As I write this blog entry, my arms are heavy, my upper back hurts, I feel very, very tired. “Has she run a marathon?” you may ask (well if you know me you’d actually never ask that – but hey! one can dream!) No. I’ve just made pasta from scratch. ‘Why?’ you may ask, let me start at the beginning.
On Wednesday night, I attended my first ever pasta making workshop, hosted by the lovely Catherine Da Costa of Cookalooks Cookery school. Truth be told, I have never made fresh pasta, despite the fact that I bought a very swish pasta machine on sale 4 years ago – and until now it has remained in its box. My friends Tim and Jean are pasta masters, at one stage, every dinner party paid homage to their wonderful creations and if you were lucky you’d get a bag of the stuff to take home. Despite being terribly impressed, my pasta machine remained untouched. Then, I heard about this class and my friends were going AND you could bring your own wine, so I signed up. Catherine hosts numerous cooking classes and despite feeling a little nervous to begin with, I found myself having a lot of fun. Within the first 20 minutes, my pasta partner, Debbie, and I, had produced a ball of dough so dry and unyielding even an Italian nonna would have struggled to work with it – yet somehow we managed. Catherine, taught us the ins and outs of making the dough and then rolling it through the pasta machine, until we had long silky sheets, which we then went on to create ravioli, lasagna and tagliatelle with. She offered up some of her delicious recipes for enhancing the taste of the fresh pasta and after much rolling, cutting, drinking and laughing, we got to taste the fruits of our labour – and boy were they good!
I left the cookery class, inspired and motivated to give pasta making a go. So this afternoon, channeling my inner Italian (I’m going through a phase), I began work on my pasta from scratch. It was 3 hours of incredible highs and the lowest of lows. High point: rolling out the tagliatelle (if I could have high-fived myself I would have!). Low point: Breaking my pasta machine,(however I might just be able to fix it). I decided that I would make a vegetarian lasagna, using Catherine’s fabulous ravioli stuffing – made with roasted butternut, onion, thyme and feta. This would be my lasagna filling. I also used her recipe for tomato pasta sauce – as the sharpness and flavour of it worked so well with the creamy, sweet flavours of the roasted butternut and onions. The finished product was a rich, gutsy, vegetarian lasagna, oozing with mozzarella and feta cheese between the silken layers of my very own, homemade pasta sheets. If I could bottle that feeling I would…and then make myself a cup of tea. So if you’re up to the challenge and you, like me, have a pasta machine lying around that you’ve never used, give pasta making a go, and if you need some guidance contact Catherine or get yourself a sexy Italian…
I have not included the fresh pasta recipe in this post – Jamie Oliver’s would be a good place to start. At our pasta making workshop, we used cake flour to great result, but if you can get your hands on the Italian Tippo 00 flour, use it instead. I managed to find some at my local supermarket, however they don’t always stock it, and most of us have cake flour in our cupboards. If you are not up to making your pasta from scratch (I’m not judging you), by all means use the dried variety – preferably the type you don’t need to boil first – however, you may need to cook your lasagna for a bit longer. I have adapted Catherine’s recipe to make a large lasagna with a generous filling.
Roasted butternut, onion, thyme and feta lasagna
Fresh lasagna sheets ( about 9 depending on the size of your dish and how you choose to cut them)
1 large ball of good quality mozzarella cheese ( preferably the type that comes in a tub)
For the filling
2kg butternut, peeled, seeds removed and cut into small cubes
3 onions, chopped into small wedges
2oml (4 tsp) sugar
1 handful of fresh thyme or 10ml (2 tsp) dried thyme
3 rounds of feta cheese
Salt and pepper
For the tomato pasta sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 x 400g Italian tinned, chopped tomatoes
2 tsp crushed garlic
Handful of fresh basil chopped – or use about 1 tsp dried basil
30ml tomato paste
15ml (1 tbsp) sugar
Salt and pepper
A nice green salad to serve
Preheat the oven to 180C. Place the butternut in a large roasting tray, (you may need to use two, if that is the case, just share the ingredients among the two dishes), along with the onion, thyme, sugar, salt and pepper. Drizzle generously with olive oil and bake for 45 minutes until soft and yielding. Once cooked, gently mash with a fork – just to create some texture, with some pieces mashed and others left whole. Crumble in the feta and gently stir it through.
For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the chopped onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, over low-heat for about 8 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, except the fresh basil if using (if dried, add it in at this point). Simmer uncovered, very slowly, over low-heat until the sauce reduces to a rich, thick consistency, at this stage add the fresh basil. This will take about 30-45 minutes. Taste for seasoning.
Spoon a thin layer of sauce at the bottom of an ovenproof dish, on top of this a layer of pasta, then a layer of the butternut mixture, and some mozzarella (tear pieces and sprinkle them over). Repeat, ending with a layer of pasta and tomato sauce, top with the remaining mozzarella and bake at 180C for about 3o minutes. High-five yourself, even if it makes you look incredibly stupid!