just feel light when you bite into them.  The texture is smooth and chewy.  You can just keep popping them in your mouth and they disappear into your stomach.  You’ll feel super full though once they catch up to you.

It has been awhile since I made potato gnocchi.  I have been making a lot of ricotta gnocchi lately since it has a less time consuming preparation.  However, after having these again, I have to say that the extra effort of having to cook potatoes is totally worth it.   I just love the texture of these gnocchi.  I could eat them forever.  I just might have to higher a personal Zumba coach.

I paired this with the Traditional tomato sauce because I can’t imagine them any other way.  This dish was absolute perfection.  I am so happy I got to share a piece of my family’s heritage with my friends.

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Ricotta Gnocchi

This is also not a personal recipe.  I discovered this recipe about a year ago.  It is a Geoffrey Zakarian recipe.  If you’ve been following my blog, then you probably caught on that I adore Chef GZ.  He is Food Network royalty, and dresses like it, too.  He is an Iron Chef, and you can also catch him as a co-host of the Kitchen, a judge on Chopped and Chopped Junior, and occasionally as a guest on Beat Bobby Flay.  GZ is just smooth, cool, and an excellent chef.  I love when I find his recipes because he creates recipes that people who aren’t Iron Chefs can manage to cook.

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These ricotta gnocchi are a fairly simple to make, but they are oh so glorious.  In opposition of the dense and chewy potato gnocchi, these are light and fluffy.  The lightness is what I love best about them.  They are less starchy due to the creamy goodness that is ricotta.  Just keep in mind that you really need to keep a good amount of flour on your hands to keep the dough from sticking to you when you roll out these ricotta.

GZ is the man, and you should definitely try his recipe.  I paired these with the vodka sauce.  I normally pair these with tomato sauce, though once I did pair them with a tomato-eggplant sauce.  I think the point is that these gnocchi go well with so many sauces.  You probably can’t go wrong when it comes to these.  They are so delicious that no matter what sauce you choose, they are just perfect.

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Pumpkin Gnocchi

What could be more fall than pumpkin? Given that this dinner party was just three days before Halloween, why I just couldn’t imagine not having some sort of pumpkin present.  I made these once before and was pretty pleased with how they turned out.  This is an original recipe that I might have to pull out again soon.

This is relatively simple, but there is something to keep in mind.  Pumpkin maintains a lot of moisture.  It can be hard to get enough flour in this dough to be able to roll them.  At the same time, you don’t want too much flour or these will have the wrong texture and just be too dense.  The key is finding a balance.  Oh, and don’t be afraid to get your hands messy.

Ingredients

  • One 15 oz can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 2 cups flour
  • one teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • two eggs
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl until all the flour is incorporated.
  2. To roll out, prepare a floured surface.  Flour your hands well.  Take small chunks of the dough at a time in your hands.  Add more flour if necessary.  Try to roll out in your hands for a few seconds.  Then, transfer to the floured surface to roll out into a long snake shape.
  3. Take a knife and cut into half inch pieces.  Add to a floured baking sheet.
  4. To cook, add to boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes.  You can also freeze them if not cooking immediately.  Just add a couple minutes to the cooking time.
  5. When ready to service take gnocchi out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon.  You could alternatively take them out a minute or so early and add them to the sauce to finish cooking.

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I absolutely love these gnocchi.  I just can’t resist popping them into my mouth.  I paired them with the brown butter sauce.  I wouldn’t recommend serving pumpkin gnocchi in a heavy sauce, because you really want the pumpkin to be the main flavor.  The brown butter sauce accompanies it well, and the sage made this dish feel extra fall-like.

I like adding some pumpkin pie spices like allspice and nutmeg, but I chose not to add cinnamon.  I wanted to add the spices that would bring out the savory elements in this dish, while cinnamon (though not sweet) just reminds me too much of a sweet element when added to pumpkin.  I felt the balance of spices and flavors were just perfect here.  I finished it off by shaving parmesan over top.

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