Spinach-Ricotta Stuffed Pasta with Quick Tomato Sauce, Butter Lettuce with Blood Oranges and Avocado

KIMWith only one week left, the kids have hit their stride and are eager to tackle the tough stuff. Lucky for them, Kim Maynard, the dainty but doughty house chef at The Pantry at Delancey, offered to teach pasta. A former Assistant Attorney General (gotta love that career switch!), she arrived with a flowered apron, pasta machines, and the fortitude needed for teaching eager-beaver tweens how to “incorporate flour” and “develop gluten.”

Given that the pasta lesson would fill all of our two hours, we skipped review, but Eric volunteered that he had made roast chicken and vegetables at home, and Jade said she’d made caramel sauce. Music to my ears!

“This is the first generation of children expected to die younger than their parents. We believe that by equipping children with food and nutrition education this can change,” argues the “Get Food Education in Every School” initiative. “Food skills are one of the most valuable life skills you can ever learn  . . . learning about food and nutrition leads to a great increase in consumption of fruit and vegetables; helping to cook and prepare food increases children’s self-efficacy for selecting healthier foods . . .  schools should provide this food education by including it within the academic curricula, integrating it within existing classes and providing students with hands-on experiences and education around cooking skills and edible education.”

Amen. We have so far to go! Even at this late date, the future of our class at McClure is uncertain due to budget cuts. A local high school that wants the class can’t find the funding for it. It’s beyond frustrating! But in the class, those concerns are set aside; we have work to do.

After discussing which ingredients were whole and which processed, the kids began breaking up San Marzano tomatoes with their hands, halving and peeling an onion, then adding butter and salt for Marcella Hazan’s four-ingredient, simple-as-pie, velvety-voluptuous tomato sauce. Marcella’s son: “At our cooking school in Italy we offer a ‘level-two’ course for those who want to return for more. I always ask what dish from the first course is their favorite. Out of a week of classes and restaurant meals, the majority say it is this sauce that they remember best. As an added bonus, it can be frozen and will taste just as good when thawed and reheated months later.”

ricottaNext came the filling: whole-milk ricotta (“recooked” in Italian) seasoned with pepper, nutmeg, sautéed spinach and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

KOSMA-MEGANTASTING The kids took turn tasting the filling for balance. There was a flurry of concern about double-dipping, perhaps related to the flu epidemic and considerable number of ill classmates. Fortunately, we have a lot of tasting spoons.


While “00” flour is the chef favorite for pasta, Kim said all-purpose flour is just fine for the home cook. The 1:1 ratio of eggs to cups of flour is a cinch to remember, although more or less flour may be needed depending on the size of the eggs, humidity, etc. Each student was provided a bowl of flour, in which they made a well with their fingers, then added the eggs, and stirred with forks until the dough was ready to knead by hand. What a mess! If a messy desk is the sign of a creative person, messy hands are the sign of a fearless cook, right? Kim explained the process by which gluten makes dough stretchy and smooth as they worked together, kneading, turning, folding, keneading. Meanwhile, I prepared the salad, enjoying their good-natured groans of “I’m so TARD” as they kneaded the dough, comparing it to “elephant skin” and (giggles)”baby bottom.” The dough had only a short rest (thirty minutes would have been best, but we didn’t have it). Then we were ready to roll.


Securing the pasta cranks to the conference table proved a challenge; pads of Post-It were pressed into service (literally) to secure the C-clamps. Some of the students, impatient, rushed through their sequence of thick-to-thin settings, or used too much flour, drying out their dough. Even so, the ragged bits were eventually smoothed, and long strands of dough took shape. When thin enough to read a newspaper (or text message?) through, it was time to drop and cut the pasta. But which shape? Most of the kids chose fold squares into triangular shapes (pansotti, or little bellies). Megan opted for circles pinched into sacks (fagottini, or little bundles). After the first few were filled, it was critical to cook them before the wet filling seeped into the dough, and for a few intense minutes, we were all busy cutting, filling, or cooking ravioli, like a well-choreographed ballet. Not really. Close enough.

Our salad (which I had whipped up while the kids worked their dough) was nothing short of spectacular, despite (1) my burning the first round of almonds slivers and (2) my clumsy job supreming the oranges. “A bad workman always blames his tools,” they say. Nonetheless, I scowled at first the timer and then the knife. But I didn’t get too upset, because the results knocked our socks off. Tender butter lettuce topped with blood oranges, creamy avocado, crunchy almonds, and a tangy Meyer lemon and champagne vinegar dressing? Good enough for seconds. (When I made it at home the following evening, my daughter sighed and said “this is what angels eat.”)

WATERMELONRADISH One of the delights of teaching is introducing the class to new foods. The kids may have never seen ricotta, blood oranges, or a watermelon radish before, but they are unlikely to forget them. Delicious, all. (Available at Whole Foods, watermelon radishes are milder than most; it made a crisp and delicate addition to the table.)

saladandpastaplateAfter the intensity of all that prep, it was a pleasure to admire the fruits of our labors and then devour them. The photo cannot do justice to the carnival of flavor on that plate! After the kids were gone, Kim, Mary, and I lingered at the table, chatting about the joys of cooking and eating and traveling. For a few minutes, I was determined to catch the next plane to Umbria to learn pasta-making from an Italian grandmother, tour vineyards, and go truffle hunting.

