Monday, May 26, 2008

Speaking of making your own pasta...

Last night we ate at my aunt and uncle's house, which is pretty much the best Italian restaurant I've ever been to. My aunt is on a fondue kick right now, so we started out with an awesome cheese fondue... I used to think I wouldn't like cheese fondue. Why did I think that? What was wrong with me? And then we finished up with a chocolate fondue, which was a-freaking-mazing.

She had frozen cheesecake cubes.

Cheesecake. On a stick. Dipped in chocolate. Where have you been all my life? World, why were you hiding this from me?

My life has been transformed. I have experienced the ultimate indulgence of dipping frozen cheesecake into a vat of molten chocolate. I will never be the same.

In between, we had gnocchi (which I finally learned how to say correctly, and promptly forgot. En-yoki. Enyoki. Enyoki... ah well.) and home-made ravioli. I spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen, watching Uncle Tony make that ravioli.

By the time we got there, he'd already made the dough -- a pity, because I'd wanted to see that magical transformation of flour and egg. He was cutting pieces off, pressing them flat, and sending them through a magical rolling machine over and over and over again. "The real old-fashioned way to make it is with a rolling pin," he said with a chuckle, adjusting the width settings on the side of the simple gadget. "They even have electric ones, so you don't even have to turn it... but this isn't so bad."

One through at 1, fold in half, again. Once at 2, 3, 4 -- fold in half, and again. Each time the strip of dough got mysteriously longer, even thinner, growing and stretching delicately until he had to fold it over on itself to pick it up. Once each at 5, 6 and 7, then spread out beneath a damp towel -- and again with the next hunk of dough.

Over and over again he stretched out the pasta dough, until he had several layers of them spread out beneath the towel. It took hours from flour to delicate strips of dough, but it was a beautiful thing to watch.

And then the assembly -- spread out, marked with a cup, spoonfuls of cheese (ricotta, parmesan, and a bit of egg), more dough on top and then neat circles cut out with a cup. Real fancy equipment required for this part. This whole time, the pomodoro sauce was slowly simmering away on the cooktop -- "Tomatoes, onion and garlic." "That's it?" "A bit of olive oil." "No basil? No oregano?" "Bit of salt and pepper." "That's it?" "That's it. That's how they make it in Italy, after all."

With a fork or a little cinching gadget, he pressed the edges of the circles of dough together, then placed them in a dish, layer after slow layer. Another hour.

The pomodoro simmering away, the kitchen smelling better and better as time went on, as we cut up a baguette for the cheese fondue, as the cheese was grated and melted and the baguette vanished and the fondue pot was cleaned out and the gnocchi popped out of the plastic into the pot and finally, at the very last minute, the ravioli were delicately dropped into the hot water -- and bare minutes later, pulled out.

Those just-cooked ravioli and the long-cooking sauce and a slight shake of cheese -- so delicious. So delicious it might even have been worth all the work, if it had been work. It hadn't, of course. "I love cooking," he said, a vanilla soda in his hand and a grin on his face. "Making that ravioli -- it relaxes me. I don't know why, but it just relaxes me." It certainly was fun to watch.

I powered through my ravioli. I'm a slow eater, usually, savoring every bite, but some things are just so good you can't wait to have more. I couldn't wait. I downed them. The edges were maybe a little bit thicker than with frozen ravioli, but the texture of the filling was so much better than any I remember having. There was something undeniably but indefinably fresh about it all -- something in its smothness, its bite. Absolutely AMAZING.

And did I mention the cheesecake? On a stick? Covered in chocolate?

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