The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Thursday, December 7, 2006

The Loaded Gun


Some mornings just start out like this for everyone:

Nothing goes right, including the simple act of going potty in the toilet.

My son got a double dose of stubbornness from both me and my husband. Sometimes it manifests itself in surprisingly cute ways like his constant need to bounce on beds no matter how many times we tell him not to. When we arrived in our hotel room in San Francisco, he immediately took off his shoes, pulled the armchair over to the bed to use as a step (no small feat for a two-year-old), and began jumping on the bed. My husband, the safety conscious one, quickly told him to get off that bed right this instant. Without missing a bounce, my son rapped back, "Hey you, get off my cloud, you don't know me and you don't know my style."

What can you do when your son channels Method Man at you (and yes, I do know the original line is from a Rolling Stones' song, but my son doesn't)? We had to laugh, and he continued jumping.

However, sometimes this willfull nature manifests itself in my son's wedging himself between the toilet and the wall because he is so frustrated he can't pee in the toilet (he'd already soaked his diaper) and won't just call it quits. When the morning starts like that, I know I am in for a long day.

Fortunately, I had to work. So his daycare provider was the real one in for a long day. It's the last week of classes, and I am so incredibly ready to be finished. It is a joke, however, because I really won't be finished: I'll have papers to grade and syllabi to write over break. But at least I won't have students to deal with.

Or so I thought . . .

Today my husband picks up our son, so I get a few hours of me time. I always intend to use these free Thursday afternoons to be productive. I plan to hide in some little bar or coffeeshop and grade or write. However, though I manage to usually make it to the bar, I also usually end up pleasure reading. Today was no different, except I didn't have any grading to do (as of right now I am caught up . . . until I get 39 ten-page essays tomorrow), so I could read with impunity. And I did.

Eventually, I decided to run an errand that I can't do with my son: I needed to buy a naughty Santa gift for my Bunco night (yes, I do play Bunco--don't judge). I really didn't think it appropriate to bring my son into an adult store, so I figured I should do this errand now. My first idea for a gift was to get some penis-shaped pasta and package that up with a cream sauce along with adult fortune cookies I had bought in San Francisco. I remembered that Urban Outfitters sold said pasta at one time, so this seemed like a good place to start. However, I haven't been to Urban Outfitters in at least six years. It seems their inventory has changed in that time.

The helpful register girl did direct me to the naughty book section where I began thumbing through a board book that had a strategically placed hole in its center. I was giggling to myself and reaching for the "Postition of the Day Playbook" when I heard, "Professor?" Lo and behold, there stood a former student of mine from the private Christian university at which I work.

We both were a delightful shade of pink at being caught in the naughty book section.

"I'm taking your class literature class next semester," he offered, "Pretend you never saw me here."

"Deal. This never happened." And I scooped up my books (yes, both the board book and the play of the day one) and quickly exited.

This city is way too small.

Anton Chekov claimed that if you have a loaded gun in act one of a play, it had better go off by the end. Well, I am far from the end of this little play, but I did introduce a loaded gun of sorts--or maybe I should call it loaded ravioli. Yes, dear readers, I am indeed back to making ravioli. Beet ravioli this time.

I am obsessed. Partly because my first experience was so trying that I want to see if I can do it again without all the angst. Partly because a friend of mine who not only has the kitchen of my dreams but is a wonderful cook told me that he couldn't compete with homemade ravioli. Partly because I have one opened stack of pasta in the fridge that will go bad shortly. Partly because I am not really sure if I like beets and how to cook them. And partly because I have to maintain literary correctness: I need to fire that gun.

Okay, so I'm just obsessed.

From epicurious: Beet Ravioli with Poppy Seed Butter

2 large red or golden beets (about 14 ounces)
1/2 cup fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs
[I also chopped the beet greens to bits and added them to this mix]

1 1/4 pounds
Fresh Egg Pasta

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1 tablespoon poppy seeds
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Wrap beets individually in foil; place on baking sheet [I forgot the foil step and just roasted them uncovered. It was fine. I also did this the night before and let them cool in the fridge. Worked like a charm]. Roast until tender when pierced with knife, about 1 hour. Open foil carefully (steam will escape).

Cool. Peel beets; finely grate into medium bowl. Add ricotta cheese and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in breadcrumbs.

Roll Fresh Egg Pasta dough into sheets according to recipe. Place 1 dough sheet on work surface. Using 3-inch round biscuit cutter, cut sheet into 7 rounds. Transfer rounds to lightly floured baking sheet; cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with remaining dough for total of 56 rounds.
Sprinkle 2 smooth kitchen towels with flour. Place 8 pasta rounds on work surface, keeping remaining dough covered with plastic. Place small bowl of water next to work surface. Spoon 1 teaspoon beet filling onto half of each round. Dip fingertip into water and dampen edge of 1 round. Fold dough over filling, pushing out as much air as possible and pressing edges firmly to seal. Transfer to prepared towels. Repeat with remaining rounds. (Can be prepared 1 week ahead. Transfer to rimmed baking sheet and place in freezer until frozen solid, about 6 hours. Transfer ravioli to resealable plastic bags.)
[I didn't do any of this. I used the sheets of pasta I had left over (two packages of three down, one to go) from the squash ravioli and the wine glass/knife trick to cut]

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat and stir in poppy seeds; keep warm. Working in batches, cook ravioli in large pot of boiling salted water until cooked through, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to skillet with melted butter; toss to coat. Divide ravioli among 8 plates; sprinkle with Parmesan.

Makes 8 first-course servings.
Bon App├ętit May 2005

Making ravioli the second time is surprisingly easier and quicker. Possibly because I already have the pasta sheets in my fridge and a working idea of how the whole stuffing process should go. But as I smoothly shaped my little half moons of pasta, I mused on the etymology of ravioli and pasta names in general.

According to Bill Buford, "ravioli" is actually the term for just the stuffing. Italians used to toss ravioli into big pocket of dough called tortas. Eventually, they started making these tortas bite-sized and called them "tortelli" which is the diminuative of torta. I then was making tortelli stuffed with ravioli. Incidentally, "tortellini" is the diminuative of tortelli and means even tinier stuffed pasta.

The beet ravioli was okay. I found I do indeed like beets. I thought the pasta was a bit bland. Some reviewers suggested goat cheese instead of ricotta, which might add the needed zing. I might do some carmelized onions in the ravioli if I make this again.

Of course this meal came with the dreaded salad: lettuce, cucumbers, mushrooms, yellow bell pepper. No tomatoes this time because I am making tomato soup tomorrow. I did manage to use all of my lettuce this week. No waste. And luckily, no need for lettuce soup . . . yet.

Of note: my son did not like this ravioi dish but loved the squash one.

Oh well, as Scarlett O'Hara claims, tomorrow is another pickup day.

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