It was that kind of class.

The Pantry at Delancey is a charming, intimate (meaning small enough to be hands-on) teaching kitchen in Ballard that offers classes for adults and children. Kim will be teaching a summer camp that takes the kids around the culinary world, and includes crafts at the studio across the street. Grab any opening you can, because the classes fill up VERY fast. I learned this lesson the hard way.

RECIPES

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Spinach-Ricotta Stuffed Pasta with Quick Tomato Sauce

From Chef Kim Cozzetto Maynard of the Pantry at Delancey. Makes enough for 8 appetizer portions or 6 main servings.

Fresh Egg Pasta Dough

Ingredients
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon milk
Directions
  1. Pour the flour into a bowl, shape the flour into a mound, and make a deep hollow in its center.
  2. Break the eggs into the hollow and add the milk to the eggs. Beat the eggs lightly with a fork for about 1 minute as though you were making an omelet. Draw some of the flour over the eggs, mixing it in with the fork a little at a time, until the eggs are no longer runny.
  3. Use your hands to continue working the eggs and flour together until you have a smooth mixture. When the dough seems to need no more flour, wash your hands, dry them, and test the dough with your finger: your finger should come out clean after you push it deep into the center of the dough.
  4. Knead the dough with your clean hands by pushing forward against the dough using the heel of your palm, keeping your fingers bent. Fold the mass in half, give it a half turn, press hard against it with the heel of your palm again, and repeat. Make sure that you keep turning the dough always in the same direction. When you have kneaded it a full 8 minutes and the dough is smooth as baby skin, it is ready to roll through the machine.
  5. Divide the dough into several pieces. Keep the pieces you are not working with tightly covered in plastic wrap.
  6. Set the pair of smooth cylinders in the pasta machine at their widest opening. Flatten one piece of dough and run it through the machine. Fold the dough twice into a third of its length, and feed it by its narrow end through the machine once again. Repeat the folding process 2 or 3 times, then you can start rolling out the dough. Close the opening between the rollers by one notch. Run the flattened pasta strip through the rollers once, feeding it by its narrow end. Do not fold it again.
  7. Bring the rollers closer together by another notch, and run the pasta through again. Repeat this process until the pasta is the desired thinness. Form this sheet of pasta with the desired filling into the desired shape; then take another piece of dough and repeat the entire process.
  8. Once you have finished filling the pasta, either cook them immediately or place the pasta on a well-floured sheet tray and freeze the pasta until hard. Then store the frozen pasta in a zippered bag in the freezer until you are ready to use them.

Pasta Filling

Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 2 cups whole-milk ricotta
  • 4 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Directions

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the spinach leaves, and cook until wilted. Remove the spinach to a strainer and let cool slightly. Squeeze all the water out of the leaves, then chop roughly. In a bowl, mix together the spinach with the rest of the ingredients. Store in the refrigerator until ready to fill the pasta.

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

Ingredients
  • 2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes (ideally San Marzano), cut up, with their juice
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
  • salt
  • freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Directions
  1. Place the tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter, onion, and salt, and cook uncovered at a very slow but steady simmer for 45 minutes, or until the fat floats free from the tomato. Stir from time to time, mashing any large pieces of tomato in the pan with the back of a wooden spoon.
  2. Taste and correct for salt.
  3. Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta.

***

Butter Lettuce with Blood Orange, Avocado, and Citrus Vinaigrette

This recipe is adapted from one by Rick Bayless. Serves 2-4.

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 head butter lettuce, washed and dried well
  • 3 blood oranges
  • 1 Meyer lemon
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup grapeseed or canola oil
  • 1 medium ripe avocado
  • 1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
DIRECTIONS
  1. Arrange the butter lettuce over the bottom of a shallow large bowl or medium platter.
  2. Grate the rind from 2 blood oranges and the Meyer lemon and scrape the zest into a medium bowl.
  3. Juice the lemon and 1 blood orange. You need 1/4 cup of each juice.
  4. Supreme the 2 blood oranges over a separate bowl by cutting off the white pith to expose the fruit, then, cut between the membranes to release the segments. Squeeze the juice from the membranes.
  5. Scatter the orange segments over the top of the lettuce taking care to leave the juice behind. Measure the juices and add them to the blood orange juice if you need them to make the 1/4 cup.
  6. Pour the blood orange and lemon juices into the bowl with the zest. Add the champagne vinegar, Dijon, honey and 1 teaspoon salt. Whisk together until the salt has dissolved. Add the oil and whisk until the dressing has emulsified.
  7. Cut the avocado in half lengthwise. Peel and discard the pit. Dice the avocado and scatter the pieces over the top of the salad.
  8. Lightly dress the salad with the vinaigrette and sprinkle the almonds over the top. Place the remaining vinaigrette in a re-sealable container and refrigerate for another use.

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Categories: Entree, Kid Favorite, Salad, Vegetarian

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