Ravioli with scallops

Top Chef Week 4- It’s Time to Make Pasta

If you are going to go on a reality cooking show, there are certain things you must perfect before you go. Contestants ALWAYS have to filet a fish, break down a chicken, bake a cake without a recipe, and make pasta. These are bare minimum reality cooking skills. Up until this point, I have been putting off learning how to make my own pasta dough. Mostly because I am completely intimidated by the process, despite the fact that the only ingredients are flour and eggs. So this week, when the cheftestants were challenged to make a 3 course Italian meal, I knew my time to attempt pasta had come. 

Aaron, Gregory, and Katsuji won the elimination challenge, despite the fact that the Judge’s hated Katsuji’s ravioli, calling it dry. It didn’t help that he served celebrity guest judge Emmy Rossum a pile of ravioli filling as a way to accommodate her gluten allergy. Despite the fact that Katsuji’s dish was the weakest on the winning team, I decided to try my hand at the ravioli. For this week’s challenge the chef’s prepared a traditional 3-course Italian Meal- antipasti, primi, and secondi courses. In my at home life, I definitely don’t need to eat 3 courses, let alone spend hours cooking 3 separate dishes. After all, on the show, each chef is only responsible for one dish. As a compromise, I decided to serve seared scallops with my ravioli, kind of, sort of, combining the first two winning courses into one meal (Sorry Gregory, but I have already attempted a lot of your food).

When you read pasta recipes, the instructions are pretty basic. You dump a pile of flour on a table, dig a hole in the middle, add a pinch of salt, and throw some eggs into the hole. (I used three eggs and 2 2/3 cups of flour). Then you gradually incorporate all of the eggs with the flour, and knead the dough, using the heel of your hand for around 10 minutes. What a book, or a Youtube video, or probably even a live person can’t convey is the feel of the dough. I’ve read that pasta generally doesn’t come out amazing on the first attempt, and I’m going to be falling into that category. I managed to get my dough to come together OK- or at least, all of the flour turned itself into dough, and I was able to eventually make it into a ball. But was it too dry? Did it need to be kneaded more? Did I knead it correctly? Too long? I’m not sure, but something definitely went awry with my final product. I get the feeling the kneading process is one of those things that just takes practice, and that you have to figure it out by doing.

Regardless, I got my dough kneaded, it was pretty stiff and hard to work with as my instructions said it would be, and I wrapped it in a damp towel and set it to the side. (Sorry there are no pictures of the dough process- my hands were covered in flour). While my dough rested, I cleaned up a little and worked on the rest of the dish. I decided to do a spinach, mushroom, and goat cheese filling, so I sauteed up some spinach and baby portabellas, and then threw them in a food processor. Once they mixture cooled a little, I mixed in the goat cheese and set the bowl aside.

I then started on my walnut paste, which I had decided to use for a walnut sauce. Walnut paste is basically pesto without the basil. I tossed some walnuts and garlic in the food processor with a little bit of olive oil, left the machine on until the mixture was fairly smooth, and then set it aside. Once that was done, I beat an egg to help seal my ravioli, and all of my prep was complete.

Ravioli filling and walnut paste

Finally, it was time to roll out my dough, and I think this is where things went wrong. First of all, I totally meant to buy a rolling pin at the grocery, but forgot. I’m pretty sure a  rolling pin is key when making pasta. All I had was an empty wine bottle. I really should have named my blog “it’s jenky, but it works.” Except…it probably doesn’t work as well as an actual rolling pin. Particularly since I don’t own a pasta machine. The magic of a pasta machine is that once you get your dough fairly flat, you put your dough through the machine several times, and each time it comes out a little thinner, a little stretchier, until finally you have this perfect sheet of pasta dough. Honestly, I haven’t even seen many pasta recipes that suggest you attempt to roll it out by hand. Buuuuuuut…until I am sure I want to commit to a life as an Italian goddess who frequently cranks out fresh pasta, I don’t want to invest in a new kitchen appliance. Plus, the Italian peasants were rolling out pasta sans pasta machine for centuries…probably.  Surely, hand rolling is a feasible option.

Maybe, but it probably requires more patience than I had. Or at least a proper rolling pin. My dough was way too thick. And in that moment I didn’t have the tools necessary to make it any thinner. But I soldiered on and (unevenly hand cut) my raviolis. During the filling process, each ravioli was in danger of being overfilled, and each time I went to close one, filling leaked out of the sides. The one thing I was sure about, was that if I didn’t get them sealed all the way, my little raviolis would leak spinach mixture as soon as they hit the water. In the end, I don’t know how much spinach was actually left in the middle-I think a lot squirted out during the sealing- but I did get them closed. No spinach leaked into my boiling water. And that’s about the only positive thing I can say about my ravioli attempt.

Fresh ravioliOnce my pasta was filled, the rest of dinner came together quickly. I started to boil my water, and in the mean time seared my scallops. Once the water started boiling, I added a little bit of water to a sauce pan with my walnut paste and made a quick sauce. I dropped in my raviolis, which miraculously stayed together, and cooked them for about 6 minutes. Which in retrospect was probably 2 minutes too long. But they were so thick I thought some extra cooking would help. I probably should have fished them out once they started to float to the top, like you do when store bought ravioli is finished.

In the end, the ravioli, walnut sauce, scallop combo LOOKED impressive (if a little on the beige side). With a little pasta perfecting it would actually be a tasty dish.

Ravioli with scallopsUnfortunately, my pasta sort of tasted like cardboard. And like Katsuji, dry would also be an accurate adjective. It doesn’t look like I will be a viable contender for any of the Food Network cooking competitions any time soon.

Any pasta making advice is much appreciated.

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