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Pear and Pecorino “Ravioli”

Many years ago, when my daughter was a student in Florence, Italy, she took us to a restaurant called “Quattro Leoni” where I first ate little bundles of pasta wrapped around pear and pecorino cheese. I’ve been wanting to make them at home for years and finally got around to trying, inspired by the restaurant in Florence.

I’ve got time on my hands these days, as many of you do, with so many people quarantined due to the Coronavirus outbreak. I hope and pray that the deaths around the world will soon taper off and stop, especially for Italy, where more people have died from the illness than anywhere else in the world. Meanwhile, stay indoors and keep “social distancing” when you need to go out. Wear a mask if you have one, even if it’s not an N-95. My brother-in-law, who is a leading aerosol scientist in the world and studies movements of aerosols (small airborne particles), says that spray droplets are huge and that almost any cloth should stop them effectively. If you must be in situations where you encounter people, breathe through a cloth covering of some sort. There are many links on Youtube showing how to sew your own mask like this one, even some that don’t require sewing, like this one.

A great stress reliever in these troubling times is pasta making. I won’t give a primer on how to make the pasta, but there are instructions in the recipe below and if you want more detail, click here on how to make homemade pasta. I used “OO” flour from Italy, or you could use a combination of semolina and all-purpose flour. In a pinch, all-purpose flour will do.

My version is slightly different from Quattro Leoni, in both the shape and the sauce. Their’s look more like little purses, but I decided to try shaping mine into these small bundles instead. And their sauce was made with taleggio cheese and asparagus – so delicious but I had neither in the house so used butter, sage and walnuts with a sprinkling of pecorino on top.

After you’ve kneaded the pasta dough, you need to let it rest a half hour, so take that time to make the filling. I used a mixture of pear, pecorino and ricotta cheese, with a little white pepper.

Mix it all together very well.

Dab a teaspoonful onto each 3″ x 3″ square. In the background, you can see I pieced together some strips of pasta so I could make continuous strips without having to knead the scraps back together and roll them out a second time. Each time you roll the pasta, it will get tougher, so try to avoid doing that. Just make sure you wet the edge of the strips so the pasta adheres. You don’t want it separating when you cook it in the boiling water.

To help you shape the pasta into the little bundles, I made this short video with instructions:

The recipe below makes enough for about 20-22 bundles, and I made small “quadretti” with the scraps, to use in some soup.

While the pasta is boiling, put together the sauce by melting some butter, adding sage and chopped walnuts.

Drain the pasta loosely, leaving a little water on each one as you place it directly into the pan. Add more butter and more of the pasta water if you want more sauce, but this was a rich dish and I didn’t feel the need for additional calories.

This serves two people generously as a main meal, and would even be enough for four if you’re serving it as a first course. But if you’re cooking for more people, you can easily double the recipe. Sprinkle grated pecorino on top and enjoy.

Click here to connect with me on Instagram and find out what Ciao Chow Linda is up to in the kitchen (and other places too.)

Pear and Pecorino "Ravioli"
 
Author:
Serves: makes about 20-22 ravioli
Ingredients
  • FOR THE PASTA:
  • 1¼ cups flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • FOR THE RAVIOLI STUFFING:
  • 1 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 pear, cut into small dice
  • ¼ tsp. white pepper
  • pinch of salt
  • FOR THE SAUCE:
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • some fresh sage leaves
  • ¼ cup walnuts, chopped
  • fresh pecorino cheese to grate on top
Instructions
  1. FOR THE PASTA:
  2. Put the flour into a food processor, along with the eggs and salt.
  3. Process it for a couple of minutes until the mixture comes together.
  4. If it's too sticky, add more flour. If it doesn't seem to adhere to itself, add a little water.
  5. Knead it on a board for a few minutes, then let it rest for ½ hour, covered.
  6. Roll out the dough, either by hand or in an electric pasta roller.
  7. Don't roll it to the thinnest setting though, or the filling might break through when you're handling it.
  8. Place the dough on a board and cut it into 3 inch squares.
  9. Patch some of the long pieces together so you don't waste the dough, or so that you don't have to re-roll and re-cut it.
  10. The more you handle the dough, the tougher it will get.
  11. Place a teaspoon of the filling in the center and press the edges together, as in the picture, until you have a square shape with the four points meeting at the top center.
  12. Boil gently in water until cooked, which may take 5-8 minutes.
  13. Make the sauce, adding butter to a pan until it melts, then add a few fresh sage leaves and the chopped walnuts.
  14. Remove the ravioli from the water with a strainer, but don't worry if some of the water adheres -- it will help with the sauce.
  15. Gently stir the ravioli in the sauce, tossing them to coat with the butter sauce.
  16. Remove to plates and sprinkle more pecorino cheese on top.
 

 

Cassata Siciliana

If you’ve ever been to Sicily, you know that one of the classic desserts from that island is cassata Siciliana, a  delicious sponge cake layered with a ricotta filling, traditionally edged with almond paste and topped with candied fruits.

I was fortunate enough to have Fabrizia Lanza show me how to make cassata when I stayed at her farm in Sicily last spring. Fabrizia, who lived and worked in Bologna in the field of art history, moved back to Sicily to take over the cooking school founded by her late mother, Anna Tasca Lanza. The school offers lots of different programs from food writing to sketching, and even a ten week intensive course called “Cook The Farm.” Click here for more information.

Cassata Siciliana may look complicated to make, but Fabrizia breezed through the various steps in short order without working up a sweat. With Easter just around the corner, this would make a mouth-watering, show-stopper dessert.

