Take Three Eggs

Eggs are always in season around here, though the number increases dramatically during Spring. I’m now gathering around 15 eggs per day, requiring some strategic marketing as well as more baking. My grandmother, with regard to the economy of keeping chooks, used to say, ‘put in a shilling and get back sixpence’, and I often think this is true. Fresh egg pasta is one simple way to reduce the stash.

Cenci or rag Pasta
Cenci or rag pasta

Take three eggs and crack them into a bowl over 300 gr of plain white flour, do a little mixing, some kneading, some waiting, followed by some cutting, and within one hour, you have enough pasta to feed a crowd. Of all the transformations that happen in my kitchen, pasta making is high up on the list, running a close second to the mystical and semi- religious transfiguration of flour, salt and water into bread.

An assortment of pasta shapes from one batch of dough.
An assortment of pasta shapes from one batch of dough.

I often use a softer flour for pasta making, such as an Italian doppio zero ’00’ flour but really, any plain white flour is just as good. After measuring the flour, add it to a bowl, then crack 3 large eggs into the centre and mix well. There is no need to make a little volcano of flour on a flat bench with eggs cracked into its crater. Volcanoes are messy things and explode in unexpected ways. Use a bowl. I usually have an extra egg yolk on hand, in case more moisture is needed to bring the dough together. I don’t use water, salt or oil. Just flour and eggs! After the dough comes together, knead well on a floured bench for around 10 minutes. As you knead, the dough will turn silky and more elastic.

assembling the spinach and riicotta caenneloni
Assembling the spinach and ricotta cannelloni. The pasta squares must be cooked briefly in boilings salted water before assembling.

I often cheat, and who doesn’t, by mixing the dough in the food processor, then when it forms a ball, I remove it to knead on the bench. There’s no getting out of the kneading: it is the only tedious part of pasta making so turn the radio on. (Did I hear you sing that old song, ‘who listens to the radio, that’s what I’d like to know.’? Has Jon Faine become a shock jock? Turn that man off and play some Puccini instead.)

Spinach and ricotta cannelloni
Spinach and ricotta cannelloni. Don’t overdo the tomato element.

Take the ball of kneaded dough and flatten into a disc, then wrap it in plastic and leave it for at least half an hour to relax and further hydrate. It won’t hurt to let the dough rest for longer so you can go out at this point, saving the fun part for later.

Hand cranked pasta machines: a basic and economical kitchen tool.

Attach your pasta machine to the bench. Flour up some cutting boards and tea towels. Cut one sixth of the pasta dough and feed through the machine at its widest setting. Fold it in half then feed through again. This makes the pasta sheet wider. Then continue to feed the pasta through the rollers, lower the setting cogs down a notch each time, stopping at number two. This part of pasta making is best shared with a helper.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Two trays of cannelloni: one for four and the smaller one for two.

Now you get to choose the shapes you want. My last week’s batch produced enough pasta squares for two trays of cannelloni, some cenci or rags which I love to add to soup, and a pile of cappellini, a finely cut spaghetti. Three eggs. Three hundred grams of flour. Three meals. It really is much simpler than my long winded description and the results are worth the effort.

I followed Stefano de Pieri’s recipe for Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni, from his Modern Italian Food, 2004, which is reproduced here, unchanged. Sometimes it’s good to follow a recipe for a dish that you think you know well. You might learn some new tricks. I always use a heat diffuser when making besciamella or white sauce as it has a tendency to catch. And you will need to cut around 20 squares from your fresh pasta batch for this amount of filling.

Ingredients

300g spinach
1 tablespoon butter
500g fresh ricotta
2 eggs
100g parmigiano reggiano, grated, plus an extra handful
salt and pepper
200g  home made egg pasta

