Gourmandistan

Ravioli, Tortelli, Mezzalune, a Marriage

Ravioli

It’s an unseasonably warm mid-January afternoon in 1988. Michelle is stomping around Louisville’s downtown, where we lived at the time, in a wedding outfit. People are driving by, honking their horns and hooting congratulations. Michelle is angry. She is angry with Steve, who has both sets of keys. Steve took Michelle’s keys when he drove back to the apartment from the wedding site to get the marriage license, which he had forgotten. He then forgot he already had his keys with him and took Michelle’s. Which is why, in a time before cell phones, Michelle got locked out of the apartment building, was unable to start her car, and, with her matron of honor in tow, is now walking to her own wedding. Steve is sorry that Michelle is angry, plus he’s embarrassed because he tried to convince the august state Supreme Court justice presiding over the ceremony to “just forget” about needing the license to perform a wedding. (The judge was not amused.)

That’s pretty much how Gourmandistan “officially” began, 25 years ago this week.

We share this with you because, as we reach the quarter-century mark, people may believe we know what it takes to keep a marriage together for so long a time. We’d like to head off that kind of thinking as quickly as possible. Much better to ask us about pasta. Like marriage, pasta comes in all shapes and sizes. A few common threads (flour, water, eggs,) can create mezzalune, tortelli and ravioli. (Mezzalune, for the curious, are half-moon shaped tortelli, which are round ravioli. Or so we’ve read.)

Gourmandistan has no books on how to make a marriage work, unless one counts antique editions on deportment—which are kept for humor value only, we assure you. We do, however, have a vast number of cookbooks. Bugialli on Pasta has graced our shelves, in many different apartments and houses, for 25 years.  It was gifted to us at our first married Christmas by Michelle’s mom, who wrote on the flyleaf: “You’ve mastered U.S.A. cuisine, so it’s time to conquer Italia!”

For some reason (whether the unappetizing Eighties food photography, Michelle’s ambivalence about Italian food or our general laziness), the book has been virtually unused by us for a quarter of a century. But since it was published in 1988 and was named best “European and International” cookbook of that year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, we felt something from it might make for an appropriate silver anniversary salute.

Tortelli o Mezzalune alla Pratese (Tortelli or Half-Moon Tortelli Prato Style—we made tortelli) was deliciously delicate, with layers of flavor. Meat and potatoes were front and center, but spice and seasoning gave the whole thing maturity and complexity. Wait—was that some kind of metaphor?

Rehearsal dinner

This out of focus snap from after the rehearsal dinner holds up better
after 25 years than all those stagey wedding photos.

TORTELLI ALLA PRATESE

  • Servings: 8, reportedly
  • Print

(adapted, slightly, from Bugialli on Pasta)

PASTA FILLING:
  • 12 oz. starchy potatoes
  • 5 TB olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 lb. ground beef
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 10 sprigs Italian parsley, stems removed
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
  • Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg

Boil potatoes, in their skins, in salted water for 40-45 minutes, until soft. Drain potatoes and immediately peel them. Pass through a food mill. Set aside to cool.

In a small skillet or saucepan, fry ground beef with bay leaf in the olive oil. Break up beef with a spatula while frying. Season well with salt and pepper. Discard bay leaf and add meat and juices to milled potatoes.

Finely chop garlic. Coarsely chop parsley. Add both to potato/meat mixture.

When potato/meat mixture is cool, add beaten eggs, cheese and nutmeg, stirring in with a wooden spoon. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

PASTA:
  • 4 c. all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 4 tsp. olive oil

Put flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer, making a small well. Add eggs and olive oil into the flour well. Use the paddle attachment to mix, until it starts to form little blobs. Switch to the kneading hook and knead the dough, adding more flour or egg as needed to get a springy ball. Let the dough rest for an hour or so, wrapped in wax paper.

Roll the pasta at setting 1 of a pasta machine for five or six times, folding the pasta sheet into thirds after each roll. Then roll the sheet through once per setting until it is as thin as you want.

We made this pasta with a round stamp, in much the same way that Greg at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide prepares his ravioli (though we set one narrow sheet of pasta atop another rather than doing the fold-over thing). We’ve never had great luck with the various trays or dies we’ve had, but Chicago John has a nice tutorial on how to use those tools at From the Bartolini Kitchens. We used a level tablespoon of filling per tortello with a 2-1/2″ stamp.

Cook pasta in boiling, salted water. It will not take long—just a few minutes. But the cooking time will depend on how thick your pasta is and the extent to which it dried out before cooking.  Carefully remove the pasta from the water with a skimmer and plate immediately.

Top generously with melted butter and Parmesan cheese, a little freshly ground nutmeg and some roughly chopped parsley.

 
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66 comments

  1. Adorable. I’m talking about the pasta of course, not the young couple. OK, they’re cute too. Congratulations you guys, that’s one spectacular dish. Oh and on the 25 years too.:) Seriously, thanks for the mention. In the same sentence as Chicago John too!