The first step is making the marzipan, using pistachios, almond flour, and a few other ingredients, including the traditional green food coloring. Make the marzipan without the food coloring if you prefer, or if you don’t want to use the marzipan at all, you can omit it, and just cover the entire cassata with the confectioner’s sugar icing.

Roll out the marzipan and place strips of it in a tin specially made for cassata. These pans are not easy to find, but a pie plate makes a good substitute. Line it in plastic wrap first to make it easier to flip.

The sponge cake (pan di Spagna) is sliced in this manner, contrary to how I presumed it would be sliced (through the middle in horizontal layers).

Place one layer of the slices on the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with limoncello, or Grand Marnier liqueur.

Spread a layer of the ricotta/sugar mixture on top.

Then repeat with another layer of the sponge cake and liqueur.

Pat it down firmly.

Then place a serving plate over it all and flip it over (fingers crossed).

Remove the pan and the plastic wrap.

Drizzle the confectioner’s sugar glaze on top.

Then decorate with candied fruits. They’re quite common in Sicily, and infinitely better in quality than what we get here in the states. If you can’t get good candied fruits, just keep it simple and use some homemade candied orange peel, (recipe here) rather than ruin your cassata with “industrial” candied fruit. Besides, the larger pieces, like the whole candied orange, are mostly decorative anyhow.

Just looking at the interior of this cassata Siciliana brings back some delicious memories and a strong desire to return to that fascinating island.

Part of the reason this cassata was outstanding was the quality of the ricotta that went into it. Fabrizia used sheep’s milk ricotta, but if you can’t find it, (admittedly not easy), use cow’s milk ricotta, well-drained. Our ricotta couldn’t have been any fresher, since we went to the farm that morning, where the cheesemaker made the cheese right before our eyes.

We could thank these sheep for the ricotta, who just a short while earlier had been milked.

Much of the pecorino cheese is drained in plastic molds, but here are some that were being drained in traditional reed baskets. Thank goodness for people still making food in the time-honored traditions of their ancestors, and for people like Fabrizia Lanza, who is helping disseminate these old world customs and recipes. If you really want to slow down and treat yourself to a unique experience, book at week at her farm, Case Vecchie and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of authentic Sicily.

Click here to connect with me on Instagram and find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more)

Cassata Siciliana
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE SPONGE CAKE:
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups (150 grams) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange or lemon zest
  • 1¼ cup (150 grams) flour, sifted
  • 3 tablespoons limoncello or Grand Marnier
  • FOR THE MARZIPAN:
  • 2¾ cup (350 grams) almond flour
  • 1¼ cup (150 grams) pistachios, ground
  • 1½ cup (200 grams) powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon glucose
  • green food coloring
  • candied fruit, for garnish
  • FOR THE ICING:
  • 3 cups (370 grams) powdered sugar
  • juice of 1 lemon, strained
  • FOR THE RICOTTA CREAM:
  • 2 lb. (1 kilo) ricotta
  • 1½ cups (200 grams) sugar
Instructions
  1. FOR THE SPONGE CAKE:
  2. preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan.
  4. Put the eggs into the bowl of a mixer and beat for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the sugar and lemon zest and continue to beat until the mixture forms a ribbon when poured, about 15 minutes.
  6. In two or three parts, gently fold in the sifted flour.
  7. Pour into the springform pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a needed inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
  8. Cool on a cake rack and set it aside.
  9. TO MAKE THE MARZIPAN:
  10. Mix the almond flour, ground pistachios and sugar.
  11. Make a well and add a teaspoon of glucose, 2 tablespoons of water and a few drops of food coloring.
  12. Combine ingredients like a dough, then roll out on a workspace dusted with powdered sugar
  13. Cut long strips lengthwise into ½ inch thick slices.
  14. Roll out three of the slices into strips about ⅛ to ¼ inch thick.
  15. Knead the remaining marzipan into a ball, wrap it in plastic, and store in the refrigerator for later use.
  16. Line a 9-inch cassata pan, or a 9-inch pie pan with sloping sides, with plastic wrap.
  17. Wrap the marzipan strips along the inside edge of the pan, slightly overlapping the ends.
  18. Press against the pan to form a smooth layer.
  19. Cut the cake from top to bottom into ½ inch thick slices and trim off the crust
  20. Put a layer of slices on the bottom of the pan, drizzle the layers of the sponge cake with limoncello or Grand Marnier.
  21. In a bowl, mix the ricotta with sugar using a spatula until evenly distributed.
  22. Spread the layer of sponge cake evenly with the ricotta cream.
  23. Carefully place another layer of cake slices on top, drizzle again with limoncello or Grand Marnier.
  24. Flip the cake on a large serving plate.
  25. Carefully lift off the pan and peel off the remaining plastic wrap
  26. Set the cassata aside while you are making the icing.
  27. Sift half of the powdered sugar into a bowl.
  28. Add half of the lemon juice.
  29. Stir the liquid into the sugar, breaking up any lumps.
  30. Sift the remaining sugar into the bowl and add the rest of the lemon juice, until it has a thin spreading consistency and forms a smooth, shiny icing.
  31. Ice the top of the cassata, leaving the marzipan sides of the cake visible
  32. If you are not using green marzipan, ice the entire cake.
  33. Decorate with whole and cut candied fruit.
  34. Refrigerate and allow to set for at least 1 to 2 hours before serving.
 

 

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