Bechamel Sauce

150g unsalted butter
100g plain flour
1.5 litres hot milk
freshly grated nutmeg

Method

  1. To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter and mix with the flour. Cook a little but without browning. Stir in the milk, bit by bit, mixing with a wooden spoon. Initially the mixture will be like a gluggy lump but as you add the milk it will break down more and more. Cook it gently for 20 minutes or more, taking care that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Add nutmeg to taste. This recipe should yield a fairly soft sauce, which is what we want. If it is too thick add more milk or water. If you think you have some lumps in it, pass it through a fine sieve and everything will be all right.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and blanch the spinach, drain and squeeze dry. (I far prefer using proper bunches of spinach, rather than ready-trimmed little spinach leaves.) Roughly chop the spinach.
  3. Heat the butter in a large pan and briefly sauté the spinach. In a separate bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, grated cheese, salt and pepper. Stir in the spinach and mix well.
  4. Roll the pasta through the last setting on your pasta machine and cut the sheets into sections about 10 cm wide. Cook the pasta sheets in plenty of boiling salted water, then plunge into a bowl of cold water. When cold, place on a tea towel to dry.
  5. When you are ready to cook the cannelloni, preheat the oven to 180°C. Spread a third of the béchamel sauce over the bottom of a baking dish. Lay the pasta sheets on a work surface and spoon some filling along the centre of each. Roll up to form fat cigars. Arrange the filled cannelloni in the baking dish and spread the remaining béchamel sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the extra cheese and bake for around 15 minutes until the top is bubbling and golden.
  6. If you like, you can introduce a tomato element to this dish. Spoon a few tablespoons of home-made tomato sauce over the béchamel before topping with the extra grated cheese. Don’t overdo the tomato though, as the acid can rather dominate the flavour.

Next Post- what I made with the Cenci Pasta.

33 thoughts on “Take Three Eggs”

  1. Delicious she say wistfully. Sadly my pasta making days are over, all that wheat plays havoc with my gut bigtime. I was just reading a recipe for pickled eggs, something I haven’t made for a few years but they’re a a great standby for a ploughman’s lunch. RN is good listening

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Having just had delicious pasta in Garfagnana, I’m all fired up to make my own again. Thanks for this wonderful post! Alas, I left my pasta maker back in the UK, but I’ve got my big materello here in Athens. That rag pasta which you call cenci looks like Garfagnana maccheroni, another term for maltagliati. I guess there are many names for it. Now this something I can make without the machine. Plus, I have some lovely chestnut flour just begging to be made into pasta. Aren’t you glad you have a glut of eggs?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes there are many names for Maltagliati- I am probably the only one still loving to call these scraps Cenci.Badly cut, or off cuts, you don’t need a machine for them.
      Yes, I am happy with all my eggs but in term holidays, I lose some of my regular buyers. Now that there are more stringent rules about what can be called free range, my eggs are more popular. The girls do get spoilt.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am wondering what I am going to cook for dinner tonight. Unfortunately home made pasta is not going be an option 😦 Your pasta looks so silky and smooth ~ it would taste divine. ~Sigh~

    Like

  4. One of my few regrets in life is not making more homemade pasta when I could still eat it. Sitting here in the hotel bar on a cold rainy evening sipping a good tawny port and dreaming of eating your gorgeous cannelloni. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have never tried making our own pasta, we have plenty of wonderful organic free range eggs from our own chickens and now you have inspired me, I am going to be brave (I have always been rather scared of making pasta) I am going to try making pasta. Your post has given me confidence, it looks easy, help – Wish me luck!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you have your own eggs, you will love making lovely bright yellow pasta. It is so soft and comforting. If you don;t have a machine, you can roll out the pasta after resting, but really, the little machines make it all so easy. Lots of flour on the bench and you will be making pasta like a pro. Good luck.

      Like

  6. I too have never braved the homemade pasta mystique, but I will have to because I won’t be able to afford to buy artisan pasta and we don’t eat the everyday supermarket brands. So I’m pleased you have made it sound so do-able and wonderful 🍝

    Like

  7. I find that with 774 ABC its sometimes hard to differentiate between that and commercial broadcasting these days. That and my complete hatred of football and I too switch off and listen to music. Love Pandora for that. Have you considered adding a search button to the blog? I often think i want to find something I’m sure I’ve read here….. 🙂

    Like

  8. I had never heard the shilling/sixpence quote but it seems about right. I like to make pasta and even made sure I had a long enough bench in the new build so I could clamp on my pasta machine and crank away. Having said that, I have not done it once but as I’m at a loose end, I think I’ll make some next week, which I have dubbed ‘Kitchen Week’. cheers

    Like

Now over to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s