  2. Eha

    Would all of us who looked happy like thus at the time designated then be here to wish you happy! Great you made it to compose this wonderful post!! Only one wish: may the next 25 be as happy and even much more interesting [c’mon guys, you’ve had enough practice!]! . . .

  3. What a great post! I won’t dwell upon the missing keys. The less said the better but a 25th anniversary is certainly something worth celebrating. Congratulations! I truly enjoyed the photos.
    Your tortelli are unlike any I’ve tasted. It’s the potato in the filling and you’ve certainly piqued my curiosity. I need to ask Zia if she’s aware of anything like these. You may have just given us a project for my next visit with her.
    Thank you, too, for the kindly mention of my blog.

    • Aw, thanks much and you’re so welcome! The pasta filling was quite nice and unlike anything Steve (of Neapolitan descent) or I had ever eaten. We agreed they were kind of like Italian pierogi. I would be interested to know if Zia had ever heard of anything like it.

      • Merci, Roger! Did you ever see the Rhoda show way back when? (It was a spin-off of the Mary Tyler Moore TV show back in the Seventies.) In the famous wedding episode, she was running through the streets of New York and riding the subway in her wedding dress under similar circumstances.

    • Thanks, Brian! Come back and visit soon. And don’t tell anybody about the screaming match in the Toulouse roundabout. I’d hate to ruin the illusion that all has been perfect. 🙂

  4. Another terrific post! Happy Anniversary to you both! Personally, my motto is “the family that cooks together stays together.” By that score, you two are in great shape!!

  5. rrwriter

    Splendid. I am grateful for the two of you, your humor, smarts, culinary gifts, and energy for sharing your singular culinary country’s foodways with the rest of the world.

  6. Congratulations to you both and thanks for sharing your story – real life and real love is never like fairy tales…it´s much more fun! Wonderful recipe, the pasta looks and sounds fabulous 🙂

    • I know. It’s a bit like announcing, in the middle of the Bible Belt, that one is an atheist. Which, of course, I’d never do. 😉 Don’t get me wrong: I like Italian food. It’s just that it falls really far down on the hierarchy which begins with everything Asian, then French, then…

      • Fascinating. I always find it hard to pick when pressed — it’s such a mood thing. And it also depends on what we’re talking about — the French got it on bread and cheese and long-braised things, but the Italians kick butt in seafood and pastas, etc. Italian certainly rivals French and Spanish and Japanese and Mexican at the top for me. Way, way above Venezuelan and Norwegian.

        • I have to say I’m truly not getting this whole modern Scandinavian thing. I watched the Noma guy on the David Chang Mind of a Chef show (which is really good—have you watched?) and just thought: no way I would pay all that money for a few sprigs of sea grass. Not to mention the ants.

          • It sure looks pretty, though, doesn’t it. Supposedly the “Best Restaurant in the World” now that el Bulli has shuddered. I have the $45 tabletop beauty book. Hard to believe any of it actually tastes good, though. Like licking a Rothko painting.

  7. Lovely post. Congratulations on the 25 and may you enjoy 25 more at least. I will be experimenting with pasta some more this year. I got my machine last year and have a couple of posts lined up and some more adventurous stuff for later on, hopefully.
    Best,
    Conor

    • Thanks much, Conor. I look forward to your future pasta posts. I have to laugh when people ask me about homemade pasta, because my only contribution toward it here is to cut the sheets!

  8. Happy anniversary, you two! Thank you for sharing your wonderful story with us! I have to say that Michelle looks stunning! If that was me stomping around, I would have been a mess!

    And the pasta doesn’t look half bad either 🙂

  9. Happy happy anniversary! How reassuring that Michelle hasn’t held a grudge for the past 25 years. 😉 As I was reading the post, I thought, these are very like pierogi (a recipe on my “soon-to-be-blogged” list, or my mother will disown me); then I saw your response to Chicago John’s comment! I love the story, I adore the pics, and, being possessed of a fetish for pasta tools, I covet the ravioli stamp. (My new favorite tool is a ravioli rolling pin.) Again, happy anniversary! And may Michelle never be without a cell phone when she needs one.

    • Thanks, Susan! It is difficult to imagine that we lived without them. I think we got our first giant Motorola flip phones about 6 years later. Oh, and I never hold grudges. No point to it. There’s always something new to get angry about. 🙂

  10. Congratulations! Wow! I’d forgotten about those ravioli. You used to see ravioli with potato fillings all the time (and that kind of photography too). No longer. (Potatoes, the terrifying filling.) They are delicious though and it looks like you did an excellent job on them. I’d eat those any day. Ken

  11. Holey Moley. How am I supposed to stay on my diet when you make things like this? Congratulations on your marriage! Yes!Chef! and I will be celebrating 30 this year. It’s been a wild and wonderful ride.

  12. wow congrats to the two of you 🙂 also love the homemade pasta. there is just something so richly satisfying about making your own noodles don’t you think? 🙂

  13. Carolyn Melcher

    Happy Anniversary. I cannot believe it was twenty five years ago that you were married. 🙂 Congratulations, and happy cooking.

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