David is visiting this weekend. Our weekends usually revolve mostly around food, but this one was especially so. I was trying to follow my new one ingredient experiment, David had experiments of his own, and suddenly there were three different kinds of dough in every room of my apartment.
David is half Italian and, given my recent success with pasta, we decided to try to make ravioli. We would make the dough and filling on Saturday, refrigerate, and assemble the ravioli on Sunday. But then I invited Fi and her boyfriend Nat over for drinks before the Capital Pride parade and we wanted to make Pimm's. We also needed to feed them something that fit my rules, and I had leftover pie dough that I wanted to use. And we needed dinner for ourselves on Saturday.
This is how we ended up making pizza for dinner, gruyere and tomato tarts for hors d’oeuvres, Pimm's, and ravioli with homemade ricotta. In one weekend. Because once you’ve committed to three different kinds of dough, you might as well start making cheese too.
Yesterday morning at the 14th and U Farmers’ Market we picked up berries, herbs, and cucumber, and I got some greens because I wanted them and garlic scapes because they were curly. Lovely local strawberries stretched as far as the eye could see. I also took a neat picture of turnips. We went to Whole Foods for everything else, and then the hardware store for a cupcake pan to make tarts and the liquor store for Pimms. The whole thing took about two hours. This was the haul.
David prides himself on his tomato sauce, which he (totally nonsensically) calls ‘gravy.’* He usually does this while gesticulating and pronouncing ‘ricotta’ in an Italian accent that he swears is genuine. But I put up with it for this pasta sauce. I don’t know why it’s so good. We were using fresh herbs and tomatoes, even though the tomatoes aren’t in season and would have been better if they were redder and riper. First he cored them and loudly slurped out all the liquid, then he blended them combined them with herbs, garlic, onion and red pepper to simmer for several hours. Because the tomatoes were a little too green, we had to add some tomato paste, but it was still really good. I’ll post his basic recipe below, even though he keeps telling me it’s a secret.
I got the tart recipe from Susan Loomis's French Farmhouse Cookbook. I rolled out my leftover pastry dough and baked it blind in my new muffin tin. The recipe said to coat the bottom of the pastry with mustard, then add some gruyere, chopped garlic, and a tomato slice. When it came out of the oven I was supposed to drizzle them with olive oil, but I forgot. I also added some thyme – we got a big bunch of it (and oregano and parsley) at the farmers’ market and nothing has ever smelled so good. I added thyme to everything today. It was in our sauce, our tarts, and embedded in the pizza dough. I probably should have filled up the tarts more, but they were still good.
I do not have any counter space for pending items. At one point we had:
- Pasta sauce cooling on the living room floor
- Tart shells cooling in the hallway
- Pimm's in a bowl on my bedroom floor
- Pizza dough rising in the bathroom and, later, closet
We had some trouble with the ricotta. I was looking at this recipe, and we just couldn’t get it to curdle. I was kind of ready to give up on the whole thing, but David persevered and looked up a recipe that said we should let it sit for an hour to separate. He is almost obsessively optimistic and spent the entire hour telling me “It’s really cheese now! Oh it’s sooo gooood. It’s the best ricotta ever!” I was writing on my couch when he poured it into the cheesecloth to strain and immediately started making upset noises and hopping around the kitchen in fury. I guess some of it spilled over the cheesecloth and was lost, and he started some complicated rescuing techniques involving spoons and ramekins. I decided to stay where I was.
We had a lovely glass of Pimm's with cucumber, (local!) raspberries and strawberries and (South Carolina) peaches with Fi and Nat. Then we spent a wonderful few hours getting leis at the parade and watching, alternately, Chippendale dancers on floats and happy same-sex couples with babies awwwwwww.
I let David punch down the pizza dough and he punched a HOLE in my green bowl. While he ordered a new one online, I rolled out dough and chopped the mozzarella, mushrooms, and peppers for the pizza. David felt that his tomato sauce was one of the best ever – and I agree. Its weird orangy-brown color just means that a) the tomatoes weren’t quite in season and b) no Red Dye No. 5 was used.
I totally screwed up the pizza process, though. I was looking at this recipe, which wants me to have all sorts of well-floured transferring trays so that everything remains pizza-oven-quality. In case you are thinking about it, it’s not a good idea to go into it saying, “sure! I have the tools to do this! It doesn’t matter that all my cutting boards are smaller than my pizza pan and that I didn’t flour it and now it’s sticking to the counter! I’m being professional!” We had to awkwardly roll up the whole toppinged pizza dough and unroll it on to the pizza pan. My pizza that was so beautiful before turned into a weird, stretched out mutant with all the toppings in the center.
But we ended up with this, so I think we’re in the clear.
David got really into photographing the process. He says his leis still make him feel “fabulous.”
In the end, we didn’t make it to the pasta dough, or the filling. The homemade ricotta we had to write off (David admitted that it tasted good initially because it was just heavy cream, which, let’s admit, tastes really good). A learning experience, and a good opportunity to go to the Dupont farmers’ market for the local stuff I’ve heard raves about. Any weekend where farmers’ market visits are maximized = a good weekend. Today: ravioli!
David's Pasta and Pizza "Gravy":
Six large, ripe tomatoes
Crushed red pepper (for pizza sauce only)
About 1/3 of a red pepper
4 garlic cloves
1/3 of a large onion
About 3/4 cup olive oil, or to taste
About 1/3 cup red wine
About 1 tablespoon sugar
1 small can or 1 partial can tomato paste (optional - it will speed up the cooking time. It is also a good rescuer if things don't work out as planned, so it's nice to have around even if you don't end up using it)
1. Cover the bottom of a large pot with about 1/4" of olive oil. Core the tomatoes and drain seeds and as much of the liquid as you can. Puree in a food processor or cuisinart and add to the pot. Put over very low heat.
2. Chop finely, or cuisinart, all the herbs, onion, garlic, and red pepper (we used fresh herbs and they were dreamy.) Sautee in a skillet with olive oil to make a pesto-consistency paste, about 5 minutes. Add to pot with tomatoes and add some salt and pepper, wine, and sugar. If possible, blend in the pot with a blending stick until smooth. If you don't have a blending stick, stir until olive oil has blended with tomatoes.
3. Raise the heat to a bubble, then reduce to maintain a low simmer. Simmer for as long as you can - 1-2 hours. If you want to accelerate the cooking time, forgo one tomato and add some tomato paste.
4. Add salt, pepper, olive oil and herbs (or tomato paste, if it's not tomatoy enough) to taste.
*Apparently this is normal for Italians, of which I am not one. Gravy is for turkeys.